Posted on 23rd July 2019

Day 20 Presentations, Caves & Graduation! July 29 2019 

So today we had our Global Scholars seminar. It is called ‘Transatlantic Connections’ and each of our students is invited to deliver a short presentation on a topic of interest which connects some aspect of their own culture/history/experience to some aspect of what they have learnt in Ireland. All 26 of our students presented, the standard was excellent, and we were very impressed with the preparation and research that was done by everyone. We are going to acknowledge a few people who delivered exceptional presentations – notably Olivia, Teika, Mele, Gerri, Anna, Daniel and Eden, take a bow, also kudos to Abby who wins our ‘triumph in adversity’ prize. But everyone did very well, and also learnt a little about public speaking photos and video clips shortly.

After our morning of presentations, we did our final field trip to the extraordinary Marble Arch Caves in the Fermanagh/Cavan geopark. This involves a journey deep into the heart of the incredible cave system beneath the limestone surface, and a surreal boat trip through the caves to observe ancient stalactites, stalagmites and other formations 40 meters  below the surface. It was magical, mythical and serene, and a lovely final tour for all of us.

Later this evening we got dressed up for a fancy final meal at the beautiful Peak Restaurant, and we had our graduation ceremony. A delicious special meal was prepared for our students, with beautiful views over the Atlantic Ocean adding to the atmosphere…

We finished the evening with a graduation ceremony, each of our wonderful scholars receiving their certificate of completion of the Global Scholars Program 2019.


Wow! Where did the three weeks go? We are getting ready now to finish the program – on this, our final Sunday, some students went to church services and some took the opportunity to steal and extra hour’s sleep. Collie marshaled the troops around, taking some to the stores, and many of our students were putting the final touches to their preparation for their seminar presentation which happens on Monday.

In the afternoon, most people took up the opportunity to go surfing one more time in Ireland’s surf capital, Bundoran. The evening was spent on research and rehearsal for Monday’s seminar, and on polishing up the student journals for Niamh’s final review tomorrow. A big day ahead, and lots of pics to follow! Stay tuned!

DAY 18 -Northern Ireland – Bloody Sunday to Brexit(?) July 27 2019

Today was our final ‘formal’ classroom day, and we finished our history & culture syllabus with a lecture that covered the partition of Ireland in 1921, (26 counties became the Irish Free State, and eventually the Republic of Ireland , and six counties remained as part of the United Kingdom and became known as ‘Northern Ireland’.)


The administration in Northern Ireland, anxious about the threat of  ‘Rome rule’, set out to ensure that the significant minority of Catholics in the six counties would  play no part in government, administration, economic wealth or progress; and a systematic enforcement of anti-Catholic legislation was introduced- think Jim Crow laws, and you have a good comparison. Schools were segregated, the police, the courts and the councils were heavily loaded in favor of the Unionist community, and widespread gerrymandering prevented any real traction from being established by the minority.

This inequality continued to deteriorate through the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the urban areas of Belfast and Derry. In the late 1960s, many were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, and the peaceful activism of Dr.King and his allies. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was founded in the late 60s in Derry, based on the American model.

Marches and protests created tension and hostility, resulting in the arrival of the British Army into Northern Ireland in 1969. Many hoped that this would be a step towards the resolution of inequality in the six counties, but it soon became clear that the army propped up the anti-nationalist agenda.

Things came to a terrible climax on January 30, 1972, when British Soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians on a civil rights march. Although there were hundreds of eye witnesses, a formal Judicial enquiry into this event, which saw fourteen young men killed and many more injured, found that the soldiers were ‘innocent’ of any wrong doing. This was the breaking point for many many people, and the descent into the madness of what would become known as ‘The Troubles’ began.

We then addressed the moves towards conflict resolution, and the Good Friday Agreement 1998, that ended thirty years of armed conflict. The free movement from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland has been a game changer for everyone, politically, socially, economically, culturally- in every way imaginable. Wen had a long discussion about sectarianism, civil rights, conflict resolution and forgiveness. We ended the class by discussing Brexit, and what it could mean if the United Kingdom leave the European Union without a satisfactory arrangement to prevent a border in Ireland again.

As our focus was on the Civil Rights movement in Derry, we then left Bundoran and went to the Bogside area in Derry where these events took place. The Bogside area in Derry has two great resources for telling the story of Civil Rights and Conflict in Northern Ireland- The ‘People’s Gallery’, an open exhibition of twelve large murals by Tom, Kevin and Will, aka ‘The Bogside Artists, and the Museum of Free Derry, run by relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims.

We visited both- we did a walking tour of the Bogside Murals, and we spend some time in the Museum of Free Derry

After our visit to the Bogside, we took some time to walk upon the city walls of Derry, and enjoy this bustling and beautiful Northern Ireland hub. Some students walked the Peace Bridge, some visited the Guild Hall, and some browsed around the many little galleries and stores that abound.

And so ends our classes – we began with the ancient people who left their art work on stone monuments on the landscape here 6000 years ago, and we finished with equally vital art work on the gable walls of Northern Ireland.

