Five reasons to visit Belfast

I spent a semester in Belfast back in 2010. Before going to Northern Ireland, I had foolishly considered the Republic of Ireland as the “real” or “intense” Ireland. Northern Ireland was the “light” experience, in my mind, even if I never would’ve voiced those thoughts aloud. Then I left for Northern Ireland in my sophomore year of college and learned how wrong I was.


I’d had a pretty serious love affair with all things Celtic for about seven or eight years at that point, so when the opportunity came I jumped on board and never looked back. This semester was my first real experience abroad, and it was the perfect blend of challenging and reassuring altogether. For three months I lived in Belfast, and when I returned to the States I left behind a chunk of my heart.

12961. Belfast is a booming town with a live music scene and enough events to give Dublin some stiff competition

I was able to attend several live music performances in concert halls, boats in the bay, sidewalks, and more. If you like Celtic music, Belfast has some for you.


2. Belfast has a complicated history, and its stories are incredible to learn

From the ancient Ulster Cycle to the Battle of the Somme to Orange-men to The Troubles and peace walls, to the childhood of C.S. Lewis and many romantic poets, Belfast has a wide and varied background. Try wrapping your mind around the Nationalist-Unionist debates that have gone on for over a hundred years, the rich mythology of the land, and more.


3. The Northern Irish take their culture just as seriously as their more Southern cousins

Belfast has countless museums, festivals, and living-history exhibits. I was just able to get a taste of what’s offered in the area in about three months. From a linen museum (which was actually fascinating) to free art museums to Queen’s, there’s a good bit to see.


4. It’s near the North Coast, Tollymore Forest, and the Giant’s Causeway

The North Coast is where C.S. Lewis and Joy went for part of their honeymoon. It’s still a favorite weekend getaway location for the Northern Irish. The wind in your hair and the smell of the sea at your nose is enough to think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Tollymore rivals, in my opinion, the Ring of Kerry in it’s beauty, even if it is smaller. If any elves are left in Middle Earth, they’re probably here. And the Giant’s Causeway? I don’t even need to say anything about that–you already know it’s a must-see.

5.It’s close to the rest of the UK

I’ve had friends fly to Dublin, just to get into Europe, ride two hours by bus up to Belfast, and get on a much cheaper flight to London or Edinburgh. Belfast is a brash mix of farms, docks, Irish, and English.


So, go ahead. Open the door to what Northern Ireland and Belfast can offer. You won’t be disappointed!


Categories: Culture Quirks, Ireland | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Amateur photo essay of Aran Islands

In October 2010 I took a day trip to the Aran Islands.



Just off the western coast of Ireland, near Galway, are three islands. With just around 1,200 inhabitants, the islands (Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer) are one of the last fortresses of Gaeltacht. In fact, most of the villagers are fluent in both Irish and English and use the interchangeably.



Life on the Aran Isles has always been hard, but the islanders are a durable lot. There is no more than six inches of soil on the islands at any point, so to do any farming they had to drag seaweed up to their small fields and let it rot before planting.


Fishing, of course, was a common occupation, even though the seas are rough and they only had currachs. The sea was often personified by the people, with the pronoun “she.” Women often lost husbands, brothers, or fathers to the ocean, and though it was considered a sad fate, few of the islanders thought it was unjust or unnecessary.


With jutting cliffs, forty shades of green, and ancient stone forts, Inishmore offers a taste of the harsh, remote beauty that Ireland displays. Dun Aonghasa has provided researchers with ways of studying Iron Age civilizations.


Teampall Chiarain was built in the 12th century by St. Cairan of Clonmacnoise, as legend goes.





While there are cars and trucks on the islands, it is expensive to get petrol back and forth. Many islanders use the simpler method of horses and carts.


No one knows for certain what these old stones were, though the best guess is they were used as boundary stones by the church in medieval times.


The islands have captivated different artists and writer over the years, like Sean Keating and Paul Henry, as well as W.B. Yeats and J.M Synge. One of the more enduring portraits of Island life is a one-act play by Synge called “Riders to the Sea.”

Besides inspiring the renaissance of Irish art and writing, the Aran isles have also given the world Aran Sweaters, famous for the water-repellent nature of the knitted wool. Each pattern was designed and perfected over generations of women, which culminated in clan identities, much like the tartans of Scotland, and other meanings lie within the stitches.

Today the insular culture of the islands is weakening, with the advent of English television and the interest in university from younger islanders. Tourism is a mixed blessing: while islanders take great pride in sharing their heritage and earning money helps keep their economy afloat, the wear and tear of thousands of tourists is rough on the soil and the culture itself.

Categories: Culture Quirks, Ireland | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

How I studied in Ireland and Italy

This post is the first in an ongoing series about how to travel.

The first thing I feel when I look at amazing Facebook photos and travel blogs is jealousy. How did they do it? Why can’t I do that? I would wonder.

Well, firstly I am learning contentment in what I have. Secondly, I am always seeking out opportunities and money to travel. Most of my plans fall through (just as Jordan about some of my crazy ideas), but a few work out. I carefully research everything and plan from there.

I studied in Ireland for a semester  in 2010 and Italy for a month in 2011. Both of these were programs with my university, John Brown University.  Ireland was not that expensive, besides the plane ticket. The semester cost about the same as a semester as the university. Look for deals like that.

Aran Islands  Me in the Aran Islands of Ireland.

Italy, because it was a summer trip, was more expensive, but I did get six hours of college credit for it. And I had awesome trip leaders that really searched for the cheapest air tickets to get in and out of Europe. It ended up being cheaper to fly back home through Barcelona than Rome, so we were able to spend two days in Barcelona for cheaper than staying in Rome longer. Talk about a great deal!

For traveling in Europe, Barcelona and Dublin tend to be the cheapest airports to get into the continent.

Verona The fountain “Madonna Verona” in Verona, Italy

In my experience, picking a university that strongly encouraged travel abroad was key. Many schools had study abroad programs, but JBU had an entire culture built around the ideas of international travel and communication of ideas. This made it very easy to study abroad.

Also, if you are eligible for a Pell Grant at college, you are probably eligible for a study abroad scholarship. Those are fantastic ways to travel with little student debt.

When you travel through your university, they usually get you an ISIC, or International Student Identity Card. These get you student rates at movie theaters, stores, and rail prices. You can also get your own, as well as other types of IDs, from They offer a multitude of things, from travel insurance, cheap hostel rates, ID cards, and suggestions for round the world airline tickets.

Do you have any ways or ideas to travel as a student cheaply?

Categories: Introduction, Ireland, Italy, Practical Matters | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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