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.


This is the hardest blog post to write. I thought initially that my words would flow, my ideas would connect seamlessly, but the reality is I sat at my computer with a racing mind trying to explain and unpack my Belfast experience. I should back up before jumping headfirst into the Belfast visit.

As soon as I learned about our excursion to Belfast I practically vibrated with excitement. One of my majors at Pitt is history with a European concentration. I am a passionate history nerd and I’ve focused heavily on German, British, and Irish history. Irish history has been my favorite focus and I’ve taken all of Tony Novosel’s Irish history courses and TA’d for one of them. For me, it’s personal, as I’m Irish-American and grew up heavily influenced by that history. While I studied the Troubles back at Pitt, I never imagined that I would find myself in Belfast face-to-face with the history. I felt nervous, excited, eager, and curious leading up to Belfast.

Tony always prepares his classes by saying Irish history is confusing, difficult, and often contradictory. You must learn about the situations that lead to violence and the very real effects the violence and atmosphere have on the victims, communities, and the country. For our Belfast visit, we would confront this history directly by way of walking tours with former combatants in the conflict from both communities. Tony was supposed to be there to help facilitate our trip and give us more insight into Northern Ireland’s history, as only two students (me included), had taken his higher level Irish class. Unfortunately, Tony’s flight was cancelled, and he was unable to get to Belfast. Despite Tony’s absence, the trip went smoothly. Tony prepared us with videos beforehand explaining the history surrounding the conflict for those who had no previous experience with Northern Ireland’s history. This crash course helped immensely in understanding both the conflict and the men who gave us tours through the two communities.

Our day started early outside of our apartment building. We boarded the bus in the early morning for the ride up to Belfast. Not long into the bus ride, still within Dublin city limits, my stomach turned on me and I was queasy the entire ride up to Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, my stomach continued to bother me for most of the morning and into our first stop. Luckily, I recovered for the walking tour.

The first part of our day started at the ACT Initiative (Action for Community Transformation). The ACT Initiative serves to aid ex-prisoners in engaging with political and social institutions in the community in positive leadership roles. From the ACT Initiative’s website (

Action for Community Transformation (the ACT Initiative), is a transformation initiative which supports former combatants province-wide, in the post ceasefire climate. Through tailored training and support, ACT builds the capacity of its members, supporting them to engage in the social, economic and political structures of Northern Ireland. ACT also encourages its members to embrace new, positive leadership roles within their local communities.

We listened to a brief history from a unionist perspective, how ACT came to be, and who is involved in the organization from Dr. William Mitchell. The ACT Initiative has a large focus on connecting history to the local community through those who were active participants in the conflict.

After we had a Q&A session, we were introduced to Robert “Beef” Campbell who would take us around the loyalist areas of Belfast near the Shankill road.

What you will see on this blog post from both communities are mostly murals, memorials, and street art. Both communities are marked by their art which covers long winding walls and fences, the sides of homes and businesses. Every street, main road, and side road is rife with political and historical artwork. The art features figures like Bobby Sands, who died during a hunger strike in prison, loyalist murals depicting The Battle of the Somme, and murals memorializing civilian or combatants’ deaths during the conflict. Some murals feature strong words of condemnation for the other community including, “murder”, “murder gangs”, etc.

Through art, the visible history and pain is palpable walking down the street.

This is where I must post my disclaimer. I documented the day, the sights, the talks, and walking tours. I took countless photographs of various political messages. However, this blog post is not endorsing or condoning any side of the conflict. This is my best attempt to document our day in Belfast and to provide helpful background information which gives meaning to my photographs. This blog post is also too inadequate to give a well-rounded history of Belfast, as that would require more time and space than I have here. As I’ve stated previously, this history is confusing and complicated to navigate. The impact of the Troubles is still very much felt within Belfast and Northern Ireland. I hope this blog gives a glimpse into the history, but I understand it can only show so much.

We began our tour leaving the ACT Initiative building and heading down to our bus. Much of the tour came from inside the bus but we occasionally got off to walk around and take a closer look at murals. Before boarding the bus, we stood together in the parking lot and Beef began his tour. He explained that the parking lot we were currently standing in was once a field where he and his friends would play football. Right near the field, a bomb went off at a local furniture store. This moment brought Beef close to the violence, as the explosion rocked through the area he was playing in.

