Sarah Larson: Final Portfolios

Posted on February 1st, 2014 by

The Land of a Thousand Colors of Green (Spirit of Ireland)

Everything is wet – the stone fences, the winding streets, the tree branches, my clothes – just everything . It rains every day during the winter in Ireland but there’s a sacrifice to get the thousand colors of green. The mornings are the best part of the day. I walk out of my cottage and feel the moisture and brisk air on my face. The cottage looks glossy from the rainfall the previous night and has a bright red door to help keep the mischief the fairies cause away. The fairies are mythical creatures that haunt and frighten those who disrupt their land like destroying their fairy forts or building a house on their fairy path. People actually believe that fairies come into their homes to disturb their sleep by noisily making the tables and chairs dance around in the moon light. The Irish can be very superstitious about these fairies like asking Brian our bus driver if he would ever consider digging into fairy fort grounds and he responded with “you would never catch me doin’ sucha thing”. The night we heard more stories about these little creatures was when we had a little scruffley man named Eddie over to cottage 2. His original plan was to tell a variety of Irish folklore. The only stories we heard the whole night were about these mischievous Irish fairies and all the elder men and women that told Eddie these crazy, unbelievable stories. When he told these stories his eyes intensively jerked at one person to the next and he had to wipe off his mouth every now and then because when he got excited about the stories he would spit out the words which would cumulate on his wirey beard. At one point he jumped up so suddenly that the chair he was once sitting on almost fell over.

Anywho back to the cottage. The cottage is a little, white box sitting on a rocky hill surrounded by the rolling countryside. When I say “rolling countryside” I mean the hills sink and rise like a green blanket being left out to dry flowing in the wind. There are stone walls that curve and flow through the green farming fields that prove land ownership or try to keep mooing cattle and fluffy sheep in. These stone walls are very sturdy; I tried to knock one over myself and they are really packed in there! The walls also tell a story about what used to be in Ireland. It shows that hardship that once was of carrying and stacking rocks high to create these enclosed boundaries. I do know that the history behind these impressive stone walls is that people that built these walls back in the day were the people that were poor and struggling during the potato famine and their masonry work for the day gave them a handful of wheat. When I picture this scene, I see a line of skinny, malnourished, wet and muddy people holding their cupped hands out to grasp as many grains of wheat as their hands allow. As beautiful as the rock walls are from the way that they curve in the grassy fields and how the moss grows through the cracks you know that they were created in such a hard part of Ireland’s history.

The cottage’s front red framed windows overlook the Ballyvaughan bay where I can hear the collision of the waves that spew up seaweed on the rigid rocks on the shoreline. There are seagulls gliding through the wind twisting their heads back and forth looking for breakfast. Some of them glide through the air yelling their high pitched call that reminds me of the seagulls from “Finding Nemo” yelling “mine! mine! mine!” A vibrant blue fishing boat is tied up on the dock in the distance and sits lopsided on the waves waiting for its fisherman to take them out to start their day. I met one fisherman, Jason, in a local pub that told me, over a pint of course, about his fishermanship and told me a story about how his ship once exploded and caused a huge fire that left scars on his arms and face. I always thought it would be great to be a fisherwoman because you could always eat flaky cod and buttery lobster for dinner every night. Jason was able to change my mind a bit from his story but told me “if youer come ta tha docks aft’r 5 I’ll give youer a free lobster”. I still haven’t gone to pick up a lobster but I definitely imagined myself walking home with a live lobster in my hand (with gloves of course) with my arm stretch out in front of me to make sure his claws don’t grasp onto my skin.

Ballyvaughan is a beautiful small city, where the cottages and college is, which is surrounded by a green countryside and a massive hills of rock, known as the Burren.. The best time to see the Burren is when the sun is shining on the limestone. The sun creates shadows and bellows that flow across the curves of the solid rock. There are deep crevices in the rock that have ivy and ferns stick out from. You need to watch out when walking through the Burren because you never know when you will come upon a pothole of green moss. I almost twisted my ankle when I came upon one of these invisible potholes – you can’t see them until you fall into them. The Burren also holds a mixture of tombs made of the limestone from the area. These tombs show history of old traditions and how life once was. The people buried and found in one tomb showed how they left their mark in the history of Ireland. Their bones were brittle, their teeth were grinded down flat; what a hard life they must have once had. The Burren is a place that shows hardship, struggles, but also shows life from the amount of greenery and foliage that poke out in the biggest or smallest cracks and holes of the slick, curvy limestone.

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Ireland Through My Eyes (Personal Narrative)

First things first, Ireland has been the adventure of a lifetime. By adventure I mean surviving gusty rain storms, open blisters from my new hiking boots, drinking a creamy pint with the local fisherman, and having class in a medieval castle where duels once occurred. These different mini-adventures have helped me view this new world through a different lens and helped me create a new perspective of Ireland from my growing appreciation of its variety of personalities and colors. I have looked at this new world through a camera lens, the historical literature, the local’s stories, and my own eyes.

