Ireland: Isle of Saints and Heroes

Led by Dr. John Ellis, a selected group of students will travel across the Ireland for approximately three weeks in May 2020.  We will travel through both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (United Kingdom).  Some of the sites we intend to visit include:

Medieval Dublin: Founded by Vikings on the east coast of Ireland in 841, Dublin has a rich medieval past. We will walk the oldest streets of Dublin, visit Christchurch Cathedral, explore the ancient and medieval artifacts at the National Museum of Ireland (Kildare St.), and gaze upon the illuminated glory of the Book of Kells at Trinity College.  We will close a full day with an evening of Irish food, drink and traditional story telling at the city's oldest medieval pub, the Brazen Head

Revolutionary Dublin:   Dublin was at the center of the great revolution for Irish independence between 1916 and 1922.  Through a tour of its streets and buildings, we will follow the battles of the 1916 Rising, Anglo-Irish War and Civil War.  We will study the exhibitions and artifacts on Irish rebels and soldiers at the National Museum of Ireland (Collins Barracks ) before touring Kilmainham Jail, where the leaders of the Rising were executed, and Glas Nevin Cemetery, the national burial ground of the nation's leaders and heroes.   

Boyne Valley: Thirty miles north of Dublin, the Boyne River runs through a valley steeped in ancient ruins, myth and history.  We will trace the prehistoric foundations of Irish history as we travel through the Boyne Valley, visiting the mysterious Neolithic tomb at Newgrange, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the nearby ancient royal capital of Tara, with its mounds, ruins and fabled Stone of Destiny.

Glendalough:  In the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin, the great monastic settlement of the storied St Kevin stood along the lakes of Glendalough.  During the early middle ages, when Irish society was entirely rural and lacked any cities or towns, Glendalough served not only as a religious site but as a center of trade, manufacture, learning and justice.  Surrounded by the beauty of forested lakes, we will explore Glendalough's substantial ruins, including St. Kevin's "kitchen" and iconic round tower. 

Killarney:  We will travel to the southwestern county of Kerry and the town of Killarney.  From the historic Lake Hotel (with its own castle ruin in the back yard!), we will take a horse pulled jaunting car up to the medieval ruins of Muckross Abbey and the Victorian splendor of Muckross House.   The following day, we will take a scenic drive of the famous Ring of Kerry, stopping at Derrynane, the house of Daniel O'Connell, the civil rights leader of Victorian Ireland known as "the Great Liberator".   We will then board a fishing boat for a cruise around Skelling Michael, the craggy nesting ground of sea birds that was once the remote home of early medieval monks whose stone huts can still be seen standing on its cliffs.   The historical and natural importance of the island has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.     

Galway:  Along the Corrib River on the coast of Ireland's wild western county of Connacht, we will visit Galway.  A maritime and fishing town once dominated by "tribes" of powerful Hiberno-Norman families, known for its feud with the ferocious O'Flahertys and celebrated for its trade with Spain during the Middle Ages, Galway fell on hard times in more modern times but today is a lively tourist town and cultural center which hosts the expansive University College, Galway.  We will search out the remnants of Galway's past in the city's streets, in the exhibitions of the Galway City Museum, and on a cruise up its river and inland lakes on the Corrib Princess.  From Galway, we will explore the Gaeltracht (Gaelic speaking) region of the west with seminars on the Gaelic language and culture, with stops at Aughananure Castle, the home of the feared O'Flahertys, and Dungaire Castle, where we will dine at a medieval banquet.

Aran Islands:  Situated in the midst of Galway Bay and looking out into the Atlantic, the Aran Islands is the craggy home to Gaelic speaking fishing communities known for their hard living, traditional ways and hand crafted woolens.  The islander's struggle to survive against the forces of nature were famously recorded in the 1934 film Man of Arran.   We will take a ferry to Inis Mor, the largest of the islands, where a native islander will give us a tour of the villages, sites of cultural importance and natural beauty.  A highlight of the day will be Dun Aengus, a prehistoric stone fort dramatically perched on top of a high sea cliff.   

Belfast:  Located in the United Kingdom's Northern Ireland, Belfast was the prosperous heart of modern Ireland, its largest city and the world's leading manufacturer of linen and ships.  Like most of Northern Ireland, it is a city dominated by a Protestant majority but with a substantial and oppressed Catholic minority.  During the "Troubles" of the 20th century, the city became infamous for its violent clashes between Protestant and Catholic communities and the bombing campaigns of the IRA and UVF.  Today,  after more than two decades of reconciliation and peace, Belfast is a vibrant post-industrial city enjoying a renaissance as a growing college town and burgeoning film location.  We will be staying at the Europa Hotel, known for being the most bombed hotel in European history and within sight of the Crown Liquor Saloon, Ireland's most famous and ornate Victorian gin palace.  We will examine the history of Belfast's industrial society through the Titanic Experience, a massive and immersive museum that not only celebrates the famous ship and the tragedy of its sinking but examines the social and economic history of the city that built her.  We will then focus on the history of the Troubles with a Black Taxi Tour of the Catholic and Protestant enclaves in the Falls and Shankill Roads, the Peace Wall that separates the two communities, and the many political murals that mark the area. 

We will also have plenty of time to explore the lively Cathedral District with its famous entries, narrow and winding alleyways that contain some of the oldest pubs and best restaurants in Belfast.   Just outside Belfast, we will spend a day at the Ulster Folk Museum, an open-air, living history museum of over 100 acres portraying Irish village and rural life as it would have been in Ulster 100 years ago. 


Antrim Coast:  Driving along the spectacularly scenic Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, we will stop for a tour and a dram at the Bushmills Distillery, the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.  We will take a look at the Giant's Causeway, a stunning coastal rock formation of basalt columns said to have been built by the heroic giant, Finn Mac Cumhaill and recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.  We will continue on to Dunluce Castle, the banshee ridden cliff top fortress of the Macdonnell clan, who dominated the Antrim coasts of Ulster and the western isles of Scotland during the 16th and 17th centuries.           

Derry:  The city of Derry (or Londonderry) has become a tragic symbol of the violent and tragic history between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.   During the Williamite wars of the turbulent 17th century, Derry was the scene of a long, desperate and bloody siege that pitted the region's Catholics and Protestants against each other.   During the 20th century, the city erupted with the violence of the Troubles.   Years of communal rioting culminated in 1972 with Bloody Sunday, a massacre where British soldiers gunned down 28 peaceful Catholic protestors.   During our visit, we will walk the wonderfully intact medieval walls of Derry and contemplate the city's history at the Tower Museum and the Siege Museum.   Just outside the city walls in the Catholic neighborhood of the Bogside, we will tour the streets where the riots and massacre took place, pay our respects at the Bloody Sunday Memorial and contemplate the history of conflict and reconciliation at the Free Derry Museum.