On June 4-6, Ireland Program students visited Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland. Although the city today boasts a population of over 500,000, Dublin originated in the ninth century as a small Viking settlement. Because of Dublin’s storied past, students had the opportunity to visit a wide variety of historical sites to experience firsthand some of the things that they learned in HST 230: History of Ireland, before they left the United States.
Many of the students traveled as a group to Trinity College Dublin, which is in of itself is a great collection of history. Chartered in 1592 by Elizabeth I of England, Trinity College Dublin still features a number of buildings that are several centuries old. Of particular interest to our group was the Old Library, which was built in the early 1700s and currently houses many treasures, including the famed Book of Kells.
After passing through an extensive series of displays that provide blown-up selections from the Book of Kells and explain it in some depth, the students viewed several pages of the relic itself. The manuscript was written soon after the year 800 by monks who sought refuge from coastal Viking raids at the monastery at Kells, in County Meath. The Book of Kells features beautiful scripts and (still!) colorful decorations that convey the four Gospels of the New Testament in Latin. Students were awed by the manuscript’s detail and current condition.
Nearly as impressive as the Book of Kells was the library’s Long Room. The room contains over 200,000 of the library’s oldest books, as well as dozens of marble busts of great writers and philosophers of western world history. The Long Room also features an exhibit that commemorates the 1000-year anniversary of Irish high king Brian Boru’s victory over the Vikings and their Irish allies at the Battle of Clontarf (1014). Students learned about Boru’s significance to Irish history in class before leaving for Ireland and they were therefore well-equipped to fully appreciate the many historical documents that they viewed.
Some of the Ireland Program students also participated in a guided tour of the historic Kilmainham Gaol. In operation from 1796 until 1924, Kilmainham Gaol was where leaders of various Irish rebellions against British colonial control were imprisoned. As the students learned in class, it was at Kilmainham that the primary leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were jailed and then executed. Those executions helped to launch the military struggle for Irish independence from Great Britain. Students described the prison as a powerful, melancholy experience.
Numerous students stated that they feel that got more out of their visits to The Old Library and Kilmainham Gaol than they otherwise might have because the History of Ireland class acquainted them with relevant historical themes, events, and actors. They, for instance, learned about the Irish monastic tradition inspired by Saint Patrick that led to the production of the Book of Kells and other illustrated texts. They also learned about the nationalist struggle that produced the Easter Rising as well as the lasting legacy of that event.
Students visited a number of other historical sites, including the General Post Office (the central site of the Easter Rising) and the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’s Gate (founded in 1759). On the whole, they used their Dublin experience to complement what they learned about in the classroom.