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Humanities 210: Culture in Ireland

Humanities 210 Culture in Ireland

Estimated reading time — 10 minutes

Hank walked through the grounds of Cluain Mhic Nóis, trying to enjoy the beauty of the monastery’s ruins despite having been up for over 24 hours. Hank had flown into Dublin Airport via Aer Lingus at five o’clock that morning from Boston, Massachusetts. He was part of a university class visiting from the United States to learn about Ireland’s history and culture and hadn’t slept since he got up the day before at 9 am. The bus had stopped at the monastery on the way to Galway, where the course’s first segment would take place. Hank’s nine other classmates were also wandering the grounds; the red in their eyes from lack of sleep was showing.

When they arrived at the 544 AD monastery site, their professor told them about how it had been founded by Saint Ciarán and survived attacks by the Irish, Vikings, Normans, and English until it was destroyed in 1552. She had then sent the class out to wander the grounds.

After an hour, they got back on the bus and completed the journey to Galway City. They pulled in to the front of the Imperial Hotel, where the class was to stay while in Galway. After they had disembarked but before the class could enter the hotel, the teacher called out.


“I’ve already gotten the room keys, and I have room assignments for you all. You’ll each get a key, and your room number is on the key. The rooming assignments are Aaron and Hank, Jen and Brittney, Annie and Carrie, Julie and Alexa, and, finally, Fred and Zack. Will one person from each room come and get both of your keys.”

After getting the luggage unloaded from the bus, the room keys handed out, and the bags brought into the hotel, the professor grouped the class back together.

“Dinner will be at six at the restaurant in the hotel. The restaurant staff will show you where to sit, we have an area reserved for us. I want everyone to take a paper map of the area. The hotel is marked on it. Go out and explore. You are all dismissed.”

Aaron and Hank both wanted to have their first proper Irish beer and set out to find a pub. The Tig Chóilí called to them. They stepped into the small but welcoming bar, and both ordered Guinness that they drank sitting at one of the small wooden tables in the back.
In the Imperial’s restaurant, the class was seated at a long table in a corner with what looked like stonework at their back. The bar had beautiful blue lighting that Hank liked. The teacher asked them about their explorations and what everyone had seen. Everyone went to bed early, tired from being up for so long.

The next day the class loaded up on the bus early and went to Kylemore Abbey. As they made their way to the grounds, Hank looked over Pollacapall Lough at the impressive granite and limestone building. The beautiful gray building stood out amongst the greenery that surrounded it, looking majestic.

Standing in front of the abbey, the professor addressed the class.


“Kylemore Abbey was built as a private residence in 1868. In 1920, the Benedictine nuns purchased the property. The walled garden here is one of the last built in the Victorian period. Now, go and explore the grounds. This is our only stop today, so take your time.”
Most of the class headed to the Victorian Walled Garden; however, Hank went in the opposite direction, going down a dirt path through the woods. After walking so far that he thought he’d somehow missed it, Hank came across his destination, a gigantic triangle-shaped stone known as the Ironing Stone.

Hank, a fan of mythology, wanted to see the stone first because of its mythological background. According to the Celtic myths, the Celtic hero giant Cú Chulainn lived on one of the mountains located here, and the giant Fionn McCool lived on another. The two giants fought continuously, and during one of these fights, Cú hurled a rock at Fionn; the rock missed Fionn and landed here. Supposedly, if you stand with your back to the stone and throw three rocks over the stone while making a wish, your wish will come true. Hank didn’t think a lot about the wish part but wanted to see the stone of mythological legend. He found himself throwing three rocks over the stone anyway.

It couldn’t hurt, he thought.

Hank made his way across the grounds to see the Victorian Walled Garden, passing some of his classmates on his way. Once he got into the gardens, he understood why they were renowned. The formal gardens were sheets of grass with beautiful flower bed designs cut into the grass in various shapes. He also wandered the vegetable gardens and enjoyed the head gardener’s house and the workman’s bothy, both set up to show visitors what life had been like in Victorian times.

After absorbing the gardens, Hank started making his way to the abbey and the Gothic church that he had seen on his trek from the Ironing Stone to the Victorian Walled Garden. Hank heard a commotion from a distance away, toward the abbey. As he was rushing over to see what was going on, he heard the wail of a siren. The ambulance entered the grounds and headed down the dirt path past the abbey. Hank rushed down and found out the commotion was at the Ironing Stone. When he got there, he saw Alexa was lying on the ground. It looked like her head had hit the stone from the blood glistening on it. The ambulance loaded up Alexa and tore off as the teacher tried to collect the spectating class members.

The bus ride back to the Imperial was quiet. In the Imperial’s restaurant, the Irish food was tasty, but the friendly eating environment and the hearty food did little to lighten the classmates’ darkness.

