Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Back Again

Today was our last, and arguably best, day in Dublin. It's also the last day of the trip, which is bittersweet. We have all been blessed on this trip with amazing friends, incredible experiences, and unforgettable adventures. Tonight at dinner, Dr. Elsner asked us what changed about us on the trip and what we will take away from our experiences in Ireland. Here's what some of us said:
Cali: I see places like the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant's Causeway, and I wonder what Eden was like."
Sam: "My faith is opening up, and I'm learning how to make it my own."
Chelsea: "I loved watching the interactions between people and seeing a new culture and their relationships."
Pete: "We are stuck in our ways, so we ignore other people's views. And I think experiencing something like this helps us understand the world better."
Kathleen: "I loved the unexpected things, like making dinner or going to places that weren't on the itinerary, and I learned to appreciate it." 

Today we went to the Dublin Writer's Museum and Trinity College Dublin. The Dublin Writer's Museum featured original manuscripts of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, G.B. Shaw, Oscar Wilde and others, as well as copies of iconic pieces of literature like Spenser's The Faerie Queene. I think my favorite part was seeing the signed, first edition copy of Ulysses, and even though we weren't allowed to take pictures in the museum, I snuck a few because there was no way I was leaving that museum without a picture of Joyce's signature. The museum was located in an old home, so the upstairs featured a library collection of first edition works by Irish writers, like a first edition copy of Dubliners, Joyce's short story collection, which has my favorite short story, "The Dead." Sam surprised me with my very own copy of Dubliners that she bought at the museum gift shop, so now, I finally have a copy! She was so precious to get it for me! 

The signed, fist edition copy of Ulysses

Next we went to the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin, which features the Book of Kells as well as the infamous Long Room, which is ranked as one of the prettiest libraries in the world and was definitely on my bucket list. I'm not gonna lie... I cried when I walked inside. In the center of the room they have temperature controlled, first edition copies of classic books and graphic novels ranging from medieval psalters to The Hunger Games. The most breathtaking part of the library was the walls lined with ancient books preserved for the generations. Literature has been, and will always be, my passion, and one of the many things that draws me to literature is its timeless essence. Words transcend generations, uplift souls, inspire actions, and influence culture. More than weapons of mass destruction, more than fashion statements, more than the glances of models and actors on TV, the written word continuously inspires and brings growth to generations. The words that James Joyce penned one hundred years ago are still poignant today and one hundred years from today. That's what I love about literature: it connects us to the past and the future and enriches our present.

Trinity College Dublin

In "The Dead" Joyce uses snow as a symbol for the unification of all people. The main character, Gabriel, believes that he is better than everyone at his aunts' Christmas party, and the entire story he is worried about including a quote by Robert Browning in his annual Christmas speech because he thinks it would be too sophisticated for his audience. Yet by the end of the story when his wife confesses she is in love with someone else and he ostracized himself from everyone at the party, Gabriel realizes that he is not as special as he once believed. "The Dead" ends with Joyce's description of Gabriel looking out the hotel window at the snow. Joyce writes, "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." Just as the snow symbolizes unity between all people in Joyce's "The Dead," I believe that literature symbolizes the unity between people and cultures. My soul certainly swooned slowly when I entered the library today.

The long room

This trip has taught me a lot about myself and how I relate to others. I have been challenged physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have explored another culture and another world and found that it is not so different from my own. I have traveled far and wide. There were parts I didn't like, there were parts that stretched me, and there were parts that taxed me. But there were also glorious parts that fed my soul and my heart, that opened my eyes to unexpected glories, and that nurtured my spiritual journey in unimaginable ways. Like Bilbo in The Hobbit, I discovered that I'm a lot braver than I thought I was. I may not be a burglar now, and I certainly didn't aid in a battle between five armies, but I did grow and change on this trip, and I think that growth and change was for the better. 

