Suzie Lee’s Love of Ghost Stories and Good Food

suzieSuzie Lee is a force of nature! She’s one of my incredible Honors students – a fast talker (she’s Korean and even though English is her second language, she is so expressive and open and communicative), a dedicated and passionate food lover, and someone who deeply appreciates natural beauty and quiet opportunities to reflect in nature.

Take a look at her Superstitions Comparisons post (where she talks about Irish and Korean superstitions and features a photo of our delicious food on the afternoon we all spent together at Irish filmmaker Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin’s house for tea and talk with the Bibeanna and The Men of Ventry) and her wonderful post about the beauty of the Giant’s Causeway and Dunluce Castle along the North Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland, Gorgeous and Gorgeous and Gorgeous…!.

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Eilís Ní Dhúill’s Photos of the Bibeanna

Cathy, Judy, BrianAs promised, here are a few of the photos that Eilís Ní Dhúill took at our tea with the Bibeanna with them and a few of the Men of Ventry. You can read more about our extraordinary tea and conversations with the Bibeanna and the Men of Ventry, here. Many thanks to dear friend and colleague, Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin for hosting this amazing experience for me and my students!

Judy i dteach Bhrenda

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The Great Blasket Island

IMG_2157What a magical day we had on the island. The weather could not have been more perfect – and we had an extraordinary Blasket Centre guide, Tommy Long. Students responded deeply to his amazing knowledge of Blasket island people and way of life, his sincere appreciation for their culture, his humor and his respectful interest in their studies and understanding of this community.

The boat ride (and dinghy experience) was exceptional – spirits were high, the seas were fairly calm, and everyone was excited for this journey. Tommy gave us an incredible tour of the main parts of the village, telling us great stories about the people who lived in each of the houses and weaving bits of Blasket history in, as we went. I was really proud of my students – they were attentive, curious, and respectful.

IMG_2207It was a particularly poignant moment when students stood inside the Sean Tom O’Cearnaigh home and thought about what life might have been like for this family that we have studied and this unique and isolated Irish-speaking community. You can read Martin Kearney’s older brother, Mike Carney’s beautiful and funny memoir, From the Great Blasket to America: The Last Memoir by an Islander and click here to watch Mike Carney’s trip back to the island (RTÉ News Now) in May of last year as part of the 2013 Blasket Gathering events.

IMG_2174We had a lovely serendipitous experience – we had met a wonderful young scholar at the Bibeanna and Ventry men tea at Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin’s house – Eilís Ní Dhúill (that’s her on the far right). She’s a lecturer and a Ph.D. student, and is the Hardiman and Irish Research Council Scholar in the Department of Irish, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at NUI Galway (National University of Ireland, Galway). I was so pleased to meet her – she’s studying Irish cultural history documentaries and is currently studying the Bibeanna, so it was amazing to have Brenda include her in the tea with the Bibeanna. A few days later, without either of us knowing this would occur, we both showed up (me, with my students) at the Dunquin pier to go out to the island!

Here’s one of her photos from the island (thanks, Eilís)!

Cé Dhún Chaoin

I’ll post a few of her Bibeanna photos, at a later time, as well.

IMG_2182Students asked great questions on the island and I could see each of them making deep connections and contextualizing what they had learned and experienced – over the whole of this three-week journey. The beautiful natural setting was a perfect place to wonder, wander and reflect. I had planned this excursion as a capstone experience and it was incredible. My expectations for how the class would go, how students would engage and react, and the impact all of this would have on them, were far surpassed – a fabulous end to a really amazing class and learning journey. Thanks to my wonderful students (read their blog posts about this class, here) and all of our marvelous guides along the way.

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Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin and Tea with the Bibeanna and The Men of Ventry

IMG_1995Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin is a force of nature. She is a writer, filmmaker and producer, and storyteller par excellence. And, she is a dear friend and a kindred spirit. Brenda has enough joie de vivre for twelve people and her energy and passion for her projects and the stories and people she loves is a sight to behold. She has published books and directed and produced TV documentaries on subjects and stories close to her heart – stories of culture, heritage, customs, and the universal nature of the human experience.

