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Emma's Ireland Adventures

Emma's Ireland Adventures
The Junior Journey group to Ireland standing near the Knowth burial grounds.

May 12, 2016

By Emma Hamrick '16
Edited for content and length

Part III

Celtic Castles and a Day in Donegal 

When I consider all of the beautiful places I have seen, I think that the views we took in today definitely rank among the most beautiful.

Once again, we started off our day by attending our class session over breakfast to learn about the growth of Christianity in Ireland before gathering on our bus for an adventure to Ballyshannon. 

The Ireland group visited St. Patrick's well and posed for a photo alongside a pagan wish tree.

The first stop in town was a short walk down a hill to a seemingly unknown well along a lakeside that had been blessed by St. Patrick himself. Beside the well, a symbol of Celtic culture, a wishing tree weighed down with countless personal clothing items and trinkets stood in remembrance of the former pagan beliefs of the Celtic people. We were joined by a friendly neighborhood dog that played fetch with us in the lake.

Across from the well’s entrance was a path to nearby caves that were once used as places of worship by the Celtic people. The trail to the caves was lined with tiny white flowers from wild garlic. Sun streaming through the trees twinkling across the water added to the serenity. With the magical scenery all around us, I was able to better understand the inspiration for myths of fairies that were essential to the Celtic culture when the caves were used for worship.

The Ireland group posed for a photo in front of the fireplace inside the Donegal Castle. The fireplace featured etchings of family crests and symbols from the Brooke family.

After a quick bus ride, we arrived in the town of Donegal. The diamond shaped town square, known locally as the triangle, bustled with shops and restaurants as families crowded the streets. Our first stop in town was a tour of the Donegal Castle, the home of the O’Neil family line and later the Brooke family. The stone floors beneath our feet had been laid by hand by members of the O’Neil family over 540 years ago. It was incredible to stand inside a structure that was so critical to the development of Christianity in Ireland.

Following our tour, we split off to grab lunch and explore the local shops. A lunch of traditional fish n’ chips provided enough energy to spend a good share of money on gifts (sorry Mom, but I think you’ll be happy with your present!). My favorite shop was Magee’s, a tweed shop filled with throw blankets, sweaters, and jackets all made in Ireland. It will be interesting to see how all of my purchases will fit in my suitcase, but the time and money was well spent.

Sunny weather in Ireland provides the perfect conditions for beautiful sunsets over Bundoren Beach in County Donegal.

After another delicious meal at the restaurant across the street from our apartments, our group gathered on a field along the shore to (attempt to) play Gaelic football and hurling. Gaelic football is a cross between American football and basketball played with a light, yet very sturdy volleyball sized ball. The football was much easier to get a hang of compared to hurling, a sport that combined field hockey with lacrosse and required balance and precision. While none of us were particularly talented at either of the sports, we enjoyed our evening on the shoreline.

The evening continued with a stroll on the beach to watch the sunset on the water. Aside from the weather when we originally arrived, Ireland has been sunny and mild our entire trip, providing the perfect conditions for gorgeous sunsets. Needless to say, it was the perfect ending to a great day.

I’m super excited for tomorrow since we will learn about the conflict between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic when we visit Derry. Until next time…


Part II

A Step Back in Time

I haven't had real sleep in nearly 48 hours, but it hasn't phased me yet. It's hard to believe that this morning we arrived here in Ireland. Since our landing at the Dublin airport, we have driven across the country to our new home in County Donegal.

An entrance to one of the Knowth ruins.

Our tour director, Niamah, met us at the airport and escorted us to our private bus moments after our arrival. Within 90 minutes, we were touring one of the world's oldest collections of primitive artwork, the Knowth burial grounds in Boyne Valley. The grassy mounds were once the location of numerous ancient societies dating back to 4,000 B.C. Rock formations at the base of each burial mound featured etchings created by the ancient peoples. Although the true meaning behind each etching is unknown, archeologists believe that they may have something to do with astrology and the calendar. 

