Saturday, October 3, 2015

guest post: ireland - the land of green grass, sheep, & ruins

so sorry for the intense silence over here in blog land -- school started at the end of july and life has been busy, busy, busy. i have at least ten of my own blog posts to write, from spring break all the way to summer break, but in the meantime, please accept my apologies and enjoy this three part series on ireland from my mom!

ps. retired life sounds lovely; iceland and ireland in one year, jealous.

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We just got back from 10 days in Ireland. We took a coach (bus) tour – seemed smarter than having to drive on the right ourselves and missing scenery because we were driving and navigating. Once we got there, and were confronted with the reality of driving on the right, we were so glad that we had opted for a bus tour. We had trouble figuring out which way to look even while on foot!


Ireland is full of green fields, stone fences and sheep. Stone fences lined both sides of the local roads, divided up the fields, even went up mountains sides – all to keep one farmer’s sheep away from his neighbor’s. The fields were beautifully green. I don’t know if they get more rain and less heat there than in the U.S. or whether it was a different kind of grass that doesn’t grow tall and get brown, but the fields were covered with short, very green grass of some kind. Sheep were everywhere. Even houses that looked sort of suburban because they weren’t surrounded by acres of fields still had a few sheep grazing nearby. I don’t know whether large flocks of sheep owned by the farmers are divided up and a few placed in individual fields, or whether everyone has a few sheep (maybe to keep the grass short?  I couldn’t figure out the benefits of owning five or 10 sheep!)








Reading about historic religious wars that led to Catholicism being banned is one thing (under the Penal Laws of the 17th and 18th century, Catholics couldn’t vote, own land, live in town, have a profession or go to school), but we saw the reality of the effects over and over in the ruins of churches and abbeys –stone walls or maybe part of tower were still left in the middle of a field. The religious communities were forced to abandon them since people couldn’t publicly worship, and the buildings fell into disrepair. We were surprised that the ruins and old buildings are still there, not like in the U.S., where the old is so often torn down to make room for the new. There were newer houses, but many of the farm houses looked to have been around for centuries. 



In the towns, old structures were repurposed, and shops occupied storefronts that had been used for decades. I’m sure Ireland has big box stores, but we didn’t see any, and every little village main street seemed to be thriving, with the shops freshly painted and surrounded by hanging flowers.


 

 

Whereas the U.S. is a country of immigrants, Ireland is a country defined by emigration. Due to the hardship of English occupation and the Great Famine (potato famine, 1845-1852), 1.5-2 million Irish, out of a total population of  approximately 8.1 million, died or left the country during this period. The Irish museums we went to focused on the lives the emigrants would have lived in the New World. And there seemed to be strong and continuing connections between the families still in Ireland and the relatives that emigrated. Most everyone in our tour group of 24 considered themselves Irish-American, and the tourist souvenir shops catered to the American idea of what was Irish – everything was bright green and covered with shamrocks and/or leprechauns.