Despite Alexa being in the hospital, the class would continue in the morning, and Hank wanted to get some sleep. It turned out that none of the classmates had much desire to go out exploring Galway given the events of the day and they all ended up staying in the Imperial that night.

The next morning Aaron and Hank went down for breakfast together. Their professor told them that there wasn’t any change in Alexa’s condition. After breakfast, the professor ushered everyone out to the bus waiting outside the hotel restaurant doors.

Their first stop of the day was at Menlo Castle. Hank was excited because he had never seen an actual castle before. They had to climb over a metal gating across the dirt road and walk the rest of the way to the castle. After passing a small stone structure with no roof, the professor announced the castle was coming up. Hank strained his eyes, trying to see the castle but only saw the green vegetation surrounding the area. As they continued, Hank found out why. Much to his dismay, Menlo Castle was in complete ruins, and vines covered most of it. Hank’s hope of getting to explore a proper castle was dashed to pieces.

“Menlo Castle was built in the 16th century and survived until 1910 when an oil lamp caught the building on fire. The fire killed three people, including the owner’s invalid daughter,” their professor said.

Their next stop was the Galway Cathedral, an impressive stone building with green-tinged metal roofing. Hank was happy to find this stop didn’t involve dirt roads and gate hopping.
“The Galway Cathedral opened in 1965 and is a Roman Catholic house of worship,” their professor said. “The building is one of the last stone churches built in Ireland and one the of the largest buildings in Galway.”

Inside the sanctuary, Hank was blown away by the beauty of the stained glass windows and the elaborate ceiling design.

When they exited the Galway Cathedral, Hank noticed their bus was gone.

“For the rest of today, we will be walking,” their professor said. “We are heading to South Park Beach, then will return to the hotel through the Latin Quarter.”

As they passed a small harbor area on River Corrib, Hank was drawn by the beautiful colors of the buildings on the other side of the river. Their professor stopped the class and pointed to the same side of the river Hank had been admiring.

“If you look across the harbor, you’ll see the Spanish Arch, a 1584 extension to the 13th-century town wall built by the Normans.”

After looking out over Loch Lurgan at South Park Beach, the professor brought the class to the Latin Quarter.

“The Latin Quarter is the center of nightlife in Galway and is considered the cultural heart of the city,” their professor said. “Some of the buildings you’ll see here date back to the 16th century.”

The Latin Quarter was quaint with cobblestone walkways filled with people, and with shops and restaurants lining the sides. Hank found the Latin Quarter to be bustling with far more activity than the small New England town where he lived. He could only imagine what it looked like at night. The class made the short walk back to their hotel from the Latin Quarter for dinner. At dinner, the professor addressed the class.

“I talked with the hospital and Alexa is still in poor condition and unconscious. It appears that she must have tripped and hit her head on the rock rather hard. I know that this is a tough situation, but as part of the course, you should really experience the nightlife in Galway. I implore you to go out and experience the Latin Quarter before our segment here ends tomorrow.”

Heeding their professor’s advice, the nine members of the class went to The King’s Head in the Latin Quarter to have some fun, even though Alexa was still in the hospital. A lively Irish band was playing, and the Guinness tasted great; however, a somber mood held over the evening. Hank and Fred headed back before the rest of the class.

The next morning when Hank went down for breakfast, there was a commotion going on. The gardaí were in the lobby talking with the teacher. Hank looked over at the few class members that were down already.

“What’s going on?”

“Brittney never returned to our room from The King’s Head last night,” Jen said.

“She’s missing?”

“Yes, that’s why the professor called the gardaí.”

Their professor walked over to them as the gardaí headed out the door to Rosemary Ave.
She looked around and counted the heads. She nodded when she saw that all eight remaining members of the class were present.

“As some of you may have heard, Brittney never returned to the hotel last night. The gardaí think she probably went home with someone from The King’s Head since it looks like she was the last member of the class there.”

“Are we continuing with the class?” Aaron asked?

“We have to. The trip has been paid for already, and we can’t just temporarily suspend the class. All of you have return tickets already.”

“But aren’t we leaving the Imperial today?” Carrie asked.


“Yes, we are going to be staying at the Dromhall in Killarney tonight for the middle segment of the trip.”

“What about Brittney?”

“When she gets back to the hotel, the gardaí said she could take the Bus Éireann to Limerick then to Killarney. And she is likely going to fail the class as well. Now, hurry up and get your breakfast; this ordeal has put us behind schedule.”

After breakfast, the class got their luggage from their rooms and loaded it onto the bus. As the bus left Galway City, Hank looked out the window at the now-familiar sites of Galway, that a few days ago had been so fresh and new, for the last time. The teacher stood at the front and addressed the class.

“After the stunt Brittney pulled last night, we are going to have assigned class buddies now.”

