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August 2015 - Irish Life Experience

#ILE15 Draw to a Close

Gort na CoiribeILE BanquetILE StaffIt is our last full day in Ireland! We cannot believe how quickly this trip has gone by. Johanna and Molly said that they were going to cry all day because they were so sad that our trip was almost over. The students had a free day. Many of the ILE’ers went exploring the shopping center of Galway and picked up last minute gifts. Carley and Owen were so happy that they finally got to sleep in!
The final banquet was scheduled for eight o’clock at the quaint, Irish pub, Monroe’s, in the heart of Galway.

Once at Monroe’s in our private room, the students dined, chatted, and laughed with one another. The students ordered from the menu and many of them had ordered Apple Pie and Bailey’s Cheesecake for dessert. After dinner, some students went into the pub (With an accompanied adult, of course!) to watch the traditional Irish step dancing. Aiden said that he wished he knew how to step dance so he could join in!

We soon made our way back to our home at Gort na Coiribe. The students had an hour to pack before going to the ILE Staff apartment for a little presentation. Kelton said he didn’t need anytime to pack because he had already been packed for two days! All 30 students piled into the small apartment to watch the ILE Uptown Funk video that had each student dancing at the various places we had traveled to in Ireland. We have such an amazing group of talented dancers! Next, Taryn played a slide show full of pictures from the trip, accompanied with every song that can make you cry. The music must have worked because the room was filled with misty eyes. The students reminisced about their days together on this amazing journey. Next was the Paper Plate Awards. These awards are created by the ILE Staff and given to each student. Sheila was elated to win the Minnie Mouse Award and couldn’t wait to change into her Minnie Mouse onesie! Taryn gave all of the students a USB drive, Certificate of Completion of the ILE, and an Irish flag. Evan was so excited that he now had all of his favorite songs! Laura said that she was going to listen to them on her way back home to help her remember her amazing trip.
We had a very special surprise from our favorite ILE writer, Evan! Evan read us a poem that described his experience on the ILE. His poem was absolutely brilliant. It made us laugh and brought all of us to tears. It is amazing how 30 strangers can become such amazing friends in just a month’s time. Tears were running at the end of the presentation.

After a long evening, the students went back to their apartments to finish packing and hang out with one another. Cate, Clare, Johanna, Liam, Mike, and Molly bought energy drinks and vowed to stay awake all night long. We’ll see if they’re actually successful!

The ILE Staff feels so grateful to have had such an amazing group of students to spend their summer with. Tomorrow will be filled with tears, but tonight, we’ll just enjoy each other’s company.

Cows with Guns

Aran IslandsCasey, Miles, and TarynBike HireFerryWe woke up to lashing rain this morning and as we looked out the window we thought, “Oh No!” It was bucketing down and today was our day to go to Inish Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands. We put the Child of Prague in the garden-the story goes that when you do this the rain clears up-and lo and behold by the time we got half way to the ferry, the sun had started to pop through and things were looking up.

We had an early start to get to Rossaveal for the 10.30 AM ferry and as we sailed across there were a few brave souls that ventured outside to stand on the deck and watch Galway fade into the distance. The boat was packed with tourists heading over for the day and our kids had to run to get in front of the German tourists before they took up all the seats! When we got off the ferry, we rented our bikes as they are by far the best way to see the island. When the kids had listened to the safety talk-cycle on the left, use the left hand brake and don’t go too fast-they were free to explore the island and off they went.

The ILE Staff were slow-we are all a lot more unfit than what we thought with the exception of Kent and Miles-and by the time we reached the beach some of the kids were playing Frisbee and getting ready to swim. Angie dipped her toe in the water and immediately thought it was way too cold and retreated to the safety of the beach. Clare M. and Siobhan managed to brave the cold waters and there were a few girls who collected stones with holes in them. Perfect for making unique necklaces.

Some of kids cycled further to Dun Aengus, three spectacular forts which stand guard over Inish Mor at a height of 200 feet and which date back over 2000 years. Clare B. said it was really fun to look over the edge (Watched by guards.) and thought it was even better than the Cliffs of Moher.

Casey, Miles, and Taryn decided to venture off and find the Puffing Hole on Inishmore. They took their bikes on some off road terrain and proceeded to climb down some pretty treacherous cliffs. Taryn was a little apprehensive at first, as she didn’t know how she would maneuver her body back over some of these ledges. Miles guaranteed he would help her. They eventually found the impressive site, took some slow-mo/hyper lapse videos, selfies, and jumping pictures.

