Ireland Update Week 3 (Skip to the end for pics!)

Well, we have officially completed our first week of classes here at UCD. Fortunately, we’re settled in a lot and I am feeling much more positive and happy about life!

Finances, our major issue thus far, is nigh unto resolved. Fortunately our available assets are such that we shouldn’t have a problem, and an additional loan should resolve any lingering expenses or emergencies. Chris’ financial situation is improving as well, as he has been granted an additional loan package opportunity and should be utilizing it soon.

Anyway, without further adieu:

My Classes

We’re settling into a fairly smooth routine here at University College Dublin. The workload is very different from Hamline! Time and deadlines are much more relaxed and flexible concepts, but obviously challenging material must still be learned and proven. How does that work, you ask?

Well, the workload is shifted entirely away from deadlines, assignments, and requirements and shifts entirely onto your shoulders as a student, particularly your organization, personal time, and motivation.  This set-up makes the European model much more challenging than the American one, but it also presents a really awesome growth opportunity for a hardcore academic like me!

My classes are excellent. I am technically taking six courses: two History, two Celtic Civilization, and two Irish Folklore. They range in difficulty from a very simple introductory course like “Islam and Christianity” to extremely difficult, complex courses like “Religion and Society In Independent Ireland”. It’s a good mix and surprisingly relevant to my studies at Hamline.

Islam and Christianity: This class is taught with a pair, and they both seem very nice and helpful. As an intro course to basic Islam, Christianity, and the Crusades, the beginning of the course so far is very much a repeat for me. (“Who is Mohammad?” “What are the five pillars of Islam?”)

But the course does provide a really good chance to see how religious traditions are taught in Ireland – especially as the Republic is predominantly Catholic and the university has no religion department, organizations, or events. I’m really looking forward to digging more deeply into the material as we go along!

Religion and Society in Independent Ireland: This course is taught by a woman named Susanna Riordan, and it is the most difficult class I am involved in at UCD – possibly the most difficult class I’ve had, ever. Riordan is an Amazon of a woman, wickedly smart, and does not take any answer at face value. She reminds me a lot of Kostihova, but while I am supremely intimidated I also know I will learn *a lot* from her.

Just to give you some insight here. My three-month-long summer research grant project (studying the role of Biblical texts in Catholic/Protestant polemic in the Northern Irish conflict circa 1780 – 1860) is little more than prep for this course.

Religion and Society is about the role of Catholicism and Catholic theory in the political arena in Ireland between the 1920s and the 1960s. Overall, this course will give me more material faster than my previous annotated bibliography in August could have done.

British Celts: This class is taught by a longtime ex-pat from Minnesota! She’s a very kind, gracious sort of professor and so far her class is teaching me a lot about ancient European history.

We’re learning a lot about the pre-Celtic people, the Celts, the Romans, Christianity, the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, and the English. Above all, we’re learning about what it means to be “Celtic”, and how that translates into contemporary concepts like “Ireland”, “England”, “Britain”, “Briton”, and “British” – very interesting stuff!

The Woman’s Voice: In keeping with the above, my second Celtic Civ class is all about what we can learn from – and about – women in regards to Celtic civilization, language, literature, and history (using primary and secondary texts). The course is taught primarily by a very terse, stern sort of woman with very high expectations – by Irish standards. Essentially, she expects a lot more of a dynamic interaction during lecture, which is unusual given UCD’s typical emphasis on tutorials for that sort of thing. But I actually really dig it, because it’s a lot more familiar of a teaching style. Overall, I think my training in history and feminism should serve me well in her course!

Calendar Custom: This Irish Folklore class is taught by a very Irish, calm, serene, and almost mystic woman named Bairbre Ni Fhloinn (Barbara O’Flynn in English). She’s a fluent Irish speaker and has a voluminous knowledge of Irish history, practice, and custom.

Folklore is essentially learning about the way people live and structure their lives. Specifically it’s about rites, rituals, customs, songs, stories, foods, holidays, games, events, locations, and more.  In keeping with the theme, Calendar Custom is all about yearly practices and holidays (where they come from and what they continue to mean). Right now, we’re touching on pre-Christian rites like Beltane, and we’re going to dig into a lot more!

Narrative Arts: Also an IRFL class, this one is *very* different from Ni Fhloinn’s meditative, fastidious presentation.

Kelly Fitzgerald is an American who got her PhD at UCD and has been teaching there for over ten years. She is pretty much a real-life version of Professor Trelawney, and is passionately obsessed with Irish folktales, folk legends, narratives, tales, and myths. She’s a really discombobulated, energetic, intelligent, enthusiastic mess, and she might just become one of my favorites!

New Friends! New Experiences! New Improvements!

Besides my classes, I am also enjoying meeting new friends and digging into new experiences. I was having a bit of a hard time with that at first, but now that school’s started and I am settling into a routine, I’m able to relax and stretch my legs/wings a lot more.

It’s all about being outgoing, striking up conversations, and going to stuff outside your comfort zone. That’s really where you’re going to make lasting friends, and those are the memories you’re going to remember. For example, Thursday night we went and saw “Nowhere Boy”, a really powerful, emotional drama about John Lennon’s troubled teen years and emotionally-scarred relationship with his family. It was at the IFI (Irish Film Institute) and it was absolutely wonderful.

And today we went to Howth!


Howth is a small coastal fishing village north of Dublin. In some ways Howth is a northern suburb of Dublin’s northern working class communities, but given its coastal location and atmosphere, it feels like a million miles from the city.

Chris, excited while on the DART

The fastest way to get to Howth is via the DART (which is a train). Much like Chicago’s Metra, the train shuttles passengers through and from the city with speed and minimal stops.

When you disembark at Howth, you are in the Duluth to Dublin’s Twin Cities. Lighthouse, pier, boardwalk, buskers, fish markets, shops, cute little Irish village – this is Howth, and it is beautiful.

Beautiful little Irish fishing village, sprinkled with fog and sun

High points of the day include exploring the pier and taking beautiful pictures…

What a view!

… climbing a hill with a tower overlooking the ocean…

My favorite picture of the day

… picking our way through a cemetery in a ruins of a 12th century abbey…

The Abbey

… watching the Bath/Ulster rugby game while we ate our supper in a 12th century Irish tavern (once an inn for local monks!)

Aw, Howth!

Chris even brought back a whole, fresh, local, organic salmon slab – caught off the coast of Northern Ireland! How cool is that?


Anyway, now we’re just chilling in my room. I’m finishing up the blog and Chris is finishing up our budget. My to-do list for tonight and tomorrow is a busy one: finances (read: loan), laundry, homework, making travel plans, and setting up 2010/2011 plans (namely, coordinating academic, research, activism/extracurriculars, and internship/work necessities). It’ll be a busy day!

Until next time – be well 🙂


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