By: Jane Beall
Assistant Field Hockey Coach
As a Washington and Lee student, I had the opportunity to do some pretty cool things. My field hockey team won the ODAC for the first time in school history, I was able to work directly with poet and author R.T. Smith, and I was the last class of students who had the pleasure of dining at the GHQ. But one of the experiences I have thought about almost every day since was the spring term I spent in Ireland studying Irish literature. A group of students and I traveled with Professor Marc Conner to the land of the Eire to read Yeats literally in the shadow of Yeats tower, to tread Joyce’s broken path in Dublin and to explore both the country’s rich mythology, as well as its contemporary issues. We packed the six weeks (this was back in the good ol’ days of a six-week spring term) full of trips and lectures and climbing on various rocks and castles. Truthfully, a lot of the sites we saw have now blurred together in my mind but what I remember most vividly was the craic – the joyful company and conversation of friends.
One highlight of the trip that is as clear now as it was then was an unplanned trip to the Skellig Islands off the coast of County Kerry. Remote and hard to access, Skellig Michael is the site of a well-preserved early monastic outpost. The 12 km boat ride requires a strong stomach and a poncho, even when in the calmest conditions. There are no bathrooms on the island and no gift shops. There are, however, many, many steps that take you to the top of the rock while puffins hop around nearby. Each step up feels like a step back in time. With no guardrails or roped-off exhibits, you can crawl and climb and squint your eyes to try to imagine what life was like for the monks who lived and worked in this other-worldly place. Your hard work is rewarded with a view that is vast and humbling.
I loved everything about my study-abroad experience – the literature, the new friends, the new perspectives. A new group of W&L students will be leaving to have their own Irish adventure soon, and I admit I am not a little jealous. For now, I’ll have to content with myself with thumbing through scrapbooks and clicking through Facebook albums, but I hope to return someday. Until then, sláinte!