Slán: The Final Day

In the span of a breath, I found myself waking up to the bright sunshine of my last day in Ireland. People warned me I’d be homesick. It would be difficult to get used to a normal routine in Ireland. I would feel foreign, out of place. Eventually I would warm up to the country and feel comfortable. I was anticipating some homesickness. It never really happened. From the moment I walked off the plane, I felt comfortable. It was easy to form routines and feel like I belonged. And as the final day arrived, I struggled to hold back tears as I rolled out of bed. I wished I had been able to stay and study in Ireland for a year. Even though I had already done and seen so much during my five weeks, there was still so much I wanted to experience.

Over the last weeks I spent so much time heading out of the city, doing classwork, and heading to museums and all-day events. For my last day, I wanted to head to one last museum exhibit and walk along the Liffey on a photo-walk. Before I boarded the plane, I wanted to soak up every last moment of my final day to imprint this beautiful and welcoming country into my bones.

My first spot of the day was the General Post Office, the scene of the historic 1916 Easter Rising. It’s a beautiful building with six large columns on O’Connell Street. O’Connell is the main street of Dublin, named after Daniel O’Connell, known as “The Liberator”.  His statue sits in the middle stretch of the road.

It’s beautiful inside of the GPO and I enjoyed snapping a few shots inside, but my interests that day were visiting the memorial to the 1916 Rising. I took a few shots on my cellphone of the exhibit. It featured artifacts, touchscreen interactive videos and quizzes, dress sets and uniforms as they would have appeared, but my favorite part was a long video giving a timeline of the events as seen through the eyes of the participants in the Rising, as well as bystanders/civilians, and the British. It goes without saying that I highly recommend this museum exhibit. It’s a must-see.

I have a fondness for old photographs of women, especially if they come from a. time when women were expected to neither be seen nor heard.

I spent a considerable amount of time walking through the exhibit and once I finished, I headed back out to O’Connell Street to take pictures of the statues and monuments on the street. I headed into a few local shops, checking out a bookstore and Pennys, a local clothing store, which had fantastic Dublin Pride shirts in their window.

The back of O'Connell's statue

The front of O'Connell's statue

Taken from inside the bookstore.

With some shopping bags in hand, I headed to the closest Luas Stop and took the tram a handful of streets over. Back when we had toured Dublin with the program’s directors, we passed a beautiful bridge in the shape of a harp lying on its side. I’d wanted to photograph it since I first saw it and today presented the best (and last) opportunity to do so.

When I hopped off the tram, something caught my eye before I got to the bridge. Children and teens in wetsuits were jumping into a large pool of water. I thought it was funny to see them playing in a not-swimming pool and making do in the heat. As I approached the bridge, not far from the first batch of kids, I saw more wetsuit clad teens backflipping off the stone walls around the harp bridge and into the Liffey below. I was momentarily distracted from my original desire to shoot the harp bridge and hung around for about forty minutes watching them leap and flip into the river like acrobats. A small crowd of people gathered around them, watching them and filming them on their phones.

Eventually, the crowd dispersed, and I did too. I photographed the bridge on both sides of the river. On the other side, I saw more kids swimming and diving into the river. I really don’t blame them. The temperature was nearly unbearable. The sky remained cloudless all day, the sun beating down its full fury. To escape it myself, I headed to the sidewalk on the other side of the street, sticking to the shadows to shield me from the worst of the day.

I continued down the street photographing until I arrived at the beautiful Custom House.

Seán O'Casey Bridge

The Custom House

I proceeded down the street stopping for anything that caught my eye, which a lot of the time was street art.

The theatre where I saw Ulysses.

Irish history is everywhere even outside of pubs.

The rest of my day consisted of a bar crawl, drinking, laughing, and having fun with other travelers and locals. I walked the streets, my eyes scanning madly around trying to set every image into stone in my mind. I didn’t want to forget a single moment.

