Today was just about the greatest day I’ve had so far on this journey.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I wanted no part in this field trip. In fact, the second I saw I had a field trip in this class, I was honestly annoyed and looking for ways to get out of it. I mean, I’m only in Ireland once. I wanted to be able to see more of Galway, not be stuck on an academic trip.
But I will be the first also to say not only was I wrong, but also pleasantly surprised by the way this day went.
To start, I got up early and actually felt rested. 7 a.m. is usually not an hour I willingly subject myself to, but I did so and I’m glad I did. Hallie, Joanna, and I were heading to City Centre on a mission to experience the things Hallie and I missed yesterday.
At the early hour, very few people were out, and we were able to get some excellent pictures in Eyre square.
We saw the market being set up, but it didn’t open until nine. As disappointing as that was, our field trip wasn’t intended to go past 3 in the afternoon, so we decided to just come back after. Instead, we found a sleepy little cafe next to the Flanagan’s pharmacy called Cafe Express. There was barely anywhere to sit down, as the building was mostly the counter, but there were a few places outside. We had a slow cup of coffee and took a snapshot before rushing to campus to catch the bus for the field trip to County Clare.
I spent the half hour on the bus that Professor Ryder (a man who looks like the love child of Indiana Jones and Steven Spielberg) wasn’t narrating talking with Hallie about things and taking in the view of the Irish countryside.
Soon enough, we arrived at Coole park, the former home of Lady Agusta Gregory, one of Ireland’s most famous literary figures. We saw a video presentation about her life and work, and then got to take a tour and see where her home once stood and the walled garden where she planted three hedges for her three grandchildren. Best of all, we got to see the autograph tree, a massive tree where she allowed her famous writer friends to carve their names to cement their places in history, including the wildly popular William Butler Yeats.
That was amazing enough, but we weren’t nearly finished. We drove a little further to a castle called Thoor that was once owned and lived in by Yeats and was the location where many of his most famous and beloved works were penned. It didn’t seem like much, just a little 5 story tower attached to a thatched-roof cottage, but the history of the place made it magnificent. Built as a Norse fortress in the 13th or 14th century, Thoor (which is a bastardized spelling of the Gaelic word for Tower) had all the trappings of a medieval castle, including what our tour guide called a “murder hole.” This was a place where invaders could be trapped and guards from the top floor could pour boiling oil, water, or other muck and fire arrows upon the enemy, killing him almost instantly.
The grounds were lovely, as Yeats loved nature, and the furnishing for the castle was minimalist. We watched a small presentation and then got to explore the corridors, and just sitting in that place gave me intense bursts of inspiration, almost as though the very thing that inspired Yeats to write his greatest works was affecting me. I’m happy to say, the urge to write came back full force, and I even worked out a plothole in my film while touring this castle.
The best part of this visit was, of course, standing on the roof of the castle and taking in the view of the natural grounds and the Irish countryside. Once up the winding stone staircases, I realized two things: one, my mother, who has always said she wanted to see castles, would under no circumstances ever climb that high if she ever got to visit one, and two, I want to be rich enough through writing to live and work in a place like this.
Once I made my way back down the fortress steps (which were steeper on the way down than on the way up), we were ushered into a little tea room where we received free tea and scones. I tried the tea, which was without a doubt the most delicious cup of tea I’d ever had.
Our last stop was farther out in the middle of nowhere at the ruins of a monastery. The place boasted the tallest tower still standing in Ireland, a tower that has, since its use, developed a slight lean, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We were encouraged to explore the cemetery attached to the monastery ruins. It was a little creepy at first, wandering about and accidentally treading over graves, but it was also beautiful. Our professor told us that legend has it a saint was buried there along with the monks and any families from the area. It was a beautiful, peaceful place and exactly what I once pictured when I would close my eyes and dream of Ireland.
The field trip was incredible, and the whole ride home had me thinking up stories and parts to add to my screenplay.
But the day was far from over. We decided to walk back to City Centre from campus and check out the Farmer’s Market. It was more a crafts market, as the farmers weren’t there, but I was able to find a beautiful, handcrafted, elegant purple Claddagh ring for my sister, an authentic piece of Galway just for her. We also got fish and chips again, as Hanna hadn’t tried McDonagh’s, and then we got lost in Charlie Byrne’s bookstore.
The bookstore is amazing. It is floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall bookshelves in a labyrinth arrangement. I could have spent days exploring everything it had to offer. I bought myself four Irish books from there: Ulysses by James Joyce, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Complete Irish Mythology by Lady Gregory, arranged by W.B. Yeats, and a collection of Irish fairy tales. The books were inexpensive but great souvenirs for a writer who came to Galway to be inspired to write something great. Perhaps one day, my books will be on these shelves.
We stopped finally at Aldi to get groceries for dinner, and I spent the rest of the evening catching up on this blog.
Today was incredible, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. One week in, and I’m in love with Ireland.