Archive for the 'Travel' Category

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 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


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)

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.


My New Relationship


So I think I’m falling in love. Not sure, but it’s the only thing I can equate my feelings to at this point so I’m just going to go with it.

It all started about two and a half months ago. It was innocent at first and very unfamiliar–often overwhelming–and mostly I wanted to bolt. But I didn’t. And now here I am and I can’t believe that this is my life because I never expected to feel this way. I want to give my all my spare time to this new strange relationship. Suddenly it’s like everything has purpose again…

You see, I just started a Masters degree.

It was like jumping into cold water with my eyes closed. I tried my hardest to see what was down there and look around to make sure it was the right decision but there was no way to tell except to take the plunge. But once I dove in I found that the water was warm and full of life and that was more of a shock than the cold sting of the ocean in December.

I am studying Maritime Celtic history and literature. I know there’s no one out there who can really understand this, but I love it. I am particularly focusing on the poverty of the Irish and Highlanders as they arrived here and how that has since influenced our culture. My topic keeps getting more and more interesting and the more I learn the more interested I become.

I never ever expected to fall in love with my homeland. In fact, I spent most of my time growing up expecting to leave it. But it’s like there is something I just can’t get away from and it’s scary because now I know I might not ever be able to leave. I find myself driving around and wondering what things were like here 100 years ago…or hear a maritime accent and instead of being embarrassed I beam with pride. I look at the run down houses and the struggles people here face everyday and feel compassion and empathy…but never pity. How could I? This is where I come from. And the more I understand and uncover the buried treasure of my land, the more my heart softens. It’s like blinders have been taken off my eyes and I can see what was always right in front of my face.

How crazy do I sound? I drive around and just silently take it all in–the land, the architecture, the people-because there are no words to describe the way I feel. I am the luckiest girl I know. I have a place where I come from, a heritage, and I am part of what I see as a great story. It’s like we’re in the middle of it all, only part way through, so no one else knows how amazing the story is going to turn out but somehow I got a glimpse. The past, the present, the future all connected…and I get to live it. The only feeling I have ever felt that can compare that of falling in love…only without the fear that it won’t work out because it’s all already finished.

I don’t expect you to understand. I know that I may stand alone in this, but that’s o.k. I just wanted to share this new relationship and tell someone that I have never felt so whole.

And yes I love studying local history, literature, and language and I thought I should share that with the world. If that makes me crazy, well I guess I can deal with that.



So I have a few clarifications/corrections to make regarding the previous blog.  Firstly, I realized that New York City is not an “under-rated” vacation spot. In fact it is very much a well-rated one.  But still, I am a fan and thought I’d share that with the world…So yeah, just in case you were reading and thinking “Wow, Shelley thinks she’s discovered New York City, we should get her some help.”

Secondly, I did not forget lovely PEI. I just figured that since I was FROM there and not discovering it in my journies, it didn’t fit the category. But recently I spent a day on the Island with about 15 tourists, many of whom had never been to the East Coast of Canada before.  The group absolutely loved the place which is actually pretty surprising because November is not normally a time of year that I would advise people to visit (cold, gray, nothing is open, etc.). I think it’s good to see your home from an outside perspective every so often. The good things I heard the most revolved around the beauty and authenticity of landscape and the people. Even on a FREEZING november day the red cliffs can be pretty astounding and the old churches so awe inspiring.   That is something we’ve got on the West (and we don’t have much so we’ll take what we can get). Sure we have strange accents and weird license plates but we’re damn good people us Maritimers!

The day ended with a fantastic walk around historic Charlottetown (sure, it was mainly to find a restaurant that was actually open but still….) and a stop at Hunter’s Pub where we heard some dang good open mic music.

I am growing more and more appreciative of our end of the world. I think the Maritimes is a hidden treasure in so very many ways! Thanks CCU folks for reminding me that I’m not crazy for continually calling it my home and loving it so much.  

Speaking of love, that leads me to my next blog (coming soon, stop harassing me, E.J.) about falling in love…STAY TUNED.

P.S.–I am finally done my insanely busy travel schedule so this means that I will be more consistent with posts and hopefully have a real life again.

Top 5 Underated Vacation Hot Spots:

In my job I have to travel a lot, which isn’t too bad since I really enjoy travelling. I was thinking about all the places I’ve been that are completely under-rated and think more people should experience. Grant it, most of them are in the East Coast, hence a little bias, but here it is…or at least part one because how could I choose just 5?

