As my time in Galway, Ireland was drawing to a close I heard from my younger brother. He told me that he had read in some history book about Castle O’Fogartaigh, the ancient seat of clan Fogerty during the height of their power. This sparked a memory I had of perusing the bookshelves of a Salem used book store where I had found a thick, dusty book about the clans of Ireland. I had found the entry on my family, O’Fogartaigh, and took a photo of it with my phone. Years later, in Ireland, I remembered this entry and what it had to offer me. I was able to find the photo on my laptop and decipher what the text had to say about my ancestors. It turns out that there was a castle built by my family and it resided in rural Tipperary county. Having a few spare days before I had to leave for home, I decided that this would be a worthy adventure.
I traveled mostly by foot, occasionally hitchhiking, all the way south to Limerick. From there, I had to walk out of the city center until I found a place that would be more conducive to hitchhiking. I had no idea how far it would be until the city thinned out, but I knew I had to travel east. A couple hours later, I found myself in what some may call the countryside. It took no time at all to get picked up by a young graduate student. There were plenty of people going home for the evening and they all had to travel down the same road. Leaving the city, the flow of people was massive. As we got farther into the farmland however, the tide diminished exponentially. Every mile, the road split two or three ways, each thinner than the road that fed it. Eventually, we were the only car on the road. My driver let me off about 2 miles away from where I was headed, where yet another split in the road diverged our paths. I walked the remainder of the way.
Finding the castle itself was infinitely more difficult than I had anticipated. I knew that it was privately owned now, but I assumed someone in the area would at least of seen it or heard about it. I was mistaken. No one had any idea what I was talking about or why I was there. One person suggested old Farney castle down the road. It turns out that there was indeed a Farney castle in the area, not Fogerty mind you, but it was not the castle that I had seen drawings of. Farney Castle had been renovated and was now a workshop for yarn and glass blowing. I spent that night in a field behind an old barn. This would bring us to Sunday Morning. I was determined to find someone who knew where the castle was. It was a castle, right? How hard could it be to find? They’re freaking huge! In my infinite wisdom, I thought it would be a good idea to go to mass and try to inquire after the service if anyone knew anything about my castle. It turned out to be a wake for a local schoolteacher. After the Hearst drove away trailing the village behind it, I was a bit set back. Not only did I have no idea where the castle was, but I also had no idea how to get out of the village. I was 50 miles from Limmerick, where my bus ticket said I had to catch a bus later that evening. Not to worry.
About an hour later, I was able to stop a man in a tuxedo walking down the only road in the village towards his car. I asked him about a Castle in the area. He replied, “You mean that one down The Dark Road?” Yes, that’s right, The Dark Road. The unmarked dirt road that cut away from the village towards its end where I had been waiting for the past 12 hours was, in fact, lovingly referred to as “The Dark Road.” It turns out he was right. About half a mile from where I had been waiting was the grand entrance to Castle O’Fogartaigh. I wandered through its ruins for hours. I discovered that they weren’t actually ruins about a half hour into my frolics. Apparently, the owner had renovated one of the four corner towers into a liveable space. It was on the opposite side from where I entered, so I didn’t notice it right away. The entirety of the rest of the castle was overgrown with vines and covered in leaves, so I was totally caught unaware when I
round a corner and see a porch light above a red door sitting in the midst of all the rubble. No one was home at the time, or had been in a while if I were allowed to guess, but all the same I thought it best to leave.
My mission accomplished, now I had merely to return home. Turns out,that was the hardest part. Like fighting against the current of a massive rapid, I was stuck in the village of Ballycahill. Plenty of people were coming home or going in the opposite direction I was, but the only people headed to town were diminutive, old ladies and tractors. I got a few sympathetic nods as they drove by, but for the most part, the road was dead to me. I had ample opportunity to lie down in the center of the road or practice my juggling, whistle playing, or my gibber something in Gaelic. I had been pushed into a slow-moving pool at the side of the river, where little vortexes occasionally twist. But for the most part, this was a stagnant pool. No motion, or so little of it in such small magnitudes as to make no difference. I was caught by the countryside and it wasn’t giving me up. Fifty miles from the nearest bus stop, I was just as stranded as I would be in the backwoods of Wisconsin, but there were people everywhere. I, the outsider, had no way of visiting and escaping this small village in the middle of county Tipperary, near the township of Thurles, birthplace of the Gaelic Athletic Association and celebrated Hurling community.
I eventually made it out, but it took the rest of the day. Would I do it again? Yep. Even after getting stuck there for two days? Of course. Getting stuck is one of the best ways of exploring. Tried and true.
Backpacking in the highlands of Scotland during my spring break while studying abroad was one of the highlights of my trip. My friend and I hiked over 80 miles. The trip was challenging and exciting, and completing the journey was one of the most fulfilling things I have done. We planned very little for the trip, and in some aspects, were quite unprepared for what we were doing. Luckily, the weather was beautiful, and every two or three days we came across little towns where we could restock our food and water supply.
In Scotland, tent camping is legal anywhere, so long as you don’t disturb anybody. We camped on a few farmer’s sheep fields, next to a small river, on a lake (or loch), in forests, amongst scott’s broom, but always under the stars. The nights were cold, and during the day our tired feet ached, but we kept going and going, and going, and our perseverance led us through some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. We started at Inverness, at the tip of Loch Ness, and hiked the entire great glen way, along some of the longest and thinnest lakes in the world, until we reached Fort William, home to Ben Nevis, the UK’s tallest mountain. It was an incredible journey.
