Highs and Lows

I have been in Ireland for 25 days now.  In some ways it feels like i have just gotten used to the country and now I am getting ready to leave. Perhaps the anticpation of my looming departure makes the remaining days here feel more cherished then those first ones nearly four weeks ago when a month seemed so long.  But I have done and seen so much since I have been here and everything looks different from this side.

I have successfully covered a big part of the country and have had some life-changing moments of solitude and some life-giving conversations with people…but it’s too soon to think about what I have done because my trip isn’t over yet.   That blog will come later.

For now I’ll tell you some highlights–and some lowlights for that matter–of the past couple of weeks.

I have been so incredibly blessed in Kilkenny where my host, Ann, took me to see everything from Monastic ruins, cathedrals and castles to a famine workhouse, and an emigrant ship museum.  We even had lunch in the small town of Inistioge where the movie Circle of Friends was filmed. There is nothing like site-seeing with locals to really get to see an area. But perhaps some of the best moments have been conversations over dinner and wine with Ann and Nial in the evenings.

After about a week at Great Oak I went west and spent a few days in the town of Lahinche where I saw the Cliffs of Mohr and took a ferry out to the Aran Islands.  It was one of my favorite days on the trip (minus the queasy ferry ride) and if I were to do it again I would spend a night on the island. They are beautiful and still hold an old Irish culture tha thas been lost in most of central Ireland.

I have also successfully driven on the left without drifting into oncoming traffic! I consider this to be among my great accomplishments. Navigating the narrow Irish roads, however, was not one of my favorite moments. I rented a car in Limerick and explored for a few days, but my first day (in Galway) ended with me being lost for about 5 hours.  By the time i finally found the place where i was going in the city i was far too frustrated and tired to see anything.  The next day i got early and headed to the Dingle peninsula (side note: very amazing. If you are in Ireland it’s worth seeing) and then on to the town of Killarney.  Everything was going much better then the day before and just as i was reflecting on this and feeling quite confident in my new driving abilities, I got a flat tire.  There i was stranded on a back road and couldn’t get my cell phone to work.  The thing about Ireland is that their regional and country roads have no shoulder and the speed limit is often 100. It’s quite terrifying actually. So i pulled over as best i could (into the bushes) and started walking down the highway to the nearest house. Thankfully the owners were there gardening and took pity on me. I used their phone and then sat and had coffee with them as I waited for road side assistance. As it turns out they were quite a lovely couple who had decided to retire in Ireland after living in England most of their lives.  They were so kind that I decided to return after my tire was changed in order to give them a thank-you present. Once again they welcomed me in and what I had meant to be only a quick stop turned into one of my favorite nights! Bernard and Birdie told me story after story about their neighbours, their family, their lives, and culture in Ireland.  One story would not be finished before another began, and before i knew it i had been there for hours drinking tea and enjoying their company. Bernard, a very well-read man, had lots to share once he found out about my MA topic and even sent me home with three books!  Before i left we exchanged addresses and they sent me off with a big hug. It was the the best flat tire i have ever had!  It’s funny how sometimes the set backs end up becoming golden opportunities. I think what I have been learning the most during my time here in Ireland is that it is only in letting go of expectations that you can really embrace what Life is offering.

The next day I left Killarney for Cork to visit a museum in Cobh which was the port where many immigrant ships left for Canada, US, and Australia (including the Titanic). After a week of travel on my own i decided to head back “home” to Kilkenny and spent another few days at Great Oak. I went back to St. Canice’s cathedral in the city in order to climb up a 108 ft tower. The view was great, but sadly as I was climbing down my camera fell out of my bag and down the tower!  Needless to say, the camera is toast.

And now I am in the great city of Belfast which has been nothing but fun! i have been relaxing after a long few weeks of site seeing and enjoying the company of some great people here. After my time in Belfast I head back to Dublin where i will visit a few more sites before leaving Ireland altogether.

You can check out www.ssu.ca/traveltheworld in order see more about what I have been up to here in Ireland. But for those of you who are wondering, i have tried some authentic Irish food (not just beer) while i’ve been here including Black Pudding (made from pigs’ blood).  To my total surprise, black pudding isn’t actually pudding at all but comes in a roll which you slice and fry. It’s part of the traditional Irish breakfast.