On Monday, our students will each present on a topic from this syllabus which interests them. We will post some of their presentations. For now, I will congratulate our 26 global scholars on their attention in class, and on our field trips, and to their homework journals each evening. Well done all!


We had two lectures this morning.

The first was a ‘part two’ to our lecture on Gorta Mór and Emigration. Today’s topic dealt with the connection between Ireland’s ‘liberator’ Daniel O’Connell, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. O’Connell was the powerhouse behind the drive for Catholic Emancipation, finally granted in 1829, but he also was an ardent campaigner for the abolition of slavery, for women’s rights, and for better social conditions for all. Douglass, who visited Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, knew of O’Connell’s work, and admired his encompassing sense of social justice.

We also looked at the trajectory of the Irish emigrants in the USA. Although the famine had a devastating effect on Ireland, Irish emigrants in the USA adapted quickly to strategies that would improve their social status and acceptance in the New World. Many of them fought in the American Civil War (both sides) – they used education and politics to build up their communities, strengthen their reputation, and soon, the Irish began to be accepted as ‘Americans’ – JFK in the White House by 1961.

There have been some who have tried to compare the experience of slavery in the USA with the treatment of the Irish, and we unpacked that. Here is the crucial difference- despite all of the terrible and heinous experiences of the Irish, they were not ever treated as ‘property’ of anyone, and they were afforded human rights and freedoms that victims of slavery were not. In other words, we were agreed that the abomination that was slavery has no parallel. If anyone is interested in further reading about this, we recommend historian Liam Hogan, and on the Irish Famine, and the O’Connell/Douglass connection, historian Christine Kinealy.

Mural of Frederick Douglass in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Our second class was about the Cultural Revival in Ireland in the early 20th century, via sports (GAA), Irish Language, and the Literary Revival. Our focus was on the Yeats family – the poet William Butler, the painter Jack, and publishers/artists Susan and Elizabeth. The Yeats family are very much associated with the counties of Sligo and Leitrim, our immediate neighborhood, and so a very accessible study for us.

We learnt about W.B.’s poetry, Jack’s painting and illustration, and the entrepreneurship of Lilly and Lolly. We read some of W.B.’s poems- and then we went exploring!

We stopped off first at Drumcliffe, which is not only the resting  place of W.B.Yeats, but is also a beautiful old monastic site, complete with extraordinary 12th century carved high cross. We met with Rev. Malcolm, the chaplain of Drumcliffe church, who kindly supplied us with A Yeats booklet and permission to preach from the pulpit!

After a browse around Drumcliffe, we travelled from Sligo in under Ben Bulben to Glencar Valley and beautiful Glencar waterfall, where Yeats set the poem ‘The Stolen Child’. This poem combines fairy folklore with mystic landscapes, local superstitions and beguiling language, and is one of Yeats’ finest- and you can find it (among other places) on the ‘Four Spirits’ sculpture opposite the 16th St Church in Birmingham, Alabama. James did a lovely reading of the poem there at the waterfall. (We also stopped by the legendary Hughie for a 99 ice-cream with sprinkles!).

Finally, we visited Sligo town. The Model Art Gallery in Sligo is home to some of the best work of Jack B. Yeats, and also has a wonderful collection of broadsides (magazines) illustrated by Jack and printed and published by Lily and Lolly. So we got to see a little of the massive contribution made by the whole Yeats family to Irish cultural revival.

Here are some pics!


Today Environmental instructor Eoin took command, and introduced our students to three of the most common habitats in Ireland- our beautiful Atlantic coastline, our peat bogs, and the woodlands. After some classroom time with Eoin, we went off to explore all three of these sites.

Our Wild Atlantic Way is famous for its clear waters and abundance of sea creatures, seaweeds and aquatic life. Ireland’s Island status has been a factor in everything- history, economics, politics, climate, weather, anthropology- it has always mattered that we are surrounded by water.

Our peat bogs are also more than just topographical – the bogs provided a vital source of fuel (turf) throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when everything else was off limits or taken away. The preservative nature of Bogland  provided a blanket of protection for the many historical treasures that have since emerged. Unique ecosystems for a variety of animal and plant life, a day at the bog is a soggy, scratchy joy!

After a morning by the coast, and an afternoon in the bog, it was off to the woods for that stalwart summer camp tradition, the campfire!

Here are the pics!



Our Collie is not only a legend at directing wonderful study abroad experiences, he also is the esteemed movie critic for Ocean FM, and today he and our gang of students took over a screen at our local cineplex to discuss Irish movies, movie stereotypes, the effect of emigration on the development of Irish culture, particularly in music and film, and the (now) ubiquitous presence of the Irish in those same industries. The gang also discussed how family interests can shape our cultural choices, and how Irish culture has traveled around the world.

Collie then showed the students the movie ‘Sing Street’. It’s a lovely, funny and gentle ‘coming-of-age’ movie set in Dublin in 1985, full of music, teenage angst and joy, and perfectly pitched for our group. Gerri and Mele are already hunting down then DVD!