The parking lot was once a field. 

After the introduction, we boarded the bus and drove through the loyalist community. Before we reached our next stop, our bus passed an in-progress tower for the July 12th celebrations. The Twelfth/Orangeman’s Day is a celebration of Ulster Protestants that involves marching parades and the burning of a tower constructed of pallets. It is a contentious day for Catholics and Nationalists. The bonfire has in the past featured Catholic imagery, the Republic of Ireland’s flag, and images of Sinn Féin politicians. It would be another two weeks before this one would tower in the sky and burn in celebration. The Eleventh (the night of the burning) is definitely worth a google to see the tradition/controversy/scale of the bonfires.

In addition to murals, Belfast is filled with flags. So many flags! You can tell if you are in a unionist or nationalist area just by the flags. The Union Jack waves proudly in the unionist area.

Our bus stopped around a set of murals in the unionist neighborhood. After discussing the relationship of community to mural, we hopped back on the bus to another mural.

Beef talking to our group about the murals. 

We continued down the street and ended the tour in the Shankill Road Memorial Gardens. The Memorial Gardens are dedicated to the victims of a bombing on the Shankill in 1993. In addition to this, it commemorates those who fought in WWI and WWII from the community.

This was the last stop of Beef’s walking tour, so we boarded the bus to be driven to the next tour guide.  Beef handed our tour over to Padraic MacCoittir who would take us to the Nationalist area. We waited on the bus as Beef brought Padraic to us. The tension between the men was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

We said goodbye to Beef and thanked him for his time and began our tour with Padraic. Our first stop was a Catholic cathedral, Clonard Monastery. It was a good stop to give a bit of introduction to the Falls Road. The church was beautiful, and we took a group picture outside of it.

This was my favorite detail in the cathedral. 

Once we’d taken our picture, we walked down the street to the houses that lined the peace wall.

The view was sobering. The wall stretched up beyond houses that line its back. On the other side is a road, where we could hear cars zipping by as we stopped to talk. As we stood taking in the massive wall I couldn’t help but feel like I was standing in a different country than where we walked earlier in the day. The signs near the wall are in English as well as Gaelic. The windows have trinity knots and symbols we’d seen for weeks in Dublin but had been absent from the homes we’d walked past this morning. They did not feel like the same community, it felt distant, like two entirely different cultures. I knew tensions and separation still existed. I’d read and studied the conflict and aftermath of the peace process, but I wasn’t expecting it to feel so extreme.

These peace walls/lines were erected to separate the two communities. They first were created when the Troubles began and were not intended as a permanent solution. Over the course of the conflict and after the Good Friday Agreement, however, they have remained. Many of these walls are decorated with murals and political messages like the ones on the sides of buildings. While viewing the wall, Padraic explained that people living in houses on its border have no desire to remove the cages on the back of their homes. There is a fear of bombs or weapons being hurled over the wall and damaging their home and injuring their family.

At the wall, Padraic fielded questions from us. We asked about Brexit and what that meant for Northern Ireland/how and if Brexit has changed opinions on a United Ireland. We also asked about the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The GFA was the peace deal that officially ended the Troubles. The agreement was a cross-community effort. From the start of the Troubles to 1998 and the GFA, it had been a long journey to get such an agreement on the table and passed. Both Beef and Padraic held the same outlook on the GFA. Did it do enough? Did it go too far? Some in the communities see it as a success and others a failure or a lukewarm endeavor. Looking at the wall, I couldn’t help but think about the distance that still exists between communities, the foreignness felt on both sides in regard to the other 20 years after the peace agreement. Houses with protective cages and shielded by sky-stretching peace walls. There are efforts to bring them down slowly but surely. The walls feel as much of a physical barrier as a mental one.

Again, I think it’s important to state that I am in no way an expert on this topic. Through this blog post and as I continue, I hope to accurately convey the feelings, thoughts, and information I heard while on the tours.

Tours such as the ones Beef and Padraic took us on and the presentation earlier in the morning also focus on making sure the younger generation growing up in Ireland never see an era like the Troubles.


Cage on the back of a house used for protection. 

Back on the bus we headed to our last stop, passing more murals.

