Gone to Galway

“Packing is always a nightmare,”
– Stefanie Powers

I don’t know who Stefanie Powers is — although Wikipedia tells me she starred in the acclaimed 1980s amateur detective drama Hart to Hart — but she is quite right. Packing is not fun. I’m really awful at it. I overpack things I don’t need and have been known to forget essentials (I once forgot to pack underwear). Be that as it may, as I found myself lamenting the process of packing, I realized I should be ashamed of myself. There is no reason to complain about something like packing, because it means that I am fortunate enough to have to the opportunity to spend a month in my motherland — Ireland.

This summer, I am taking part in the summer study abroad program in Galway, Ireland. Tomorrow, 19 students from the College of William and Mary will begin their trek to different places in Ireland. Some will be studying film, others will be studying Irish literature, and still others will be studying geology. I think the ones studying geology will need the most Guinness.

As corny as it sounds, this trip is very personal. Both sides of my family are from Ireland. Based on our surnames, our ancestors originate from Counties Donnegal, Westmeath, Cavan, and Cork. Both of my parents’ families left during The Great Famine, when my maternal great-great grandmother and namesake was only a little girl.

However, there’s a cute story from my dad’s side of the family. My paternal great-great-great grandfather had been courting my great-great-great grandmother and went to see her family off to the boat. His family was attempting to tough it out, so they were preparing to say farewell. The story goes that when he got to the dock she asked, “Why don’t you come with me?” After not much deliberation, he said, “Okay,” and got on the boat with her, where they were married. It’s pretty romantic stuff. I’d like to see Nicholas Sparks write that type of romance.

None of them were ever able to go back, and my parents and I have never had the opportunity to go. However, my extended family does practice many Celtic traditions like holding Irish wakes, eating corned beef and cabbage (personally not a fan) and holding grudges. The older generation in my family likes to share traditional limericks and toasts. My grandmother’s favorite is, “May those who love us, love us. And for those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts. And if he can not turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles, so we may know them by their limping.”
Yes, the Irish sense of humor has not been lost on us after several generations in the U.S. However, I know that we have become very American. I cannot wait to experience uncorrupted Irish culture. I’m about to get very cliché and corny, but I know that I will have a real connection to the land and people.
While we’re in Galway, a group of students on our trip is making a documentary. The idea for the documentary was created by our program director. The assignment is to orchestrate a small-scale clean up of the Eglinton Canal. The canal runs through the city and is filled with trash. Then, we will try to commission an artist to make a found art project with the trash. Potentially, some of the trash would be taken to elementary schools to have the children make art as well. The purpose is to educate people about littering, while also creating art. It’s an ambitious assignment for only a month-long trip. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

This blog is very rushed, but I have to finish packing. There are so many unanswered questions that I will hopefully be able to answer by the end of this trip. Will I learn about where my ancestors come from? Will I feel a deep connection to the land? Can the group make the documentary in time or will it be a hot mess? How will the Galwegians react? And will our group find the answer to the most important question of all — how many pubs can we visit in one month?


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