I wonder how they choose where to build monuments, or when to clear forests? It’s as if we believe we are gods, born to carve out the earth, here to shape and reshape the world around us.
Walls. Forts. Gates.
Through Pile Gate I enter Dubrovnik. As old stone walls guard the heart of the city, it is as if all the charm and culture from the past has been kept here in soft captivity. I walk along the Stradun, and as I glance to my right, I notice ascending stairs every twenty feet or so. As the top of each staircase nears the ancient walls, the walls pour out their memories and whispers and the past streams freely down to touch the city’s core. It all collects near the steps of St. Blaise, where the city’s rich past lingers and permeates the atmosphere. I could live here; this city is beautiful.
Stones. Bridges. Mosques.
As the modern cement turns to cobblestone, I greet Mostar. Known as the Orient of the West, this city is colored by the eastern influence and its legacy within the Ottoman Empire. I pass a hammam, markets gleaming with silk and gemstones, and Turkish monuments. This culture is new to me. My eyes and my mind strive to reconcile the visions of bazaars and minarets before me with stories I have heard and pictures I have seen. Though I peruse a mental catalog of images, nothing matches the stunning arch of the bridge or the scent of cevepcici that wafts through the air. I might stay here; I want to linger in discovery.
Again, I wonder how they choose where to build monuments, or when to clear forests? It’s as if we believe we are gods, born to carve out the earth, here to shape and reshape the world around us. Only now there are too many of us. We are running out of mountains to blast, and we have turned our gaze from to the earth to people. Now we grab fiercely to the hearts of those around us. We hold them close as we gently chip away at the cage surrounding the beat, until we can steal the very core with a soft tug and then marvel at our fine work and craftsmanship.
Just as the monuments of Dubrovnik and Mostar were crafted and then altered, so too were their inhabitants. As recent war scarred cherished cultural monuments of the cities, conflict also marked each citizen, meticulously engraving caution, fear, and understanding on the people. A missile did not merely target the flag raised above Fort Imperial, it also penetrated the lives of sailors, officers, and citizens who died defending the city. Those who did not perish fled, those who did not flee hungered, and those who hungered wondered: when will shelves once again bear food? As the souls of city and citizen intertwined, identities were given new lines and redefined.
Someone once made a path about my center, the way people tear at the earth to make green spaces in the hearts of cities. With a crooked smile as a spade and piercing eyes as shovels, my heart slid through the cracks created. As it hit the air, I saw it break into 47,493 pieces. I counted every. last. one. of. them. I wanted to find them…
As the war has passed, fragments and shards have been collected to rebuilt to cities. In Mostar, the same stone amassed for the original bridge hundreds of years ago once again made the journey to reassemble of the arch. Likewise, the people themselves have began to reconstruct. Inhabitants are still collecting their parings and pieces. They dust off the memories of laughter until they are once again visible, they place the horrors of loss on a bookshelf to serve as reference. They are retracing the lines and contours of daily life, again and again, until they have memorized a path well enough to make things seem as if they had never been broken. Yet, although time has allowed the marks seared onto people to burrow beneath their skin, traces can still be found flowing in their veins. New fragments align with the old, once again carving the human landscape.
These are not my monuments; I bear neither the burden nor the beauty of these foreign cultures. I am simply passing through.
My time spent in New Zealand surpassed all of my expectations leading up to the trip. Immediately, I fell in love with the raw beauty of New Zealand. Dramatic landscapes are found wherever you go, with seemingly every vista worthy of a postcard. And Kiwis truly are some of the friendliest, most genuine people I’ve ever met. Everyone lives a laid-back lifestyle, and everyone I met was hospitable, and genuinely excited to hear about me and where I’m from. But Kiwis are fiercely loyal, and have such a deep love and respect for New Zealand. And frankly, it’s not hard to understand why. I too fell in love with this little country on the other side of the world, far more than I thought I would. I met some of the most welcoming, friendly, and most importantly, fun-loving people I ever have. And I was constantly floored by the majesty of Aoteoroa, as the Maori call it. I’ll be back very soon, maybe even for longer this time.
Since returning from Australia, I have been able to reflect a lot on my experiences and myself as well. When I first arrived at Trinity college I was incredibly overwhelmed and confused. We arrived before the other students and no one was available to let us into our rooms for over an hour. This being my first day there, I feared that this would be only the beginning of my problems, but thankfully Trinity turned out to be one of the only things that kept me sane. The facilities were beautiful and the people were very kind and helpful. Contrastingly, I found the university to be very difficult and unhelpful. I will admit that it is likely in part my own fault for taking difficult courses, but I felt that the atmosphere and teaching styles were not only confusing and disorganized but were also difficult to adjust to after attending Willamette. Additionally, the culture of the campus as well as the town in general was extremely different. Never have I experienced the amount of sexual harassment as I did in Australia. Even while walking down the street to class in sweatpants and a sweater, I was honked at, whistled at or other wise made to feel self conscious. Additionally, it was very difficult to understand and cope with the incredible amount of racism that I overheard and observed. I fear that I sound ungrateful from this post, though I hope that you understand that is not the case. I am eternally grateful for the support Willamette offered me while I was abroad, the support from my family and friends, as well as the memories and great friends that I made abroad. I apologize for my inability to eloquently state my experiences and emotions, but I have found that it is impossible to fully describe what happened while I was abroad and how it has changed me today.