Everyone met back at the ferry at 4:30 PM with some Aran sweater purchases and many stories of their wonderful day to tell. The bus journey home was pretty quiet as some of the kids drifted off into dreamland, only to be woken up to the sound of our favorite ILE song blasting compliments of Brian Farrell. As the kids belted out the chorus of Cows With Guns, we turned on to campus to people staring at the sight of a bus load of kids and adults singing about cows with their arms raised in the air-it must’ve have seemed very bizarre for any on lookers although they were treated to a vision.

So as our day draws to a close our ILE group of 2015 will be going home with sun tans after a wonderful day, hot weather, and a bucket load of craic.

One more day. Ahhh!


LauraEvanAlly and ClareDan O'Hara'sJimmy JesusKylemore AbbeyConnemaraILE StaffOur second day in Galway started a little bit earlier than most of our mornings on holiday. The first bus trip of our relatively laid back day led us to Dan O’Hara’s Cottage. Our guide, Martin, led us up the Connemara countryside to a turf bog. He explained the process and reasoning behind using the 3,000 year old, oxygen deprived plant matter as an energy source. Martin demonstrated how the peat would be cut into log-like pieces that weighed about 12 lbs. After a little more than a week, the pieces of turf would weigh less than 3 lbs and would shrink in size because the water would have evaporated. Martin also showed us bits and pieces of a black oak tree that would’ve been alive thousands of years ago. Because there is no oxygen in the bogs, the wood was remarkably preserved, and it had hardened considerably because of the pressure throughout the years.

From the bog we squeezed our group of 36 full sized humans into a house that wasn’t much bigger than Harry Potter’s bedroom. We were all surprised to learn that Dan O’Hara lived here during the Famine with his wife and their seven children. We got a quick history of the cottage and the eight acres that the O’Hara family would’ve farmed while they were living on the self-sufficient farm. He pointed out notable geographical features of the land, a few towns, and even the Statue of Liberty somewhere way off to the west. Martin sang a few songs and told us Dan O’Hara’s story of suffering, loss, adventure, and hope. He then moved a wooden board that revealed a hole in the ceiling and grabbed a nearly full bottle of unidentifiable contraband. He told us that it was poitín and explained that the Irish moonshine was still both illegal and regularly produced. A few of the ILE Staff tried to stomach a sip of it while the students took hilarious photos of cringing faces and lots of coughing. Did I mention that it’s 70% alcohol? Right, that’s a game changer. Needless to say, we kept your beloved students away from the poison for our safety and for theirs.

The next leg of our day involved a few bus singalongs and a trip to Kylemore Abbey. The clouds were finally starting to burn off and the sun began to show its face. We split into two groups. One group had time to go into the Abbey, take pictures, or hang out at the café while the other group was hiking up to a statue of Jesus overlooking the Abbey and Connemara National Park. Our guide told us that the Abbey had originally been a castle, then an Abbey, and was even converted into one of the best boarding schools in Europe by Benedictine Nuns. Rumor has it that Madonna’s daughter was thinking about going to school here! There are still a handful of Nuns about the place, and one of them even has a few cows! We stopped at the statue which was about halfway up the mountain to take pictures and to soak in the views of the park. Although our guide doubted some of our shoe choices (Cough Cough, Miles!), most of us made it up and down the soggy mountain and slippery rocks with no problem at all. Most of us. There were a few soaked shoes and a couple of wet behinds, but all in all it was a great trip. Poor Rebecca and her Converse. RIP.

After we got back to Gort Na Coiribe, Casey and Miles went to have tea with some of the students. Amelia quietly wrote in her diary chiming in every now and then with a few witty words, while Evan searched for poetic inspiration amongst the candles and kitchen table banter. The “God Squad” wrote the most touching note to the ILE Staff and made personalized paper boats filled with candy as gifts. They they bombarded into the ILE Staff Apartment with balloons and danced around for quite a surprise. It was a special moment that ended with a selfie that was better than Ellen’s.

