Goodbye, Ireland. Hello, USA.

So I’m back in America. And I hadn’t finished my blog entries yet (because I already graduated and I am not good at keeping my journal up to date). But I think the real reason was I knew that if I finished my last blog entry, my time in Ireland would be officially over. And that was both scary and sad to me. So I apologize in advance for the recent posts that lack any sort of charisma or insight. Some memories I would like to keep special to myself.

The first and only question that I have been asked since I have been back is “how was Ireland?” The only response I can say is “great, I had a wonderful time,” and then I change the subject. How on earth can I describe the experiences I had in a way that people will understand? Nobody can fully understand how special and unique my experience was. There’s just no way to adequately explain the life changing moments, lessons, and experiences I had. I’m a different person and I have changed. My thought going into the program was that since I’m a senior, I’m graduating, and I’ve traveled before, this trip would be a fun way to end my college semester. But it was more than that. It was a challenging, life changing, beautiful experience that I can’t picture who I am today or what I want to be without it.

Sometimes I cry for no reason. Like if a song comes on the radio that was a song we listened to frequently, or I find a picture I forgot about, or a letter someone wrote me. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I actually was there, because it certainly doesn’t feel like I did. Sometimes I avoid people. I want to tell people “don’t ask me about Ireland, but let me sit you down for hours and tell you all about it.” It’s a love hate relationships of wanting to go into extreme detail of everything that happened….but also knowing that even if you talk about it, nobody really quite understands. I remember when the pilot announced we would be landing in Grand Rapids shortly, we all made eye contact across the plane. Every single one of us had a look of fear on our faces. We landed on the runway and we thought “did we even go? Were we even there?” We all stood outside the gate for a while holding hands in a circle. Someone said, “what happens when we go through those doors? What’s going to happen to us?” It was a bizarre feeling (and I’m sure as you are reading this you probably are like….uh, okay dramatic much?) but I wanted nothing more than to run through the terminal to see my best friends but also run back onto the plane and demand we go back to Ireland.

All of my receipts, stickers, brochures, and tickets are sitting in a bag in the corner of my room. Since I didn’t keep a written journal, I think I’m just going to put everything in chronological order in the journal and write down locations and dates. I haven’t done that yet. I am kind of scared to, but I also want to lock myself in my room for a week and look over everything. I also developed the pictures I took on my disposable camera. They are beautiful. The friends that I made are beautiful people and I am so lucky to have them. Ireland is beautiful. My favorite pictures are of me and my roommates on our last night in Ireland, all crammed into Emma’s small room, escaping the party in the living room because we wanted to have a moment to ourselves. My other favorite is one I captured at Glassilaun Beach during sunset. It’s my favorite place in the world.

To sum up this final (and slightly depressing, sorry) blog entry, here are my top things I did while I was in Ireland:

1) I ran the London marathon! It was a challenge I set for myself and to execute and succeed in that goal was life changing. Thank you to all for your unwavering support right from the beginning. A special cheers to my dad, who from the minute I told him I wanted to do this, sat down and helped me make a running schedule, gave me a marathon advice book to read, and emailed me motivation and support every day until the marathon.
2) I traveled by myself to London for the marathon. Everyone should travel to a foreign country and travel on their own. It was liberating, it was incredible, it was badass.
3) I climbed Diamond Hill! It was a tough mountain to climb (and you all know how much I hate hiking), but at the top the view was unforgettable. We stood at the highest point of the mountain and looked down over the green hills and the ocean…unforgettable.
4) I got engaged!! Taylor Seale (star, stud, and best friend) came to visit me in Tully Cross and then we made our way to Dublin. He got down on one knee in front of Dublin Castle at midnight of Paddy’s Day. My engagement anniversary is on St. Patrick’s Day….like, what? I am so lucky and I am so excited to be starting this journey with my best friend.
5) I HELD A BABY LAMB. INSERT SQUEALS AND CUTENESS AND FLUFFINESS.
6) I sang Danny Boy for my parents in a pub in Ireland. Cross that off my bucket list.
7) I ate freshly caught oysters and drank Guinness with old Irish fisherman at a pub.
8) I WENT TO IRELAND I LIVED THERE FOR FOUR MONTHS. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Thank you, Mom and Dad. I couldn’t have done this without your support. I remember when I first told you I was thinking about studying abroad, you supported me right away. Thank you for this life changing experience.