Our final stop of the tour was at the Catholic Milltown Cemetery. Before we walked into the cemetery, Padraic asked us if we had Irish relatives and any Irish surnames. We rattled off a few, I gave him the two Irish surnames in my family. Both of my surnames would be difficult to find in the cemetery, he explained. One would be more found in the Republic of Ireland and the other he said is not one you would find in a Catholic cemetery as it’s more of a British name. That was a surprise to me!

As we walked through the cemetery, Padraic pointed out graves with our surnames on it. Not long into the cemetery, a funeral procession started coming through. Padriac became visibly excited for us, ushering us off the road into the grass as cars and people came by. This was not an everyday funeral. It was a Republican funeral, something not seen very often, Padraic explained. Through the clear glass of the hearse, we could see the Tricolor draped over the coffin.

We watched as they passed until they were out of sight. After explaining what we had witnessed, Padraic took us to the New Republican Plot where various IRA members are buried, including Bobby Sands.

After we finished up the talk at the New Republican Plot, we walked back out of the cemetery together, stopping at notable graves.

Once we were done with our tours, we had about two hours to explore Belfast’s city center on our own before we would take the bus back to Dublin. Our trip was only a day trip, which was unfortunate as our tours were short versions of the normal routes they would take us on and our time in the city was limited as well. I really wanted to visit the Titanic museum, but didn’t have enough time to get there and back to the bus. So, with my Pitt buddy in tow, we visited Belfast city hall, the local shopping center, and mostly stuck to just casually walking down the streets.

Okay so this is one of the most confusing parts of the Belfast visit. Outside of a bar on our way to the center of the city a confederate flag hung outside a pub. 

Belfast City Hall was my first stop because I needed to use the bathroom. In general, it can be hard to find public and open bathrooms in Europe. When in doubt, find a government/public building. I wasn’t expecting the city hall to be as pretty on the inside as it was on the outside. There were gorgeous stained-glass windows, dramatic ceiling architecture, and numerous rooms with exhibits ranging from titanic artifacts to an exhibit on the Troubles.

The ceiling inside Belfast City Hall was gorgeous!

Outside of city hall is the Belfast Cenotaph, a war memorial. 

In addition to city hall, the other interesting stop on my walk was Victoria Square a partially indoor and partially outdoor mall with a massive glass dome that gives a 360-degree view of Belfast.

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.




Before landing in Ireland, I had been told to visit Galway. Take a bus and make a weekend out of the city if I could. The bars and restaurants were fantastic, the city felt alive and bustling, it was a great place to have fun. I did end up spending a weekend in Galway, but the days were split at the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands. Still, I had a blast in the city, walking around and enjoying the street performances, eating amazing fish and chips, enjoying world cup matches at the bars, and taking a photo walk around the city.

This blog post contains both days I spent in Galway, marked most by my captivation with the street performances. This blog post won’t be too long as I had no plan as I wandered the streets. I captured what caught my attention and what inspired me. I was able to get great shots of performers, architecture, and the Spanish Arch. My suggestion if you head to Galway, plan on just hanging out on the street and enjoying the music, the stunts, and the fun that pops up. Also the Latin Quarter was fantastic with varied restaurants, bars, and shops.


Had a nice pint and watched a some of the world cup here!

I heard music and cheering and followed the sound to hear this band, Bianco Sporco, performing. I stayed for a while to enjoy their work and photograph them. 


The Latin Quarter is bustling and filled with great shops and restuaraunts. 

This is the start of my second day in Galway!

So the swans were right up against the walking path and I went to photograph them. One honked at me and I jumped back and a few bystanders laughed at me. Thanks, bird. 

The Spanish Arch!


A memorial for mariners lost at sea. 

Wolfe Tone bridge

They were singing (and drinking of course) and were excited to see someone taking their photo!

I love how bright this mural is!

The second street performance I watched on my second and last night in Galway. I came a little late into his routine and didn't catch his name. He's from Brazil traveling around and performing. 

His routine involved juggling fire, knives, and grabbing members form the audience to assit. 

"How the British juggle" - to loud laughs from the crowd. 

Using three audience members to help him get on top of the ladder. 

His countdown before they scatter. 

Audience member preparing to throw him his knife. 

Catching the knife

Now its time for fire

So stressful 

He did catch them!