Days flipped through my mind, all the moments I will cherish for the rest of my life. These moments I would try to explain to all of my loved ones. I would try to explain the briny air of Howth the moment you step off the train or the way the air fills your lungs with its freshness on the hiking path. Would my pictures be able to convey the feelings I felt staring into the horizon on top of the Cliffs of Moher, the waves meeting the rocks below? When I talked about the art on the streets, hanging in museums, in the music, would they be able to imagine it, see the power of those images, hear those songs?

I won’t forget all of the amazing people who treated me with kindness, shared a pint with me, or made me laugh as I navigated life in Ireland. It was so easy for it to become my routine, my comfortable. Now I was faced with the uncomfortable, saying goodbye, leaving Ireland for the States.

I finished my day watching the sunset around the Ha'penny Bridge. And just like the sun, my time in Dublin was setting too.

For all those I met in Dublin and all those who helped make this study abroad trip the most incredible experience, thank you. For those who helped me in preparation for Dublin, to the scholarship committee of the nationality rooms, thank you. I had the time of my life.

And I leave Ireland, with a lifetime of memories.

Slán, Ireland! I promise I’ll be back.

Temple Bar

It’s touristy. That’s what I heard before and during my study abroad experience. Go to Temple Bar but explore other areas, because it feels touristy, the drinks are expensive, and it’s crowded. That’s all mostly true. I travelled around Dublin in kind of a backwards style. I left the “touristy” stuff for the end of my trip rather than the beginning. Temple Bar is a lot of fun and it’s a good location in part of the city I hadn’t spent much time. That was one of the reasons I decided that my final hostel would be in Temple Bar. Yes, it is crowded, drinks can be expensive, but I loved the energetic vibe in the area. Countless restaurants and pubs offer daily live Irish dancing or songs. Their music pours out from open doors and windows on to the street, mixed with the sound of people clapping their hands to the beat. Laughter rings like a bell and there’s so much to see and do. It’s a very fun place.

Temple Bar is both the name of a specific bar and the area of Dublin, where the bar resides. The Temple Bar is named after Sir William Temple whose face rests on a plaque on the outside of the building. This specific bar is actually quite large and always packed with people. I never did grab a pint there, but I did take loads of pictures and honestly it is known to be overpriced. I went to more “old man bars” as our program director described them, and I enjoyed them a lot.

I loved the music, laughter, and art that makes up the heart of Temple Bar. This post contains pictures that really can speak for themselves as Temple Bar has countless murals and works of art. As someone who loves art, this felt like home to me.

Enjoy the photos below and make sure you scroll to the bottom to listen to some Irish pub music.

I did drop in to the area a handful of times throughout the program, finding a side street to examine here and there. So, this post is not all from one day or outing, but from a handful. You can see the time change in a photo of a mural I took as two weeks after I initially photographed it, someone tagged it.

I took this photo a few weeks after the one above it. 

Temple Bar

Since June is Pride month and Dublin’s pride parade was on June 30th, the streets were decorated with more and more rainbows as time went on. Sadly, I would not be in Dublin for pride but it’s on my bucket list to come back and see the parade in the future.

It was also during one of those random walkthroughs on an afternoon after classes let out that I photographed the outside of a bar. A man was leaning against the door of the bar and welcomed me and Will, another Pitt student, inside. It was only about three in the afternoon and the bar had just opened but we decided that we would just wing it and go inside. A man sat in the corner, acoustic guitar in his hands. The bartender, who invited us in, explained that we were photographing outside. The man with the guitar said it was much nicer inside, because you can have a pint. Fair enough. We bought a pint and what happened next is one of my favorite memories in Dublin.

The bar was empty, just us for at least forty minutes. We drank some Guinness and talked with the man holding the guitar. He and I shared the same sense of humor and bantered back and forth. He liked that I actually knew Irish history and I seemed to get a pass in his book. When the bartender wrangled more people in, he made witty jokes, often at their expense but in all good fun (Irish humor is very funny). Once the bar filled up, he sipped his beer and began to sing. We sat in the bar listening to song after song. At some point another American joined our table, he was just in Dublin for a little bit and we gave him some suggestions and shared a pint with him. The hours flew by.

