I have been in Ireland for just over 72 hours and I have yet to travel outside of Limerick (save for the trip from the airport in Shannon) but yet already there is so much to say about the experience, and so much that has been learned.
How 72 hours can feel like weeks of elapsed time, I don't know. My guess is it's from the mental overdrive your brain enters when put into a new environment. Every store is different and requires examination. Every view is new and requires appreciation. And every custom is just slightly different enough to require comparison to back home. Though Ireland doesn't have a true language barrier, the accent and slang still make you pause with a blank look and quickly decipher what was just said to you -- it catches you off guard to have someone walk up to you and demand what the "crack" is.
But, the 72 hours have been jammed pack. Between city tours, campus tours, unpacking, organizing schedules, finding food, meeting new people, orientation sessions, it has been a non-stop flow of activity. And so far, I have loved it.
The history that exists in this country (as I am sure it is for most of Europe) is truly incredible. I didn't
quite process what I was seeing the first time I saw a castle. Scanning the countryside around me, my brain was processing House, field, cows, ohh lots of cows there, house, field, castle ... wait, castle??? WHOAH that's a real castle!!!! They are not some Disney Land recreation or mega-rich person's dream house, but a real, historical, fifty-foot, hand-made, stone-walled piece of architecture that has been fought over and lived in.
What's even more impressive is the unassuming juxtaposition with the modern day world that has developed as the twenty first century has sprung up around these ancient structures. Though many have been turned into living history and tourist attractions, they continue to function as a part of the culture's daily life. The twin towers at the front of King John's Castle still mark the entrance to Limerick
City on the edge of the Shannon River as
they have done for over one thousand years. And St. Mary's Cathedral still resides in the middle of town as a place of religious practice for its people as it has for centuries.
Maybe it's that imbued history in all of the country that fuels such an apparent pride that is palpable in Irish citizens. Everyone I have met thus far genuinely seems happy and proud to be Irish. Be it the unanimous allegiance to a local rugby or hurling team. Or the cheers of support at the student bar when the DJ would call out a town or county. Or the pride that they have in their beer (it's no exaggerated stereotype, these people LOVE Guinness -- case and point, a science poster on a wall explained the chemistry behind why Guinness bubbles sink to the bottom of a glass!).
All in all, it's a good culture. You can always anticipate a "Hiya!" and a smile when you meet someone new, and I can't wait for the next four months.