Cultural Odyssey: Exploring Dublin and Cork in Five Days
After more than a year of being trapped behind our computer screens due to the pandemic, the University of Würzburg finally changed back to normal and made another field trip to Ireland possible. Under the guidance of Prof. Dr. Bergmann and Prof. Dr. Eisenmann, the founders of Irish Studies Würzburg, and assistant professor Franca Leitner, M.A., fourteen students from the University of Würzburg set out to explore the “Emerald Isle” from June 26th to July 1st during an excursion called “The Irish Experience.” Students had previously attended one of three seminars, “Irish Studies in the EFL Classroom,” “Irish American Literature, Culture & History” and “Irish Gothic,” all of which were related to the trip.
One of the goals was to learn how future English teachers put together a program for a school field trip and how to run it abroad. And we were the lucky students who got to experience this program first-hand. Depending on which of the seminars the students had chosen, their tasks slightly differed. This resulted in a versatile program that combined culture, history, sports, and social activities.
The night before the excursion officially started, we all met in the lobby of our hotel called Jacobs Inn. It was located right in the heart of Dublin. We ate burgers and fries and enjoyed the live music. Many of us met each other for the very first time that evening and the mutual anticipation and shared excitement set the tone for our upcoming time together.
|Credit: Laura Baumann
Monday, 26 June 2023
|On our first morning, the rich breakfast buffet welcomed us and gave us an authentic impression of the typical Irish breakfast including black and white pudding, sausages, beans, and bacon. It also provided us with enough energy for the day ahead, as there was a lot on our agenda.
|The next stop on our bucket list was the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Before we got there, we spontaneously decided to take a detour through St. Stephen's Green. On our slightly misdirected search for the bust of James Joyce, we came across other important monuments such as the Memorial of the Great Famine and the Three Fates, also known as the German Memorial. The latter was presented in 1997 by the then President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Roman Herzog in gratitude and remembrance for Irish aid after World War II. Facing the devastating consequences of the Second World War, many German families experienced poverty and hunger. In order to help, the Irish took in poor German children. This is an often-overlooked chapter of Irish-German history that few are aware of. Fittingly, in a guest lecture Monica Brandis introduced the so-called “Operation Shamrock” to students of the University of Würzburg in 2022 (click here).
When we arrived on the campus of Trinity College after our walk, we took a lunch break so that everyone could decide whether they wanted to wander around feeling like a Trinity student, sit down for a while to process everything they had learned so far, or go off campus in search of something to eat. Then we visited the famous Book of Kells, which was a mesmerizing experience. We immersed ourselves in the beauty of the illustrated manuscripts in insular style and the captivating history behind them. Unfortunately, the Long Room, normally filled with countless books on each side, was almost completely empty due to restorations. Nevertheless, we were able to admire the many statues of writers and philosophers in front of the bookshelves and understood why the Old Library is often compared to the setting of Hogwarts in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
As we left the Book of Kells, the group in charge of the Trinity College tour gave us some more information about the university as we walked around the campus. This was followed by an engaging scavenger hunt that took us on a tour around Dublin where we took selfies in front of the O’Connell Monument, Dublin Castle, the General Post Office, the famous statue of Molly Malone, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was a great way to combine the knowledge given in the morning with our first-hand, personal experience with Ireland’s vivid capital. Especially when doing an excursion with a school class, it makes sense to do the theoretical part already in the morning, when the energy is at its peak. The competitive part of the scavenger hunt can rekindle the motivation in the afternoon, ensuring a memorable encounter with notable monuments and sights.
In the evening we rounded off our first eventful day with a play at the Abbey Theatre. Our choice was Amy Conroy’s performance of Every Brilliant Thing, a production based on a novel. What began as a light-hearted play gradually evolved into a heart-wrenching experience, evoking profound emotions that left us deeply touched. In a review, the Sunday Independent remarks: “It’s not often one leaves a theatre feeling as though the experience has been a privilege. But that’s the only way to describe Every Brilliant Thing.” In fact, the play demonstrated how theatre can serve as a potential tool to initiate meaningful conversations with students, delving into sensitive and often stigmatized subjects such as mental health concerns.So many impressions packed in just one day had to be properly processed with a good night’s sleep. Accordingly, most of us went back to the hostel immediately after the theatre.
Tuesday, 27 June 2023
To make sure we made the most of our time, we usually finished late at night, and started early in the morning. On Tuesday we started our day at the EPIC Museum, an interactive museum that is all about the Irish Emigration. Much like the Little Museum we visited the previous day, the Epic Museum also covers a wide range of historical episodes, leaving it up to the visitors to choose where they prefer to focus their time and exploration.
