And now, Ireland - part 2...
Our last day of 2009 was spent traveling across the country. Galway lies on the West coast, on the Atlantic, while Dublin is on the East coast and the Irish Sea. Our only stop along the way was at Clonmacnoise. This former monastery lays in ruins on the Shannon River and offers stunning photo opportunities with its large collection of celtic crosses and large guard towers. This must have been a fantastically beautiful place to live when it was still inhabited by the monastic Christians over a century ago.
From Clonmacnoise, we made the rest of our journey to Dublin. Most of the bus dozed in and out whilst Eunan informed us of various aspects of the lives of the Irish, including healthcare, education and the economy. My most memorable moment from this sleepy ride was when Eunan told us that New Zealand lamb was the best in the world. I can't say I disagree. :)
Our hotels were located in Dublin 4, which at one point was the most expensive locality in all of Europe to buy property. After settling into our hotels, we took a short walk around the suburb before eating dinner and getting ready for our New Year's Eve party! At most Dublin bars on New Year's Eve, huge cover charges apply and reservations are an absolute necessity. So instead, the UMass and UDel bands were brought together at our hotel for a party worthy of bringing in the New Year. What a fantastic night. For the last four years, I have spent my New Year's at work. And while this is one of the most fun nights of the year to work, celebrating with your best friends at a bar in Ireland is a much more fun way to ring in the New Year. And about 4 hours into the New Year, I headed to bed. I had to get some sleep before the parade in the morning.
Friday morning was the day we had all been waiting for. Our parade through the streets of Dublin followed by a performance outside the Lord Mayor's house for her family and representatives from the American Embassy. This was one of the strangest parades I have ever been. 1. There were only three pieces to the parade: a 25-member police band, 25-member community band and the approximately 400-member UD/UMass band. 2. We did about 3 U-Turns. It was bizarre. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful experience. Our sound echoed off of the buildings that lined the streets. The vibrations from our warmup set off a car alarm. This was really funny, but also made tuning a nightmare...
After our performance, we had the rest of the day in Dublin to explore before returning to the hotel for dinner. After dinner, a bunch of ΦΜΑ brothers from UDel headed over to the UMass hotel to mingle with the guys there who are in the process of starting a chapter. It was fantastic just being able to spend some time getting to know them.
Next day? Exploring Dublin! Eunan gave us the full guided tour, showing us the Georgian style of housing that is prominent throughout Dublin, the government buildings and some other historical sites. We made our first stop at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Ironically, it is not a Catholic church, nor is there an official Catholic church in all of Dublin. However, this extremely old church has absolutely gorgeous exterior and interior architecture and a beautiful, yet ancient, organ. Our next stop was Trinity College and the Book of Kells. The campus looked incredible covered in snow and based on looks, I could totally go to college here. The only bad thing about the Book of Kells was the unfortunate rule against photographs being taken. These ancient texts have lasted for hundreds of years and surprisingly still have the vibrant colours that their illustrators intended them to have. Our final stop for the day was the Guinness Brewery, the "Holy Ground" in Dublin. I became a fan of Guinness for sure during this trip and there is none fresher than that at the brewery. My favourite fact from the tour? 2/3 of all Guinness is exported. That means that 1/3 of all of the Guinness consumed globally is consumed in Ireland. Just more proof that the Irish win at drinking.
Our last day in Dublin was spent first with visiting Phoenix Park and then we were let loose on the streets of Dublin for the day to finish up shopping and see anything else that we had yet to see. It was a fun day, wandering around in our groups looking for bandos from other buses. Cold day, but a fun one. Most people spent the last night in Ireland at the hotel bar, enjoying each other's company before we all came back to America the next day.
This trip was better than I ever imagined it would be. The chance to travel a foreign country with so many of my friends was just fantastic. I can't wait to be abroad again in the future with these people again.