“Really?” Aaron said. “We aren’t high schoolers anymore.”

“Really. The assigned buddies are as follows, Fred and Julie, Zack and Carrie, Hank and Annie, and Aaron and Jen. You and your buddy are accountable for each other whenever we aren’t at the hotel. Everyone got it?”

“Got it,” came the response in unison.

The bus made its first stop at the ruins of what looked like an ancient church to Hank. Before the class could get up, the professor addressed them from the front of the bus.
“We are at Corcomroe Abbey, the ruins of a 13th-century Cistercian monastery. Remember, stay with your buddy while on the grounds.”

The class got out and had a chance to stretch their legs while admiring the impressive remains of the abbey. Hank found the recessed grave of Conor O’Brien, from 1268, particularly fascinating. He didn’t think he’d ever seen a grave that old, especially one with statuary in such good shape. After a half-hour, the bus loaded back up and continued into the Burren. The land became rocky and almost alien-looking to Hank.

Hank felt excitement when the bus pulled into the Cliffs of Moher. Their teacher again addressed them from inside the bus.

“The cliffs are nine miles long and up to 702 feet tall at their peak, which is approximately 65 storeys. O’Brien’s Tower is an 1835 observational tower that was built on the cliffs. There is a separate fee to enter the tower that isn’t covered in your class fees, if you wish to go up. Remember to stay with your buddy, and have a good time.”

All Hank could see when he off of the bus were some low hills, but as he and Annie climbed the steep path up to the cliffs, O’Brien’s Tower and the cliffs came into view and were remarkable. They had decided to start with O’Brien’s Tower and each handed over the two euro coin necessary to enter the tower. From the top, they had a great view of the magnificent cliffs.

Then they went to look at the cliffs from the left side of the parking lot, starting in the heavily visited area. When they got to the white and yellow signs saying “Aire: Imeall Na h-Aillte – Caution: Exposed Cliff Edges,” they decided to continue. Enjoying the view of the cliffs, the two wandering along them enjoying the fantastic view of the Atlantic Ocean and the Aran Islands. They reached another sign, this one saying “Extreme Danger: Unstable Cliffedge.”

Hank was a little leery of continuing, but Annie wanted to continue. It felt like a rainstorm was coming in, but Hank found Annie cute and was hoping he might get to know her a little better on the trip. Not wanting Annie to think less of him, Hank continued since turning around would force her to as well if they didn’t want to face the professor’s wrath.

They continued, slower due to the narrower and far less traveled path. The wind started increasing, and Hank decided it was time to go back. He didn’t want to be here if the wind picked up anymore. He stopped and turned around. Annie was standing, arms crossed, blocking the path.

“Let’s head back. This storm is picking up.”

“You aren’t going back.”

“What are you talking about?”


“I’m going to kill you.”

Hank felt the wind whip at his air. He hadn’t felt so conscious of the height of the cliffs until now. He looked at Annie as some raindrops started to whip his face.

“You are going to kill me?”



“Originally, it was just because I wanted to see what it felt like. What it actually felt like to kill someone. To control whether someone lives or dies and then be the one to end their life. At Kylemore Abbey with Alexa, the moment just felt right. We were alone. That giant rock was behind us. I just suddenly found myself grabbing her head and smashing it into the rock. It felt… it felt exhilarating! But it was over so fast. I wanted to smash her head again and again, but then it wouldn’t have looked like an accident.”

“So, you did that to Alexa?”

“Yes, then there was Brittany. She and I were the last members of the class left at The Kings Head. She was very lit. It was easy to get her to go for a walk to see the Spanish Arch. She stumbled the whole way there. One quick little shove, and she was in the River Corrib. She struggled so hard to stay up but failed. I sat on the concrete edging and watched until there were no signs of her. I’m surprised they haven’t found the body yet.”

“So, Brittany is dead?”

“Very. And now you. I’m going to push you over the cliff down to the rocks and into the Atlantic Ocean below.”

“Why me?”

“Why not you?”

“What have I done to you?”

“Nothing, nothing at all. You are here with me right now, and if you look around, we are all alone.”

Hank had been positioning his legs and leaped toward Annie. The rain stung as it hit his eyes and the wind made him feel as if he was moving at superhuman speed. He realized he wasn’t when Annie quickly sidestepped his leap and pushed him sideways as he flew by. He fell to the ground knocking some of the wind out of him. Annie kicked him with her foot causing him to roll toward the edge of the cliff. Hank gripped at the grass, but nothing provided an anchor, and he went over the side of the cliff.

As he fell, over the wail of the wind in his ears, he heard Annie shouting from the cliff above.
“HELP! HELP! My classmate Hank just tripped and went over the cliff!”

Credit: K.A. Johnson


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