Students have all arrived

IMG_0547This is a Protestant church around the corner from our hotel, across the street from the beautiful and somber Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square. It’s being refurbished so I can’t go inside, but it is a lovely building and a beautiful sight on the way to and from the hotel.

All of the students have now arrived and we’ve met for a brief orientation. They’ve all had a long travel day plus – some of them flying from Denver to Chicago to London Heathrow to Dublin, others flying from Denver to Chicago to Toronto to London Heathrow to Dublin! Then, taking a bus from the Dublin airport to a bus stop a few blocks away, and a short walk to the hotel.

A few of them have traveled and/or lived internationally, but most of them have not and this is their first trip abroad. Navigating all that this kind of travel entails is not for the weak of spirit, and they’ve done beautifully on this first leg of our Maymester!

I am re-reading a favorite book on this trip, Frances Mayes’ beautiful travel memoir, A Year in the World: Journey’s of a Passionate Traveller. I adored her inaugural memoir about starting a new life in Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun. In this new memoir, with Mayes’ beloved Tuscany as a home base, she travels to Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles – and to the Mediterranean (Turkey, Greece, the South of Italy, and North Africa) – it is a delectable and beautifully written book. After a particularly harrowing series of travel disasters on one trip (it happens, but you learn to just go with the flow), Mayes’ husband, Ed, says –

“Not for nothing is that etymological connection between travel and travail.”

My friend, Dr. Susan Wheatley, loves to travel but her constant good-natured refrain when discussing the subject is “travel is hard work”. Too, too true. And worth every hardship – every sour bus driver, every lost piece of luggage, every sinus infection, every delayed or cancelled connection, and every would-be (but always foiled) pickpocket.

Mayes and her husband decide to give up their tenured professor positions in the Bay Area of San Francisco (not an easy decision) to travel and explore the world. How lovely. She writes –

“Travel releases spontaneity. You become a godlike creature full of choice, free to visit the stately pleasure domes, make love in the morning, sketch a bell tower, read a history of Byzantium, stare for an hour at the face of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna dei fusi. You open, as in childhood, and – for a time – receive this world. There’s the visceral aspect, too – the huntress who is free. Free to go, free to return home bringing memories to lay on the hearth.”

I’m so eager to see what these honors students will choose and receive – what they will learn and experience and carry home with them – lessons and treasures to be explored and enjoyed again and again in the years to come.

Tomorrow, our first day, begins with a public bus ride south to the Ballsbridge area of Dublin and a visit to the Irish Fulbright Commission. The wonderful Executive Director, Collen Duby, has arranged a tour of the facilities and a visit with some Irish Fulbright students. This will be a great opportunity for my students to engage with Irish students their own age and exchange ideas about what it means to pursue an education and academic and cultural experiences in the world. Colleen is a good friend from my US Fulbright Scholar year based in Limerick, and I am exited to see her and the Dublin office staff again! They were all so wonderful and helpful during my Fulbright year. I am excited for the students to begin thinking of themselves as practicing cultural ambassadors.

We’ll then walk to the Grafton Street area for a group lunch at the famous and fabulous Bewley’s Café – a personal favorite. We’ll have a lovely place to enjoy a delicious meal and share first impressions. After lunch, we’re all hopping aboard a Hop-On Hop-Off bus to enjoy a restful birds-eye view of the city and get a mapping overview of the layout of the city centre.

After some rest, we’ll all meet back up at the hotel to have a learning/research session where we reflect on the day, discuss what’s been seen and experienced, draw connections and make initial inquiries, do some cybersleuthing and research, contextualize, re-reflect, and write blog posts.

How wonderful does that sound for our first day in Dublin?!

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Garden of Remembrance

IMG_0532At the northern end of Parnell Square (just around the corner from our hotel), there is a beautiful small park dedicated to the men and women who’ve died in the pursuit of Irish freedom. This lovely Garden of Remembrance marks the spot where several leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held overnight before being taken to Kilmainham Gaol. It was also where the Irish Volunteers movement was formed in 1913.

The park also commemorates those who died in other conflicts in the struggle for Irish freedom, notably: the 1798 rebellion; the 1803 rebellion; the Young Ireland rebellion; the Fenian uprising in the 1860s; the land wars, and the Irish War of Independence between 1919 and 1922.

Designed by Daithí Hanly, the garden was opened by President Éamon de Valera in 1966, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. In the center of the garden’s well-kept lawn is a cruciform reflecting pool. A mosaic on the floor of the pool depicts abandoned, broken swords, pears and shields, symbolizing peace. The focal point at the west end of the garden is a large bronze sculpture (1971) by Oisín Kelly of the legendary Children of Lir, who were changed into swans by their stepmother. The statue symbolizes the rebirth of the Irish nation following 900 years of struggle for independence from England and, later, the United Kingdom, much as the swans were “reborn” following 900 years.