At the end of The Return of the King, Frodo continues the traveling poem Bilbo wrote at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo's continuation is this:

The road goes ever on and on 
Out from the door where it began
Now far ahead the road has gone
Let others follow it who can
Let them a new journey begin
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn
My evening-rest and sleep to meet

I must admit, I am happy about going home, back to my armchair, my book, and my cup of tea, but I don't think my armchair will be as comfortable as the one in Limerick, my book as beautiful as The Book of Kells, or my tea as strong or satisfying as the cup I could get in a corner cafe. And I KNOW I can't get scones as good as the ones I had here. But home is where I belong, and it is wonderful...just in a different way.   

The copy of The Hobbit at TCD. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Road Goes Ever On and On

Today was a long and busy day full of plenty of adventures. This morning we woke up to continental breakfast at the Belfast Youth Hostel where we spent the night. Afterwards, we loaded our stuff onto a charter bus and headed out on a tour of The Giant's Causeway area. On the way to the Giant's Causeway we stopped at Carrickfergus Castle, Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, and Bushmill's Distillery. After all of that we returned to Belfast at 5:50, just in time to catch the 6:00 bus to Dublin. Upon arrival, Sam led us to our hotel where we were able to put down our bags and wander around the block where our hotel is, looking for a place that took credit cards and served food at 9:00 at night. We finally found a hole-in-the-wall pizza place that served pizza, chips, dip, and a drink for €5.00 a person. Someone made the comment that in Northern Ireland, you can't even get a drink for €5.00. Now, we are full, sleepy, and ready for bed.

Carrickfergus Castle was home of William of Orange during the Battle of the Boyne on the outskirts of Belfast. We did not go in the castle because they charged admission, but we wandered around the outside and took a few pictures. In front of the castle was a life sized statue of William of Orange, who is said to have been four feet tall. Luke decided that it would be fun to measure how tall William of Orange was in comparison to me. I'm just excited I'm purportedly taller than a king. Afterwards, we drove two hours along the coastal rode to the area around the Giant's Causeway. While riding along, we passed many fishing villages, salmon farms, and beautiful landscapes. From the coast, we could actually see the country of Scotland, and at one point we were only twelve miles away from the Scottish shore. The coastal road was absolutely picturesque, and I finally began taking pictures with my camera out the bus window because I couldn't resist capturing the absolute splendor.

Carrickfergus Castle

One of the villages we passed on the coastal road

When we made it out to the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, the sunshine we enjoyed this morning began fading. We didn't walk across the rope bridge either because it also cost an inordinate amount of money, but we got some absolutely beautiful pictures of the coastline and enjoyed tea and cake in a cafe. While we were in the cafe, it began to snow, and it snowed intermittently the rest of the day. Our next stop was Bushmill's Distillery where we stopped for thirty or forty-five minutes to have lunch at their cafe. To complete our day tour, we ended up at the Giant's Causeway.

View of the rope bridge

The Giant's Causeway was created when lava rock hardened in hexagonal shapes forming intricate patterns along the coast. In ancient times, the people believed that these rocks were actually remains of a city of giants that once lived there and the rocks that moved out towards the water were remains of a road that led to Scotland. Another story says that Celtic Giants from Scotland and Pict Giants from Ireland would have wars, and one Celtic Giant fell in love with a Pict Giant, so his wife burned the Giant's City so that her husband would not cheat on her again. Another one of the formations that lends itself to stories are a series of long rocks on the side of the cliff that are called The Giant's Organ because they are in the shape of a pan pipe. The legend says that this pipe was left behind by one of the giants.

The Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Organ

Something I found particularly fascinating due to my obsession with Tolkien is that a lot of the rocks along the cliffs jutted out like doors and windows into the face of the cliff. It reminded me of the secret door into The Lonely Mountain. I think this was especially true since the road up to the cliffs and the Giant's Organ made me reminiscent of the mountain walks in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While we were touring the Causeway, the snow got heavier, creating an even stronger Middle Earth feel to the area. Needless to say, I was enamored. In fact, the pathway reminded me of the poem from the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, which goes:
The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the road has gone
And I must follow if I can
Pursuing it with eager feet
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet
And whither then? I cannot say

