By Owen Smith
The Dublin Summer Programme set out to the west coast on Sunday morning 28 June. With Ballyvaughan, in the Burren Co. Clare as the home base, the students and staff immersed themselves in a culture, landscape, and lifestyle much different than that of Dublin. Kevin Whelan, P.J. Matthews, and Leo McWilliams held their usual classes in Ballyvaughan, and the classes were complemented by daily field trips that allowed the students to experience the landscape, society, environment and culture of the west of Ireland. The balance between being in the dynamic city of Dublin and then being on the Atlantic coast allows the participants to have a fully rounded view of Ireland.
Soon after arrival on Sunday, the students set off to play hurling at the local GAA pitch. They whacked the sllothar (hurling ball) around in the shadows of the rocky hills of the Burren with bleating sheep filling the evening air. On Monday there was a hike up the Abbey Hill at Cormcomore showed off the area’s fascinating karst landscape. A traditional music session in Green’s Bar in Kinvara followed. P.J., Ruaidhri, and DSP student Maura Monahan showcased their talents by joining in.
On Tuesday, the stunning Cliffs of Moher were the focus of the fieldtrip. The Burren Smokehouse hosted a presentation on how Atlantic salmon are smoked there and how the company is contributing to the larger movement of Ireland as an artisan food hub. After dinner, the students were taught traditional Irish set dances in Vaughan’s Bar in Kilfenora.
Wednesday started off with an environmental walk around Carron in the rocky heart of the Burren with biologist and environmental activist Dr Brendan Dunford. He explained the features of the landscape and showed many examples of the plants that grow in the area. Later, the group descended into the incredible Pol an Ionain Cave. This is home to the largest free-hanging stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere. After dinner, P.J.’s class performed short extracts from The Playboy of The Western World that managed to be both well done and hilarious, as the students offered their own distinctive takes on this Irish classic.
Thursday offered a field-trip into the mountain heart of Connemara. The first stop was the ancient pilgrimage site at Mameán, and the group hiked up to the ancient Patrician site. Then it was off to Kylemore Abbey. At this magnificent site, the group climbed up to the statue of Christ the King to take in the majestic views of the Connemara Mountains and lakes. They were welcomed to Kylemore by Mother Maire Hickey in the Gothic Church, followed by evocative renditions of Amazing Grace and the Alma Mater. Everyone then headed for a coffee, tea, and apple tart break at the picturesque Lough Inagh Lodge. Later that night, the group headed to Fanore beach to swim, play hurling and American football, and watch a superlative Atlantic sunset. After a jam-packed and hugely educational week, the group got back on Friday, just in time to finish final papers before heading off to the fabulous Independence Day celebration at Drumleck.