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Ireland Footprints

Ireland's Footprints--A Parade of Irish Literature

By Susan Starkweather ('01)

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot--imagine following the bronze footprints that show where Leopold Bloom walked in James Joyce's Ulysses. Imagine looking around you and seeing Dublin, Ireland, as Bloom saw it--as Joyce saw it. Imagine Irish literature coming to life, as it did for the students who went on the Irish literary tour during May term.

"Being on top of Martello Tower, you could just look down and see the place where Leopold Bloom was bathing, and James Joyce wrote about that in the beginning of his story," explained Alex Madden ('02), who went on this year's trip. "You look out and see the outskirts of Dublin, and you see something very similar to what James Joyce saw. And then, as you leave the tower, you walk through the same streets James Joyce walked through a hundred years ago, and you see what he saw."

Madden said that Martello Tower, where Joyce wrote Ulysses, looks the way it did when Joyce was there. "It has just one room, with a single bed in the corner, a black stove, a table, a couple of chairs, and a shelf with cooking oil and a couple of books. It has one, maybe two, windows."

English major Patrice Echola ('02) said that, despite the inspiring beauty one can see from Martello Tower, "it is difficult to envision anyone writing in the tower--it was a bizarre kind of cramped environment." However, Echola admitted, "it was pretty awesome to be in the presence of a place where someone who is so great wrote. I can see now, with the tower, how the location and the physical setting of the tower seemed to just go hand-in-hand with Ulysses." Echola indicated that Ulysses is bizarre, just as Martello Tower is bizarre.

Before departing, students spent two weeks reading Irish literature--Joyce, Yeats, and other Irish shorts. They also studied Gothic architecture, the history of Ireland, and the struggle between the Catholics and Protestants. Professor of English Elree Harris said, "We spent a lot of time talking about Gothic architecture. It's a great thrill to take students and watch their faces when they see something like a medieval building for the first time."

Madden learned something he had never known about the cathedrals in Ireland, all of which he thought were Catholic cathedrals. "Almost every single cathedral that I thought was Catholic was actually a Protestant cathedral," Madden explained. During the Reformation, when Catholic cathedrals were converted into Protestant ones, subtle changes occurred in the cathedrals. "You can actually see places where there is evidence of the conversion from Catholic to Church of England. Catholic cathedrals usually have these miniature hollowed-out arches right next to the altar, where they put statues of saints, Mary, or Jesus. In the Catholic cathedrals, you see these relics and statues. In the cathedrals of the Church of England, it's just an empty wall. There was a statue there, but not anymore."

Echola expressed surprise at less subtle evidence of the struggle in Ireland. According to her, much of Ireland's architecture is gone. "I was expecting deep-rooted architecture, and I asked some of the locals a couple of different times, 'Why am I not looking around and seeing awesome architecture?' and they said, 'We've ruined it. We've gotten rid of it through all of our wars and the internal fights. We just don't have the architecture that you would find in Europe.'"

Associate Professor of English Georgiana Donavin confirmed the importance of these discoveries to understanding Irish literature. "Just being in Dublin gives students from here another sort of perspective about the immediacy of politics and political struggles that they don't often get in the states." She added, "The trip was really meant to inform students about why some of the topics or some of the phrases that they kept seeing in literature would come up again, and again."

As an English major, Echola thinks that May term trips provide an educational advantage in her field. "It is important to study literature in a field like this, and then go and focus on that field in the actual location." Students supplemented the Irish literature they had read in textbooks by visiting Ireland. "From the 'Gospels' in The Book of Kells, the Medieval museum, and the play about Cromwell in Dublin, and then on into the James Joyce sites, and visiting the Abbey Theatre--we were just trying to give students the spread concerning Irish literature," concluded Donavin.