I can understand why the area was called The Giant's Causeway. The sheer magnanimity of the coast would make even the largest person feel small. But I think it is nice to be reminded of how small we truly are. Dr. Seuss wrote, "A person is a person no matter how small." There is a humbling beauty to realizing there is a wide, wonderful world that is greater and more lovely than we can ever know, and more importantly that we have a creator who is wider, deeper, higher, and bigger than our world can even depict is as humbling as it is comforting. I think sometimes we think about the largeness of the world as being scary and intimidating, but in reality, it should be a comfort to know that God is greater than even the Giant's Causeway.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Valley in the Mirror

Today we left our beautiful B&B in Armagh and traveled to Belfast. Though we had intended to spend the day on a coastal tour of the Giant's Causeway, we decided instead to visit the C.S. Lewis Memorial on the other side of town. But since C.S. Lewis is my favorite author, I didn't mind. Right now, we are sitting in a cafe called French Village having coffee and pastries, and I don't think I could have had a better day.

Kissing C.S. Lewis...because why not? 

Maureen, the owner of the B&B, actually drove us and our baggage to the bus station this morning after cooking us a full breakfast complete with rashers, scrambled eggs, and orange juice. She was an absolutely precious woman, and I actually miss her. Anyway, we got on a bus and headed towards Belfast, arriving at the edge of the city an hour later. It was only a block and a half to our hostel, and though the rooms are small, we have a warm room with a roof over our heads and a bed, so I can't complain. Also, my room number is 221, and the Sherlock Holmes fan in me appreciates that.

We stopped in for lunch at a cafe called Bright's and had soups and sandwiches before we headed out to the C.S. Lewis memorial. It was a longer walk than I anticipated, but it was well worth it. The memorial depicted Lewis walking into the wardrobe as if he were stepping into Narnia. And while I love Narnia, it makes me a little sad that there was no reference to Lewis's other works. Still, Belfast was Lewis's home when he was a child, and Narnia is his most childlike work. One thing that I appreciate about Lewis, and other writers like him, is that The Chronicles of Narnia is not just for children but is also applicable to adults. I think that's the most important element of a children's or young adult book: it can be appreciated by all audiences, even if you appreciate it differently.

C.S. Lewis memorial

The thing I loved most about the C.S. Lewis memorial was that it was set up in front of the library. I like to think that Lewis would appreciate being in front of a library. It seems like a good place for a memorial to a bibliophile. We walked another block down to the church where Lewis attended as a child. Unfortunately, the church was closed, so we couldn't go in, but I did sit on the steps. It was interesting to see the church where Lewis grew up because for a lot of his life he was an atheist. Ironically, Tolkien lamented that when Lewis became a Christian, he went to a Protestant church instead of a Catholic church like him. Then again, Tolkien played a significant role in Lewis's life, so I suppose it is only fair that he would want to have an influence in Lewis's spiritual journey as well. Still, the two remained great friends.

At St. Mark's

We took a bus back to the city center from St. Mark's (Lewis's church), and I spent some time talking to a guy from Belfast who had worked at a summer camp in Hendersonville, North Carolina. We had barely gotten on the bus when he tapped me on the shoulder and asked where I lived in America. I guess I have an accent or something. Anyway, while we were talking, he commented on the peace walls, which I had noticed earlier, though I didn't know what they were. He explained that these murals on brick walls around town were painted during times of violence in Belfast. In my earlier post about the differences between North Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, I mentioned that Northern Ireland still had a lot of political conflict, especially between Catholics and Protestants, and a lot of that political conflict took place in Belfast. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of any of the murals, but they generally depicted armed men and were captioned with political slogans--chilling reminders of what once was and what is still going on under the surface.

The guy on the bus also called to my attention that the country of Northern Ireland has a population half the size of Manhattan, yet it seems so much bigger to me than Manhattan. It is funny to think that a tiny island in our large country is actually larger than some countries in other parts of the world. I suppose until we have a global perspective, we don't really understand our place in the rest of the world. I was talking to Kathleen on the bus this morning, and she said that though everyone seemed to think other countries were so much better, she liked home just as well. And that got me thinking that the grass may mot be greener on the other side; it may simply be a different type of grass. Still, if international travel has taught me anything, it has taught me to put my life as an American in a different perspective. 

