Hello ILE Families and Friends,

On Friday, June 28th, 30 high school students from 16 different US states, Italy, and Spain embarked on an amazing journey…, the Irish Life Experience.

Clara and Kate L. from Illinois were the first students to arrive JFK International Airport in the morning. They were met by ILE Staff-Aubrey, Miles, and Taryn-where the Team set up check-in and began to meet students from connecting flights. Evan, from Alaska, was the next student to join the slowly building group. Followed by Devin and Seth from Montana, Kate R. from Ohio, Emily B. and Sarah B. from Georgia, Amanda and Jaiden from Montana, Sarah C. from Massachusetts, and Ellie from North Carolina. Students from surrounding areas slowly trickled in throughout the day, so many got to know one another while enjoying donuts and coffee from Dunkin and waiting for the 9:15 PM Aer Lingus flight to Dublin. It was Amanda’s first time flying and she exclaimed, “Flying is fun and it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be!”

Unfortunately, due to stormy weather moving up the East Coast, many students’ flights were delayed-turning a very quiet departure day into a manic evening.

At 7:30 PM, the majority of students gathered together to take a group picture before going through Security. However, Caroline from South Carolina and Jimmy from California were still in the air and were due to touch down with only a few minutes to spare, while Megan from Missouri was grounded in DC. Caroline and Jimmy eventually arrived and were escorted with Aubrey through Security-sprinting to catch the flight to the Emerald Isle. Holy guacamole-it was a close call. Taryn was sweating bullets for awhile. Sadly, Megan missed her flight and would have to stay in DC to catch the next day’s flight to Ireland and connect with the group in Waterford.

The 5 hour and 40 minute flight flew by, while students ate dinner and were entertained with games and movies in their seats. Many tried to get some much-needed shut-eye, as they were exhausted from the day of excitement and traveling.

After the wheels touched down on the Dublin tarmac, the students cleared Custom’s and collected their bags. They were met by Angie, Dan, and Shona (Scones); our amazing ILE teachers. Following quick introductions, Angie and Scones led the students to the bus and set off for Waterford, while Dan waited for Ignacio from Spain and Marco from Italy to arrive on later flights.

To break up the trip, the Irish Life Experience stopped at Glendalough (Valley of the Two Lakes) in the Wicklow Mountains for a packed lunch of crisps, fruit, sandwiches, and sweets. Glendalough is one of the most beautiful corners of the whole country and the epitome of the kind of rugged, romantic, Ireland that draws people to Ireland. Jaime from New York recognized the scenery from the movie, PS, I Love You and was estactic to see it in person.

In AD 498 a young monk name Kevin, arrived in the valley looking for somewhere to kick back, meditate and be at one with nature. He pitched up in what had been a Bronze Age Tomb on the southern side of the Upper Lake and for the next seven years slept on stones, wore animal skins, maintained a near starvation diet and-according to legend-became bosom buddies with the birds and animals. Kevin’s eco-friendly lifestyle soon attracted a bunch of disciples, all seemingly unaware of the irony that they were flocking to hang out with a hermit who wanted to live as far away from the other people as possible. Over the next couple of centuries his one-man operation mushroomed into a proper settlement and by the 9th Century , Glendalough rivaled Clonmacnoise as the island’s premier monastic city. Thousands of students studied and lived in a thriving community that was spread over a considerable area.

Inevitably, Glendalough’s success made it a key target for Viking raiders , who sacked the monastery at least four times between 775 and 1071. The final blows came in 1398, when English forces from Dublin almost destroyed it. Efforts were made to rebuild and some life lingered on here as late as the 17th Century when, under renewed repression, the monastery finally died.

So, following in the footsteps of Michelle, Malia, and Sasha Obama from the week before, Scones gave a fantastic tour of the historical grounds. She pointed out the round tower, significant Celtic crosses, and remnants of churches. Students stretched their legs and got some fresh air on a beautiful walk to the Upper Lake. Tucked in by a deep valley and surrounded by a towering forest, the ILE took pictures and felt the frigid water. Evan said it is a very tranquil and spiritual place and you would have little difficulty in understanding why the solitude-seeking monks lived there.

After the leisurely stroll around the lake, the students got back on the bus and continued on their journey to Waterford. Once they arrived, they got their bags and moved into their dorm rooms for the next week. They deposited their passports, money, and had tea, before they were given a tour of campus and an orientation for the program.

To help the students acclimate to the local time, the ILE Team kept the students awake until 9 PM with a few thrilling ice-breakers. Erica from Pennsylvania was extremely tired, but said she enjoyed learning random facts about her peers, playing two truths and a lie, and trying to untangle their human knot!

Eventually, it was time to retire to bed and get ready for their first class day. Oiche Mhaith-Good Night from Waterford!

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Trip Dates: June 30-July 24, 2024