Phoenix Park

Later in the day after my afternoon at Trinity. I took the tram to Hueston station, a short walk to Phoenix Park. In total, I had been in or through Phoenix Park three times. The first was on a bus tour with the program directors and fellow students. We got out of the bus to take a group picture near the ginormous cross where Pope Francis will say mass this August and where in the 1970’s, Pope John Paul II said mass to over a million people. The second time I went through Phoenix Park was to get to Dublin Zoo. This final stop in Phoenix Park had two goals, to see the Wellington Monument and the deer.

On our bus tour through Phoenix Park, our program director explained that deer roam the park and if you’re lucky you can interact with them and give them a pet. While we were leaving that day, we saw them in a field. I knew on that early day that I would absolutely come back to see them. And I did.

Our first trip to Phoenix Park

I guess I was expecting to have some magical girl/Disney Princess moment in the woods, frolicking around cute deer who let me pet them. I did get to pet the deer and see them up close. What I did not expect was how much their faces freaked me out with their large bug-eyes on the sides of their head. My list of fears stands at 1: confined spaces 2: heights 3: The deer at Phoenix Park.

The Wellington Monument

I found the deer almost immediately, but it took some time for them to warm up to me. After some time one deer decided I was interesting and walked up to me. I was able to pet him and checked that off my list. Once people saw me interacting with the deer a family and a few people in cars stopped to interact with them too. I was able to take pictures pretty easily while others entertained them.

I was so excited at this moment until I saw someone pull out white bread and begin feeding the deer. Just like my issues with people not following photography rules, I was mad at seeing someone feed a deer something obviously not close to their diet. A gaggle of teenagers came up not much longer and scared the deer away for fun. They dashed through a field of tall grass and away from the people.

It had been a long day at this point and I headed back for the tram station, passing a small pond to see the swans before leaving for Temple Bar.

Trinity College

One of my favorite things about studying at Pitt is the Cathedral of Learning, our beloved Cathy. Walking through the first floor to secure a study spot on an uncomfortable wooden bench or walking along the second floor, peering over the edges to the bottom is enough to make one feel like they are in a magical castle, Pittsburgh’s very own Hogwarts. The outside of Trinity, with gray stones and impressive architecture looked beautiful and reminded me of my favorite place on campus back home.

Throughout the trip from friends and loved ones I was bombarded with the same question: “Have you seen the book of Kells yet?!” Seeing the book of Kells and joining a tour was definitely in my plans but I left my visit until the end of my stay in Ireland. The farewell dinner had come and gone, and I was now without classes and classwork. I had my last days packed with activities, including a trip to Trinity.

We learned a ton from our tour guide, a sophomore who is fluent in Italian (and two other languages) and gives tours in Italian as well. This fact amazed me. While I studied German at Pitt, I couldn’t imagine giving a tour of Cathy to native German speakers. Although, several Germans I met through my travels complimented my German and said I knew more than I thought. I think they were being nice, but anyway…

Trinity is a large campus with its main entrance right next to tram lines and near busy shopping districts and government buildings. The main entrance is a large wooden door and once through that door, you are met by the open campus, with green grass, people galore, and more lovely architecture.

The tour guides stand at a little booth next to the greens taking visitor after visitor for tours or selling tickets to see the library and book of Kells. They wear brown robes that strike an image of Harry Potter robes, and in fact, our tour guide made that very same joke. She explained that all tour guides wear them, and it was expected until I believe the 1970’s, that all undergraduates would wear their robes at all times on campus.

The students in the brown robes are tour guides.

Much of the tour discussed the architecture. One of our group’s favorite facts regarded the payment of architects. Three times those in charge of planning/building did not pay the architects who drew extensive building plans. They are beautiful buildings! Poor architects.