After lunch, it was back into the wet suits for a coasteering adventure with Eoin, Caoife and Ailish from Donegal Adventure Centre. Coasteering involves exploring the beautiful Donegal coastline up close by walking, swimming and diving wherever you can. We did this in Mullaghmore, which is in County Sligo, and this activity ties in with our environmental studies day, which is tomorrow, and also our literary day on Friday. No learning opportunity is wasted, my friends, but all with the maximum of fun possible! Here are some photos;

DAY 14  KAYAKS AND CAKES July 23 2019

We began the day with another birthday- our lovely Mele is sweet 16 today, happy birthday Mele!

This morning’s activity was a kayaking session on beautiful Lough Melvin in County Leitrim. The students were togged out in all the right equipment- wetsuits, life jackets, helmets etc – and took to the water for a paddle with the instructors from Donegal Adventure Center.

After lunch, we did a very relaxing creative Arts session with Collie- this included the design and painting of fairy doors, surf board fins, ogham names and other assorted projects.

Dinner this evening was back at the Bundoran Burrito bar, and then the gloves were off for Battle Archery! The general comments in today’s journal was that it was a relaxing and fun day with something for everyone, and that’s exactly what we like to hear! Here’s some more pics



We were back in the classroom today, and had perhaps the most serious and relevant topic for discussion. Our history timeline has taken us to the middle of the nineteenth century,and Ireland has a rapidly increasing population of poor people, dependent on a single food crop, the potato. This period of Irish history is often referred to as the Irish Famine, but the word ‘famine’implies a shortage of food, and there was no shortage of food in Ireland during the years 1845-1850. What did happen was that there was a sustained failure of the potato crop, and because so many depended on it, there was widespread starvation, death and emigration. Here it’s called ‘An Gorta Mór – the Great Hunger.’

Our focus of study was to look at the language associated with these conditions. The variety of responses to the starving poor Irish included implications that this was a punishment from God, ‘Nature’s way of addressing overpopulation’, and/or an inevitable result of innate flaws like laziness and lack of initiative. We considered the poor laws and the workhouses constructed to deal with the infirm and hungry – the policy of separating children from their parents on arrival, and the explicit instructions to make sure that the workhouse would be a last resort for the poor. We heard of the reaction to suggestions that the price of corn might be reduced to alleviate the hunger- rejected because this would interfere with the free market, and investors’ profits.  We talked about the disease that took hold in crowded workhouses, the poor rations and the overcrowded conditions, the mass graves and the transportation of ‘criminals’ and young girls to other more far-flung colonies where young laborers were needed.

For thousands of people, there was one alternative to death, and that was emigration. What became known as ‘coffin ships’ began to transport the hungry Irish across the Atlantic, in the hope of survival. There was huge resentment of the large numbers of poor, illiterate Irish, often sick, dirty, and the ‘wrong’ religion for America. An anti-immigrant backlash was palpable, a political grouping who became known as the ‘No nothings’ campaigned to keep the immigrants out, using the slogan ‘America First’ …

So – this is a lesson of two parts, I think you’ll be able to imagine where our conversations went, and we have more to do on what happened to these immigrants in the USA over the following hundred years, but it was then time to go visit some places relevant to our class. So we went to Ballyshannon to visit the workhouse there-  built to accommodate 400 people, there were 900 people registered there during the period of An Gorta Mor. We saw the famine pot, and the memorial to 19 orphan girls, dispatched from the workhouse to Australia as part of the Earl Grey Scheme.

Then we went out to west Donegal – a landscape that is wild and bare, and still wears the scars of this time on the surface – random stone walls weaving up the mountain side, deserted stone botháns and cottages that were once the homes of these immigrant families.

We went to Teelin, and then ascended one of the most wonderful Donegal sites – the majestic cliffs at Sliabh Liag. I’m just going to post the photos we took today here in all their glory, and even these don’t do this beautiful places justice! It was a great day, and despite the grim topic above, we remind ourselves that every single one of our students with us today had ancestors who emigrated in the hope of creating better lives for their families, and that is exactly what they did.

DAY 12- THE RAIN IN SPAIN… July 21 2019

Ok, we didn’t actually go to Spain, but as Galway City is very famous for it’s Spanish Arch, I took some liberties- the point being that today’s blog is going to be about rain. This was not misty Irish drizzle, it wasn’t the famous ‘soft day’ – this was relentless, miserable, wet, soaky, rain, and it did not let up. So although Galway is a beautiful city, and the Arts festival was on, and all of the students were dressed up for presumed fantastic selfies in this gorgeous bohemian place, unfortunately what we actually did was skulk around from store to cafe to bookshop, jumping through puddles, avoiding getting stabbed in the eye by other umbrella-wielding tourists, splishing and splashing through the narrow cobblestone streets.

