The wind whipped around as I gazed out at the abandoned stone houses. I let my imagination fill in the missing pieces of stone and thatched roofs to reveal the once living village. I could not help the feeling that life was hard here. The wind and rain race around almost to the point of knocking someone over. The hills run with rugged rocks buried in the ground, and the land stretches for miles. However, the people still continued to adapt and made use of the land they were born in. With the abundance of stone and straw they created houses, chairs, and even clothing out of wool and straw. The conditions were harsh, but the culture even since medieval times was rich. People lived in community. No one moved far from home and generations lived and died on the same land. With each passing generation they celebrated life and honored their culture through music, community, and living off the land. In my search for experiencing the authentic side of Ireland, I felt it in the moment of standing where history has written a story. My feet have walked where centuries of generations have once lived. Even with the rain pelting down, I felt peaceful about my time here in Ireland. I looked down the hill to notice one of the professors looking for pieces of white marble in the ground. Having not been phased by tourist items, I realized what I could have as an authentic souvenir. As my family would say, rocks and dirt are free souvenirs. So I gathered some marble and rock as a reminder of the history here, the hardship and joy once lived, and the peace that surrounded my heart in the moment.
After the abandoned village we ventured to a small town where a few of us went on a lovely walk along the sea and picked up shells along the way. With good conversation along the way we joined a couple classmates at a local cafe owned by a sweet Irish couple. I was not there for the majority of their interaction, but I could tell their generosity and hospitality as soon as I entered the room. It was genuinely sweet to watch peers interact with locals and enjoy company and laughter. After the small town stop, we headed over to the National Museum of Ireland. My Father instilled in me my love for museums, so I raced around reading every sign I could. Soaking in all the history and way of life that Ireland once lived. Most of it seemed to center around community, family, and taking care of the land. I was particularly struck by the way they mourned. If it was a person who died at an older age, they would celebrate their life. People would come from all around to honor the lost person, and to give their prayers. Even when a child was lost, the village would mourn together. A form of grieving I think my culture is out of touch with.
In the evening we enjoyed a group dinner and a night of listening to traditional Irish music and even some tap dance. It was fun to be amongst the pub culture. The sound of chatter and the sounds of the musicians mixed with the smell of smoke and alcohol, yet the sweet smell of wood. I watched the locals interact and acknowledge one another as they entered the pub. I was enjoying listening until an older Irishman decided he wanted to chat. His accent was so thick, I just nodded and smiled my way to the point of then leaving with the group.
The day before we spent our time at Kylemore Abbey. It was originally built for Lady Margaret by her husband. The castle was four years in the making, but Margaret tragically died while on holiday in Eqypt. The Abbey was later given to the nuns and became a world famous school. After losing attendance to the school, it shut down in 2009. Walking around the gardens and by the lake, I could see why Lady Margaret loved this land. There was a presence of peace in the garden. As I walked the trail I thought of the pairs of feet that have walked before me. From anxious to happy thoughts, many girls would have walked these trails in search of divine and conversational conclusions about life. The colors of the garden were vibrant as the sun peeked around the corner of the clouds. It was stunningly beautiful.
In the evening we walked around local shops in Westport and encountered more of the local culture. A couple of us ventured into a Christian book store where the guy noticed us humming to the worship song playing. It sparked a conversation about the struggle of Catholicism just being a routine for people and how often various religions have rituals rooted in superstition. He also noted that Ireland is the least evangelized English speaking country. He said he traveled around for quite some time before settling in Ireland with his wife to church plant. Even though he is from the States, he feels at home in Ireland and this is finally where he was meant to be. We could not chat with him long, but I wondered at his story of finding where God called him. We also chatted with gay rights activists who were rallying in the square. Some of them were even originally American. We later settled in for the evening and chatted about life while eating stroapwaffle at the hostel.
The history here is incredibly rich and dates centuries back. I am eager to keep learning!