My personal favorite fact, which horrified the Americans on the tour (me included), involves the graduation ceremony. In the States, we are lined up alphabetically. At Trinity, they are lined up based on highest to lowest exam scores, which means everyone knows the first and last student at graduation by means of score. I’ll stick to alphabetical order, thanks.

The student body is a very superstitious group. We were told of several superstitions while on our tour. A bell tower sits between two large green spaces on the campus. If a student passes under it while it rings, the superstition goes that they will fail all of their exams.

My tour coincided with a strange time at Trinity. The two lawns next to the bell tower were roped off, a large tree stump protruding from the green grass around it. I knew this before the tour as I kept up with Irish news. In June, a 170-year-old Oregon Maple tree collapsed and crashed onto the lawn. This was a sad occurrence for locals and students. The tree was a common sight, the lawn normally open to students, now closed off as the tree was removed and the other maple on the opposite lawn examined for diseases. I had visited the campus very briefly at the beginning of my program to take a peek and saw the lawn before it had collapsed. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of the lawn as I had planned to come back. There was a collective mourning at the loss of the familiar tree. Our tour guide explained that all students received an email about the loss of the tree and the sadness was shared among students, faculty, and staff. You can see the stump in my photos as well as its sister tree on the other lawn, what it would have looked like before its demise.

Once the tour concluded, we thanked our tour guide and continued on our way to line up for the entrance to the Book of Kells. Photography is allowed intermittently through this area of the library. The room in which the Book of Kells sits is off limits to photography. I strictly follow museum rules regarding photography. It is a privilege to shoot, not a right. There were a handful of people who seemed ready to break this rule, but the room has a permanent guard to watch the guests crowded around the glass table to get a glimpse of the ancient book.

Since I don’t have an image of the Book of Kells, I’ll explain a little about it. It is an illuminated manuscript which contains four gospels of the New Testament. It is believed that the book was created around the 9th century. The book is believed to have been created on Iona, a small island off of Scotland, and brought to Ireland during a Viking raid to preserve it.

I quite enjoyed the book for its beauty and history.

After squeezing in between the multitude of people to get a good, long look at the book, I left the room to visit the long room, a massive library containing 200,000 old books. The room is a dark wood with book shelves on multiple levels. Lining the shelves are busts of famous academics and important historical figures such as Shakespeare, Socrates, and Robert Boyle. The room bears a striking resemblance to the Jedi Archives in Episode II of Star Wars.

I loved the long room but hated how many people used flash photography, which is prohibited. Several times people had to be told to stop taking flash photos. It’s my pet peeve as you can see. 

Countless photos later, I left the long room and took more pictures of the campus before leaving.

The statue pictured below is of George Salmon provost of the college from 1888-1904. He actually paid for that statue to be built. He is known for the decision to allow women to begin studying at Trinity despite his very strong personal opinion that women should not study or be admitted. He only agreed under pressure. He died before he had to see women study at Trinity, as in 1904, after his death, the first women were admitted. His own daughter ended up studying at Trinity. There is a bit of tradition for the graduating women at trinity to take pictures sitting on his lap, leaving lipstick kisses on his cheek.

My suggestion: Go to Trinity and enjoy a nice tour and the beauty of the library. You won’t be disappointed.

My Goodness, My Guinness

It’s most definitely one of the top five tourist spots in the city. My student housing was directly across from the entrance to the Guinness Storehouse and a consistent stream of people flowed in and out through the alleyway every day. Those leaving held their Guinness Giftshop purchases in black and gold lettered giftbags. Horses, pulling carriages filled with families holding cameras, selfie-sticks, and Go Pros, trotted out from the alley and on to the road from the storehouse for scenic tours of the city.

A few other students in my program gave lukewarm reactions to the Guinness Storehouse. The tour was self-guided through the massive facility that ends at the famous Gravity Bar, which offers a panoramic view of the city. Despite hearing that it was just an “ok” thing to do, I felt excited to visit.