Everyone was in giddy mood despite the weather though, and we had giggles on the bus there and back. I’d love to post beautiful photos here of glorious Galway Bay, and the Claddagh, but sorry folks, the weather one this one, and apart from some happy indoor shots of the place we stopped for burgers, we can only say, tomorrow is another day!

Last night, we had our famous talent show, and we were super-proud of all of our global scholars- every single person participated – we had a group ‘party in the USA’ performance, some Irish songs with Niamh, and a ‘Cuban Shuffle’ that was most entertaining – then some really amazing individual turns – we have to acknowledge Mele, Daniel and Celine, who each did a comedy slot, and were absolutely hilarious! We also have some great poets here – we had Tiffany, Gerri , Eden and James read some of their own work for us, really impressive and articulate material – Vicky and Leah led the whole room in a call-and-response song that had everyone on their feet, likewise Claire, who commanded the room with her song, and then the lovely voice of Emily who did both a solo performance and sang with one of our Spanish girls, Maria,  accompanying her on guitar. Here’s some pics!

DAY 11 – NO LONG FACES HERE!  July 20 2019

Where does the time go?  We cannot believe it is the weekend again, and we are already at July 20. However, as it is indeed the weekend, we didn’t have classroom work this morning, instead we went for an amazing trek on horseback along the beach dunes at Tullan Strand in Bundoran. Thanks so much to Rachel and the instructors at the Donegal Equestrian Centre for their hospitality

After lunch, we were back outdoors again, to learn the skills of Gaelic sports. Many people do not know it, but  Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is Ireland’s largest sporting organisation. It is celebrated as one of the great amateur sporting associations in the world.  It is part of the Irish consciousness and plays an influential role in Irish society that extends far beyond the basic aim of promoting Gaelic games. Thanks to our own local Bundoran GAA club, Realt Na Mara, we held a skill session and helped our students understand the basics of Gaelic Football. We have some very promising candidates here! (Up Donegal!)

Later this evening we have our talent show, and will update the blog in due course, but for now, here’s more of this fun Saturday afternoon


So we were back to the classroom with Niamh this morning- our history timeline had taken us as far as the colonization of Ireland, and the Plantation of Ulster. We were moving into the 17th century, and it was time to talk about parallels – the movement of people to the colonies in North America, and the similarities between the treatment of the indigenous people in both these new settlements- in Ireland, Cromwell’s campaign and the Penal Laws soon saw the majority of the Irish displaced and dispossessed, in the American colonies, the natives were also driven off their lands, and treated as savages.

We discussed identity, and another shared narrative- the assimilation of the colonists over a few generations.  In the seventeenth century, the new arrivals identified as ‘British’ in both the American Colonies and Ireland, but by the eighteenth century, this identity had become less stable. While the colonists in America redefine the term ‘American’, the term ‘Anglo-Irish’ is used for the descendants of the British in Ireland. In both cases, many of these families had become disenchanted by the connection to the British Empire, and felt a desire to cut the old ties. This culminates in America with the War of Independence- regarded as successful – but in Ireland, a similar attempt at revolution by Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen is a failure, and results in the Act of Union, a political move which sees the Dublin Parliament dissolved, and Ireland becoming directly ruled from London. As we move into the nineteenth century, we have a rapidly increasing population of poor people, without representation or resources, growing increasingly desperate. Where will it end? Well, that’s Monday’s class…

What was really interesting about the class today were the students’ observations about how enlightenment and philosophy had played a part in ideas about revolution and self-government. There were also good suggestions as to why the American revolution was successful and the Irish one was not- proximity, organisation, education, religious differences, wealth… and also, there was a very astute observation made that the freedom won by Americans after the war of Independence was not universal – we will be returning to this in the next section.

It was then time to lighten the serious mood, and what better way to do it that some good old Irish ballads – new songs today, ‘The Wild Rover’ and ‘I’ll tell me Ma’

After lunch, we had our last cultural workshop with our colleagues and Euro Students at IDLAnguages– today, our facilitator was Kathleen O’Tahany and we were learning Irish dances- a reel, a jig and then a group ceili dance.

We’re off to dinner now, and more activities this evening, which we’ll post later on the interweb machines! Here’s a few photos of some of our other adventures- Cliff Jumping, Fun Fair, Bowling and Burrito night!


Day 9 began with a visit to Campview Farm. Our hosts, Elspeth and Andrew Vaughan operate a fully functional family business,  including dairy, beef and sheep farming. They also open the farm for educational visits, so that visitors can learn about the role of the farmer in our community, the processes of farming, and of course, they get to meet the farm animals, and try out some of the work that farmers do. We especially value the focus on environmentally friendly methods that Elspeth and Andrew champion, and the emphasis they put on local, fresh produce and sustainability.

Everything about this farm is fun, from the trailer ride across the fields, to feeding the calves and watching the milking process- but as we have never yet met anyone who doesn’t want to pet a lamb, this is always a highlight of the visit. Ewe will be hearing about this for a long time. (Sorry!)

