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On Cows, Castles, Cliffs and Celtic Music

Hannah Harris Participated in the BLAS Summer Music Intensive in Ireland in the Summer of 2015

There’s something to be said about finding yourself in a foreign country with your internal clock telling you it’s 5am… but it’s actually late morning, and there are rolling green hills, wide open fields and a herd of cows right outside your apartment window. This was probably when it hit me that I was actually in Ireland about to spend two weeks studying traditional Irish music and experiencing Irish culture. The cows not only made the University of Limerick even more authentic, they also provided a bonding subject for the people I shared an apartment with–particularly the Americans who are used to the suburban life where the only cows you see are on road trips through Virginia.

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One of the best parts about this program was the diversity of people who gathered together to learn about Celtic music whether it was a passing interest or a deep love for the style. There were about thirty students throughout the program and at least eleven different countries were represented! That was fascinating to me–I knew Celtic music had a widespread influence but it’s one thing to hear about it and another to see it for yourself. Some people came to expand their repertoire, others to take a break from the stress of everyday life and still others to get a taste of a new style of music and dance: hence the name “Blas Music Intensive.” Blas means “taste” in Irish Gaelic. In addition to taking master classes and attending lectures, we also took a Gaelic language class. It was fun to incorporate what we were learning into everyday conversation: we even counted ourselves in Gaelic when we were exploring downtown Limerick to make sure no one was left behind! At the end of the program, there was a student showcase where most of us got to perform some of what we had learned or put together individually, and it was incredible to see how far we all came from where we’d started the week before.

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The two weeks spent in the program were completely filled with activities either planned through the program or spur of the moment ideas that we students had. My normally introverted self completely turned to the other side of the spectrum while I was in Ireland: I was eager to see and do as much as I could in the short time that I had to be in the culture. There were nightly music sessions in the campus pub which were different every night but always had a good social scene! Some of us explored downtown Limerick on our day off and visited sites such as St. Mary’s Cathedral and King John’s Castle–complete with opportunities to shoot fake cannonballs at the walls and dress up in period clothing. On our excursion day, we got to go further and see natural wonders like the Cliffs of Moher (personal favorite!) and the Ailwee Caves. Even little things such as a set of musician and dancer statues in downtown Lisdoonvarna contributed to the cultural experience and made the program so wonderful!

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To wrap this up, here are some pointers for anyone considering the program that my new friends and I discovered. If you want your Irish coffee to be sweet, make sure to order it with Baileys otherwise you’ll get a bit of a surprise when you get the bitter but very warming taste of whiskey in your coffee instead. Make sure you have the right bus stop for getting a ride from downtown back to the university on your day off unless you like chasing the right bus up a couple blocks to its actual stop in the rain with all of your shopping bags! TV commercials are always funnier when you’re not in your own country–and the shows can be entertaining too. If you feel the urge to do a cartwheel on the Living Bridge or roll down the hill outside the President’s house on campus, you should follow your instincts. Bonus points for video evidence. But most importantly, embrace the chance to get to know people you wouldn’t normally hang out with and live in the moment and the music!

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