When students signed in at 10 PM, they had to say goodbye to Scones. It was her last night with the ILE. The students wrote sweet love notes for her in a card. She gave everybody hugs, cleaned out her closet full of lies about being a River Dancer, and to say soft farewells to the students who have grown to love her over the past few weeks. Some students made plans to wake up to see her off at 7 AM. Just like that the sun set on another long and exhausting day of vacation on the little teddy bear shaped island with which our 2015 ILE’ers have fallen in love.

Periwinkle Anyone?

Hiking in the BurrenBurren HikeBurrenSnailsCliffs of MoherCliffs of MoherWe have officially been in Ireland for 20 days! Alice and Ally can’t believe how quickly the days are flying by. Our first morning in Galway started with the arrival of our good friend and bus driver, Brian, from Burren Coaches. As we loaded onto the bus, Brian greeted us by playing the #ILE15 theme song, “Uptown Funk.” The dance party didn’t end there; Taryn plugged in her iPod to present the #ILE15 playlist to the students! The staff and students danced and sang along to “Galway Girl,” “Wagon Wheel”, “Wannabe,” and Johanna and Molly personal favorite, “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful.”

Today the weather was not in our favor. However, that didn’t stop our spirts. Our first stop of the day was in the Burren, located in County Clare. The students oohed and aahed at the rocky countryside. Taryn made sure to tell the students not to take the limestone scenery for granite. The students dressed in some rain gear provided by Burren Hikes to help out with the torrential down pour. Then our burley tour guide, John, brought us on a lovely hike through the mountains that are owned by his family. The baltic weather with lashing rain (#AccordingtoAngie) didn’t damper the students’ sense of humor. During the hike, John showed the group the wild Juniper, hazelnuts, and thyme that grow on the mountainside. Laura curiously asked, “Do you ever run out of thyme?” Her pun was especially appreciated by Taryn, the Pun Queen herself!

After the hike, the students sat happily in the nearby café drinking hot chocolate and eating delicious homemade desserts. Aiden said that the pie he ate was the best he ever had! Before we left the Burren, Brian’s four lovely children, Shona, Mia, Eoghan, and Noah joined us for the rest of the day’s journey.

The next stop was the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an ancient burial chamber in County Clare. This ancient tomb was constructed during the Neolithic era. During the excavation of the Dolmen, 22 bodies were found at the burial site. Angie educated the students on the history and the magical fertility powers that the Poulnabrone Dolmen also possess. Cate, Clare B., Clare M., Johanna, Josey, Molly, and Siobhan were eager to increase their fertility and ran around the Dolmen ten times clockwise. Robert made it around three times, which may result in a goldfish instead of a child (#AccordingtoAngie). Amelia and Scones ran the opposite direction, hoping that they would become less fertile.

We then headed onto Kilfenora for a quick bite to eat, and to Lahinch Beach, the surfing capital of Ireland. Luckily, there were a couple of young, strapping lads who were selling periwinkles on the shore. Periwinkles are delicious, fresh snails from the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Ben, Cate, Evan, Johanna, Josey, and Molly eagerly ate the periwinkles. Ben said, “Wow, it tastes like a snail!” Many of the students explored the beach and got ice cream before the short drive to the Cliffs of Moher. Rebecca said she enjoyed drinking her delicious Oreo Milkshake and strolling along the beach shore.

The rain started up again when we arrived at the Cliffs. Carley, Julia, and Sheila thought the Cliffs of Moher were absolutely breathtaking. Owen was a bit upset that he didn’t get to see his favorite animal, the Puffin, which often frequents the area. But, he was able to enjoy the Puffin photos at the visitors’ center.

After a long, rainy day, the students were excited to sit on the warm bus and go back to their apartments. The students ended their day by cooking meals and enjoying each other’s company. We’re excited to see what adventures lie ahead tomorrow!

Galway Bound

BunrattyKing BenClare M.We’re onto our last lag of our trip: Galway! The students were very busy this morning packing up their things and cleaning their apartments in Killarney. At half nine, all the students were on the bus, ready for yet another adventure. Many of the students were up late the night before doing dishes and having late night chats, so the bus ride consisted mostly of rest.

Our first stop of the day was in the lovely town of Adare. This tiny town has small Irish cottages with thatch rooftops scattered around the perimeter. The town is also well known for its brilliant heritage center. They students were elated to discover their Coat of Arms and the meanings behind their surnames. Clare M. and Robert said that it was so interesting to find more about their surnames and their Irish heritage. The students spent an hour snapping photos of the quaint cottages and exploring the heritage center.

