Irish Studies Würzburg


    See also "Campus Uni Würzburg" 28 (2018)

    © Selina Rüb

    In summer 2017, a very outstanding experience took place for future English teachers from the University of Wuerzburg and the University of Augsburg. While the seminars on how to teach English to students usually focus on theoretical aspects, we had the chance to combine the theory of planning a class trip with the actual experience abroad and the implementation of what had been planned before.

    14 students from the University of Wuerzburg, together with Prof. Dr. Maria Eisenmann, and 11 students from the University of Augsburg, together with Prof. Dr. Engelbert Thaler, wanted to experience Ireland and its culture. Dr. Ina Bergmann, from the University of Wuerzburg, accompanied us as well. With her connections to the Trinity College in Dublin and the University of Galway, and her friendly and welcoming attitude, her participation on the trip was an enrichment for us all.

    Before the trip, we did the planning in seminars, each university on its own. We were divided into groups with different responsibilities, and each group had a corresponding “partner group” from the other university. There was a group responsible for history, one for museums, one for culture, one for Trinity College, one for geography and one for Irish writers. The framework of the trip was already given (Dublin and Galway), but we had to fill it with life. Therefore, we did research, planned, booked and prepared the presentations for abroad. As this excursion should not only show us what to do with students in Ireland, but also how to do it, one part of our presentations was to think about the didactic implementation of the content in- and outside the classroom.

    End of June we were all set for Ireland. How exciting to soon meet the students from the other university for the first time!

    MONDAY: after arriving separately in Dublin, we all met at the Harcourt Hotel in Harcourt Street between 1 and 2 pm. The sooner one arrived, the more time one had for a good Irish Coffee! Good start for a good trip. As soon as everyone had arrived, we set out for our first walk around the town, led by the group responsible for history. The first stop was St Stephen’s Green, a park area quite close to our hotel at the end of Grafton Street. At each stop, there was a short presentation on the facts and stories about each destination. Just the way one could do it with students! The next stop was Dublin Castle – built in the 13th century, it nowadays holds some of the government departments. As we had a lot of stops on our agenda, we hurried on to Christ Church, also known as The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. It is one of Dublin’s eldest medieval cathedrals, next to St Patrick’s Cathedral. Off we went from there on to the Temple Bar area with the Temple Bar itself, probably the most famous pub in Dublin, and all its other pubs around. During the day, there is not too much going on there apart from the tourists running after a few good pictures of this well-known place, but at night Temple Bar is full of people partying and trying to experience the Irish pub culture. But always keep in mind: when going there with students, it is important to think of the additional benefit such a visit of a pub could have. Quite close to the Temple Bar area, in Grafton Street, there is the statue of Molly Malone – a well-known figure in Dublin, and to foreigners also known thanks to the song by The Dubliners:

    “In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone. As she wheeled her wheel-barrow, through streets broad and narrow, crying ‘Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!’”.

    It is not known whether the fictional character Molly Malone is based on the life of a real woman or not. Legend has it that Molly Malone was a fishmonger, who also worked as a part-time prostitute. It is said that she died very young of a fever. The statue is a tourist attraction and many tourists passing by grab Molly Malone’s bosom for luck, so that one can see the bronze wearing off there.

    So far, we had only been on the south side of the River Liffey. It divides Dublin into two parts, but there are multiple beautiful bridges between the two parts of the city. Our next stop should have been the so-called GPO (General Post Office), headquarter of the rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916 and therefore an important site for the history of the Republic of Ireland. But the GPO lies in O’Connell Street on the north side of the town. As we had already walked a lot and were quite hungry, we decided to skip that stop and look for a nice pub instead to grab some Irish food and drink a pint of Guinness. We still had two days to go in Dublin!

    TUESDAY: after a rather heavy Irish Breakfast with sausages, bacon and scrambled eggs, we set off quite early for the destination of this morning: Trinity College Dublin. Famous people once studied there, including Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. First, we went to one of the modern buildings on the campus, just next to the Library with the famous Book of Kells. In the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute, we were welcomed by Dr. Caitriona Curtis, the Institute Manager. She explained the tasks of the institute to us:

    “The Trinity Long Room Hub offers a world-class research environment that harnesses and expands the excellence of Trinity’s Arts and Humanities research by pioneering and facilitating cross-disciplinary collaborative projects."

    She also showed us around the highly modern building constructed in 2010, that received many prizes for its architecture. In one of the rooms, where the researchers usually meet for presentations and conversations, we were allowed to have a presentation about the history of Trinity College and its faculties, as well as the Book of Kells. After some refreshments, we went next door to the Library with the famous Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is an old Gospel book written in Latin and probably created around 800 AD. It contains the four Gospels of the New Testament and is illustrated with many pictures. Unfortunately, one can only see one page at a time, as it is kept in a glass case. Passing through the room with the Book of Kells and up the stairs one can stroll down the Old Library – what a sight! A very high ceiling, shelves on both sides of the long room and statues of important philosophers and writers on both sides…and books, books, books! We were amazed - so many books in such a wonderful place! We saw some German pupils running around with handouts – and immediately thought of the options we would have to bring this place closer to students through different tasks. The idea of this trip was obviously working!