In English class we learned about the Irish mythology from William Butler Yeats’ poems about the many adventures of Cuchulain. We have been working through the words that form Yeats poems to better understand how he sees Ireland through his clever use of tragedy and comedy all in one stanza. On a brisk, cold morning we had class on the second floor in the castle on the Burren College of Art campus. This castle is from medieval times and the purpose of its construction was for defense. The base of the castle is shaped like a pyramid that is connected to a round cylinder wall made of old, now chipped, stone – probably limestone because there is a crazy amount of that stuff here. We walked up the spiral, slippery stone staircase; that I almost slipped on I might add. The Irish might say “mind your footing” which always cracks me up. As I am climbing the slippery staircase, gripping the rope railing, I see tiny narrow windows maybe no longer than my arm. The windows, so I have heard, were made to look out for opponents that could be coming to try and conquer the land. After reenacting a medieval sword fight on the staircase with Becca we finally caught up to the rest of the class who were already sitting on damp, cold chairs in the round castle room. If you look up in the room you see the wooden supports that hold up the roof. They are not like the normal straight supports you might see in the U.S. but they are curved from the outside of the roof and curved upwards until all of them come down and meet at a point that makes the center to the round room. It also had a huge fireplace made of white stone bricks that have started to turn black from the peat briquettes that were burned to heat the room at one point in Irish medieval history. Of course we were not able to light the fire for class due to the lack of a match – therefore, prepare to freeze! Besides being freezing our butts off, how cool of a place to have class!? Not only did we discuss Yeats “Death of Cuchulain” play but we also acted it out. What a great place to act out a mythology play – a medieval castle – get out of here! My group was assigned to act out the one of the last scenes of the play which included the actual killing of Cuchulain – which I immediately jumped to action. If you know the play well you know that Cuchulain is a strong warrior that is killed by a blind man which is crazy ironic and funny but also extremely tragic – of course I wanted to be the blind man. To be the blind man I clearly wanted to go all out so I put my hat over my eyes and acted that way. I really could not see a thing so it was a lot harder than I thought! One I had to act smug about getting ready to kill Cuchulain, who was played by Jessica, and two I had to act out the killing scene which was not that easy with a hat over my eyes. This class helped me better understand this classic story of Irish folklore through Yeats words and it was fantastically fun and insightful!

Then there was Eddie the storyteller. Seeing Ireland folklore, mythology and history through his eyes was a treat. Eddie is a man of short stature with a scruffley beard that covers his whole face and grabs his shoulders. He looks at your through big framed glasses you would see in the movie Napoleon Dynamite. He is a collector of traditional Irish folklore and tales that otherwise would have been lost. They were never lost because Eddie traveled around Ireland to collect these stories from the older Irish population. I saw the excitement that he had for telling these stories from the corner of his wrinkled eye as he spoke and how he leaped out of his chair, almost knocking it over in the process. He told many stories about the Irish fairies and how they move tables and chairs around in a house that crosses over their fairy path. He imitated the fairies making chairs and tables dance in the moon light by bouncing his arms and legs in the air. He was so passionate about sharing these stories of Ireland with us – the way he moved, the way he looked so intensely, it was so inspiring. Listening to his stories made me want to learn more about the folktales and stories of my heritage. But at the same time, it definitely made me more appreciative about Irish folklore because when I first started reading it I was like “WHHAAA” like a minion in Despicable Me but now I feel like I have started to understand it from this scruffley man.

After seeing Ireland through the blind man’s eyes of Cuchulain and Eddie the storyteller I started my own journey of this foreign land. I noticed the way that the hills moved through the landscape as if it was a green blanket blowing through the wind. The way the sun and rain hits the bay at the same time and creates a vibrant rainbow that just makes you smile. Or noticing the disappearing rain lakes that would be there one day and leave a grassy field the next. I love hearing the bodhran beat between the fluid wooden flute and the strum of the guitar. It creates a jig that you just want to put down your pint, jump up, and dance to. I mean I definitely pretended to know how to dance and probably looked like a fool tripping over my own feet – such a clutz. Even though I have seen a lot of great and amazing things in Ireland I have also experienced some not so great things…such as thinking, “god will this rain EVER fricken STOP!” or “why do I have to shower there is no way I am stepping on that bathroom floor barefooted!” But the weather is truly the most unpredictable thing which is very frustrating at times. I have been walking back to my cottage watching the sun rays cut through the clouds and think, “wow this is great! SUN!” and then out of nowhere, the down pour of misery comes to hit you flat on the face and you start walking as fast as you can, to get to the cottage you can at least guarantee is dry, and dodge the crazy car drivers that still pretend to not see you when you are wearing an obnoxious neon yellow vest.

I believe that I have been able to appreciate Ireland through many different lenses. I saw Ireland through the eyes of a character in the play “Death of Cuchulain”, a traditional scruffley storyteller, and my own. I feel like I have seen many things and had many mini adventures which has created a new chapter in my life story. This trip has been a magical experience, I got that word from my roommate. She is constantly saying “it’s so magical” and “wow that is sooooo magical!” But it’s true. You can say a million words and describe everything in Ireland through your eyes but when you experience it in your own eyes, up close and personal, you see what a magical place it can be.

The Gateway to Ireland – Landscape Photo Portfolio
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Mind Your Footing – Urban Landscape Portfolio
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