And finally, we sign off officially. Slainte!
Cheers,
Taylor

Gaelic Football

Paul Gannon came to talk to our class about Gaelic Football (something that we all knew about, but were still very confused as to how to play it). He taught us the history of the game, as well as the rules. In all honesty, I zoned out for a long time, until Paul said to us “well it’s not much use just talking about how the game works, why don’t we play a game instead?” So we went out to the pitch behind the cottages and he taught us how to play. I think at first we were expecting just to be taught basic rules with some visual demonstrations, but…no. Paul Gannon had brought water bottles, cones, and a bag of equipment. We started off the day by stretching and running laps (everyone participating were not happy). Then, Paul taught us some basic drills (how to pick up the ball, how to kick it, and how to pass it.) He then goes “alright, let’s play!” He was met with some looks of horror and confusion, and replied “If I tell you all the rules now, it’s not going to sink in. I will stop the game when someone has broken a rule and we will go from there.”

After at least one hundred whistle blows within the first five minutes, paired with some cursing and grass stained knees, we slowly started to get a grasp of the game. And it was SO fun! Everybody dove straight in with no hesitations and we didn’t want to stop playing. Paul Gannon was so pleased that he announced we could have an Aquinas game during Mussel Festival, complete with jerseys and trophies. He was met with a resounding “YES!” and we happily winced our way back up the hill to the Sammon’s to stuff our faces with full Irish breakfasts.

Cheers,
Taylor

Galway!

Today was exciting for me because it was our last day trip as a group, as well as I had never been able to explore the city of Galway before! I had only stopped through to transfer to a different bus on my way to Dublin. It was a perfectly sunny day, and we all branched off to explore in our different groups. Annie, Kyle, Maggie and I went to explore some of the shops and made an emergency trip to Burger King to get some chicken fries.

We wandered throughout the main part of downtown, then decided to take a break by the water with some lemonade and ice cream. When it was time to get back on the bus, I stayed behind with Claire, Kyle, Annie, and Christin to stay at our friend Ellen’s house for the night. We got all dolled up, went on a pub crawl, and I will leave it at that. Slainte!

Cheers,
Taylor

Strokestown Famine Museum and the Museum of Country Life

Today we took a day trip to visit the Strokestown Famine museum and the Museum of Country Life. The Famine museum was a wonderful exhibit – it was very hands on and lots of visuals. At this point in our studies, we had a firmer grasp on the famine and because of this I think we all enjoyed the museum more. They even had some potato blithe conserved in a jar at the exhibit – how crazy is that!

At the Museum of Country Life, there was much more to explore than just the exhibit. There was a lake to walk around, gardens to walk through, shops, and cottages. We all kept joking that we didn’t need to learn about the Museum of Country Life because we had been living the country life for the past four months, but it was a great museum nevertheless. In the museum you could walk through different aspects of country daily life: what it was like being in a classroom, how to thatch a roof, cooking methods, etc. You could even try on costumes! To top it all off, it was a beautiful sunny day and we all bought fresh sandwiches and went to lay down by the lake before the bus came.

Cheers,
Taylor

Southern Ireland Trip!

The next three days marked our last final group trip away from Tully Cross before we would be going back home. We weren’t entirely sure what we would be doing or where we would be going, but it was exciting nonetheless. We stayed at a hotel the first night (not a hostel!! Yay!) and were treated to an amazing five course meal. The mushroom soup (surprisingly) was the best soup I have ever had. It was a crowd favorite, for sure.

While there was a lot of time on the bus, we made some pretty incredible stops. One of my favorite stops was Cahir Castle (they had some pretty awesome defense mechanisms throughout the castle). Our next stops were Dingle Peninsula (good fish n’ chips and dolphin themes EVERYWHERE), Kilmalkader church, and the Gallarus oratory. It was a lot of getting off the bus to look at something briefly and then getting back on the bus (felt like the scene from Family Vacation when they arrive at the Grand Canyon).

