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May the Road Rise up to Meet You in Ireland! by Kylie Hint, Environmental Resource Management Major

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Posted: November 26, 2018

"I not only learned about the Irish culture but why and how people use the land. The journey helped me realize more about my own personal beliefs and values and the need to ask more questions about why we do what we do."
There are a mix of sandy beaches and rocky outcrops on the shore of Kilmore Quey.

There are a mix of sandy beaches and rocky outcrops on the shore of Kilmore Quey.

Before coming to Penn State, I was excited to see the College of Ag offered many embedded courses with short trips abroad. When I heard of the SOILS499 Co-Evolution of Land and People course I knew that it was a fit for me; an opportunity to travel to Europe and learn about natural resource use in another culture. This spring semester we read two in-depth books about the history of Ireland, how Ireland has been fought over for hundreds of years, and why people do what they do with the land. We then traveled to Wexford, Ireland in the Maymester. 

When working on my end of semester presentation on Agriculture in Ireland, I concluded with a picture of sheep climbing single file up a steep, winding cliff road in Ireland and the Gaelic quote “Go néirí an bóthar leat”. In Ireland, this is a good luck saying and translates as “May the road rise up to meet you.” This short saying reminds me of the open doors, adventures, and cultural lessons I experienced in Ireland.

This was my first time on an airplane, so that was an experience all in itself. It’s cool to say that I landed in Ireland the very first time I flew. I was shocked at how much the Irish rolling hills looked like hills at home, except the Irish landscape was dissected by hedges and stone walls. We stayed in Wexford but during the day traveled to Killkenny, Waterford, and Kildalton College, and Kilmore Quay which were not too far away. We rented a house for the whole trip which allowed us to stay in one place and not have to pack and move during our stay. We cooked many of our meals at the house which resulted in insightful and memorable discussions around the dinner table. This is where we also talked about how our daily experiences related to what we learned from class and our readings, bringing all parts of our class together.

We spent a lot of time at Teagasc, an agricultural research and extension organization. We focused on the nutrient management and watershed research they were doing. Irish farmers mostly do rotational grazing where high animal units per acre or hectare are okay if the animals are moved frequently. However, I was still amazed at the animal density in each paddock, and this was seen everywhere we drove. While researching for my project on Irish agriculture, I found current articles stating that Ireland was in a fodder shortage crisis across the country. Since they had a very wet fall and spring and an unusually harsh, snowy winter, farmers couldn’t put their animals out on pasture until about mid-April this year when usually they are out on pasture by early March. Most farmers did not have enough forages in hay or silage to feed their animals, so dairy companies, the European Union, and feed companies were buying and transporting forages from the European continent to the Irish farms. Even the Cork Airport mowed and distributed the grass on the airstrips to farmers in need. We were still seeing results of this crisis caused by poor weather and minimal planning as trailer loads of wrapped bales lay at ends of farmers drives and very muddy fields were everywhere.

I have always been interested in history, so my favorite days were visiting the museums, the medieval city of Kilkenny, and the Viking Triangle in Waterford. We were able to explore these towns on our own. In Kilkenny I saw an old cathedral, had lunch at Kytelers Inn, which was established in 1324, and toured the Kilkenny Castle! In Waterford, we toured The Tower (part of the original stone town wall), the Waterford Medieval Museum, a Viking virtual reality, and saw the showroom of Waterford Crystal. The Irish Heritage Center in Wexford was set up as a park with lots of trails leading to sites. Walking around the park was like walking through the history of Ireland. There were thatch lodges surrounded by a log fort, stone castles from different time periods, and even a Viking village and longboat located on the banks of the Slays River. They also had a lodge built on a Crannog, which is a low lying island in a marsh surrounded by water so that the footpath to the island is hidden from unwanted guests just under the water’s surface. The Irish Heritage Center also had an active archeology site that we toured. If I ever do go back to Ireland, I definitely want to return to the Irish Agricultural Museum at Johnstown Castle. It had so many interesting things, not only about agriculture but the history and way of life of the Irish through the ages. I was very impressed with the enormous amount of descriptive posters in this museum compared to any other museum I have ever been to. There were also peacocks strolling the courtyard and grounds here! I didn’t have time to see everything that I wanted to see.

One evening we attended a GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) Gaelic-Football game. It was neat to see such a different sport (a cross between soccer, handball, and football), the size of the field they play on, and the number of fans that came out to watch the County Wexford vs. Co. Kerry match. On our last few days, we drove down the coast, saw some cliffs and beaches, toured Hook Lighthouse, and spent an afternoon in a small fishing town named Kilmore Quay. Here we enjoyed the mix of sandy and rocky shores and bought some fresh fish that we cooked for dinner.

As a result of this trip, I do feel more confident in flying and traveling on my own. I have realized that people in other countries are not that different from us. We all have similar thoughts and values; one being that no matter where you are in the world, you need natural resources to survive. The people we met and spent time with at Teagasc were all very friendly and interested in what we wanted to learn about. They could all relate to our feelings of traveling to a new place.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to travel abroad in college and to have done so with such great friends and faculty. The Co-Evolution of Land and People course and the trip to Ireland exceeded my expectations. This was a trip full of exploration and self-realization. I highly recommend it to any student. I am grateful that the college of Ag has so many dedicated professors like Dr. Drohan that offer these amazing programs.