If you are planning to go, I suggest ordering your tickets online. You can pick your time and you get a small discount. As with most things, I got a discount for being a student (yay!). It’s a bit of a walk from the street to the back of the lot where the entrance is. Once you walk to the entrance of the Storehouse, you see the crowds of people, standing in line waiting to buy tickets and catching horse-drawn carriages to take them to other locations in the city. I was able to bypass the line and get right into the building because I bought my ticket the night before.

The Storehouse is massive. There are seven floors to explore Guinness past and present, and even when you think you’ve gone up a floor, you still may not have reached the next one.

Immediately upon starting your tour, you are greeted by the sound of a roaring waterfall as you enter into a dark room with ingredients used for beer such as hops and barley. Guinness facts dot the wall. One of the facts states that Guinness uses 100,000 tonnes of Irish barley per year. You move through the first floor, reading about the ingredients and then move under the waterfall before taking stairs or elevators to the next floor.

Some parts of the facility are not part of a standard ticket, such as the Guinness tasting room. My ticket did not include this, so I moved past that part to the rest of the Guinness Story.

There is a floor with interactive videos of actors portraying members of the Guinness family and workers talking about their lives and the normal of their everyday. The lower floors contain these stories and more about the brewing process.

Old machinery actually used in days of Guinness past are placed in large rooms.

One of my favorite floors contained old and new advertisements and marketing artifacts, paper, and videos. I love media and marketing and found walking through this section fascinating. Here you see all the Guinness animals, including the bird and sea-lion, and when you walk out of the past section you can enter into a large dark room with more recent advertisements playing. They are dramatic as they light up and surround you.

With your ticket you have two options. You can take it all the way up to the final stop, the Gravity Bar, or you can go to the Guinness Academy and learn to pour your own pint. I chose the latter, naturally. Who wouldn’t want to learn to pour their own pint at the Guinness Storehouse?

The view outside the window while I waited in line for pouring my pint. 

At the Academy, ten of us gathered around as the pouring expert showed us on the official glasses on the perfect pour. That perfect pour, by the way, should take 119.5 seconds. First you pour the glass, slowly tipping it back and fill it mostly up. Then you have to wait, as one of the unique parts of Guinness is the nitrogen involved in their brewing. That’s how the iconic head of Guinness comes to be. After the beer has settled and turned from a caramelly color to a dark red with a nice head, then you push the lever the other direction to properly fill your pint glass. Fun fact: I accidently pulled it the wrong way the second time and got a few shouts as I started adding more nitrogen. Oops! I corrected it quickly and had a delicious pint, I promise you.

My Pint!

After the Guinness Academy, there was more exploring old advertisements and playing an interactive harp. I stopped by 1837 Bar & Brasserie for lunch. It was fantastic. The menu had a myriad of options and the best pint to pair with them. Oysters and Guinness have been eaten together since 1837, hence the name of the restaurant. I developed a love of oysters after being introduced to them by my fiancé and his family. I haven’t had any for a while, so I was so excited to have some in Dublin! Pittsburgh oysters are just not the same as oysters from a coastal area.

The pictures will have to do. I can’t describe how good they were! Ah, they taste like summer.

After getting my fill of food and the history and process of beer making, I took the escalators up and a set of stairs to get some great views of Dublin at the Gravity Bar to end my visit. I didn’t get more beer up here, instead I took pictures out of the windows and watched the bartenders fill pint after pint.


My visit exceeded my expectations. I loved every floor and exhibit, and of course all the pints of Guinness! I think it is a must-see/must-do while in Dublin.

After perusing the gift shop and buying a few gifts for family and friends, I left the building and ended my Guinness experience, taking photos of the exterior of the building and the Guinness gate.

I spent about four hours inside the Guinness Storehouse and highly recommend taking your time as you make your way up and around the building. There is so much to see, do, and yes, drink.