Credits: Maria Eisenmann & Bianca Minxolli
Through its innovative exhibits and immersive presentations, the museum manages to bring the history and stories of the Irish diaspora to life. On the museum’s website, it is said that “at EPIC we believe that Irish history should never be a long list of names and dates, it should be an experience.” In fact, students are often taught pure factual knowledge in school, which leads them to study by heart without linking events. As a teacher, you cannot always prevent that from happening, because there is simply not enough time on a regular school day. Yet, a field trip can be an opportunity to fully take students back in time so that they can gain a deeper understanding of a country’s historical narrative.
Following our museum visit, we travelled to Bray by train, where we embarked on a more athletic adventure: a scenic hike to Bray Head along the beautiful coast. It challenged both students and professors physically, but once we arrived and took in the breath-taking view that awaited us from the top of the hill, it was all worth it. Of course, we could not miss the chance of taking lots of photos, proud of the hike we had taken.
Credit: Bianca Minxolli
Credits: Franca Leitner & Loris Bauer
Although the path was slippery, we got back to the station and the hotel in one piece. There we took a short break to rest and get ready for our evening program. Anticipation was running high as many of us eagerly looked forward to the Literary Pub Crawl that introduced us to another essential part of Irish culture: the vibrant pub scene.
Guided by two professional actors (one of them had recently starred in Sally Rooney’s famous TV series Normal People), we were led through various traditional pubs of Dublin by way of a street theatre, featuring a best-of of Ireland’s literature. It was essential to listen carefully, as the information given about famous writers like Wilde, Joyce, Behan, and Beckett would later be put to a test in a quiz. Luckily we had the privilege of having expert lecturers in Irish literature alongside, who shared the same eagerness to succeed as we did. The prize was a T-shirt, meaning it could obviously not be shared. For this reason, it is now displayed in the philosophy building of the University of Würzburg, where it is presented like a precious trophy.
Credits: Bianca Minxolli
Wednesday, 28 June 2023
Time passed so quickly that all of a sudden it was already Wednesday - our last day in Dublin and the midway point of our trip. One more time we had a great, and very filling, Irish breakfast at the hotel before we packed up our luggage, put it in the locker, and continued our literary journey. We went to the MoLi, the Museum of Literature. As the museums we visited the days prior had already satisfied the curiosity of those keen on Irish history, this time the book enthusiasts among us were given the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the world of Irish literature. The centre of attention was James Joyce, whose name will now probably never be forgotten by those who had not been familiar with him before. Apart from Joyce, the museum also gave insights into contemporary Irish literature, with the exhibitions frequently engaging multiple senses simultaneously not only visually but also through hearing and smelling. Afterwards, we took a long-distance bus and headed straight to Cork.
Credit: Bianca Minxolli
We were eager to explore a new promising Irish city that turned out to be quite different from Dublin. While Dublin has a buzzing urban energy and offers more attractions than you could visit within half a week, Cork reminded us almost a bit of Würzburg, with a cozy, more intimate charm.
Credit: Bianca Minxolli
Thursday, 29 June 2023
Thursday had a lot of thrilling events in store for us. First, we drove to Cobh to visit the Titanic Museum which recounts the Titanic’s story from the construction to the tragic accident in 1912. For some of us, it was a revelation that Ireland houses not only one but two Titanic Museums, with the Titanic Museum in Belfast being more widely known. However, these museums differ in the perspective of their storytelling: the one in Belfast predominantly focuses on the ship’s construction and design, whereas the one we have been to mainly revolves around the passengers and their individual experiences and fates. As we entered, each of us was handed a boarding ticket, replicating the tickets owned by real-life passengers at the time. Our task was to find out more about the person the ticket once belonged to. It certainly left us with mixed feelings. It was impressive how the museum managed to replicate the story of the individuals’ journeys. At the same time, it felt so real that it left us with quite an eerie feeling. Only a few days earlier, the Titan submersible, which had been on an expedition to visit the wreck of the Titanic, had first gone missing and then turned out to have imploded, adding to our unsettling feelings.
Afterwards, while some of us eased their minds with coffee and cake, others explored beautiful Cobh some more and visited the St. Colman’s Cathedral on the hill.
Our mood brightened as we continued our trip with a visit to Blarney Castle, a medieval stronghold situated north of Cork. Like the whole country, the castle is surrounded by endless myths and legends. The most famous of these is the one regarding the Blarney Stone. Irish legend has it, that if you kiss the stone, you will be rewarded with “the gift of the gab”, which translates as the gift of eloquence (and, as Prof. Dr. Bergmann put it, you might get an extra gift of contagious diseases).
|So far, we had had a taste of Irish folklore, history, literature, and pubs. Of course, we could not go back to Germany without having explored one more crucial thing: traditional Irish music and dance. Still on the Barney Castle grounds, we ventured into Irish dancing. Therefore, one of us taught us a sequence of steps. Our performance attracted tourists, momentarily distracted from their original purpose to see the castle – and earned us a not so well-deserved applause.
Friday, 30 June 2023