And that’s my brief update. Hopefully i will find time to share some of the things i have been thinking about during my time here but first I need to process that myself.

Until then…

The Cliffs of Mohr

The Cliffs of Mohr


Professional Tourist: the Dublin chapter.

Today I fell in love. After a week in Dublin,  I have finally found an affection for Jonathan Swift. I always knew I liked him based on a few satires that I had read, but I never knew exactly how remarkable he was. If he hadn’t been dead for nearly 300 years I would consider making a move.  Let me explain…

With a new perspective I decided to tackle Dublin on my own today and revel in the fact that I could do exactly what I wanted–no one to drag me down! I had things I wanted to see and do and it felt like a great privilege to be able to do them at exactly my own pace.  So after an Americano (I’m not sure I can ever go back to drip coffee), I headed out to walk what ended up feeling like a million miles around the city.  My first stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I had low expectations after I had already attend a choral evensong service at Dublin’s most famous cathedral, Christ Church. As it turns out this may have been my favorite stop. I’m not entirely sure why, as it was like going into any other Cathedral in Western Europe (epitaphs, busts, commemorations, and don’t forget the gift shop). It even took me a good 15 minutes before I realized that it wasn’t even a Catholic Cathedral at all, but rather the Church of Ireland (Anglican)–just like the famous Christ Church Cathedral.

When I entered I felt immediately at peace and reverence – something I have not felt in too long. I made my way to the little chapel at the front where I lit a candle for my family and took a moment to just be. With pain I realized for the first time that I had not brought even a single piece of spiritual literature with me on this trip.  Here I’ve been calling myself a pilgrim when I am no more than a typical tourist!!  I had meant to bring Joel Mason’s booklet on pilgrimage that he wrote for SSU, but of course, I totally forgot it.   I am extremely ashamed that it took me over a week to realize this.  But my moment in St. Patrick’s may have been what my academic advisor, Dr. Gregg Finley, would call a “thin place” (a place of genuine personal connection between the heavens and the earth) –it was brief but enough to remind me why I am here.

I continued about the Cathedral until I came to the display on my dear Jonathan Swift, who was Dean there during the early 18th Century.  There I read about his life as, what modern lingo would call, an activist. He used his political and literary gifts to battle injustice in Ireland—from building a proper hospital for the mentally ill (who were often put on display before the public) and raising money for destitute elderly women, to single handedly preventing the English government from infecting Ireland with a debased currency which would have ruined the already fragile economy.  I know I want to read more about this man, more of his works, and hopefully squeeze him into my thesis somehow.  I think my point of infatuation came when I read a quote of his saying: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” (Thoughts on Various Subjects).  I am afraid not much has changed since.  In reflection i wonder if we have simple exchanged one conflict for another: protestant vs cathoic; muslim vs christian; secular vs. sacred. Sadly, we have not learned from our past in this regard.

After my visit to St. Patrick’s I carried on through the courtyards of Dublin Castle to the Chester Beatty Library.  This library houses some of the oldest written works existing today including their oldest piece, dated about 2700 BC, which, hilariously, is a very erotic love poem that is so explicit, the translation is not released to the general public– including the librarians themselves!  Perhaps some things don’t change?

But among the library’s collections they have some of the oldest known pieces of the gospels on papyrus, dated about 250 A.D.  It was a worthwhile visit, learning all sorts of things not only about Western manuscripts but also Middle Eastern and Eastern religions, as well as many secular books (Marie Antoinette’s personal collection). This isn’t even to mention a great overview of the history of the book itself which I found pretty fascinating actually (and built on my previous intro to book making video at the book of Kells). It’s o.k., you can call me a geek.

