Archive for July, 2009

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 remembered God and my deep reverence for Him—something I have not done 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 even brought a bible with me on this trip, or even a single piece of spiritual piece of spiritual literature (true confession time)! Here I am calling myself a pilgrim when I am no more than a typical tourist!!  I meant to bring Joel Mason’s booklet on pilgrimage that he wrote for SSU, but 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 with the heavens) –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…

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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)

Pilgrimage

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.


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