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The craic with Catherine: Lessons from Ireland

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Houses along the water in Galway, Ireland.

Houses along the water in Galway, Ireland.

Houses along the water in Galway, Ireland.

By Catherine Kruse | Evergreen columnist abroad

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It’s not all rings and rivers around here. There are hookers too, the sailboat, that is.

After living in Ireland for four months, it’s strange to think about flying back to the States come mid-May. Studying abroad has been one of the best things I’ve done, and it has truly been good craic.

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The city of Galway is rich in history, and that history can still be seen in the churches and remnants of the walls that used to crisscross the town. Now that the suffering of final essay writing is over, I can give you my final column and present a look at some of the earliest maritime history of this city I lived in.

Sitting at the mouth of the River Corrib, previously named the Galway River, the town of Galway was a vital trading post. Over the centuries, the town of Galway was a central trading area for both Western Europe and even the eastern coasts of the Americas.

The Irish spelling is “Gaillimh,” and the meaning of the name is uncertain. It could be derived from the Irish words “gall” and “amh” which means “stony river,” referring to the River Corrib.

Local legends claims the town is named after Gaillimh or Galvia, who was the daughter of a mythical king named Breasal. She drowned in the nearby river.

Around the 12th century, Ireland was divided into kingdoms and each had its own king. The King of Connacht, Toirdhealbhach Ó Conchobhair, first built a settlement in Galway, but it was destroyed and rebuilt several times due to the buildings being made of timber. A stone castle was built in 1232.

In the 1400s, there was a stone wall surrounding the town to protect citizens from attack and defined where the suburbs ended and where the countryside began. At the entrance of these walls, tolls were taken and the gates were locked after curfew.

There was always a risk of fire and damage to the walls in the town, and in 1521 a law had to be written to try and prevent this. By the 18th century, the walls were decaying or being demolished as the town expanded. Some of the remains of this wall can be seen around Galway, including the Spanish Arch and in Eyre Square.

The Spanish Arch, located next to the city museum, was part of an extension to the walls to protect the quays known as “Ceann-an-Bhalla,” or “Wallshead.” When tensions escalated between Connacht and England and Spain, a defensive wall was built at the arch in 1584.

The term “Galway Hooker” refers to four different styles of fishing boats. The term “hooker” was derived from a fishing technique requiring long lines of baited hooks. These boats played an important part in the economy of coastal communities like Galway.

Not only were Galway Hookers used for fishing, but they could also carry cargoes of turf, livestock, seaweed, and an illegal whiskey known as poitin.

The sails of Galway Hookers were made from calico, a heavy textile that was unbleached and not fully processed from its original cotton form. Fishermen would “bark the sails” to protect them from the weather.

“Barking the sails” refers to the process where fishermen would cover the sails with a solution made from tree bark or a form of tar mixed with butter. The more the sails were barked, the darker they became.

Living abroad meant quite a few changes. The littlest things made me compare the Irish culture to how I grew up, from their form of English to the public life. I had to adjust to a school structure that had me going to class at odd times. It took several afternoons of walking around the town to get a feel for the area.

But this wasn’t going to school in a different place. I traveled every chance I could to immerse myself in different settings. I was able to visit my ancestral home in County Cork and even fulfill a childhood dream of seeing Big Ben in London.

Going abroad takes a mix of focus on classwork and the guts to travel. After hearing about the incident in Brussels, I had to change my plans to visit Belgium. But that didn’t stop me from continuing to explore.

If you are going to do something like this, take advantage of every opportunity. Find and make time to be an explorer. Learn outside of the classroom. These are the moments that build character and create stories you’ll be telling when you’re 90.

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The craic with Catherine: Lessons from Ireland