A day in the life of uisce

 

Frank Easterlin, Student, Young Harris College, georgia

Keith McNair wanted three facts about The Rock at Cashill.

"Oh no" I thought.

I had studied abroad before in Florence - without a guide - taking classes. Outside of the classroom though I took care of my own education. And now here comes Keith McNair with his three facts he wanted. We - twenty-two students, two teachers and a spouse, all from Young Harris College - were split up into small groups and tasked with exploring Cashill & The Rock and to then come back with 'three facts'.

However, my group & I sought to oblige our rumbling stomachs first. At a little café, one seafood chowder later, we found we had killed too much time and still had no facts to speak of. I perused the historical décor of the café and discovered that a battle had been fought at Cashill - the man who both initiated & won it, also died in it and subsequently had a song written about him.

These were the facts I presented to Mr. Keith when we had reconvened and he seemed content enough with them. This is not how I wanted the next two weeks to be, an underwhelming reconnaissance, three facts at a time. I wanted immersion. I wanted engagement. I wanted big ideas and their effects on the Irish culture. I wanted more than history three facts at a time.

We were in Ireland for a literary tour, to travel around Yeats Country, see the places Lady Augusta Gregory and John Millington Synge wrote about, to walk the steps of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. This is what I wanted.

And these are the things that I got. What happened when we got back on the bus was more than my three facts and the three facts from other groups. Keith asked for personal reflections or thoughts about Ireland, the Rock at Cashill, or anything relevant really - something I also rolled my eyes at. Then one of my peers on the trip spoke about the tug-of-war between mythology, storytelling, culture, science and rationality - and their importance in Ireland. Keith, delighted at such a reflection, then strongly hinted to us that this foreshadowed what would be a recurring theme throughout the trip.

I was delighted at the hint of a theme. I like themes. I study English literature and recurring themes are avenues for focus, unwinding an understanding, an interpretation, an education. That we would have a focus, a purpose, a theme, would make the three fact regime more tolerable. But there was my second mistake; there wouldn’t be just one theme, but many.

Like I did in Italy, I kept a travel journal while touring and studying in Ireland. Like in Italy, I also chronicled my adventures and committed thoughts and reflections to ink and paper. One such that I found was that to travel for education, to benefit from my time abroad, having a focus was paramount. I wanted to abandon the tourist’s verb “do.” I did not want to “do” Ireland; I wanted to learn in and about Ireland. Focus - having a theme - is the way to do that. Any theme will suffice, but since I am a Literature major, literary significance was going to be my lens with which to see the world. Again, how foolish of me to pick just one.

Our adventures were too numerous and rich to recount here and wouldn’t serve the purpose of this article or this magazine. However, at the risk of speaking too generally, one of the most important aspects - to me anyway - of this trip was the discovery and view of multiple themes. Not only is Ireland significant in the literature it has produced, not only is there an interesting pull between mythology, the power of fiction, and the rule of science and rationality, there is a rich history of social activism, of seeking balance between bourgeois and proletariat lives. Our literary tour was complemented by so many other themes and aspects of Irish history and culture - to think that I would’ve otherwise been ignorant of this wealth of information is tragic.

So, by the time this is published, I will have taken another tour of Ireland. Just one week after my literary tour. In discussion of capitalist and socialist conversation and arguments, Keith invited me to come on his UISCE tour, with a different focus, out of which, hopefully, several more themes will arise - of that I am sure. With Keith’s range of knowledge, and enthusiasm for learning and education and the development of the students he takes on tours, one would be hard-pressed to remain so singular in focus and scope during travelling.

Italy was life-changing because, for the first time in my twenty years - most of which has been spent in classrooms - my education was in my own hands. I got to learn how I wanted to learn, and what I wanted to learn and focus on. Classrooms, despite being the epicenter for education, and I did not get along. I quarreled with teachers over staying in desks, keeping quiet and fitting a student mold. In Ireland, I was further reminded that good teachers make a world of difference, that I should be focused in my travels but not to the extent that I am blind to a richly diverse culture and history.

Travelling to study and learn exceeds the leisurely roll from country to country - no doubt picking up amazing views & memories. However, focused travel is wonderful in that every time I arrive in a foreign place, I am reminded of how horribly ignorant I am of ninety-nine percent of this world and each time I leave, I leave less horribly ignorant. With one more wrinkle in my brain, an understanding of an unfathomably small fraction of this planet, I leave. And I have people like Keith McNair to thank for that.