The Stony Shores of the Emerald Isle: West of Ireland Field Program

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lhanson
Jul 21, 2014


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Culture, Education, History, Service, Sustainability

The Stony Shores of the Emerald Isle: West of Ireland Field Program

Semester at Sea field programs are an excellent opportunity for students to let someone else do the travel planning. The organization and care that goes into these trips is top notch. They provide voyagers with a great way to “relax” and not have to independently figure out in-country travel, and they let students meet like-minded others with similar interests. Among the very popular options are overnight trips, which include everything from amazing food to great hotels.

The West of Ireland field program was a two-night, three-day trip that encompassed a visit to the Burren, community work, two evenings out in Galway, a guided tour of the city and a trip to the Aran Islands before crossing back across the country to Dublin.

Early morning on the second port day in Dublin found 14 sleepy students on a bus traversing the ever-green Emerald Isle en route the field program’s first stop, the Burren. Located outside of Galway, the Burren (recreation area) is the home of one of the many picturesque and breathtaking destinations in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher. However, these students had another agenda that included the famous amounts of limestone. As trip guide Billy said the first morning, “You’ll never see so many rocks.” Stony walls crisscross the land, weaving in and out of pasture areas and up the mountainsides that change from lush green plant life to limestone-capped hills creating the unique stony landscape.

After traveling across the country, the students piled out of the bus to the quaint Burren College of Art, located below a small castle. There, students met Rory, a stonemason as well as a tour guide, who would join them on their service project: rebuilding stone walls along the “Green Walk,” a public path on a mountainside in the Burren. A five-minute bus ride later through a deep mist, the students were donning neon green vests and gloves before a slight hike up the mountainside.

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From the interior of the castle at Burren College of Art, where the students attended a lecture and had lunch. The views from the castle showed miles of green and a view of the bay.
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From the bottom, the layers of walls and green blended together, but from a few hundred feet up the stone walls could be seen rising up from the land. Many sections of the wall had been knocked down, either by visitors, goats or the ever-present wind.
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Rory tells students that stones may have first been placed 4,000 years prior.
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Marquina Hofschneider from Oregon State University puts a new stone on top of the wall as her fellow students continue looking for stones to place. Only the top layer of stones (not ones that need to be dug out) are allowed to be moved and placed back on the walls.
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After removing a stone, a few students are intrigued by the ant colonies living just below the surface. Hundreds of ants furiously relocated their larvae after their rock shelters were moved.
Standing on what now looks like a horseshoe mound around an old fire cooking space, Shannon Maloney of West Virginia University attempts to break a piece of charred limestone as Junhao Wang of University of Michigan laughs at her fierce grumblings. The stone would have been heated hundreds of times before being tossed to the side, creating the raised land.
Standing on what now looks like a horseshoe mound around an old fire cooking space, Shannon Maloney of West Virginia University attempts to break a piece of charred limestone as Junhao Wang of University of Michigan reacts to her fierce grumblings. The stone would have been heated hundreds of times before being tossed to the side, creating the raised land.
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The entire group sits with their mentors at an overlook along the Green Walk.

The next morning brought a few more foggy adventures. After a quick breakfast at the Kinlay House Hostel in Galway, students caught a bus then a 40-minute ferry to the island Inis Mor and straight into the main village of Kilronan for a little bit of wandering and lunch at one of their famous pubs, Ti Joe Watty’s, where everyone enjoyed the warmth of Guinness beef stew or fish and chips.

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The group was dropped off at the base of the small walk up to Dun Aonghasa Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by rolling green hills and the windy limestone walls.
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After scrambling up the last of the wet, stony steps to the fort, the view of the cliffs and the 300-foot sheer drop came into view.
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Madeline Renezeder of the University of Notre Dame peers over the drop-off.
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From directly above, the drop gives the impression of looking at a constantly shifting sky as the waves crash straight into the cliff walls hundreds of feet below.
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From a higher location inside the walls of Dun Aonghasa, the land ends in an even sharper manner with only lichen clinging to the rocks.
After walking back down in the rain, the guide took a scenic route to the farthest west point of the island, pointing out thatch cottages that used to be the main housing style and are now just used as storage (the windows are all boarded up here) or can be seen in the distance as ruins. More modern housing has taken its place with stone roofing.
After walking back down in the rain, the guide took a scenic route to the farthest west point of the island, pointing out thatch cottages that used to be the main housing style and are now just used as storage (the windows are all boarded up here) or can be seen in the distance as ruins. More modern housing with stone roofing has taken its place.
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The ruins of the Seven Churches from early settlements on the island rewarded the adventurous climbers with views of cemeteries, the sea and even more stones.
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The last morning was spent in the city of Galway, touring with Billy on a walk starting at Eyre Square that wove in and out of alleys and churches, and ended at Galway’s life source: the river.
Thomas Dillon’s was one of the significant shops on Billy’s tour. The oldest jewelers in Irealand (est. 1750) and the original maker of the Claddagh ring, a familiar Irish piece of jewelry. The ring originated in the ancient Claddagh district of Galway, across the river from the shop and the motif of the ring can be explained in the phrase “Let Love and Friendship Reign”.
Thomas Dillon was one of the significant shops on Billy’s tour. The oldest jewelers in Ireland (est. 1750) and the original maker of the Claddagh ring, a familiar Irish piece of jewelry. The ring originated in the ancient Claddagh district of Galway, across the river from the shop, and the motif of the ring can be explained in the phrase “Let Love and Friendship Reign.”
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Billy points out the old city wall as well as the route taken through the city on an old map in the entrance of one of the many churches in Galway, wrapping up the city tour and three days of rapid-paced learning before the cross-country bus ride to return to Dublin.
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