Since I began with C.S. Lewis, I would like to end him as well. When I was younger, I was invited into the world of Narnia by my third grade elementary school teacher. At first, I thought it was a strange world where beavers and lions and fauns talked and had tea and witches tempted boys with Turkish Delight (I later had Turkish Delight... It was not tempting). Yet through my confusion, it slowly dawned on me that it was an allegory for Christ's sacrifice for us.  And to my third grade mind, it actually brought the message of the Gospel alive in a way that nothing else ever had. And so I embarked on a spiritual journey with Lewis, and I've never gone back.  

In The Last Battle, Lewis writes, “It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different - deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.” When my grandfather was dying, I read this passage to him because for the first time I felt like I could see heaven, and I knew where he would be. For me, there is an innate comfort in the writings of C.S. Lewis, and that comfort came alive again today.   

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Tale of Two Churches

Today we went to two St. Patrick's cathedrals, one Roman Catholic and one Church of Ireland. It was interesting to compare the two services, both of which focused on Jesus's baptism. After church, we went to a small cafe called Fat Sam's that was Cassablanca themed and played Broadway show tunes. After lunch, we headed back to the B&B for a Sunday afternoon nap, and we gathered in the common room of the B&B around five to discuss dinner plans and veg out in front of the TV. We decided on another night of pizza and movies because none of us really wanted to get out in the cold and wind. Tomorrow we will travel to Belfast and then to The Giant's Causeway, but today I am thankful for another day of sabbath. 

"Here's looking at you, kid."

Traditionally, Catholicism and Protestantism have never blended together. The whole impetus of the Reformation was to separate from Catholic doctrine, yet when we separate ourselves, we forget that we all worship the same God. I was reminded of this today after participating in both Catholic and Protestant mass. I think too often we let theological differences impede our ability to worship, and when we do this, we miss the purpose of Jesus's ministry. Our responsibility as Christians is to separate ourselves from the world but certainly not from each other. Participating in Catholic and Protestant worship and appreciating both worship styles is one way that we can set each other apart. We can refuse to let trivial differences dominate our attitudes towards the faiths of others and appreciate worship for what it truly should be: an expression of religious devotion.

Our day of worship began at St. Patrick's Cathedral RC, where we had an abbreviated mass honoring Jesus's Baptism. The cathedral was beautiful, albeit brand new by cathedral standards (I think it was only 150-200 years old), and though worship seemed a little rushed, the mass was a beautiful expression of the significance of baptism, not only in the life of Jesus Christ but also in the life of the average Christian. In the eleven o'clock service, the priest announced that they would be recognizing all of the babies who were baptized in the church that year, which I thought was a good way to re-emphasize the importance of baptism. 

St. Patrick's RC

During the sermon the priest talked about the role of baptism as the beginning of the journey to knowing Christ and showing Christ in our lives. As we think about baptism, we must ask important questions like: What does it mean to be part of the church? What is our baptismal call? My favorite part of the sermon, however, was when the priest said that our place of baptism is where our spiritual journey begins. This made me think about my own baptism just a few short years ago at Greenwood First Baptist Church, and I would venture to say that, in my own case, the priest is right. I am so thankful that I was baptized at GFBC and that it has become my spiritual home and place of nourishment. GFBC has encouraged me in my spiritual journey and has helped me grow in my walk with Christ in ways I could not imagine.

The altar at St. Patrick's RC

After 9:00 mass, we strolled over to the Church of Ireland cathedral for 11:00 mass. We met the dean of the cathedral, an adorable, older gentleman who was as erudite as he was affable, before the service, though the treasurer delivered the sermon this morning. St. Patrick's was an one thousand year old church and the final resting place of the great Brian Boru of Cashel fame. It is also the original home of the Book of Armagh, which contains the writings of St. Patrick. The book is now in the Trinity College library in Dublin; however, they have a copy of both the Book of Armagh and the Book of Kells in the church. 

