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Postcard from Ireland: Warmth and Hospitality on the Emerald Isle

The author, Lauren Vujovich, with her friends, Tilly Lumpkin and Lindsay Giles(l-r), all of the Univ. of San Diego, stand at the local bog along with their host Siona.

Semester at Sea (SAS) offers us students such a unique experience: the opportunity to travel the world, on a ship, and get course credit. However, staying with a family in a country we visit is another very welcome opportunity while studying abroad.  That’s exactly what my two of my friends, Lindsay Giles and Matilda “Tilly” Lumpkin, of the University of San Diego, and I did during our stop in Dublin, Ireland.

The local Abbey in the village of Abbeyshrule.

We hopped on a train heading an hour north to Abbeyshrule, a very small, country town whose downtown consists of about six shops. A community where everyone knows everyone, and green fields, cows, and sheep are nearly everywhere you look.

Our host, Síona (pronounced SHAY-nah), invited us to stay at her home with her family after we spent the day in Dublin. Tilly had met Síona while Síona was in the U.S. during a semester abroad at Boston College. For my friends and I, the visit was a rare opportunity to get a peak into life in a traditional Irish family.

Síona’s family, her mom, dad and two younger sisters, immediately welcomed us into their home. It was a warmth and hospitality I hadn't felt in a while and was greatly appreciated, especially after spending nearly a month on the ship.

Síona’s mother prepared typical afternoon tea and pastries for us, giving us a quick lesson on the two main types of tea the Irish drink: Barry’s tea and Lyon’s tea. To the untrained teatotaller, there’s no difference between the two, but this family swore they tasted differently.

The time with Síona and her family was eye-opening because of the similarities and differences between life in Ireland and life in the United States. A traditional Irish dinner of ham and cabbage with mashed potatoes actually reminded me of home, as I am half Irish. And, like my small towns, there are the customary quirky residents. We met the local daredevil of Abbeyshrule an old man who crazily flies his plane far too low over the village.

Lauren and her SAS friends were treated to a typical Irish breakfast of white and black pudding, beans, coffee and bacon. 

What was new to us was the landscape, the different sports, the small, quaintness of the village. But, mostly, it was the hospitality. Every where we went, we were welcomed with open arms—to the local church, to her uncle’s 50th birthday party. We got a first-class tour of the town, were treated to homemade meals and stayed up late to talk and giggle and learn about politics, music, and everything in between. At Síona’s uncle’s birthday party, we learned some Irish slang: “what’s cracking” means “what’s up”; “that’s savage” and “class” means that something is cool.

We gained a new appreciation for sports—Irish style. Over dinner, the family discussed the big Gaelic, all-Ireland football match happening the next day between Dublin and Mayo. The match, they said, was equal to our Superbowl.

The family was rooting for Mayo, a countryside team that, legend has it, was cursed by a priest in 1951 for not stopping to show their respect for a funeral procession while on their way back from a match.  The priest said the team wouldn’t win another championship until every player on that 1951 team had passed. To date, one player from that team is still alive and Mayo hasn’t won a championship since. Though supporters of Mayo, the family still believed that Dublin would win, given the curse. It turns out, they were right—Dublin won the match by one point.

Though short, our visit with Síona and her family was truly savage. I learned a lot about Irish family traditions and got a special perspective on Ireland in a way I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. It is the cultural immersion comparative learning that SAS is known for, but it happened in a way that I would never have anticipated.

  • Culture

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