When Brenda and I were discussing a year or more ago, about what she might do with my honors students while we were here, she immediately thought of engaging them, somehow, with the Bibeanna – wise and wonderful women from the Dingle gaeltacht who have witnessed great change in their lifetimes from childhood to the present day. Brenda produced and directed a series of TV documentaries on the Bibeanna a few years ago (two projects featured the stories of Bibeanna from the Dingle gaeltacht as well as from those that immigrated to American – including Maureen Kearney Oski, Martin Kearney’s younger sister) and she also published a companion book, Bibeanna: Memories from a Corner of Ireland. She suggested that students could meet the Bibeanna and perhaps have tea with them in her home – asking questions back and forth and helping students learn about a slice of culture and life with which they would otherwise have no contact. We saw that as a significant growth and learning opportunity for students and I suggested that we could screen the films, beforehand.

IMG_2015Brenda also produced several other beautiful documentaries over the last few years – Do Mhargadh Deanta (about the social custom of matchmaking), Treigint (about the travails of marriage and marital desertion), and Fearaibh Fionntrá (about the men of her home parish on the Dingle Peninsula, Ventry).

Yesterday, we had a magical, amazing day with eight of the Bibeanna and a few of the Ventry Men. After the wonderful documentary screenings (with the Bibeanna and the Ventry Men present) and a great Q&A with Brenda, we all traveled a short ways up the clasach to Brenda’s house for what she had said would be a simple tea with sandwiches and a few fairy cakes and sweets. When we arrived, the large table in Brenda’s sunroom was overflowing with fresh, handmade sandwiches (chicken, ham, fresh salmon), fairy cakes, a beautiful custard tart with fresh berries and a strawberry cheesecake – and a sparkling crystal bowl in the middle of the table filled with simple garden flowers, exquisite. There were fresh pots of hot tea and coffee, and we learned that one of Brenda’s friends and her daughter did all the cooking and baking. It was such a lovely, lovely gesture and we were all so appreciative.

IMG_2037Students were delighted and surprised – and they were so honored by these wise women and men and the opportunity to visit with them and hear some more of their stories and learn about loves across decades. A beautiful thing happened (Brenda is an expert MC, wicked smart communicator and generous hostess) – the Bibeanna shared their stories and the students shared theirs (and lovely, insightful questions were asked). Then, Brenda asked the Bibeanna to sing some sean-nós songs and tell the stories, which was a joy! The students also sang and told stories – one in French and one in Korean! It was a fabulous exchange and the men ended by telling some jokes and great stories! What a group – how honored we were to be able to experience this once-in-a-lifetime meeting and tea party! Thank you, Brenda – and we all have fallen in love with the Bibeanna and the Men of Ventry! Take a look at Brenda’s beautiful TG4 broadcast from 2011 about the Bibeanna, remembering Christmas as it used to be in Irish-speaking West Kerry long ago.

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Na Bibeanna, the Men of Ventry, and Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin

bibeannaOne of the things I’m most excited about (for my students as well as for myself) is an opportunity to meet and talk with Na Bibeanna — the women featured in the TG4 series by documentary film director/producer Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin.

Ní Shúilleabháin’s excellent and critically-acclaimed book that accompanied the TV series, Bibeanna: Memories from a Corner of Ireland, chronicles rich personal accounts from twenty women from the Dingle gaeltacht — looking back on their lives and reflecting on the changes they have witnessed from childhood to the present day, providing a fascinating and honest commentary on the changing face of Ireland.

We’ll have a rare opportunity to engage with a deep and significant history in this beautiful part of the world and learn about the lives of these women as young wives and mothers, and as they grew older and survived many changes. Take a peek at the Bibeanna.

Another Ní Shúilleabháin TG4 film project, The Men of Ventry, profiles the stories of rural Ireland over the last 50 years –farming, fishing, cooking, storytelling — the laughter and tears of life. Take a peek into her work with these men. We’ll also get to meet and talk with a few of these marvelous Ventry men.

The Dingle Cinema is screening three of Ní Shúilleabháin’s films for us — Bibeanna, Bibeanna Mheiriceá, and Men of Ventry — with a Q&A, afterwards. She is hosting a tea at her home in Ventry, after the screenings and the Q&A in the Dingle Cinema. How fabulous is that?!

Photo credit — Joan Maguire
The Kerryman

The women of West Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) enjoying Oíche Nollaig na mban (Women’s Christmas), December 2012