It’s so easy to say that a trip to a foreign country for 10 days can change your life but until you actually go on that trip you feel like it’s one of those things you feel compelled to say. Over the course of the past 48 hours, I feel that GCP Ireland has had life-altering meetings with some of the most powerful figures in Irish society today. Tuesday after the Cliffs of Moher, we were back in Dublin at the Ariel House. We had two nights here- Tuesday and Wednesday, which was a blessing because 2 nights was the longest time we’ve had in one city.
Wednesday we had breakfast at the Ariel House and hopped on the coach to our first destination of the day, Trinity College right in the heart of downtown Dublin. Here is housed the Book of Kells, which is an ancient, ornately illustrated copy of the 4 gospels of the New Testament. The exhibit was eye opening and again, highlighted the fact that Irish history spans thousands of years.
We had some free time to meander the campus, which was quite urban but had a beautiful green space in the middle. I tried unsuccessfully to find any type of music building but I did run into the Trinity Orchestra table. I asked a few questions to learn about what it was like to study music at Trinity. I learned that the Trinity Orchestra is in fact a student-run, volunteer entity and that students are not required to take lessons or ensembles as part of their degree. This is a completely new concept to me as I take both for credit at SU. It turned out their last concert of the semester was that evening, and with Karen, our trip leader’s permission, Michaela Ibrahim and I were allowed to go. It was such a treat to be able to hear my international peers perform with such gusto.
Rewinding back a few hours, after Trinity, we met up with John O’Conor again just down the street from our first meeting of the day with the Lord Mayor of Dublin. The current mayor of Dublin is Naoise Ó Muirí who is the 343rd mayor. The Lord Mayors of Dublin serve one-year terms. After being greeted quite graciously in the reception room, the Lord Mayor insisted that Lily Bowers, our resident photographer for our trip and pianist, play us a little something on the piano in the room. She rose to the occasion wonderfully and should be very proud of how she played with such important people in the room. The Lord Mayor then gave us a tour of his residence, which, like so much that we’ve seen on this trip so far was steeped in rich history and tradition.
After this, we were whisked away around the corner and up the street to the Irish parliament buildings for our meeting with Micheál Martin, the head of the opposition party in parliament. I’m still rusty on my Irish politics, but he’s in charge of the party that’s currently not in power. This meeting was quick, but he is a very knowledgeable man and spoke very well on the issues that currently face the Irish people.
Thursday was a tremendous day for our group. After checking out of the Ariel House, we boarded our coach and headed out for Phoenix Park (which also happens to be the largest walled park in all of Europe), which is where the residence of the President is located. After getting through the gate and off the bus, we had a short walk to the actual residence itself. We were greeted most warmly by the staff and were taken to an opulent reception room (which we later learned is the formal, private reception room for all heads of state, etc.) and told to await the President in a receiving line.
And then it happened. We were all suddenly in the presence of the President of the country that had been so kind to us. We all introduced ourselves and our majors and let me tell you getting those two sentences out took a lot of mental effort given the moment. After, President Higgins gave some remarks to us in English and Irish officially welcoming us to the country. In his remarks the President said he thought what each of us was studying was all equally important. He mentioned Dr. Nancy Larrick Crosby, the woman whose gift to Shenandoah has allowed GCP to become what it has, and credited her vision for wanting to develop something that has a far-reaching impact for the whole university. Lastly, in the formal remarks he said that he truly believes that relationships between Europe and the Americas are strengthened through the young people. And there we were. After having pictures taken, we sat down and had tea, coffee and other refreshments. And we sat and just listened to him. For myself and at least a few other group members, you could almost feel the wisdom this man had to share. It was an incredible feeling just to be in the same room as him, and I felt like a small child just sitting there and listening to him speak about Irish history. Of course all good things must come to an end and he eventually left us. We were given a tour of the home, which was as beautiful and regal as you can expect. Enjoy the photos.
We hopped on our coach again and it was off to Belfast we went! Belfast is in Northern Ireland, which is still a part of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales). To be honest Northern Ireland felt like a completely different country- the accents, the flag, the money, the buildings all felt completely different than being in Ireland. That afternoon we got to check out the Titanic museum, which was built in Belfast before its fateful trip. It was a beautiful and at times a moving tribute to the ship, its history and Belfast itself. We checked into our hotel and met with Patrick and Kevin, who work in sending students from Northern Ireland to the US. It was great to meet them and get a glimpse of student life and traveling abroad. The next morning at breakfast we met Zoe, a student who will be spending the next academic year at Shenandoah! She was very nice and I told her to fine me when she arrives on campus to help her get acclimated. We had a brief tour of the Queen’s University School of Pharmacy, which is the top pharmacy school in the UK.
We had about an hour to see the campus before we were back on the bus towards Dublin to catch John O’Conor’s concert at the National Concert Hall. It was a magnificent performance. Bravo John! That afternoon we also paid a visit to the Guinness Factory storehouse, where we enjoyed a free pint and gorgeous views of downtown Dublin. We boarded our coach for the last time and we dropped off at the Marine Hotel in Sutton where we parted ways with our awesome coach driver, John. We spent about 6 days on that bus and it became home, offering us more consistency than the hotels we were in!
Dinner was in a small fishing town called Howth with John and a future Shenandoah DMA Piano student. It was a small restaurant with awesome food and a warm fireplace. Here it is Saturday morning, and our fabulous Board of Trustee member Jeff chartered a boat tour of Howth harbor. The 8:30 departure time was certainly worth the views we got. Clear blue skies, calm water and warm sun made for a serene trip. We have about another hour before we take the DART into downtown Dublin for the day.
– Michael Divino