A few weekends ago I traveled with Molly to The Burren in County Clare, “out Wesht” as my Irish friends would say, for a weekend yoga retreat. The Burren is a stunning landscape made up of great sheets of limestone that lead to staggering cliffs and deep turquoise water of the Atlantic Ocean. The nearby Cliffs of Moher were featured famously as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in The Princess Bride and more recently in Harry Potter films. Growing up around Philadelphia, my only experiences with the ocean were at the Jersey shore, so I always thought the Atlantic Ocean was supposed to be a murky green-brown. Now, after seeing the Irish coast, I know that whatever New Jersey has done to the water is not normal, and I am doubly grateful for the time I get to spend by the water in Ireland.
The local farmers use the abundance of easily accessible rock to build stone walls around their fields and houses, and many of the walls have been standing for decades upon decades because the natural gaps between the rocks in the walls let the strong Irish winds pass through the walls of piled rock, instead of toppling them. During the Great Famine, the locals were hired to build roads out of the rock in exchange for food. Now known as “famine roads,” the roads and stone walls crisscross the hills of The Burren, building a visible history of the region into the landscape.
Molly and I had to take a bus, two trains and a taxi to reach the remote location of the yoga retreat, and one of our connections was in the small town of Gort. As I waited for Molly to arrive on the train after mine, I wandered into a lovely small café on the town square and had time to read a little bit about Gort, which provided an interesting snapshot of Irish history. Lady Gregory used to own a house a short distance outside of Gort, and WB Yeats would often travel to Gort to visit her. Gort and the rest of County Clare was hit especially hard by The Famine, losing almost 25% of its population to deaths and emigration. Now, Gort is home to a large Brazilian population that immigrated over for job opportunities in the area, and a Brazilian family owned the café I stopped in.
I started this new semester with a resolution to be more purposeful about how I spent my time in order to “make the most” out of my remaining months in Ireland. I enlisted for a slew of new commitments – tutoring an undergraduate public health class, volunteering with an immigrant and refugee mental health organization, auditing English classes, and planning more travels around Ireland and Europe. The past few months have flown by with my busier schedule, and I was shocked to realize that I only have five more weeks of classes before exams and full-time work on my dissertation begin. The retreat was a useful checkpoint to reflect on how I really wanted to “make the most” out of this year. It reminded me of the importance of slowing down and smelling the roses and how much I can still learn from living and studying in Ireland. Before the retreat, I was busying myself with filling my days with activities and travel plans, but now, I’m content to stay in Dublin, spend more time with friends in cozy cafes and pubs in the city, and put down roots more firmly in the country that’s now my home.