After the library I carried on to what I had been anticipating since a taxi driver told me it was by far the best tourist attraction in Dublin—the Kilmainham Gaol. This is one of the largest prisons in Europe and key to Irish political history. The tour was amazing and gives a great overview of the 1916 Rising and other rebellions leading up to Ireland’s independence from Britain.  The tour guide did an excellent job of adding a human component with the story of political prisoner Joseph Plummett, who married his sweat heart in the jail’s chapel just a day before he was executed for being a rebel leader. I’ll admit i choked back a tear or two as the guide told of how Grace Plummett waited all night only to hear the final execution shots ring out to tell her that her husband was dead. It is said the execution of these leaders was the key component in declaring Ireland a free state.  The tour also gave a great overview of the philosophy of criminal reform that was prevalent during the Victorian era in Western Europe, of which Kilmainham Gaol was a leader.

All of this amounted to about 7 hours on my feet and although I was initially planning to do one more stop (The National Library), I just couldn’t do it.  I plan to have a few more days in Dublin throughout my trip so I can see what I missed then, including the Guinness Storehouse and the Writer’s Museum (more intriguing to me now that I am in love with Jonathan Swift). And in case you are worried, this has been just one of my days here. I have already viewed the Book of Kells (first stop!), Trinity College’s Old Library (a huge library of books only dated before 1850), the National Art Gallery (Jack Yeats and Henry Clark steal the show), Christ Church Cathedral, and have experience several pubs  (and am currently sitting in one as I write, nursing a pint of Bulmers). However, for now, I am happy to leave the bustle of a very touristy city for some 5 star camping near the town of Kilkenny (a cottage in the country).

With Love…

Dubh Lin

Well, after a year of hoping, wishing, praying, and planning I have at long last made it to Ireland.  Currently in the capital city of Dublin, I am finishing my day as most of you are just getting off work.

It’s quite strange to be in a city where everyone speaks English, and yet everything is still so foreign. Despite the common language I question how well i can actually communicate with people.  I mostly get strange looks when i talk so I have refrained from doing so too much today since I am already rather sensitve and tired after a long journey.

John Mannion, a historian on Irish immigration in Canada, wrote this about early Irish immigrants:

Once the Irish peasant had left his native townland, he said farewell to kin and neighbours and to almost everything that was customary and familiar. For the first time, perhaps, he faced the world virtually alone, as a stranger. To his eyes the novelty of the move must have appeared overwhelming.  (John Mannion, Irish Settlements in Eastern Canada, 1974)
In a very very small way, I think i can relate.  Although I have travelled lots, this is my first time travellign in a foreign country alone. I don’t think i anticipated how overwhelming it would all see..for the first time facing the world alone, as a stranger.

Despite the initial experience at Dublin airport (not the friendly place I imagined), everyone has been helpful so far. I had my first day at Trinity College where I passed through the groves of tourists and into the Berkley Library with my very own TCD student card.  The head librarian was particularly lovely. She went out of her way to give me a tour, collect material, and provide me with direction to every place I would ever want to go.

Although my accomplishments today only involved staying awake and getting the basic of TC library use, my suspicions were confirmed. Most of the primary sources I need are scattered around Ireland at local history site (archives, libraries, museums, etc.).  I didn’t imagine there were any sources Trinity College didn’t have as it contains over 4 millions books. Copyright laws automatically give them a copy of every book published in England. I understood today why you need a master’s degree to become a Libarian! I can’t imagine having to catalog and organize all those collections!  In fact, only about 20% of Trinity’s sources are on the shelves for public access–the  rest are stockpiled or electronic.

I suppose some people are wondering (and the rare few maybe even interested) in what I am actually studying here in Ireland.  Well, this is all research for my classes at St. Stephen’s University and eventual Masters thesis.  Specifically, while I am here, I am focusing a research paper called “Cultural Transfer and the Irish Immigration Narrative in New Brunswick.”  Of course  i am looking at Irish settlement in all the Maritimes, but often New Brunswick (saint john and st. andrews) was an entry point for irish immgrants.

