by Kim Burke
We ended the first session with our West of Ireland trip and this trip was my most favorite thing we’ve done in the program thus far. We traveled out to Westport, County Mayo and stayed in a cute little hotel and did tours everyday. The first day there we hiked to Croagh Patrick, which is an ancient pilgrimage site that is still used yearly for the devout to climb up it barefoot. Across from Croagh Patrick is the Famine Memorial. County Mayo was hit the hardest during the famine and this memorial is in the shape of a “Coffin ship.” Tragedy struck in 1847 when the potato crop failed completely, forcing thousands of people to abandon their homes and way of life. Coffin ships were the name given to the ships carrying the thousands of Irish people trying to escape. Many people died on that journey, thus the name coffin ships.
It was a very somber mood when we drove along the famine walk and we saw a famine village. The structures of the village were still there, but it had been completely abandoned, this gave us a tangible way to understand the devastation of the famine, it literally wiped out once thriving communities. It was humbling to be in a place that has overcome so much devastation.
famine ship memorial
We also got to tour Tom Hennigan’s farm. His farm has been in his family for generations and we learned all about how Irish farmers used to live back in the 1800’s. With my own family hailing from County Mayo, I couldn’t help but imagine that my ancestors lived similarly. I loved getting to hear from Tom as he talked to us about “the good old days” of Ireland and how much the world has changed. Most of the Irish people that I have conversed with are young college aged students like myself, so it was interesting getting to hear from someone from an older generation.
Our West of Ireland trip was so great because we went to places that I would never have gone to on my own. It was also a last hoorah for the students that were leaving after the first session. Although I was really sad to say goodbye to the first session people, it made me really thankful that I have another month here. My time in Ireland so far has been a crazy, exciting, and scary adventure!
The Summer I group