The student boarded the bus yet again and started onto Bunratty Castle in County Clare (The namesake of Clare B. and Clare M.). This Medieval castle is one of the most authentic and complete castles in Ireland. Built in 1425, the castle has furniture and tapestries that make it truly come to life. The giant tortois shells in the castle kitchen reminded Laura of the Ninja Turtles. Liam and Mike climbed all the way to the roof of the castle and shouted, “I’m King of the world!” Rebecca described Bunratty Castle as “very cool.”

After the castle tour, the students were allowed to explore the small folk village that surrounds the castle. Decorated with small period houses and vintage shops, the students had more than enough to keep them intrigued. Johanna particularly enjoyed seeing real live chickens walking around the village.

After a few hours at Bunratty, the students departed to the last city on our trip. Drum roll please…, Galway! The students were ecstatic with the student housing accommodations at Gort na Coiribe. John was especially pumped to have his own room! The students went to the Dunnes Grocery Store across the street and bought groceries for their apartments. Mary Elizabeth said, “This trip has really helped me learn how to manage money. This will make college a lot easier!”

The students nestled into their homes for the week and cooked their dinners. Pizza, chicken nuggets, and pancakes seem to be favorites among the group. A few students opted to walk into town for a nice dinner out. It was another beautiful day in Ireland!

#ILE15 Spirit Names

Ross CastleClare, Josey, and KellySpirit NamesMary ElizabethLadies ViewKeltonGroup at Ladies ViewOliviaLauraToday we were all at the bus at half nine for our Mini Ring of Kerry Tour. Our informative bus driver, Tom, took us first to Ross Castle, where students were allowed to explore the castle grounds which rested upon the edge of one of Killarney’s lakes. The weather today was a bit grim, but made for interesting light for our photographs.

Molly and Owen scaled part of the castle wall for a photo. Kelly had made her way to the upper level and was waving like a queen. Many selfies were taken in front of the spectacular view, which included the lake, distant mountains, and even a few swans.

Clare B. was determined to touch a duck. Unfortunately, they were just too quick! Kelton made his way around the front of the castle in attempt to get some artsy photos (Which he’ll hopefully share with us soon!).

From here, we left for Kenmare to visit the ancient stone circle they have there. It is said that they used to make sacrifices on the center stone to please the gods and spirits. As a group we held a sort of ILE ritual ourselves. Forming a circle, everyone took hands. The ILE Staff took turns giving each student Spirit Names, “From now on Mike, you shall be known as…, Sperm Whale!” Molly now goes by Kinkajou, Clare M. goes by Thunder Cloud, and so on. Ben, Laura, and Owen were all in stitches after hearing some of the names given!

From here, students were left to buy lunches in town or eat packed lunches they had made themselves. It was a bit cold and rainy today-jackets and fleeces were definitely needed. Some students filled up with warm scones and hot chocolate or lattes, others went for soup of the day or toasties. And of course, there is always room for ice cream!

After an hour of free time in Kenmare, the ILE went back on the bus with their driver, Tom. Tom is from Ireland, so hearing his musical accent while driving through the Irish countryside just added to the ambience of the rolling green hills, fog, and mist.

For a short while we played some music on the radio and the students couldn’t help but sing along-a very musical bunch we have!

As we drove, Tom explained how we were passing through Moll’s Gap. There are only two breaks, or gaps, in the mountains and that was one of them. The two halves of the mountain swept down, naturally, to the road below as we passed through, leading us on to the Ladies View, and what a view! I can’t imagine any photo taken here will ever give the sight justice!

Students took less selfies here and more photos with each other. Something about this place had to be remembered with friends.

As Clare M. was being photographed with friends she commented, “maybe I’ll make the blog today.” -here ya go Clare!

Ladies View-#AccordingToMiles-men would leave the ladies just sitting there with the view while they sat in the cafe or were off hunting. #BallAndChain. #SeeYa.

Another scenic route took us home again, back to our apartments where students had free time to cook dinner, nap, watch TV, or go into town.

The Michael Collins group, which included Amelia, Johanna, Josey, Kelly, Mike, Owen, and Rebecca were off to their prize night out: The Ghost Tour of Killarney. Correctly assuming that the tour would be scary, Kelly happily gave her spot to Molly.