After lunch, we attended a workshop with our fellow students at ID languages. Today’s workshop was facilitated by Siobhan Mearon, and the subject was Irish drama. The students adapted four Irish myths into mini-theatre plays, wrote scripts, directed, rehearsed and performed their work. The plays were Cú Chulainn, Finn McCool, The Children of Lir, and Tír na nÓg.

Dinner this evening was Pizza night, at our local lovely Blue Leaf Restaurant. Later this evening we will participate in an event which involves leaping into the Atlantic! We will post up the photos later- meanwhile, enjoy these from earlier today.


We were back in the classroom today, – first of all for some Irish language conversation with Collie, and then Niamh was preparing for our field trip with a class on Red Hugh O’Donnell, the Flight of the Earls and the Plantation of Ulster.

We introduced the modern concept of invasion with references to the Viking raids of the 10thC and the later visits of the Normans to Ireland, noting that in both cases, many of the invaders were assimilated into the Irish ways and Irish laws, becoming ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’. However, the Reformation would create huge disruption in England, and the invasion of Queen Elizabeth’s armies in the late 16th Century proved too strong for the Irish chieftans, despite a robust attempt at defence by the two great families of Ulster, the O’Neills and the O’Donnells.

When the O’Neill and O’Donnell families fled to Europe to seek help (The Flight of the Earls), their lands, and the lands of all the great Irish lordships were seized by the Crown and redistributed to English and Scottish nobles – such as the Brooke family, who were given the O’Donnell lands and towerhouse

We then went to visit Donegal Town, and this same O’Donnell towerhouse, some of which remains as it was in the time of O’Donnell, and more which was altered by the Brooks during the 17th century.  It is the perfect embodiment of the process of colonisation – renamed, redesigned, anglicized, – and we took a tour of the castle to see how this change in Irish culture is visible in the architecture of this hybrid castle.

One of the most striking features of the castle is a painting by Choctaw native Waylon Whitedeer. The Choctaw nation sent a contribution of $167 to the Irish during a period of starvation in the nineteenth century – an amazing gesture of solidarity and kindness at a time when the native American tribes were also being driven off their land. This beautiful piece of art reminds us that the oppression of indigenous cultures is a shared narrative among many peoples – the Irish, the South American tribes, Native Americans, Hawaii, Africa…

Painting by Choctaw Waylon Whitedeer at Donegal Castle

Another striking feature of the castle is the floor-to-ceiling fire place, made of carved stone, and decorated by tudor roses, scottish thistles, and the coats of arms of Lord and Lady Brook. Much of the art and culture we’ve seen so far has been carved in stone, but now we see it as utilitarian, symbolic and powerful, and absent of any references to the Irish culture it aims to replace. It is a useful discussion to have with the students – the power of Art and Architecture to tell us the stories of history and culture…

We’re back home for dinner, now, – and you’ll see our evening activities in the usual platforms- but here are some of the pics from earlier today.



The beautiful beaches of North-West Ireland were our classroom today – we began with our first community service project, which was hosted by Donegal County Councillor Michael McMahon and his team. Michael and his colleagues do amazing work all year keeping our beaches litter-free and the public areas of the town as clean as possible. Because Bundoran is a busy tourist town at this time of the year, it is much appreciated when students like ours volunteer to help – and they did today, with enthusiasm and grace. Each allocated with gloves and bags, two teams roamed around the beaches and boardwalks, picking up what the less considerate had left behind. Some quotes from our crew- ‘people can be dumbass’, ‘why would you come to a beautiful place and throw trash on it’ and ‘I never thought about people who actually have to pick up stuff you throw away…’  On behalf of everyone in Bundoran, we thank our students sincerely for participating in this activity.

We had a break for lunch, and along the way, some of us tried out some fresh berry smoothies in one of our local restaurants. I was very surprised that some of the students did not really like the taste of the smoothies, which were made from fresh raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. It turns out that they were expecting a much sweeter taste, and the absence of sugar in the smoothies was noted. Which led us on to note that sodas also taste different, as corn syrup is not used in common soft drinks here, and that servings of sodas, coffees and portions in general were much smaller than in the U.S.A.

After lunch, our students returned to Bundoran Community Center to partner up again with IDLanguages. Today’s workshop was about Art and Sustainability, and the lead instructor was Aisling Gallagher.  Students discussed symbols and designs drawn from ancient Ireland, and their relationship with nature, and how zero waste was a healthy approach to living. Students then studied the Instagram accounts of four local businesses that promote sustainability – Milish, Light House Industries, Loved and Upcycled, and The Natural Company.  The students then returned to the beach to create sand sculptures, inspired by the ideas and engagements with sustainability, art and design

Designed and created by our global scholars

Dinner tonight continued the theme of sustainability and local business- we are going to a local Burrito restaurant that specializes in clean farm-to-fork food, run by local surfer, musician and entrepreneur Huib (from the Netherlands!). Yes, Mexican food, cooked by the Dutch, in Ireland, for our Americans – we’re not called global scholars for nuthin’. And all fresh, healthy and eco-friendly!

