Tuesday, 28 April 2015

On Saturday, 18 April, I took my last trip with UCD's International Student Society. We ventured north to Boyne Valley in County Meath and visited Newgrange, which dates back to the earliest known civilization in Ireland during the Neolithic period (estimated at 3200 BC). It was rediscovered in 1699, but is older than both Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt, and is one of three largely significant passage tombs in Ireland.  It is located on a hill overlooking the River Boyne, and the other two well-known tombs are Knowth and Dowth, located a couple of kilometers away but also at points near the river. There are as many as 35 smaller burial mounds in the region.

The River Boyne

We walked down to the visitor center, where we then took a shuttle to the site

This is a distant view of Newgrange from the visitor center

Closer view

What is so significant about these three passage tombs? Well, each of them was constructed using huge slate-like rocks, stacked and layered with smaller stones, and no mortar, in all of the crevices to withstand the weight of the mound. At ground level, Newgrange's exterior base alone contains 97 "kerbstones," each weighing approximately five tons, and these are the supporting structure which have held up an estimated 200,000 tons of weight for over 5000 years. The River Boyne provides the only logical means of how early civilians were able to transport these stones to this location, because the kerbstones are not native to this region of the country. It is also estimated that it took over 200 years to construct, most likely at least four to six generations of Neolithic-period civilians.

One of the most significant artistic and architectural details about these tombs is that they each contain a single passageway which leads to a chamber (Newgrange's passage is just under 60 feet in length). What is unique about this is that the passage for each tomb was aligned perfectly to line up with the sunrise on the solstice of each season. Newgrange is aligned with the winter solstice, so from December 19 to 23 of each year, at dawn the sun shines through the "roofbox" above the entrance to the tomb, and lights the entire passageway through to the chamber at the end. Knowth is aligned with the summer solstice, and Dowth is aligned with the spring and autumn equinox.

The entrance stone is decorated with megalithic art, and it was the first piece of Newgrange to be discovered, alerting the finders to something more underneath the land which they were digging through. Because these symbols predate any recorded writing, it remains a mystery what significance the artistic markings may have.

The "roofbox" is located just above the entryway

Audrey and myself

At the base are 97 "kerbstones," and an approximate estimation of over 400 more used to construct the interior of the tomb

More megalithic artwork decorates some of the exterior kerbstones

The front-facing "wall" of white quartz stones are the only part of the monument which may not be accurately represented. The stones were found scattered around the front of the mound when it was first discovered., and the wall was constructed based not on documented evidence, but rather on the interpretation of a man named Professor O'Kelly between 1967-1974.

Boyne Valley countryside

Another burial mound which remains to this day un-excavated

After Newgrange, our other stop for the day was Causey Farm. This farm is used for recreational and educational purposes. It frequently receives groups from primary schools and, oddly enough, "hen parties" (bachelorette parties).  While there, we got to experience Irish dancing, witness a border collie at work herding sheep, milk a cow, and more.

Patch, the border collie, napping in a haystack

Yes, it was even my first time milking a cow

This little lamb was born literally minutes before our arrival

There's Patch again, dutifully awaiting her master's command

She was absolutely brilliant

Patch successfully herded the flock through a gap and into the circle which we had formed

Donkey buddies

Irish set dancing...much more fast-paced and exhausting than I had anticipated

Our tour guide, Andy, sang songs with us as we took a hay ride to the bog land

Bog is a type of wetland that accumulates as "peat," which holds moisture well but is not oxygenated, so it does not allow decomposition to take place. Therefore it is actually very clean, unsuitable for insects, and has the ability to preserve carcasses. It maintains its acidity, which deters most plants from being able to grow, and also maintains a rather cold temperature, so historically it has been used for storage of goods which spoil without refrigeration, such as butter.

Stepping into the bog...there was really no way to tell how deep you might sink with each step...and because it retains water so well, washing it off was not the easiest

Myself and Audrey

Perhaps ten of us braved the cold, quicksand-like pit

This guy looked like he was having a pretty hard time...

The vegetation that grows on bog land is not especially colorful or scenic

Upon our arrival back at the farm, we learned how to play the Irish bodhrán,  which is a drum with a goat skin head and with which rhythms and sounds can be manipulated by moving your supporting hand along the underside of the drum head.