Here is a short excerpt from my project proposal which i am using as an outline which may give you an idea of exactly what i am doing way over here across the Atlanti:

The Irish Diaspora is a compelling field of study in both Canada and Ireland. With the help of the Ireland Canada University Foundation, I plan to explore in depth the historical phenomenon of cultural transfer and the Irish immigration narrative in New Brunswick and Maritime Canada. Through the study of the Irish exodus and the eventual settlement of Irish Catholics in New Brunswick (1765-1850), Atlantic Canada as a whole will gain a clearer understanding of the Irish contribution to Canadian identity.  This work will provide a detailed case study of early Irish settlement communities in the province of New Brunswick (particularly the Miramichi and Saint John regions) to determine what cultural traits and traditions were both left behind in the “Old World” and which were kept in particular “New World” settlements.  To achieve this research objective, a thorough analysis of the cultural transfer of early Irish communities is essential. I plan to uncover the ideals of these early immigrants, how their expectations were met (or not met), how the economic and social status of the Catholic immigrants in particular affected their migration and settlement choices, which folk traditions were kept and which were lost, and finally how fully appreciating the Irish Diaspora in the Maritime Provinces will help preserve Irish culture and enhance Canada’s Irish identity.

The Irish Catholic settlement communities in New Brunswick remained unassimilated longer than other regions of immigration in the region.  They still retain a vibrant Irish identity.  As such, these communities can be used as a case study for both Irish and Canadian scholars alike.  However, to be credible, this research initiative must have access to significant sources contained in the archives and libraries of Dublin; sources such as emigration and ship records, censuses, newspapers, and periodicals, as well as immigration and folk literature and related first-hand accounts. The Irish people in New Brunswick have much to offer both Canada and Ireland, but cultural transfer and the Irish immigration narrative needs deliberate attention and investment. As one scholar of Irish Diaspora Studies put it, “If Irish Diaspora Studies – and, indeed, Irish Studies – is to be anything more than a ragbag of predilections then we must make good scholarship our first aim.” (Patrick O’Sullivan, University of Bradford, 1997)


For something I have been planning for a long time, I am stunned by how unprepared I feel for my upcoming trip to Ireland.

yes, it’s true, i’m going!  Finally. But no, i didn’t get the research grant I applied for.   It was disappointing news to say the least, especially after how much time and energy I put into writing the grant proposal; but i knew long before i found out that i would make my way to Ireland one or another, and I promised to keep people posted, so here I am.  This trip will still be a part of my graduate course work (part of a 6 credit hour independent study) and will still find me studying Irish Catholic migration to Atlantic Canada and the ties that still bind the two regions.  For those interested, I will write a bit more soon about what sorts of things I will be studying and what I hope to accomplish in my research. In total, i’ll be gone for one month.

In some ways i see this as a personal pilgrimage: a journey with spiritual and personal significance.  I can’t remember what it is like anymore to stop and think about life…to reflect on my experiences, who I am becoming, and who I have already become without realizing it.  It is like I blink and a week, a month, a year has past. It’s a pace of life of which I have grown all too accustomed.  I am altogether ecstatic and nervous to change that pace. I am worried about what will happen when I actually have time to think;  worried what will happen when I stop everything else to do something that is only important to me and not anyone else.  Come to think of it, i have never done that before.   I think I expected to be met with disappointment and discouragement for pursuing a crazy dream, only to come to find out that there are people out there who care about me so much they want me to succeed in fulfilling it,  even if it is just that…crazy! I can’t tell you how much this experience has rocked my world. This is new ground for me.

And I do have moments where I feel absolutely crazy.  I am leaving Canada, my job, my friends and family, for an entire month to pursue some delusional ideal.  In some ways it is like I am chasing a rainbow in hopes of finding a treasure…only i don’t know exactly what the treasure is yet.

As it stands I am4 days away from leaving with about 100 things to do somehow. So for me, the pilgrimage doesn’t begin until the plane takes off with me on it.

I plan to keep track of my journey through this blog and i’ll be posting on the St. Stephen’s University travel blog as well  (www.ssu.ca/traveltheworld). My hope is to be fully present in my experiences, finally taking the time to get some writing done that I have put off for too long.  So, as crazy as this may sound to those of you who know me well…you may not see me much on facebook and email; in fact, i hope to stay away from it as much as possible. I think I just need a true break from regular life–time to sort some things out in my mind and heart, and hopefully be a better person for it in the end.

So thank you thank you, thank you, thank you, for all your encouragement and support. I have never felt more cared for than I have through this journey. There are no words to express how touched by support, surprised by kindness, and changed by Love I am… Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I go on my way chasing rainbows.