1. Coastal Maine: In the fall particularly, and in the Southern part if you have only a couple of days. Hightway #1 is long and windy but it takes you through some GORGEOUS places on the coast. In October the trees are spectacular, and the crowds are small so you can get all the touristy fun without the tourists! There are also a lot of really cute little islands you can take a ferry and see. In fact I am planning to go to one such island in a few weeks.

2. Niagra-on-the-Lake, Ontario: not to be confused with Niagra Falls which is like a mini Las Vegas full of tourist traps. Niagra region is known for its wine making and you can do some pretty cool winery tours and walk through a really cute town which is over-priced and full of seniors, but hey, that’s what vacationing is all about right?

3. Boston: I love this city. It’s just full of history and despite the fact that it’s a disaster for driving, it’s beautiful for walking, especially if you are a history buff or a Red Socks fan. I love how the whole city gets into the baseball season. I’m not going to lie and say it’s a classy city–it’s sports and east-coast culture all the way–but it’s a lot of fun! The people are friendly and there are so many great restaurants (especially in the North End which is their “little Italy”…mmmmmm)…and Bostonians are a whole breed of their own!

4. New York City: Just because it’s New York City and I think EVERYONE should go at least once. How much of North American pop-culture is rooted in this city? Only by going can you really understand the draw and why New Yorkers never leave. It’s not as chaotic as most people imagine it to be, and quite easy to navigate your way around. There are endless amounts of things to do and see, and once you’ve been you can watch shows like “Friends” and understand much better.

5. New Burnswick: O.k., i know this is my home province right now, but it took me a long time to realize how much it has to offer. The Fundy Bay is so beautiful and all along the coast are great towns, cities, and Islands: Shediac, St. Martin’s, Sussex, Fundy National Park, St. Andrews, Grand Manan, Deer Island, Campobello, and Saint John which is the oldest city in Canada. But it’s not just southern New Brunswick. The northern part is beautiful as well with a more rough & rustic feel–rolling hills and colorful trees dispersed between rivers, lakes, etc. I still have a lot of exploring to do but I am continually shocked by the beauty of a province I never originally thought offered very much. Just be willing to get off the main highway because that’s the most boring part of the whole province!

Return to Paradise


For the fourth time this summer, I spent the weekend on Deer Island. This is a little island about 45 minutes away (i’ve talked about it a few times in my blogs so it might sound familiar) and a place I just discovered as a hidden, nearby paradise. It’s completely rural, you take a ferry ride through the Bay of Fundy past some islands to get there, and there really isn’t much to see except old houses (many of them falling apart), cottages, and tons and tons of fishing boats. Nope, nothing to do but relax and breathe fresh air.

I went for a girls weekend. There were 7 of us that rented a cottage to celebrate two friends birthdays: Andrea turning 31 and Shannon turning 30.  It was such a great time. The cottage overlooked a harbour and right off the front deck was a dock and a collection of boats. It was kind of picturesque actually.  The cabin, though kind of run down, was really quaint. We at a beautiful dinner and just relaxed and we all wondered why it took us so long to do this.

I love my girl friends. All of us varying in age (the youngest 19, the oldest turning 50 and the rest of us between 25 and 31). Considering my recent history with the male gender, I was happy to spend time away from them.  One friend bought a kiddie pool and we filled it with hot water to make our own hot tub…then we played some guitars and collectively wrote a song (not really appropriate to share on the blog) while drinking wine and eating cheesecake. Oh yes, and then there was the “back to the 80s” spontaneous dance party! Then this morning, after a fantastic breakfast, we went exploring the island and walked on the beaches which are not like PEI beaches–much rougher and less refined; full of rocks and nearly attached to the woods. 

While many wonder what would possess someone to actually LIVE on this island (population less than 1000), I am falling more and more in love with it. It is mainly inhabited by artists and fishermen, and after 9 p.m. you won’t hear a single car pass by. Everyone waves to you when you drive past and at night you can sit out on the patio and watch the sun set onto the Bay of Fundy.  We even saw a porpoise this morning!

There are times when I wish I had brothers, but all in all, I have to say I like hanging with the girls because you always have that sister thing going on. We girls gotta stick together I think. I figure that we’re going to need one another a lot throughout our lives.

 So happy birthday to two great friends and thanks for a weekend full of fun memories to everyone!

*sigh*…I wish ALL weekends were like this.

Good Advice

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

Currently reading…

"'Tis" by Frank McCourt


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