We then went to a different hotel (Abbey Hotel), and were again treated with some delicious food. (I of course, went straight for the soup and sandwich combo). Then, we went to see Muckross House (a Victorian style mansion in the middle of Killarney National Park). The gardens were my absolute favorite, as well as we went on a jaunting cart ride through the national park! It was an unexpected treat from Dan and Kate, and we got to see much more of the park than we would have on our own.

We made a dinner stop (again, soup and a sandwich) and made our way back to Tully Cross. While some of us wished we could have stayed in the places longer, we were so grateful at the chance to see a different part of Ireland. Southern Ireland is stunning, I would highly recommend it for anybody visiting.

Cheers,
Taylor

WEEK 8: NEFCY FAM SHENANIGANS

Everyone has left for the start of their spring break trips! People are going all over – Amsterdam, Italy, France…..but I am staying in Ireland with my family! To start off the day, we went to a pub called The Brazen Head, which is one of the oldest pubs in Ireland and was established in 1129. (seriously, 1129). I convinced my family to all order full Irish breakfasts (you’re welcome) and we didn’t tell Jared what black pudding was until after he ate it (in case you were wondering, it’s oats mixed with the drained blood of a cow.). There was a lovely peat fire beside us and we had several pots of tea as well. We were anxious to get on the road because we had a long drive to County Clare, but we were meeting up with Aunt Martha and her friend Linda before we headed out. Two hours later than expected, Martha and Linda finally arrive at the pub. We were seriously considering leaving a sticky note at the bar saying we had left (because how else would we contact her?), but all was fine now! We all separated in rental cars (Jared and I with Martha and Linda) and made our way to County Clare, where we would be staying in a house on a golf course resort! The house we stayed in was really spacious and nice. There was wifi (what! Wifi in the house??), a washer AND a dryer AND a dishwasher. After Tully Cross, this was luxury. My sweaters could finally be a normal size again after having to line dry them for the past two months.

The whole week was filled with various day trips – we went to Cliffs of Moher (it was windy, but thank goodness it was sunny!), St. John’s castle, Bunratty castle, and Rock of Cashel. We also befriended the owner of the pub on the golf course, who invited us frequently to his other pub in Scariff. The craic was mighty there, and we even got to sit in on a live music session! It was absolutely wonderful getting to be with my family for a whole week.

One of the most memorable experiences of my trip was being able to share with my family the wonderful town of Tully Cross. It has been difficult trying to explain how incredible this place is, so for my family to be able to see it in person was very special to me. We toured the cottages, went to each pub and met Patrick Sammon and Colin Coyne, went to mass, at a full Irish breakfast at Sammons, took a picture in front of the famous Tully Cross sign, and went to my favorite place in the world: Glassilaun beach. We went to Kylemore Abbey as well and I ran out of room on my phone because I was taking so many pictures. I was so lucky to have my whole family experience my home away from home. And I think they fell in love with it too.

Cheers,
Taylor

WEEK 7: DUBLIN TRIP

February 27th, 2015

TODAY THE NEFCY FAMILY ARRIVES IN IRELAND. I sat by the window of my hostel like a puppy, anxiously looking up and down the street through the window for a glimpse of the Nefcy fam making their way. Not having cell phone service makes it difficult to be able to meet up with people (obviously) and my fingers were crossed that they were okay and on time. And they were!! I saw them come through the door and I burst into tears as I tackled them. Everyone was looking a little bleary eyed and exhausted, but we made a beeline for Starbucks and walked around Dublin to wake up a bit. We found a lovely place to eat lunch (it was called The Church, it was a refurbished cathedral turned into a bar/restaurant/night club) and the fam had a long needed dose of fish n’ chips with pints of Guinness.

After lunch we wandered around (taking the occasional break in a pub with pints of Guinness and Smithwicks, you know, for strength) and then made our way to the hotel. Watching my parents figure out the European GPS (we have called her Una, she’s a right piece of shite), drive on the left side of the road in a stick shift, AND figure out what street to turn on when there are no street names was immensely entertaining. We left Jared and Molly in the hotel to sleep (they were getting grumpy), and the rest of us went to the Guinness Storehouse. The Guinness Storehouse was AWESOME. The facility is stunning and it really is an amazing exhibit. My favorite part was the Gravity Bar at the top. It was a 360 room made entirely of glass and you were poured a complimentary (and perfect) pint of Guinness while you could look out at the entire city of Dublin.

