Episode 7 - Bovinophobia

Episode 7 already?  Ready, set, gratitude.

3 Things I'm Grateful For:

1) Having the opportunity to continue my abroad experience. A few of the programs are being pulled in coronavirus hotspots and my heart is with all of those who have contracted the virus and students cutting their trips short. Appreciating Ireland to its full capacity and praying that my program holds out for just a little bit longer. I am most likely done with my travels for the time being, so I made a list of everything I want to do in Ireland and will be crossing those off instead.

2) The SUN!

3) The wide selection of tea the girls before us left that has gotten my apartment through cold season

3 Things I'm Learning:

1) Cows live in castles

2) Ashes are distributed via stamp of a cross in many of the churches here, so the crosses are rather uniform

3) Google maps is not farmer-friendly

We returned from our Norweigan adventure on Tuesday night, so my first day back was Ash Wednesday. This is an important ash-spect (nice.) because all of my Ash Wednesdays up to this point were experienced in a Catholic school where everyone around me was marked in the same manner. NUIG is my first public school and I did not give a second thought about walking around with a black smudge on my forehead until that day.

"What... what did you do to your face?" Asked my housemate, Matilda.

"Did you go to the mines today?"

"Yeah.. I know, my catholic is showing haha"

"Did you have to ask for them to do that to you... like.. voluntarily? or did you just walk in and they made you?"

In case there was any worry that I would be sheltered in a country where 78% of the population identifies as Catholic, let me assuage those fears haha.

Yoga with my housemates Ella & Matilda (feat. my stamped ashes)

Last Thursday the sun finally won the battle it has been fighting against the numerous storms we've experienced. (For perspective, they name all their storms in alphabetical order. I came with storm Brendan. We just got through Storm Jorge at the end of Feb.) 

I went to explore the nature path that lives behind our dorm along the river. Walking along the river, I stumbled upon Menlo Castle, an abandoned site surrounded by cows. I was later told that Matilda walks past it every day but has no idea how to get to the other side of the river to explore it. The path presented me with some great sites filled with tributaries, wooded paths, and an abundance of flora. It was the first day here where you could ditch the jacket and rely on the sun for warmth. Not a rain cloud or heavy gust of wind in sight, only couples on walks with their leashless dogs.

But seeing the castle immediately birthed a challenge in my mind. My original Sunday morning plans were to join the Mountaineering Club on a hike, but due to the storm that had occurred between Thursday and Sunday the hike was deemed unsafe and canceled the morning of, a decision a group of ten of us waiting at the meeting point did not hear. Not wanting to let the day go to waste, the group split off to enjoy the weather with one group taking a bus to see the Cliffs of Moher and the other going to explore Menlo castle. Three of us prepared for a very roundabout walk that Google Maps estimated to take about an hour.

Google Maps, unfortunately, does not understand farmland. After crossing the bridge over the Corrib River, we ventured through a housing village with no street signs and stumbled upon a few unmarked sites, including various cemeteries and fenced-off farms with strict orders not to trespass. It was comical to watch our little blue dot dance all over the map, struggling to find a path that would not invite an angry cow or farmer out to us. 

Our phones taunted us with a direct path down the middle of the road leading directly to the castle, which clearly did not exist. It did not warn of flooded bogs, gated cattle pastures, or random fishing harbors. But we were dressed for a mountaineering trip after all and fought the challenge head-on as we refused to give in and turn back after hours of fruitless journeying. And, hey, at least it's nice outside! This optimism was the only thing pushing us forward as we quickly understood why the castle was left for ruin.

After battling more than a few bouts of rain and flooded roads over the course of two and a half hours, we decided to hop a cattle rail that we had passed more than a few times. We followed that path for a bit before coming face to face with a group of cows grazing, almost guarding the castle in front of us. 

Was Menlo Castle private property? Are we going to face our first angry farmer with a shotgun? Am I... afraid of cows? All of these equally important questions raced through my mind as we tiptoed past the cows, careful not to spook them or dare make eye contact.

Cows, the protectors of Menlo Castle. Turns out I am incredibly distrusting of cows? 

Glad I got the opportunity to learn of that fear...

The journey was worth the challenge once we cleared the field to the castle. The impressive structure was decorated from top to bottom in overgrown ivy and the inside featured four levels of windows and fireplaces.

Views from the second floor.

The faces of SUCCESS!

There were hoofprints and other cow relating presents inside the castle, leading us to believe that even the cattle venture in and out of the structure from time to time. We sat on the river and enjoyed our packed lunches, cautiously eyeing the cows as they inched closer to us. We walked back without ever hearing from an angry farmer or learning if free-range cows have a tendency to charge.

Irish Phrase of the Week:

Urghabháil an lá = Seize the Day.

Squeezing every possible moment out of my experience here and hoping for just a few more.

With Love from Galway,