St. Patrick's, Church of Ireland

While the Catholic service focused on the role of the Christian with regards to Baptism, the Protestant service focused on Jesus's baptism as a symbol for how how we should behave as Christians. The sermon focused on the idea that Jesus's baptism is a symbol of his connection with the baptized. The treasurer quoted Swiss theologian Karl Barth who said, "Pointing to Jesus is the one aim of the theologian and the preacher." Yet, this is also how the Christian should behave. Just as John the Baptist's role during Jesus's baptism was to point towards the ministry of Jesus and the advent of the Holy Spirit, our role as baptized Christians is to point to the work of Jesus Christ. He then asked three important questions:
Do we seek to follow the example of John the Baptist and point others to Jesus?
Are we willing to declare that Christ is the beloved?
Do our lives demonstrate that the heavens have been torn apart and that the Holy Spirit as descended upon us?

The altar at St. Patrick's, Church of Ireland

As we move away from the liturgical season of Christ's birth and into the shadow of the cross, I think it is important to keep in mind the role of baptism as the beginning of a spiritual journey and as another way that we are all connected as Christians, regardless of whether we are Protestant or Catholic. We are unified in baptism just as we are unified in our belief in Christ. Furthermore, we are all unified in our spiritual journey, a journey that necessitates Christlike behavior and precludes our egotistical attempts to self aggrandize our own theological musings. Instead of making our trivial differences important, we should make Christ important because after all, when it is all said and done, all that really matters is Jesus Christ. Today, I went to two different churches united by the same name and the same devotion to Christ, and I left feeling that maybe we would all be better off if we were the same way.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

North and South

As I mentioned previously, today was a travel day, so there's not much to report on. We left at 7:00 this morning from Galway and arrived in Armagh around one o'clock, which was earlier than expected. But in between Galway and Armagh, we experienced virtually every type of weather imaginable. When we left Galway it was rainy, windy, and cold, when we arrived in Dublin it was sunny, and when we arrived in Northern Ireland, it started snowing, our first (and probably only) snow of 2015. We decided to blame Jordan for the snow since she was singing "Snow" from White Christmas during our layover at the Dublin Airport. Apparently, what doesn't work for Bing Crosby and Danny Kay works for Jordan Joseph. Travel was relatively rough since we are all tired, or sick, or a combination of the two. The crying baby in the back of our first bus didn't help matters much, and neither did my breakfast of a ham, cheese, and margarine sandwich. In Cali's words, "It's just weird. Butter on a sandwich!" 

It is funny to think that now that we've arrived in Northern Ireland, we are actually in the UK and not in The Republic of Ireland (where we've been the entire trip) anymore. I was confused as to why Northern Ireland was separate from the Republic of Ireland, so I did a little research this afternoon, and I found a great article from BBC that explained everything. The split between the North and the South was initially caused after WWI when Dublin and the south of Ireland split from the UK and declared their independence. Dublin and southern Ireland were predominantly Catholic at the time, while Northern Ireland was predominantly Protestant, and this aided in the tension between north and south. The separation was extremely violent and resulted in many deaths. However, the split wasn't peaceful, and Northern Ireland has struggled politically ever since. The main struggle in Northern Ireland is between Nationalists and Unionists. Nationalists believe that Northern Ireland should join the Republic of Ireland in their independence, while Unionists want to remain part of the UK. Northern Ireland moved toward peace with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which gave Northern Ireland the right to form their own parliament while still keeping flexible borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Despite the conflict in Northern Ireland, none of it is present in the day-to-day lives of the people of Armagh. Armagh is a quiet town with a beautiful square and small, local shops. In fact, after we got off the bus, we stopped in at the Seven Hills Cafe for tea and a light lunch.Our proprietor of the B&B where we are staying was nice enough to drive out to the cafe to pick up us and our luggage. Her nephews came as well so that there would be enough room for all of us. The guy that drove Jordan, Kristin, and I to the B&B was very nice. He was interested to know how Ireland compared with the rest of the world, particularly America, and he was shocked to find out that Ireland had better food. We explained to him that most people in America don't get to eat local, homegrown meats and veggies even though we should. Tonight, we stayed indoors because of the sleet and snow. Dr. Elsner ordered Dominos pizza, which tastes exactly like American Dominos, and we watched the ends of Mr. Bean and Shrek 2 while eating Irish candy. Kurt says American candy is better, but I couldn't taste the difference. Tomorrow we will go to 9:00 mass at the Catholic church followed by 11:00 mass at the Anglican church. I will be interested in comparing the two services tomorrow. But more than that I am really excited about taking advantage of worshipping in as many cathedrals as possible before we have to go back to America. 