Andy was a pro

Next, we joined the cows in their field for a feeble attempt at hurling

Audrey was actually very skilled - she had a slight advantage using the hurley due to playing field hockey back home

Thursday, 23 April 2015

On Easter Sunday, I was invited to dinner with Gerry's family. This gathering consisted of his parents, his sister and brother-in-law, and two of his three daughters, Anna and Grace. Dinner was amazing, and it felt great to sit around a table with a family again (even if it wasn't my family...).

Anna, myself, and Grace
On Monday, April 13, my Equine Nutrition class took a field trip to the Irish National Stud. This is the thoroughbred racehorse breeding and boarding facility owned by the Irish Government in County Kildare. Perfect timing for us, most of the horses had just recently foaled.

The grounds around the Stud were beautiful as well. But what do you expect, considering this facility foals, raises, and boards the most famous horses in all of Ireland?

There is also the Irish Horse Museum on the property

The flags represent all of the nationalities of students who have attended the schooling program offered at the Stud.

"One of the greatest racehorses of all time" - he won the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, the Eclipse Stakes – the first colt to accomplish this treble since 1989 champion Nashwan – the International Stakes, the Irish Champion Stakes, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Statue dedication to Sea the Stars
A very important member of the Stud staff

These horses have got it made - just look at those nice stables

This is Invincible Spirit. Part of our trip involved viewing a "cover" (aka breeding) take place, and he was the lucky stallion ;)

€384,982 in prize money, and he wasn't even the richest horse there!

Another Irish champion, Gale Force Ten. He gave me the chance, so I snapped a photo

On Thursday (16 April), UCD played Trinity College in the Annual Colours Rugby Match. Because there are only seven university-status schools in all of Ireland, the games are all pretty significant. It was definitely an exciting game to be present for. UCD was leading the game for a long time (Rugby games are composed of two 35-minute halves). The score was 25-22 and there were seven minutes left when Trinity scored a try (a try is worth five points, and a conversion is worth two) and got the conversion, bringing the score to 29-25 in favor of Trinity, seeming pretty hopeless. Everyone was on their feet and Trinity fans were mad with excitement, but unfortunately for them, UCD scored again with two and a half minutes to go in the match, and came back to win 32-29.

Might I also add that after watching a mere two games of rugby, I already have a much better understanding of the sport than I have EVER had in alllll my years of watching American football...

This is called a "scrum," and is called whenever the ball becomes "unplayable"

At half time, they had a short junior rugby match

This is called a 'lineout' and is used when the ball goes out of bounds
The ball is thrown between the two lines, and each team must lift a player to win the ball for their team

Unlike American football, play resumes when the player holding the ball is tackled. Teammates then throw themselves on top of their downed teammate and the ball is passed along the ground tightly between bodies to the outside of what can only be described as a pit, so that a player on the outside can grab it and resume the game.

Final score

Aside from some of these more exciting events going on around campus, I would like to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the UCD campus. Even though the grounds are not even a quarter of the size (nor age) of Purdue, I have a real appreciation for how well-kept the campus is and how much work goes into keeping it nice.

I love the feeling this gives me - the feeling that summer is on its way (even though I know an Irish summer is nothing compared to an Indiana one...I'm just ready for summer)

One day as I was on the bus headed toward the city, sitting on the top level of the bus I thought I saw some sort of garden over the hedges off to the side of the road just before exiting the campus. So today when I remembered seeing it, I decided to explore a little. From the road, the hedges completely block out any sight of this serene little garden, but I'm so glad I took a few moments to look inside.
You would hardly even know something was there...

These next few photos are from the walk I take to class every day.

Afternoon, Mr. Magpie

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.

View of campus from the Newman building

One day last week, UCD had an event in the part of campus known as the "Quad." They had bouncy houses, sumo wrestling body suits, a mobile petting zoo, and the Teddy's Ice Cream Truck available all day.

They had lambs, goats, a llama, baby bunnies, ducks and ducklings, chickens and chicks, guinea pigs, miniature pigs, gerbils, and more.