    © Ina Bergmann

    But once again we still had many things to do and see. After a short tour around the campus and some food and drinks, we set off to the Tara Train Station to get the train to Dalkey, which is a lovely little village half-an-hour drive away from Dublin next to the sea. After having rushed through Dublin City, it was nice to escape the hectic city life and enjoy the more rural landscape and some quiet time. And the landscape outside Dublin is outstanding! We walked through Dalkey in the direction of Killiney. There are beautiful houses on the hill, with a great view over Dublin Bay and of course the Irish Sea. It felt Mediterranean, especially because the sun was shining and therefore the wind did not seem so cold anymore. Some brave students even jumped into the cold water, celebrating the ‘Irish summer’. Up the hill we went towards Killiney Hill Park and the Killiney Obelisk. Especially in the end the path got very steep – we were happy to arrive at the top of the hill. The view was breathtaking! Just before the Killiney Obelisk, there was a ‘wishing pyramid’. Of course we didn’t miss the chance to walk up to the top in circles, while looking towards Dublin and making a wish with our eyes closed as soon as we arrived on the top. Dr. Bergmann obviously had a good time taking a video of the line of students climbing up the pyramid. It was much fun! The Killiney Obelisk was built in commemoration of the ‘forgotten famine’ of 1740/1741 due to an exceptionally cold winter. After a short rest, we continued our way down to the village of Killiney to take the train back to Dublin. We were all quite exhausted but very happy to have done this walk.

    WEDNESDAY: in the morning we checked out of our hotel and once again made our way to the city. Topic of this morning: Irish writers. Originally, five stops were included in the tour: St. Patrick’s Cathedral with the Grave of Jonathan Swift, the Cú Chulainn statue in the General Post Office, the James Joyce Statue and Mulligan’s Pub, as well as the Oscar Wilde Memorial. However, for it was a very rainy day, we only managed to walk to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where we listened to student presentations on both Saint Patrick and Jonathan Swift, whose grave is inside the cathedral. From there, across the River Liffey and down O’Connell Street, we walked to the General Post Office. Inside the GPO there is a statue of Cú Chulainn, who is a very important figure both for Irish identity as well as for William Butler Yeats. We heard a presentation about William Butler Yeats and one of his poems there. Furthermore, another presentation on the Easter Rising, that had been planned for Monday, was then given in the GPO as well and illustrated quite nicely how history is always intertwined with culture and reflected in literature and arts in general. After those stops, we walked past the James Joyce statue. However, we didn’t linger there due to the heavy rain, but went straight to the National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology and did that part of our agenda first. In the Museum, we learnt a great deal about Medieval Ireland (1150-1550) and Viking Ireland presented in a very illustrative way, which was both very enlightening and interesting. As to the literary walking tour: the two missing presentations about James Joyce and Oscar Wilde were then given in a dry spot in front of the museum and back in the warm and cosy hotel lobby.

    In the afternoon, we collected our luggage at the hotel and took the bus to Heuston Station, from there we took the train to Galway. Many of us had an extended nap on the train – sightseeing during the day, much information to take in and not to forget a pint or two of Guinness every night had made everyone tired. Three hours later we got off the train in Galway and made our way to the hostel by foot. Sleepzone – the name of the hostel was very welcoming to us! Food, drinks, a bit of rest: at 7 pm half of our group met to go to a musical called Misé Éire – I am Ireland at the Black Box Theatre Galway. After a short introduction to some famous Irish tales and legends, we dived into a very special “Irish Experience”: accompanied by fiddle, harp, Irish flute and step dancers, we could emerge into the Irish history from the pre-Christian times till the Proclamation of the Republic of Ireland. From Grace O’Malley, the “Sea Queen of Connacht”, to the story of how Cú Chulainn, an Irish hero and warrior of the pre-Christian time, got his name (meaning “Hound of Chulainn”); from the story about the Claddagh Ring (a well-known symbol that stands for love, friendship and loyalty) to the Great Famine and the Emigration to the New World in the middle of the 19th century; and from there to the Easter Rising of 1916, the Proclamation of the Republic and finally, Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom. The musical showed the pride of the Irish in their country and their culture. We all enjoyed the musical very much as it summarized many of the places and stories we had seen and heard the days before in Dublin. We decided that it would be worthwhile to go there with students as well – provided with the right tasks, they could learn much about history and culture in a very entertaining environment.