*Disclaimer... In this post I make it sound like we have walked through a blizzard, and I should probably rephrase. The snow is not sticking and most of the time it's a mixture between sleet and snow. That, however, does not negate its existence, and for South Carolinians anything frozen is a big deal, though the concept of frozen is generally limited to the section in the grocery store and the Disney movie.

Rashers and Rugby

I was too tired to blog when we got back to our room last night, but I guess that's what long bus rides this morning are for. Yesterday, we left the Aran Islands by the eight o'clock ferry for Galway. The water was just as choppy as the day before, but we weren't allowed on the top deck like last time, probably because of the fog and the mist. It wasn't time for the sun to rise yet, so pictures would have been superfluous anyway. The sun rises later here, never before eight thirty, and it would be a miracle if we could see it at all. It has rained or misted for the past few days leaving us in a perpetual state of wet, especially yesterday when it rained so hard it seeped through our raincoats. But enough about the cons of travel in January!

When we woke up at the B&B, they had a lovely full Irish breakfast prepared for us, and I learned that the slices of bacon are called rashers. Whatever it was, it was homemade and delicious, especially the coffee. The ride back to Galway was relatively peaceful, though it rained the whole time. When we arrived in Galway, we had some trouble finding the hostel where we were to stay, but once we finally did, we were able to relax in one of the hostel's common rooms and dry out for about an hour, making good use of the wifi. Afterwards, we went out to eat and did a bit of shopping down a cobblestone street completely reserved for pedestrians. I definitely felt like I was walking down the Muggle version of Diagon Alley. After window shopping and a nice lunch of warm bread and soup, we went back to the hostel to rest up before the main event: the rugby match. 

Because at rugby matches you always take selfies.

I know nothing about sports, I'm not particularly interested in sports, and most football games my father watches he watches in the bedroom because he knows my mom and I don't like it; however, I really like rugby. There is something gladiatorial yet graceful about the sheer violence and the brutal skill of the players that makes rugby seem more like watching an artistic expression than a game. More than that, I think, the beauty of rugby can be found in its inherent connection to the tradition of the Olympic games played by the Greeks so long ago. That's what makes rugby fascinating to me.

The rugby match was between Connacht (the Galway team) and Edinburgh, so the game was pretty intense because we all know how much the Irish love the Brits. Before the game, we went to a bar called An Pucan and got drinks and dinner. Dr. Elsner provided us all with matching Connacht rugby jerseys for the occasion, so we fit right in with the crowd. Dr. Elsner's friend, a former rugby player named Ciaran, joined us for a drink and explained the game of rugby to us. A kindly, older gentleman, Ciaran seemed far from connected to the brutality of the rugby game. Then again, until yesterday my only experience with rugby was watching Invictus. Oh, and that rugby shirt I got from Limited Too in third grade. Ciaran explained the game of rugby as best as he could to us, but he also explained that though he played rugby for years, he still didn't know all the rules to the game.

Rugby in its earliest form was played in English schools starting in 1823 between the houses (or fraternities) of the school. Because it was a house event, there could be up to sixty players on any given team. In the beginning stages, rugby was comparable to soccer except you kicked the ball backwards or to the side rather than forwards. However, one rugby player named William Webb Ellis changed the sport forever by picking up the ball and running with it to score during the game. Because of this, the international rugby trophy is called the William Webb Ellis trophy. 

