Irish Heritage Tour As Seen Through the Eyes of a Student: Day 9

The Honors Program just completed its Irish Heritage Tour, where twenty-one students and two staff members traveled to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland from May 8th through the 19th. We have asked a number of students to blog about the journey, so each day is written from the perspective of a different student or staff member. Today's post was written by Dr. Christopher Swanson, the Director of the Honors Program and professor of Mathematics. We hope you enjoy reading about our journey!
In the middle of the cliff on the path that leads up through Giant's Causeway.
Day 9: Tuesday, May 16th

While initially you may believe that this blog entry is misnamed as I am the Director of the Honors Program and not a “student,” I can assure you that the amount I learned about Ireland and the Irish culture on this trip and in our class made me feel more like a student than a professor.  One of the goals of higher education is to create students who are lifelong learners and I definitely felt like a lifelong learner as a participant on this trip.

A view looking away from the causeway--mountains and sheep as far as the eye could see.
We woke up early Tuesday morning, loaded the motor coach and traveled to the Dublin airport where we said goodbye to our new friends from Penn State University, the University of North Carolina – Pembroke, and St. Mary of the Woods College.  This was the intended departure day for the Irish Heritage Tour, but the Ashland University Honors students and I selected to extend the tour by 3 days so that we could visit Belfast and Edinburgh as well.  While it was great to meet students from other universities, the additional room on the bus and the opportunity to hear the side remarks/jokes that Rikke and Hugh were making at the front of the bus were appreciated.  The original plan was to travel to Belfast for a walking tour of the city.  However, after seeing how much our students enjoyed the scenery on the Ring of Kerry, I asked if we could change the itinerary to visit Giant’s Causeway instead.  Rikke was concerned about whether this would result in Hugh driving too many hours in one day, but Hugh graciously agreed to take us to Giant’s Causeway.

The students ventured far out onto the hexagonal rocks.
The bus trip from Dublin to Giant’s Causeway was supposed to last 3 hours, but it took a little longer due to one missed turn.  However, we benefitted from this as it resulted in us seeing beautiful views of the Northern Ireland coastline from the bus.  It also gave Rikke time to explain the legend of Giant’s Causeway.  Finn McCool was an Irish giant who had been insulted by a Scottish giant named Benandonner.  Finn created the causeway to connect Ireland and Scotland so that he could fight Benandonner, but upon seeing the size of Benandonner, decided that it was best to retreat to Ireland.  Benandonner used the causeway to travel to Ireland to confront Finn who was hiding in a crib in his house.  When Finn’s wife introduced Finn as her infant son, Benandonner became scared of how large Finn must be if his son were so big, and decided it would be best not to confront him.  Thus, Benandonner returned to Scotland, ripping up the pathway that Finn had laid on his way.  From a geological perspective, the hexagonal columns of Giant’s Causeway were a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago, but the legend made for a good story and Rikke had told us numerous times that the Irish believe “You should not let the truth get in the way of a good story.” 

Hexagonal columns created from volcanic activity.
Upon arrival, Rikke stated we would have 3 hours to explore Giant’s Causeway.  We thought this would be too much time, but by the end of the 3 hours, some of us felt we could have spent another hour exploring the area.  We received an audio guide that permitted us to punch in numbers at various places and hear more about the legend or geology of the causeway and surrounding area.  However, most of us abandoned listening to the audio tour as we began our half mile descent to the causeway, recognizing that this would slow us down from exploring.  After the descent, we climbed on the (mostly) hexagonal basalt columns that Finn had used to create the causeway.  This allowed for wonderful photo opportunities of the students with the Northern Ireland coastline in the background.  

We were fortunate to have another crystal clear day to see out across the water.
However, eventually it was time to continue walking along the coastline trail and I ended up walking with rising sophomore Alex Majors.  When we reached the end of the path, we noticed some people above us standing near the edge of one of the cliffs and decided to climb and join them.  Unfortunately, as Alex reached the top of the cliff, a gust of wind sent his hat flying off the cliff edge and onto the side of the mountain.  As we descended, Alex saw his hat and decided that he could recover it, resulting in him honing his climbing skills while he made the successful recovery.  We then continued to walk a different path that led to a higher viewpoint on the coastline and more spectacular photo opportunities. 

Alex triumphed and retrieved his hat!
Returning to the visitor center at the end of our 3 hours, we had Rikke take a group photo before loading the motor coach to continue our journey to Belfast.  Along the way, Hugh stopped the bus to point out the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge connecting the mainland to a small island.  Fishermen had built bridges to this island for years and walking across the narrow bridge is now a favorite tourist activity, though many tourists have needed to be rescued from the island when they were too scared to return across the bridge.  Alas, we did not have enough time to cross the bridge on our trip, leaving us with a future challenge if we should be fortunate enough to return to Northern Ireland. 

Another view of the paths through the cliffs and people walking along the cliff face.
As we continued our ride to our hotel in Belfast, Rikke explained the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 20th century.  This made a nice connection the course segment taught by Maura Grady on the movie “The Crying Game.”  Rikke also pointed out flags that included the Red Hand of Ulster, a symbol used by loyalists/unionists to show support in Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.  We checked into our hotel for the evening and ate dinner at a nearby restaurant.  As usual, the day ended with laughter and conversation as we played Hearts and another card game called "Oh Hell", before going to bed a little earlier than usual due to our early morning departure to catch the ferry to Scotland.  

Our group was all smiles after this 3 hour hike.


Popular Posts