Finishing out this theme today, Eoin will be bringing our kids on an evening nature trail at Aroo Mountain. And then they will sleep!

Back here tomorrow with more. Here’s some more pics.

DAY 6 – MYTHS, MAGIC & MUSIC July 15 2019

Another sunny summer’s day, and we began this morning with a class on mythology and folklore, Ogham (pronounced O-am) and superstition.

Ogham is an old system of communication carved on stone, and provided an interesting way to think about symbols, communication and writing. The students were given an Ogham alphabet and practiced writing out their names – here’s what it looks like, and how to write ‘Tom’!

We talked about more of the folklore and mythology associated with Ireland- the story of the Children of Lir (who were changed into swans), Óisin and Niamh from the land of eternal youth (Tir Na nÓg),and the concept of the Changeling or child taken by the fairy folk. We discussed what function these myths might have had among the community, and what modern myths prevail today. We also had a brief discussion about emigration, particularly to the USA, during times of extreme poverty and persecution. We will be discussing this in further details when we move on to the Irish Famine, but as the newspaper headlines are all full of current stories about emigrants, it seemed like a good opportunity to talk about this, and was relevant to our later field trip.

In the last two classes, we have been discussing the change from Celtic culture to early Christian culture, and how this transition was relatively peaceful and inclusive. Many of the symbols of the old and new ways were fused, the Celtic cross being a good example. So for our field trip, we visited the nearby town of Ballyshannon, one of Ireland’s oldest towns, and we visited a site, known as St. Patrick’s Well, which provides a very good example of these two traditions side-by-side.

We also visited  Catsby Cave, which was used as a Mass Rock during penal times, when religious worship had been outlawed – much fun was had exploring the caves and the brook bubbling by- and as usual, the arrival of local puppy Jody provided extra amusement.

We then went to the Mall Quay in the town – this was the departure point for hundreds of poor emigrants during the 18th and 19th century, and we had established in the classroom that every single one of us had, at some stage, had parents or family who had emigrated to the USA from somewhere- if not Ireland, there was a harbour or a dock somewhere in the world from where our ancestors sailed west, in the hope of better times. We had a picnic in gorgeous sunshine, a little wander around this very pretty 17th century town, and then we returned to Bundoran. As if the Gods knew that I had been telling stories about Swans and Irish mythology today, the most astonishing family of these beautiful creatures bobbed in on the tide to say hello. I’ve never seen so many swim together, and this provided a very beautiful backdrop for our  lunchtime.

This afternoon, we began a series of four culture workshops with our partner school, IDLanguages. The students at IDLanguages come from France, Spain, Germany and other European countries, and merged with our USA folk to interact, make friends, and share in some of the aspects of Irish culture. Today, the topic was Irish Music, and the facilitator was Julie Dillon, music teacher, voice coach and facilitator for student groups. The students did some singing, studied some songs by Irish musicians, and arranged and performed some Irish songs. Many thanks to IDLanguage director Arantxa and to Julie for this wonderful experience

Finally, after a busy day, it was time for dinner, and a hungry gang descended on Stakes’ Restaurant for a hearty feed! This evening, after homework, the students go rappelling and climbing, we will post some photos on Instagram later. Meanwhile, here’s more lovely photos of our day.

DAY 5 – SURF’S UP SUNDAY July 14 2019

Today was a glorious summer Sunday, and a morning of rest – no classes today. Some of our students went to church, and then there was time to catch up on the daily journals, tidy rooms, organise laundry and be good roommates! Collie then did a store-run, as some of us were running out of essentials like hair gel, shampoo and other ‘neccessities’ J all very important things on a summer program! During the walk around town, we called into The Wishing Chair, which is a little shop that we created, so that local artists and craftspeople can sell their locally made products. It is named ‘The Wishing Chair’ after a local place in Bundoran called The Fairy Bridges, which has been attracting visitors since the 18th Century. We put our very own wishing chair in the shop, and several of the students took a seat- legend goes that if you make a wish there, you will return to Donegal!


After a yummy brunch in Stakes restaurant, the students prepared to participate in another of Bundoran’s claim-to-fame-attractions; surfing! Bundoran is known as the surf capital of Ireland, and is one of the biggest surf spots in Europe. With several beautiful beaches, and the Atlantic swells constantly coming in to Donegal Bay, it is an all-year round activity, and one of the must-do things when you come here. We were blessed with warm sunshine and small, steady waves, and with the expertise of the coaches and lifeguards from Donegal Adventure Centre, we all had a really enjoyable session on beautiful Tullan Strand.


After a hearty meal, we gathered again for a trip to the Movies. Tomorrow, we are back to class and field trips, and we begin a series of four culture workshops with our European counterparts. Meanwhile, all the students are happy and healthy and tired, and enjoying themselves! Here’s some pics from today.


Fáilte ar ais (welcome back) to the blog everyone! Guess what- we didn’t have a birthday to celebrate today, just when we were getting used to cake! It did not dampen our Saturday though, and we did have a little ice-cream treat on our way home from our field trip, just to satisfy our sweet teeth!