Following lunch and a stop at a market, we visited the Northern Ireland and the Irish boarder, where a "peace for all" statue stands in recognition of the end of hostility between North Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Our final stop of the day was to the Fairy Bridges, which are only a ten minute stroll from our "home." The bridges overlook the Atlantic Ocean and provide the perfect scenery for photos. We also took a moment to appreciate a rock formation near the bridges known as the Wishing Chair. Supposedly, those who sit on the chair will be granted a wish by fairies. The magical feeling that the views provide already has me excited to stay up to watch the sunset.

Following checking in to our rooms and a delicious, authentic Irish meal at a restaurant across the street from our hotel, we retired to the hotel's pub, the epicenter for discussion and storytelling, before heading to bed. 

Emma Hamrick at the Fairy Bridges.

Even though I’ve only been here for 18 hours, here are four things that I’ve learned already:

  1. In terms of weather, Ireland is exactly what you would expect. It is cold, damp, windy, and cloudy most of the time. As a Michigander, the weather is tolerable, but as a part-time Floridian, it is a bit of a challenge.
  2. The Irish people love discussing American politics. With this year’s Presidential election shaking out the way it is, every person we have talked to has asked us to explain our position on each candidate. This has led to some interesting discussions so far.
  3. Surfing is a popular hobby here. When we first received our itinerary, I was surprised to see that surfing was listed as one of our group activities. As it turns out, Donegal is somewhat of a surfing capital for the country and it is a primary source of entertainment. I’m excited, albeit nervous, about our planned excursion, but I’m hopeful that the provided wet suits will keep me from freezing.
  4. You will never be hungry while visiting this country. With several “snack” stops along our journey to Donegal, I found myself purchasing food despite feeling unable to eat anything else. Food is essential to any experience abroad and I am excited to see what will be on my plate tomorrow.

Tomorrow we will be visiting more ancient historic sights and learning more about folklore, but for now I’m beyond excited to get a few (well deserved) hours of rest. Until next time…

Part I

Getting Ready for the Trip

As I type this, I'm about 40,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. It's 2:45 a.m. back home, but almost 8 a.m. at our final destination: Dublin, Ireland.

Before I can tell you about all of my yet-to-come adventures in Ireland, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Emma Hamrick and here are five things you should know about me:

1. I'm from Michigan

While I adore living in Lakeland, Michigan will always be my home. I found Florida Southern College through a Google search when I was looking for colleges near Lakeland to stay close to my favorite baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, during their spring training. Needless to say, my Google search turned out to be incredibly lucky as I have truly found my home away from home as a Moc.

2. Communications is my passion

I absolutely love my double major in Advertising/ Public Relations and Sports Communications and Marketing (I know, it's a mouthful). I'm so thankful for the COM department for pushing me outside my comfort zone and leading me to new opportunities. The COM Department chair, Dr. Alex Ortiz, is leading our trip to Ireland.

3. Graduation is on the horizon

Emma Hamrick preparing for the flight to Ireland.

While I know I'm well prepared for the "real world," I am also apprehensive about leaving behind my life in Lakeland this coming December. This junior journey is just one of the many things on my "FSC Bucket List" that I'm working to complete before my college years come to a close.

4. I'm Irish

According to a DNA test, my family heritage is rooted in Donegal, Ireland which also happens to be the central location for our tour of the country. I won't lie, my knowledge of Irish history and culture is limited, but I can't wait to learn more about the country.

5. Traveling is one of my favorite things

I've been lucky enough to travel to some interesting places over the years, but I've only made the long plane ride across the Atlantic once before. I love to take photos and videos and I'm already excited to start editing my Ireland video diary.

We are just an hour away from landing and the excitement is truly setting in. I don't know what I'm most excited about: visiting castles, attempting to surf, or exploring the city of Dublin. Thank you for joining me on my adventures! I will be live on FSC's campus Snapchat story Sunday, May 22, so feel free to follow @FloridaSouthern to experience a day in the life on an FSC Junior Journey. Until next time...