Tracing my roots

My family traces our roots to Ireland but we were never sure what connections we still had to the homeland. When we discovered our many Irish relatives over the winter break, I knew I had to visit.

Last Wednesday, I landed in Belfast and met my family for the first time at the airport. Over the next few days, they showed me much of Ireland, and we made our way west to the farm my grandmother grew up on in County Mayo.

Classiebawn Castle
Classiebawn Castle overlooking the Atlantic

Along the way, I took in the emerald countryside. We stopped at Classiebawn Castle, an idyllic estate overlooking the Atlantic, and the grave of the Irish literary great and Nobel Prize laureate W. B. Yeats. I was becoming immersed in the beauty of Irish culture and history.

Drumcliffe Cemetery
Drumcliffe Cemetery, where W. B. Yeats is buried

A long drive later, we arrived in Mayo. We visited my grandmother’s farm and the church where she made communion and was confirmed. It was moving to walk in her footsteps and reconnect with my family’s homeland.

While in Mayo, we visited the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock. There, on August 21, 1879, an apparition of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist, surrounded by angels, is said to have occurred. It was humbling to be in such an important place of pilgrimage, one visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979, Pope Francis in 2018, and many millions of people over the years.

Sheep grazing in the Glenshane Pass
Sheep grazing in the Glenshane Pass

On the morning before I flew back to Scotland, we made one last drive up the Glenshane Pass, a massive mountain that cuts through the Sperrins in Derry. Sheep were, as always, everywhere. We took in a view of much of Ireland from the top, with green fields and mountains stretching far into the distance.

Studying abroad has not only broadened my horizons but expanded my family tree. I am so glad I was able to explore Ireland and meet my relatives this year.

Packing my bags

Our break has begun and I could not be more excited for the days ahead. Next week, I will be traveling to Ireland and meeting some family for the first time. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my journey, but right now I have to get back to packing my bags. Watch this space.

Seeing the world

Studying abroad has offered so many opportunities to travel Europe. Last semester, I set out on a week-long trip with some friends through Barcelona, Rome, and Vienna—a lot of traveling for a guy who had never been off the east coast up to four months ago.

Barcelona was unlike any other city I had ever experienced, with its welcoming, easy-going culture and rich history. The legacy of the seminal Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí could be seen throughout the city. Our first glimpse of his work came in Park Güell, a vibrant park featuring colorful mosaics, musicians, and incredible views overlooking all of Barcelona.

We also saw the awe-inspiring Sagrada Família, an enormous basilica that towers over its surroundings. We quickly found out that we could find our way to the heart of the city by looking for Sagrada Família in the distance—it’s so large that we could almost always see it. Of course, we couldn’t leave Barcelona without enjoying its lively beaches and viewing some of the works of Picasso.

The view of Barcelona from Park Güell
The view of Barcelona from Park Güell

Next, we spent twenty-four momentous hours in Italy. We made our way to the Vatican to hear Pope Francis deliver mass in Saint Peter’s Square. From there, we explored all the unbelievable history Rome had to offer, stopping at the Colosseum and many other sites. We ended up logging close to 40,000 steps by the end of the day.

The Roman Colosseum
The Roman Colosseum

Our last stop was in Vienna, which has to be one of the nicest cities in Europe. The food was great, and we even ate at Café Landtmann, a famous coffee house that, over its 150 years of history, has hosted a range of figures from Sigmund Freud to Paul McCartney. We also visited the Hofburg and a few other spots related to the Habsburgs. It was incredible, to say the least.

The Natural History Museum in Vienna
The Natural History Museum in Vienna

I never believed I would have traveled much of Europe by the time I finished college, but studying abroad opens up so many possibilities. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on where life takes me this semester.