Oh Happy Day! Adventures in Ireland

by Sarah Richthammer, Mount St. Mary University

“Dia Dhuit!

Dia’s Muire Dhuit!”

  The typical Gaelic greeting is “God be with you” and the other person would respond, “God and Mary be with you.” Although most Irish people today speak English and not Irish Gaelic, it was very neat to learn some Gaelic words and phrases during  my semester in Dublin, Ireland this past fall. While most people in Ireland know a few phrases like “Slainte” (Cheers), those on the West Coast, specifically in Connemara, still speak Gaelic. I love languages, so it was very interesting to take an hour-long class with our trip leaders to learn some words. Gaelic is a very confusing language, and its pronunciation is usually quite different from its spelling. There were also some different phrases and expressions that I had to get used to. For example, a dressing gown is a robe. Maybe I should have known that, but I definitely was confused the first time our host mom brought it into a conversation. Chips are French fries and crisps are potato chips. A lot of Irish people end their statement or story with the question, “is that okay.” Another common question to end a statement with is, “do you know what I mean?” 

Before my trip abroad I had been out of the U.S. two times. I had the opportunity to go to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland in 2016. My high school had a weekend field trip in Stratford, Canada to watch three plays in 2017. I am the second oldest of eight kids, so my family does not do a lot of travelling together unless we are visiting family or camping. I love travelling and learning about cultures, and I always knew that I would study abroad if the chance came up. My family is German and Irish, so having three months in Ireland was a great blessing. My grandpa even helped pay for my trip. He came over for a week with my mom and my aunt, and it was so incredible all being in Dublin together.

August 24th, 2019, I took off with my friend Olivia and our group from the Mount on Aer Lingus to begin a semester of adventure and growth. Our group of 50 students had our differences but when we came together for big events or excursions, we had a great time. One of our classes was called Irish Life and Culture, in which we got to explore different parts of Dublin. The first week there we did not have classes and participated in a scavenger hunt, in which I had to ask a stranger to sing an Irish song called “Molly Malone.” I encountered this stranger in what came to be one of my favorite places to go, St. Stephens Green. The next day we hopped on a bus to see Trim Castle in the Boyne Valley. Then we went to Causey farm to learn how to make Irish soda bread and go bog jumping. If you ever have the chance to go bog jumping, grab the opportunity, my friends, because it is truly fantastic. Just make sure you wear clothes you don’t want to keep!  My favorite experience from the Irish Life and Culture class was learning to play Gaelic football, hurling, and touring Croke Park. We also learned the traditional Sean Nos Dance, which is more traditional than the competitive Irish dance. The EPIC museum in Dublin is an incredible modern museum that explores the history of emigration from Ireland. I loved being able to learn about the culture of Ireland that is best seen in its music, dance, sport, pubs and storytelling.

The first Saturday, my friend Rachel invited Kristina, Olivia and I to go to a Catholic young adult conference sponsored by the legion of Mary at Dublin City University. I played soccer with all the people there, which was a highlight, for sure. The witness of these faithful Irish Catholics made a big impact on my time in Ireland. One of the leaders of the event, named Donnecha (I still can’t pronounce his name), invited us to another group he was a member of, Living Waters. Living Waters meets on Wednesday nights at St. Teresa’s Church off Grafton street. They sing praise and worship music and afterwards converse as they drink tea and eat biscuits. This group became a home away from home for me. I went to Mass on Sundays and adoration when I could. They taught me different ways to live out the Catholic faith. My semester in Ireland would have been very different if I didn’t have friends who helped me on my spiritual journey along the way. The bible study with my fellow Mount St. Mary’s students also made an imprint on my trip. 

I traveled almost every weekend with my three friends who went to the conference with me. We became so much closer together, and it was a period of growth for the four of us. I am so thankful to them for encouraging my crazy desires for exploring. While most students on this trip could not pass up an Irish pub, I had a hard time passing up Murphy’s Ice cream and Gino’s Gelato (even though it was overpriced and I am lactose intolerant). Granted I did enjoy the Irish pub culture too. The Cobblestone in Smithfield was a favorite because my roommate could play her Irish fiddle in the sessions and I could listen to live Irish music with a Jameson Whiskey. 

The first weekend trip the four of us went on was to Louisburg and Westport. We stayed in a little cottage where I cooked dinner and breakfast for everyone. We went horseback riding, climbed Croagh Patrick and visited the Knock shrine on our way back to Dublin. This trip taught us patience and how to deal with unforeseen circumstances, as we woke up Sunday morning and could not get a taxi to the Westport bus stop. So, we attempted to hitchhike! A woman named Mary was one of the few people awake at 9 am in the small town. She brought us into her bakery that she was opening with her friend Anna. They tried to get us a ride with their carpool group, but it had already left. Anna’s husband Jose ended up driving us to the bus stop Sunday morning so we could catch the bus to Knock. Their kindness showed the hospitality that met us many times during our trip. 

I tested my courage and bravery in many situations, especially with public transportation and communication. These aspects of the trip were scarier than sitting on the edge of a cliff on the Aran islands. I got to learn a caeli dance, see Jigjam, watch the Riverdance, and see the Hill of Tara. Every day was a new adventure, and in Galway I ran into a friend from high school. I had no idea she was studying her masters in Ireland!

While there is so much that I could write about, I will finish by saying that studying abroad was an incredible experience. I grew in so many ways on that trip, and I am excited to see how that growth will carry me into my next semester, as well as for the rest of my life. I am extremely grateful for the chance to have seen a country that I had always wanted to visit. Life lived to the fullest is a beautiful testimony to the faith, but so is finding the courage to try new things. Faith needs to be lived out day to day. It is not something that comes easy after accepting God’s Word the first time. Rather, it is a process of learning how to receive his grace and rely on him constantly. This semester gave me insight on how to live out my faith back in the United States. 

Beannacht Leat!

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