Wales & Ireland: Two Sides of the Sea 2017
May 29 – June 12, 2017
The 2017 trip to Wales and Ireland will feature Swansea, Hay-on-Wye, Connemara and Dublin. Participants will have the opportunity to hike Brecon Beacons National Park and Connemara National Park, tour Swansea Medical School and St. Patrick’s University Hospital, visit Yeats Country, see a show at the Abbey Theatre and tour Oystermouth and Kilkenny Castles. A related Honors selected topics course will be offered in spring 2017 to complement the trip.
Striking it Rich on Dalkey Hill
—by Robert Cremins
Normally we don’t associate airports with great literature, but a number of years ago—it may have been as many as twenty years ago—I read something at Dublin airport that made a big impact on me. It wasn’t in an airport novel but on the airport wall, specifically the wall of the departure lounge for passengers who have gone through American immigration pre-clearance. I was leaving Ireland, once again. Among a sleek series of billboards with stirring quotes from famous Irish writers—making you long for the country you were about to leave—were some lines by George Bernard Shaw. I was unfamiliar with them, and I don’t think the poster mentioned a text.
This summer, when I was back in Dublin for an extended period of time, I searched for the sprightly ghost of GBS in some of his hometown haunts: around his birthplace on Sygne Street, in his beloved National Gallery, and on the heights above the coastal village of Dalkey, south of the city. In one of my own old haunts, the Trinity College library, I tracked down the words that had moved me at the airport. In 1946, a very elderly Shaw wrote:
The Torca shoulder of Dalkey Hill, the Telegraph Hill overlooking the two bays from Dalkey Island northward to Howth and southward to Bray, is not surpassed in its view of mountain, sea, and sky … anywhere I have been. … It is the beauty of Ireland that has made us what we are. I am a product of Dalkey’s outlook …
I wish that I, too, could claim to be a product of that same outlook, but on the June day I climbed the steep, exhilarating steps up Dalkey Hill to the old telegraph tower, I laughed to myself remembering one of the times I was up there as a kid.
While not immune to the splendors below, I was not a Mother Nature’s son like young “Sonny” Shaw. Close to Torca Cottage—where GBS lived, on and off, from the age of ten to eighteen—is a fine house on Knock-na-Cree Road I used to visit often, the home of one of my best friends. That summer afternoon I was remembering the day we ran back down from the hill, dizzy at the prospect of millions, and burst into the house to announce to our mothers that we had discovered oil.
This must have been in the late 1970s, at a time when there were high hopes that off-shore energy exploration would find the cure to Ireland’s economic woes. Hence the turf-colored water we’d spotted became, to our enchanted eyes, black gold. My precocious friend even cited evidence of the ancient Celts’ use of oil to support our insistence that we had made this rare discovery on the historic hill. Our mothers humored us with great diplomacy.
Well, funnily enough it turned out that we did not strike it rich that day; my future was not as an oilman, although, ironically, I did move to Texas. In the intervening years, especially on my return visits to Ireland, I have come to realize that the real wealth of the country does not lie deep beneath the earth or sea, and that Shaw was right: it is the beauty of Ireland—natural and cultural—that continues to make us what we are.
My summer hike up Dalkey Hill did have one disappointment. It was an overcast day—the Irish are also formed by the inconstancy of our weather—and by the time I reached that Torca shoulder, with its stereoscopic view of the bays, the fog was rolling in like smoke; I could barely see Dalkey Island, let alone Howth or Bray. Next year, I told myself, I’ll come back next year.