Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Week in Castlecomer

This past Monday I rounded out my stay in Castlecomer,  a small former coal mining town about an hour and a half south of Dublin, and officially moved into UCD.  I could not have asked for better hosts than my aunt's two close friends Maggie and Liam - if people in Ireland have even half as much hospitality and generosity as they do I know I chose the right country for my study abroad experience.  I did not have WiFi or internet access while in 'Comer (as they call it), so here are a few posts I typed up while there.  They provide a relatively in depth look at my first week since I did not have any classes or work to worry about making time for....

Day One
It was a pleasure to be greeted by Liam at the airport after a smooth flight into Dublin.    
Naturally, after arriving at 5:30am Ireland time my first task was to catch up on some sleep and recover from the effects of jet lag.  After my first real Irish breakfast, we rode into Kilkenny for a glimpse of the famous local castle and then stopped at the "Carphone Warehouse" to find out that the Three or Meteor networks would provide me with the best phone plan for my stay.   We left Kilkenny and drove around the countryside to see a few relatives' homes.  It was very interesting to see them compared to homes in the U.S. - they all have slate roofs and are very sturdily build of cement or stone rather than timber. 
Dinner consisted of a fantastic lasagna, garlic bread, and salad combo followed by a visit to Maggie's nephew's house.  Soon, out of the blue, an unwelcome heard of cows appeared right outside of the living room window (I've included a picture looking right outside their front door).   Needless to say, Maggie's nephew was less than impressed at the about 24 hooves digging into the well kept lawn at every step.  After he sprinted out the door with a hurling stick to chase the cows off the lawn (only in Ireland!).  We wrapped up our visit with my first taste of Gaelic football - a fun sport to watch with plenty of action and scoring.  

 Kilkenny Castle

Maggie & Liam's Street
Day Two 
A grand day of sleeping in, waking up and having breakfast (well, lunch really), then going for a walk around Castlecomer rounded out the first half of my afternoon.  It is amazing what good friends everyone is here.  I stopped in a butcher shop, and I could tell the fellow behind the counter knew I was not from Ireland, so I struck up a conversation with him.  It turns out he is close friends with Liam and the two both play golf at the course just outside town.  The fruit/vegetable truck I wondered past also happened to be Maggie's cousins.  Overall, everyone I meet, no matter who they are, have a very friendly and welcoming demeanor.
We soon went in the local Cafe where I got a delicious homemade scone with mixed berry jelly.  After a long chat with a few more friends that stopped in, we returned home for dinner before attending a fossil donation event at the local park and mining museum to watch Maggie's nieces sing.  It so happened that I met the geological curator of the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin who I look forward to reaching out to in setting up a visit to the museum.  The ceremony recognized the donation of a nice collection of fossils that had been brought up by the mine workers in the town at one time.  I would have to say that one of the highlights of the night was a singing performance by a group of minstrels, which included a solo from the most tenured member of the group at a near 90 years of age. 
Local Church & Old Graveyard

Horse Betting

Day 3
Today was another early day, but it was well worth it.  I took the bus into Dublin and then to UCD with Maggie's cousin Padraig (the Irish version of Patrick), who is a returning sophomore there. He was extremely helpful and gave me a valuable early tour of campus along with a look at the dorm where I will be living: Roebuck Castle - no, unfortunately it's not actually a castle, but it might as well be since I get my own room and bathroom which is a first!  We grabbed a bite to eat at the campus sandwich place, which has a small counter about half the size of a Wawa.  It was delicious before orientation week and school, but I'd imagine when there are 25,000 students on campus I'll be inclined to settle for the slightly less popular cafés that populate the nearly 400 acre campus.   
Before catching the bus back to Castlecomer we walked around Dublin for a while, and it was interesting (although I suppose expected) to see many familiar large companies with presences in the city ranging from KPMG to JPMorgan, and even Google across the river - hopefully I'll be having a closer look there sometime in the coming months! I couldn't have chosen a better way to finish off the day than with a Classic Irish dish of freshly caught fish and homemade chips (French fries in the US...actual chips here are called crisps). 

Day 4:
I spent the early afternoon out shopping with Maggie and picked up some much needed supplies/groceries for my dorm. I have grown to know that I should always be on the lookout for several bargain, walmartesque stores here in Ireland: Aldi, Lidl, and Penny's to name a few. This time we stopped at Aldi and filled up a trolley (aka a grocery cart).  We later went to the Castlecomer golf club where there was a big family scramble tournament going on. I managed to catch Liam as he played the 11th hole and took him up on an offer to walk the rest of the holes with his group.  It is a beautiful course, very hilly and long.  After seeing Liam hit about a 120 yard draw around several trees and a foot off the green and his cousin continuously blast 250 yard drives straight down the fairway, I was more than content just watching.  I was happy to be around  for the first big family reunion in a while, which commenced in the clubhouse after the day on the course. It was a great experience and a lot of fun to have dinner, meet family members, and listen to some great Irish singing.

It is bittersweet to say today was my last day staying with the Campions. I am excited and eager to get things going at UCD for this heavily planned for semester, but am also disappointed to say my goodbyes (for now!) to Maggie and Liam.  I have really enjoyed staying with them and simply cannot reiterate enough their generosity and hospitality enough. Today was overall a simple day of watching some of the "Captains Prize" final round at the castle comer golf club.   As I may have mentioned the club is only a couple of miles down (and then up again) the hill - hopefully I walked off all of the chips I've eaten in the past two days in going there. I left the course for the day at dinner time and Maggie made a great meal on par (no pun intended) with a holiday feast of chicken, mp, carrots/peas, stuffing, and cabbage.

Goodbye for now!

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