–The Crazy Pilgrim.

Le Update

It’s saturday morning and I am sitting in my living room staring out my bay window at very green trees.  I think that summer is finally here.  I still feel the need to pinch myself because I dreamt of this moment all winter long and was starting to believe it would never come.  I don’t know about you, but this past winter felt so very long.  In some ways it was like I took a deep breath in November– the way you do when you are about to get a needle in your arm–and didn’t let it out until i saw the first buds on the maple trees, sometime in early May.  Six months is a long time to go without breathing.

But i am alive and i am well, and i have been told i am so very neglectful of my blog!  I have been waiting for something grand to report but it turns out that changes in life are mostly gradual–seldom happening all at once.

My roommate moved out last month and I have decided to move into an apartment just upstairs at the end of summer.  It’s nicer but a bit smaller which will be great because I have decided that I would like to live alone for awhile.  This is my attempt to bring some sort of balance into my own life. I can be a social butterfly and a people pleaser and if I don’t force myself into contemplation it may never happen–a tragic thing as those moments are among my most treasured. I am also hoping to start my Master’s thesis in the fall so I will need all the help i can get to concentrate!

In other news I started gardening. I don’t consider myself of the domestic sort and have never grown a thing in my life but I am actually enjoying the process.  It is a test of patience.  I like to see immediate results and I am not good at waiting but I think there is lesson in this.  The more time and space and attention i give the vegetables, the better they grow.  If I am patient and responsible, i will see the reward of my efforts.  We are not used to waiting for things in our culture. We are not used to bearing the responsibility of producing that which we need to sustain our lives. We are only used to consuming it.  But there is this strange freedom and ownership that comes along with knowing that I CAN do it–that we all have that ability because we were meant to be connected to our land. I think the more we are connected and actively working with the land, the less we are inclined to abuse it.  But that is a blog for another time…


I promised to keep everyone updated on my plans to go to Ireland.  The short story is that i still have not heard news from the research grant I applied for.  They said it could be as late as the end of June when i would find out…i was just hoping it wouldn’t take so long!!  But I am making plans to go either way. The grant will determine how long I can actually stay (probably 5 or 6 weeks if i get it, but only 3 if i don’t).  I have done a great job at compartmentalizing it all so far, but as the departure date draws nearer (2nd weeks of July, hopefully) the more anxious I am getting about it all.  I worked so very hard on the proposal and in many ways it is like the seeds i planted in my garden. It is a small action that represents a bigger hope.  For me this is more than just a trip, it’s part of a bigger dream.  Perhaps the only dream that is fully mine that I have ever dared to pursue independently–therefore, in many ways, it is like I am on the line, not just  a cool opportunity.

But I have had overwhelming encouragement and support which I will honestly say has been the only that has gotten me this far. I am so inclined to doubt myself and lose confidence so quickly.  People’s prayers and support have been like the wind that keeps me in the air. I am reminded daily that I can do nothing well when i am fully alone. I need people to help me “grow” my dreams, and I need to help others do the same.  I am learning that the things I deem worthy are valid and I have a right and a responsibility to pursue them.

So, despite the fact that I was overcome with anxiety last night and unable to sleep thinking about logistics and how I am going to make this possible if I don’t get the grant, i am stating with confidence that i WILL  go. Someway, somehow, I will be in Ireland a month from now.


On Growing Up…


two… nine


That’s how old I am now.  When did that happen? I am acutely aware of how fast a decade can go, because it feels like I just barely got used to being an official adult like, yesterday.   I’m not going to lie, I don’t think I like it very much.  Because next year I will sit down, potentially in this exact spot, and blog about turning 30.  And i am not ready to be 30 yet.  People who are 29 going on 30 are different than me. For example, they own a house, or a condo.  They also generally have a pet. They own furniture…that they picked out and bought themselves.  Many of them have children.  They know what they want to be when they grow up.