Poor, unfortunate, Molly sat in, what she believed to be, the safest seat on the bus. (Now, let’s talk about this bus-dark, full of fog, sculls, seats missing to make room for more scary things! Windows covered. Dark.) She was nestled in the way back-out of the aisle with Josey next to her. Little did she know that upon reaching our first destination that the side of the bus in that very spot would break away with a loud, “Aaaaahhhhhrrrrr!” And a man reaching for her!

It was unexpected for all of us! We hear a scream and turn back to see that Molly had jumped straight into Josey’s seat, leaving Josey on the floor! Everyone burst out laughing with excitement, and a little nervousness wondering what could possibly happen next.

Though the ride was a bit scary, the stories told here were fascinating. Did you know that Halloween derives from an old Pagan festival? They believed that spirits of loved ones were always around, but during this time the vail that separated them dissipated. They would have bone fires (Origin of our “bon” fire.) burning bones of animals as an offering to the spirits, in hopes that they would feel included and happy. For if they weren’t happy, they may play tricks on you.

We arrived at an abbey, dating back to the 1400’s. Story goes that this abbey was one’s first class ticket to Heaven if buried there, but at one point there was no room left. So people would dig up graves, toss the original bodies into or around the abbey itself, and bury their loved ones in their place-leaving the building full of decay.

Of course it’s cleaned up now, and the grounds are still used as a working cemetery today. So with respect, we continued on deeper into the church. In the center of the courtyard was a 600 year old tree-quite beautiful.

As the tales continued Amelia and Counselor Casey linked arms and kept an eye out in all directions. Molly and the girls were huddled and hugging each other, as one of the tour guides would jump out at us here and there-having done this for quite some time, his timing was impeccable.

We all made it out in one piece. On the ride back into Killarney, Rebecca told us how she felt something touch her leg when everyone was in the abbey and Mike had a great picture of a few good orbs on his phone.

We stopped quick to get some ice cream for the walk back to the apartments. Yumzers.

Those who did not go on the Ghost Tour visited each other in the apartments. Robert even hosted a tea party which Counselor Kate said was a lot of fun!

Another amazing day in the #ILE15 books.

Dingle Done Right

JoseyCarley, Rebecca, and JuliaInch Beach GroupClareOwenKellyGod SquadWaking up in a new town is always exciting, especially now that classes are done. The kids woke up on Wednesday and made their own breakfasts and packed lunches for the day trip to the Dingle Peninsula. The students loaded the bus at half nine.

The weather was beautiful. They started the day out with a stop at Inch Beach. It was a great way to start the day bright an early. Clare, Cate, Liam, Mike, and Miles decided to take a dip in the ocean! It was a bit cold, but they were excited to swim. “Wooooohhhhh,” yelled Liam as he ran past everyone in his swim trunks and blinding white torso into the ocean. The rest followed and stayed in the water for as long as they could.

Josey was excited to find some seashells for souvenirs. Casey and Taryn drew #ILE15 and took jumping pictures in the sand and Evan took a stroll.

The students gathered back on the bus after purchasing a few Twisters and continued their drive along the peninsula. The sights were spectacular. It was unbelievable. The sun and the water were similar to the tropics. “The water is so blue,” said Laura. The students stopped along the way to take pictures. Kelly had asked if we could stop along the Dingle Peninsula to recreate a picture of where her grandpa had stood years before. We were able to locate the spot-right in from of the Blasket Islands. It was a moment Kelly will never forget. Very touching and Kelly felt a little closer to her grandfather, Pots, who passed away earlier this year.

The ILE eventually made it to Dingle Town and the first thing they saw when they got off the bus was an ass! This cute little donkey, two dogs, and a man were sitting on the corner. “I want a picture on the donkey,” said Clare M. She paid €1 and got on the donkey! The man told stories and was a very friendly guy. The students definitely were amused.

The students spent a few hours exploring the town and ate their packed lunches. Many students have been buying souvenirs for their family members, so it was fun to see their purchases.

Once the ILE got back to the apartments, the students made dinner and went and explored the town of Killarney. Eddie, James, and Robert played hurling outside. They were having a blast teaching each other tricks.

Another top notch day. The students are all becoming very close and as Molly said…, “Some of these people feel like my best friends and I have only known them for three weeks!” The ILE is truly magical.