Today’s history and culture class covered the period from the middle of the fifth century to the tenth century, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. The evangelical project of converting the Celts to Christianity is very interesting, as it creates the opportunity to discuss topics such as cultural manipulation, conflict v negotiation, propaganda, power, faith – we had a whole lot of things to talk about. Niamh explained how the early Christian missionaries came to Ireland, and rather than displacing Celtic culture by force, they integrated elements of both traditions into a palatable and persuasive option. We talked about important festivals like Solstice and Spring being reinterpreted as significant Christian celebrations, and also how Celtic Art, Storytelling, and Culture was incorporated into many of the new ideas that were shaping thought at the time. This led us into discussions about religions as faith-based systems, and religion as power-based systems, and the differences between both. Our students had fascinating observations to make, including how religion could be either a force of reconciliation or division, depending on how it is articulated.

One of the devices of conversion at this time was that traditional ‘pagan’ story-endings were changed into Christian endings, and this led to a discussion of modern TV and Movies, and what messages might be directed towards us, and by whom, and why. Once again, we are encouraging our students to interrogate their own world, and to think independently and critically about what they see and hear, and it was illuminating and heartening to listen to the ideas and opinions that the students shared today.

From the fifth to the tenth century, Celtic communities morphed into monastic settlements and cities, and while much of the old traditions remained intact, the Christians introduced churches, round towers, and writing to these communities. And so, to our field trip, to one of the most well-preserved and beautiful of these monastic settlements, Devenish Island, on Lough (Lake) Erne. This remarkable site requires a boat trip from Enniskillen, in County Fermanagh, which is in Northern Ireland, so we took ourselves and our picnic there after the lecture, and boarded the 12:15 sailing with the wonderful Steven & Crew at Lough Erne Tours. Before we went to the island itself, we sailed around the town itself, past the beautiful Enniskillen Castle, built by the Maguire clan, and appropriated by the Cole family after the Plantation of Ulster.

Devenish Island day 4 global scholars 2019 (3)

On our way to Devenish Island, we passed by Portora Royal School, which lists among its alumni Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, and we also enjoyed the beauty of the local wildlife as we sailed along- swans with their cygnets, ducks, cranes, snipes and the promise of a kingfisher hidden in the lush vegetation.

Soon, we spied the bell-tower of Devenish, and tied up at the jetty to explore the ruins of St. Molaise’s Church, St. Mary’s Abbey, and the really beautiful tower and the late medieval cross. It was the perfect place for both our picnic, and some exploration of this awesome site.

After a wonderful wander around the island, we sailed back to Enniskillen, and stopped for that ice-cream I mentioned earlier. We got back to base with some time to spare before dinner, so Niamh introduced the students to Dorothea, [her guitar], and the cultural phenomenon that is the Irish sing-a-long! It must be said that this is a particularly tuneful and fast-learning group, and we were soon singing all about Molly Malone at the top of our voices!

This evening after dinner, we are doing games and fun stuff with our european friends, and tomorrow we have a little break from class so we can go surfing! We hope you’ll tune in – meanwhile, here’s some more photos of our day.

DAY 3- CELTIC IRELAND July 12 2019

Happy Birthday Conor!

Hi everybody and welcome to day 3- and today’s first and most important thing was another birthday- this time it was Conor who was celebrating his 16th birthday with us! He also got ‘happy birthday’ sung to him, and as you can see from the photo above, he is having a good day so far!

So yesterday evening, after dinner, the students enjoyed some fun games and activities with their fellow students from Germany, Spain, UK and Ireland. New friends are being made everywhere. The students also had some homework to do for today – they all have to journal each day, and write down a summary of their class and field trip, and their own reflections on what they learnt and experienced. An important part of this program is that the students think critically and comparatively about what they learn and see- and that they can use Irish culture and history as a platform to think about their own communities, narratives and experiences. People often think that this is a program for Irish-Americans, but while it obviously does appeal, it is also for African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Polish-Americans, British-Americans, and all the other hyphens, because we have so many shared narratives and experiences that go beyond any one identity. It’s also lovely for our students to interact with students from other countries, and last night’s conversations were illuminating!

Today, we began classes with Niamh, who moved from Ancient Ireland to talk about the Celts and the Celtic period. This really appealed to all of our fans of mythology and magic, as they enjoyed the rich tradition of tribal storytelling and ritual that emerges from this time. We spoke about communities and leadership, and we had an interesting digression to talk about criminal justice- the old Irish system of ‘Brehon Law’ had a type of redress system built in to it so that victims of a crime were involved in the reparations- so it was interesting to think about that approach, and compare it to modern systems of justice. And we have some very smart thinkers in this class!

The role of the storyteller or ‘file’ is important in Celtic culture, which led us on to talk about the roles of press secretaries, media and fake news. In other words, we talked about what tribal storytellers said about their leaders, and who their audience was, what their objective was, and what ‘truth’ meant in journalism. This is how we use the Irish history- it’s a leaping-off point to get talking about not only the past, but the present.