They are someTHING. They are Doctors, Lawyers, Teacher’s, Accountants, Managers, Electricians, Hair Dressers, Insurance Agents, Therapists, Nurses, Designers, Chefs, Wives, Husbands, Mothers, Fathers, Owners, etc. They can define themselves by these things.  So if they are at a cocktail party and someone says “tell me about yourself,” they can say, “Well, i am a mother of two and I work part time as a nurse in the oncology unit.”  Or they can talk about  the current state of the economy and the housing market and how their stocks have taken a hit.

They talk about the woes of pregnancy, or leaking roofs, or their upcoming vacation to Cancun, Mexico. Some of them are married, some are already divorced. Some have 3 degrees. Some have a decade of experience in their jobs.  I have none of these things.

But I do know that identity isn’t determined by what we DO. I swear I do. It’s just that being 29 going on 30 means a lot more than just getting a year older. It’s loaded with all sorts of expectations.  I’m not old. I don’t feel old and it would be insulting to people who are older than me if I called myself old.  But I am, as it turns out, a grown up. I think i need to figure out what that looks like for me. So that I will, at the very least, have something to say at cocktail parties.

On a side note, for some reason the past few weeks, with the perspective of turning 29, I have become obsessed with people’s ages (mainly celebrities). I google everyone to find out how old they are. Why? I have no idea. I guess to get some perspective on my own age. Am i older or younger than the people I see in the news all the time?  It’s very strange, I know. But, just in case you were wondering… Madonna is 51, Kate Hudson is 29,  Owen Wilson is 40, Michelle Pfeiffer is 50, Patrick Dempsey is 43,  Rihanna is 21, John Mayer is 31, Katie Holmes is 31, Katherine Heigl is 31, Brad Pitt is 44, Angelina Jolie is 34, and Meryl Streep is 60.

sad. i know.

Red Friday


Is it just me, or is it kind of funny that Friday the 13th, the day horror movies are based on, falls right before Valentine’s day this year?  I didn’t realize until this morning that this was the case and it made me chuckle.  Kristi has affectionately decided to title it “Red Friday.”

I figure Love owes me this year.  In the past few week I’ve been asked by 4  couples to help orchestrate romantic events…which I did happily. It’s quite funny actually.  Oddly, matchmaking is one of the things I really enjoy doing. Just ask my friends;  I’m always scheming to hook people up.

(Side note: despite my enthusiasm to help love along whenever I can, I personally hate over-the-top romantic gestures if I am the target. I have actually broken up with guys because of this. )

A single gal on Valentine’s Day, it seems, has only two choices. The first is to embrace the day and her current state of single-hood. This includes wearing pink and red all day, watching romantic movies with other single girls while giving each other spa treatments, and showing the world that “I love ME and am secure in my oneness”. This generally involves cocktails and chocolate fondues.

The second is to boycott it completely. In doing this it becomes not Valentine’s Day, the Day of Love, but rather Black Saturday–the Day of Death to All Things Romantic. This includes wearing black all day, staying in and watching depressing movies where one or more of the main characters (preferably the man) dies in the end, and not communicating with the outside world—particularly happy couples–whatsoever, while consuming copious amounts of vodka. In essence, giving Love the finger and pretending not to give a **** about such a ridiculous “holiday.”

Now I am not a dark person, nor am I very romantic, but something about Valentine’s Day mocks my aloneness, and brings out the deeply disillusioned romantic in me. After all who is this holiday really for anyway? Well clearly not for those of us who are without a better (or worse) half. But it’s also not really for those who have been together, or married for a long time and barely mark the day on their calendar. So actually this not-so-nice February holiday (really February? There’s nothing romantic about the month) caters only to a select group of people. People who still have butterflies in their stomach when he phones. For that, the rest of us suffer.

But there is a 3rd option–throw the term “holiday” around loosely and use it as an excuse to live it up (any excuse!!). Tomorrow night, one of my absolute favorite bands, The Family Band (www.sonicbids.com/familyband) is playing and I shall spend the evening with my friends–male, female, single, married, and in between–listening to FANTASTIC music.   And sure, it might end up being a guise for romance for some people, but I can accept that because, hey, Love owes me, right?

Good Advice

"Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things"

Currently reading…

"'Tis" by Frank McCourt


June 2019
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