Rugby is played with fifteen players on the field for each team. There are eight forwards and seven backs. There are two halves in a rugby game, and each half is approximately forty minutes long with a ten minute "break" between the halves (they do not call it halftime, and there is no show). There are three ways to score in rugby: a try, a conversion, and a penalty. A try is a lot like a touchdown in American football, only slightly more complicated because the ball MUST touch the ground for the points to be added. A try is worth four points. A player is given a chance to score a conversion after scoring a try to add two extra points to their score. Lastly you can score a penalty kick, which is like a field goal in American football and is worth three points. One of the most famous rugby plays is the scrum which occurs after a penalty is committed by the defending side. A scrum involves eight players crouching low on the ground in a tight group with arms around each other and pushing the other team backwards to gain ground and the ball. It's basically like tug of war with bodies. 

This is a scrum.

One of the things that struck me about the rugby game was the politeness of the fans. Sure, they cheered their team on and clapped and hooted wildly when Connacht scored, but during the most intense moments of the game, the crowd was completely silent. And in that pregnant pause of hope, the focus was solely on the game--not on one particular player, not on the crowd, not even on a recording artist (probably because they didn't play music at the match). I liked this because in a game focused on barbarity, the reaction of the crowd was civil and polite, reminding me that athletics is not all about the glory from the win. 

The stadium was also interesting and very small. No bigger than a small high school football stadium, food trucks provided concessions and fans stood on concrete risers under a protected awning. Season ticket holders, of course, have box seating that is heated and provides chairs and seating, but for most fans, they stand the entire game. Children who come with their parents tend to sit on the railing which separates the crowd from the pitch in order to watch the game. They wave their flags and cheer wildly for their team. Where we stood, we were close to the goal on the right hand side of the pitch giving us great visibility for the game. Even though I am vertically challenged, I could see everything that was happening. Understanding it was a different matter, of course. 

Our view of the pitch.

Though Connacht didn't win the match and we stood out in the rain to watch it, I enjoyed my first rugby match immensely. We are on our way to Dublin now to catch a connecting bus to Armagh. It's another day for adventure, but at least we see the sun.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

On the Beach

Today we went to the Aran Islands. The morning started off with a one hour bus ride to the ferry that then transported us to the island. When we arrived, it was lunch time so we checked into our B&B only to find out that only a bar and a corner grocery store were open while we were on the island. We went to the bar for lunch and had toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, which were warm after a cold ferry ride. Afterwards, most of the group decided to hike up to the top of the island to see a fort, but Kristin and I decided to explore along the coast instead. A few hours later, Jordan and Kathleen joined us at a local coffee shop for some warm drinks. We got snacks at the corner store and headed back to the B&B for some much needed relaxation.

View from the ferry.

The Aran Islands is everything I pictured the coast of Ireland to be and even more. Extremely rocky with gale force winds, at times you feel as if you could lose your way and walk right on to the ocean. The streets are half pavement, half cobblestone and perpetually wet. If you get close enough to the ocean and away from the ferry dock, you can smell the salty air which turns your boots white if you walk too far. On the ocean road that Kristin and I took, we saw plenty of dilapidated farm houses--one of which reminded me of Wuthering Heights. There was even a white horse in front of the house.

Wuthering Heights

I've been hoping all trip for a quiet country ramble, and I finally got one along the coast today. The beauty of the waves as they crashed against the rocks, contrasted with the quiet serenity of the countryside, gave a paradoxical beauty to the scene that unfolded before me. On the way to the islands, we saw a rainbow, which is a reminder of God's constancy and power. I think the rainbow set the mood for the trip. Today was a day of peace, which, in an otherwise hectic trip, has been a blessing. A peaceful island home, a peaceful country walk, a peaceful rest in a nice armchair all contribute to an otherwise wonderful day.

The rainbow

  Don't get me wrong. I am vey thankful for the days of fast-paced travel where we can pack in beautiful sights and wonders of the world. But we have seven days left in our trip, and I'm getting rather weary. I may be on an adventure, but I'll always take an armchair and a cup of tea when I can get it.  Besides, the slow pace of the day seems to match the slow pace of the island, where stores close so shop owners can go home for lunch, where the town sleepily moves to the rhythm of the sea. I have loved all of the tourist attractions we have been enjoying, but today, especially, I feel like I am getting a glimpse of true Irish culture--the Ireland behind the mask. 

A puppt Kristin wanted to keep.