Our second class, taught by Collie, was about the Irish language, and each of the students had their name translated into Irish. We have some lovely translations, and hope all of them will keep their Irish name and its odd spelling for the future- except, of course for Mairéad and Abaigeal who are already there 🙂

After classes, we went off to buy our picnic lunch, and then we traveled south to Strandhill, in County Sligo, in the province of Connacht, which was once ruled by the great Queen Maeve (Maedbh). Much of the mythology of Ireland includes stories of Maeve and her warriors, so we went to the spectacular mountain called Knocknarea  (Cnoc Na Rí) which means the Royal Mountain. There is a huge Cairn, or burial tomb at the top of the mountain, and according to legend, Queen Maeve herself is buried there, standing up to face her enemies.

The hike itself is absolutely glorious, with amazing views over Connacht. Some of our campers needed a bit of gentle persuasion to climb up, but were thrilled with themselves when they made it to the top.

Some of us (Some were wandering elsewhere…we didn’t lose anyone!) at Queen Maeve’s Cairn on the top of Knocknarea Mountain

We decided that everyone deserved a treat after the hike, so when we returned from the mountain, we drove around to the pretty little seaside town of Strandhill, and to one of the finest Ice-Cream parlours in Ireland, ‘Mammy Johnstons‘. We feasted on treats, and then we returned to base for dinner. Later this evening we are doing a Celtic Raft Race, so we will post some pics when we get them- meanwhile, enjoy these snaps of our day so far!

DAY 2- ANCIENT IRELAND  July 11 2019

Hey everyone, welcome to day 2, and the first and most important thing we did this morning was to wish Celine a very happy 16th birthday! We sang happy birthday to her before we started class, and I’m sure there will be a few more celebrations before we finish the day!

Happy 16 Birthday Celine!

We had an orientation this morning with Niamh and Collie, going through our plans for lectures, field trips, homework and assignments, explaining how the college credit part of this program works, and what the expectations were. We then moved to our classroom, and we had our first lecture, which was all about ancient Ireland, and the first civilisations after the ice-age. We spoke about how the landscape of Ireland was formed by the melting glaciers, leaving the raw materials of stone, forest and waterways as resources for the first peoples. We learnt about the differences between sedimentary rocks like limestone, and the much tougher sandstone that would become building blocks for the secular and sacred spaces of the stone age people.

That all sounds a bit geeky, right? But not when you have a remarkable landscape like the Cavan Burren park to visit. We travelled there with our picnic lunch, and then began our field trip through this karstic landscape, noting the sink holes, erratics, crazy fossilized limestone slabs, and jaw-dropping atlantic artwork carved on these ancient monuments. We not only considered this landscape from the geological and historical aspect, but also from the mythological, and we saw how these phenomena might have been interpreted by the ancients as magical and sacred.

As you’ll see from the gallery below, our explorations in the forest and along the mountain were fun and informative, and we were well dressed for the combination of rain and sunshine.

We’ve all returned home safely now for dinner, some birthday cake with Celine, we have some homework to do, and then we’re off to climb some high things! Enjoy the photos and tune in tomorrow for more!

DAY 1- ARRIVAL!  JULY 10 2019

So this is the 23rd year of our Global Scholars Summer Program. We started wayyyy back in 1996, and back then it was called ‘Adventure Ireland’ and took place mostly in Dublin. Over the years, we have improved and upgraded the program, and now it is a three-week course of history and culture that has three college credits from Drew University for successful participants, and we have hundreds of happy alumni who have fond memories of a summer in Ireland. We still have our original founding faculty- Niamh and Collie – and also now John, who has been a director of the ISAI since our move to Donegal.


So we welcome the class of globalscholarsireland2019, Molly,Mikaela, Conor, Eden, Neika, Celine, Gerri, Teika, Kiera, Olivia, Anna, James, Aubrey, Emily, Abby, Claire, Leah, Mairead, Mele, Daniel, Vincent, Vicky, Cameron, Tiffany, Aurelia, and Patrick! All of the students are registered with Drew University, NJ, for this immersive culture and history program which runs from July 10-30. Our students come from all over the USA, including a group from our dear friends at AFS USA.

Some of our 2019 group at the Lough Crew Cairn

Remarkably, we had eight flights to meet today, and every single one of them was either early, or right on time! We got away from Dublin Airport as scheduled, and made our way to our first stop, the ancient and magical cairns at Lough Crew. After a brisk hike up to the tombs, Carmel, from the Irish Office of Public Works (OPW) gave us a guided tour and the history of this very special site. We saw the famous ‘hag’s chair’ and made a few wishes, and then we returned to Nelly’s Kitchen for some hearty ‘witches broth’ and homemade wheaten bread.

We are now safely arrived at our base in Bundoran, Donegal and everyone is sitting down to dinner. So we say hi to Moms, Dads, family & friends back home and hope you will stay tuned in to this blog as we enjoy our next few weeks in Ireland!