Tonight also marks the last day all of the Aquinas students will be all together, so we all went on one last pub crawl togther before people left for spring break travels the next day. We even took AJ along (he’s legal here!) and had some good craic out on the town.
Cheers,
Taylor

WEEK 7: DUBLIN TRIP

February 26th, 2015

The next morning, feeling much better about the pub crawl festivities after a hearty full Irish breakfast, we went on a bus tour of the whole city. The sun was out and we sat on the open top of the bus as we listened to our bus driver tell us about all the main stops, while everyone excitedly marked in their maps what they wanted to see later.

When we got off the bus, everyone was free to see whatever they wanted. My first stop was Kilmainham Jail, a historic site in which the1916 Easter Uprising leaders were executed. Before we left for Dublin, I had to give a summary of Kilmainham to the class, so to actually visit the jail after researching it was incredible. Right now, I was stepping into our history books, walking along the stone floors that Parnell, Clarke, Pearse, and Connolly walked on. The saddest part of the tour was when we passed the chapel inside the jail. Here, Joseph Plunkett married Grace Gifford two hours before he was executed.

My spirits were lifted after the tour because I would soon be meeting one of my old YMCA Camp Roger friends by the spire on O’Connell street. It still blows my mind that I was getting to meet up with Niall two years later after camp. He looked the same and hadn’t changed a bit, and we headed straight for the nearest pub to catch up over some pitchers of beer. Afterward, Niall took me on a tour of Trinity College (where he graduated from). The architecture of the buildings were stunning, and it was fascinating to be able to go inside all of the buildings. We then walked along Grafton Street and passed by various shopping malls, and then (INSERT MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE DAY) Niall took me to go get a margarita. A FROZEN MARGARITA. It was amazing. It was satisfying. I was happy happy. And everybody back at the hostel was extremely jealous.

In the evening, we went to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Abbey Theatre. As a theatre major, being able to step inside the Abbey Theatre founded by W.B.Yeats was absolutely amazing. It was a stunning space. The interpretation of the play, in my opinion, wasn’t quite what I was expecting and I don’t quite agree with it (ask me about it in person), but regardless it was a wonderful night out and a perfect way to end the day.

Cheers,
Taylor

WEEK 7: DUBLIN TRIP

February 25th, 2015

Today we made our way to Dublin, feeling excited (and sleep deprived) and anxious to be starting our spring break adventures. We also have been learning all about the famous historical sites in Dublin during our class lectures, and we couldn’t wait to see them in person. On the way to Dublin, we stopped at Clonmacnoise in County Offaly and Newgrange in County Meath. Clonmacnoise was founded in 544 and sits stragetically on the river Shannon. Over the years, it was a central location for religion, crafts, and trading purposes. Today we saw the ruins of the site, with century old Celtic crosses scattering the landscape. Newgrange, however, was my favorite stop. Newgrange is a megalithic passage tomb built around 3200 BC, where the only passageway leads to a chamber that can only be lit by the winter solstice sunrise.

After living in rural Tully Cross for the past two months, we were excited to experience the city life of Dublin. A few of us had been to the city of Galway for a weekend, but this was different. We were in the heart of Dublin and we had three full days to explore on our own. We also could not contain our excitement as we passed not one, but two Chinese buffets on the way to our hostel.

We unpacked our bags in our hostel (free wifi throughout the WHOLE building, what a luxury) and immediately set foot for the nearest Chinese buffet. It was fifteen euro for the whole meal (it was expensive, but we didn’t care) and I ate as many crab rangoons, teriyaki sticks, sweet and sour chicken, and strawberry jello cups as I possibly could. In all honesty, the buffet was probably really terrible, but we had been craving Chinese food for so long it tasted like the best thing in the world.

After dinner, we remembered that we had the whole night ahead of us and we were free to do whatever we wanted. When we got back to the hostel we asked a guy at the front desk where we should go for drinks and instead he gave us a brochure for a pub crawl that happened every night (awesome). So we went on the pub crawl and what happens in Dublin stays in Dublin. I’ll leave it at that. Be sure to ask Annie about the Dublin bridge, if you get a chance.

Cheers,
Taylor