    THURSDAY: It was time for nature and the coast again. We had a private coach plus driver who took us through the great scenery of the Connemara National Park. Our tour started in Galway at 10 am. Connemara is an area located on the western coast of Ireland where the Irish language is predominately spoken. The rural area has an incredible landscape to offer. We were overwhelmed by the diversity of hidden lakes, mountain ranges, wide beaches and rocky ground. First stop was Kylemore Abbey, a castle reminding us of fairy tales. It is located next to a small lake and has a beautiful Victorian walled garden. Afterwards we drove to a cute little fisher village to get lunch there. It was windy and cold outside, but this fact did not bother us anymore after a few days in Ireland! We continued our journey after an hour, as we still had quite a few kilometres to go on small and bumpy roads. On the way we got the chance to see more of the beautiful shore of the Atlantic Ocean. After a while we stopped again at a breath-taking beach to dip our feet in the water and to take more pictures. But the sky was very cloudy and from time to time it was raining, so we decided to drive back to Galway.

    In the evening, before we set out for our pub crawl, we had a little practical activity outside our hostel. We danced an Irish folk dance called Bridge of Athlone. Everyone had to choose a partner and then we lined up, men facing women. And off we went! Forward, two, three, bow; back, two, three, four. Swing your partner with the right arm, swing your partner with the left arm. And now the first couple dances down the aisle! And back up again! And everyone follows, the first couple makes a bridge, and everyone passes through into their new position. And from the start! Forward, two, three, bow…after five minutes of dancing and laughing and stepping on each other’s feet from time to time everyone was exhausted, but one couldn’t see a face without a smile on it. Dancing is freeing up emotions and bringing cultures together in a unique way.

    After the dance, we went to a few pubs in Galway. On the bus and back in the hostel we had heard presentations about Irish Traditional Music, also called Trad Music. As Galway is a very touristic place, one can find many pubs offering live music every night. But it was hard to find a pub with space for around thirty people, so the group soon split and everyone looked for their own pub crawl. Some of us went to a pub called O’Connor’s, where Ed Sheeran shot part of the video to his famous song Galway Girl: “She played the fiddle in an Irish band, but she fell in love with an English man…”

    It was a good night out!

    © Selina Rüb

    FRIDAY: in the morning we headed out for a Galway city tour. Not only did we just walk around the beautiful town, we also grouped up and tried to answer all the questions of a rally that was especially made up for the tour around Galway. We started at Eyre Square, a small park area close to our hostel. It is also known as John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, as the president of the United States gave a speech there during a trip through Europe. Walking down the pedestrian zone with its little shops and street musicians we passed Lynch’s Castle, a medieval limestone building. It was home to the Lynch family, one of the most powerful families of the area at that time. Afterwards we stopped at St Nicholas church. Legend says that Christopher Columbus once worshipped there. Following the direction of the coast we reached the Galway City Museum, that provided us with additional information about Galway and its past. Next to the Museum one can still see the Spanish Arch, which is part of the old wall around the town and is known as a former fish market place. Passing the river Corrib we reached the Claddagh, which means “stony beach” in Gaelic. It is one of the oldest former fishing villages in Ireland and has been recorded since the arrival of Christianity in Ireland in the 5th century. During the Great Famine, many of its inhabitants left, especially the young men. Next stop: Nora Barnacle house – the place where James Joyce’s wife grew up. Unfortunately, the little museum inside was closed that day. A bit further on we walked over the Salmon Weir Bridge and came to the Galway Cathedral. Time for some lunch! An hour later we all met again at the Cathedral – those of us who had been there earlier could even watch an Irish wedding happening there! Our last stop was the National University of Ireland, Galway, where we got the chance to listen to Dr. Erin A. McCarthy as she explained her research project RECIRC: The Reception & Circulation of Early Modern Women's Writing, 1550-1700:

     “RECIRC is producing a large-scale, quantitative analysis of the reception and circulation of women's writing from 1550 to 1700. The results will enable analysis of how texts, ideas and reputations gained traction in the early modern period."

    Dr. McCarthy is one of ten female researchers concerned with this project.

    After showing us around the mosrn campus, Dr. McCarthy led us to the oldest part of the university, the historical Quadrangle Building from 1849. The sun was shining, some students lay on the grass reading a book – the University of Galway seems like a very good place for studying!

    © Deborah Metzlaff

    As it was our last evening, we decided to have dinner together at the famous “King’s Head” pub restaurant. Irish food and once again a pint of Guinness – a decent end for a very informative and enriching trip!

    All in all, the participants in this excursion got along very well, which contributed to an utterly pleasant and learning-friendly social environment, beneficiary for everyone: thanks to the informative presentations prepared by the students and the outstanding organizational contributions by Dr. Bergmann and, most notably, Prof. Dr. Eisenmann, we learned a fair deal about life on the Emerald Isle: We became acquainted with its culture, literature, music, language, history and the geography of both its rural and urban areas. The knowledge gained in the seminar and during the excursion forms the basis of one day planning a class trip to Ireland ourselves.

    In the name of the group, we would like to thank everybody who made The Irish Experience as stunning and unforgettable as it was!

    Prof. Dr. Maria Eisenmann, Michelle Zirkel, Lisa Jaretzke, Deborah Klein