By Irina Rusanova
Saint Vincent offers a variety of study abroad as well as service trip programs. One of the study abroad courses offered this spring was the Literary Dublin course that allowed students to travel to Ireland over the past spring break, which I was fortunate enough to take part in. But just how literary was this trip?
Personally, I witnessed an immense number of literary phenomena over the trip’s week-long duration, both during in-class activities and during out of class endeavors. Though a big portion of the trip revolved around transporting oneself from one place to another, there was still time enough to grow accustomed to the Dublin scene and experience its literarily rich atmosphere.
"Unconsciously, I had found myself back in literature while walking around a visual art museum."
When we first arrived in Dublin following a mentally and physically exhausting series of bus rides and flights, our group received a lecture from our Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) guide. She detailed some things we had to keep in mind while traveling the city including Dubliners’ typical behavior, areas to look out for, and transportation methods available to us. Irish slang proved to be quite entertaining and sarcastic, ranging from “banjaxed” (broken) to “eejit” (idiot).
On the evening of this first day, we ate dinner at a place called The Church. The gothic interior served as proof of the restaurant’s prior role as a church, and an organ still towered against one of the walls. A waiter shared with us a fact: the church that used to be where the restaurant now is, was frequented by the Irishman who wrote Dracula, Bram Stoker.
The first day had already left us with a general impression of the literary atmosphere veiling the city of Dublin.
From the next day onward, our group was expected to attend tours and activities planned by our school and CIEE, following a busy schedule that was centered around Irish literature, the 1916 Revolution, and other subjects. Each tour we went on placed emphasis on different aspects of these topics, giving us a well-rounded look at Dublin’s literary scene, rebellious spirit, and pedantic culture.
"In the more rural County Sligo, where we stayed approximately for a day and a half, the natural landscape radiated W. B. Yeats’s poetry, collections of Celtic folktales and mythology. The cobbled streets, paved sidewalks, and close-knit stores of Dublin hid the claustrophobic yet beloved stories of Joyce’s Dubliners. And the Abbey Theatre’s attentiveness to details echoed the spirit of Sean O’Casey’s three Dublin plays."
Apart from going on tours, we were given free rein to walk around the streets of Dublin and explore on our own for limited amounts of time on multiple occasions. This allowed us to get a breather from school activities and look into what we personally wished to see more of.
During these breaks, I walked around the multi-faceted streets, looking at the melding of historical elements and modern, multi-ethnical, but still very much Irish, culture. Plaques decorated some corners, presenting the keen eye with a poetic word or two. Banners hung on lampposts, presenting phrases from a new book about Irish traditions with Gaelic on one side and English on the other. People chattered on their cell phones in an unfamiliar language, one that sounded like a mix between Italian, English, and the sound of a bagpipe strung into an organ.
On one of the breaks when we had a bit more time on our hands, I traipsed over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) for a look into the modern art scene. Due to some circumstances, I was only able to look at the East Wing, which featured a display called “Desire: A Revision from the 20th Century to the Digital Age,” and the Freud Centre, which featured the works of Lucian Freud, a contemporary Irish realism artist.
The “Desire” display focused on a modern view of desire and its correlation to power structures, individualism, and emerging group activity. While walking amongst the various movies, paintings, sculptures, and other artworks, I began to notice a recurring set of themes.
"Wherever we went, literature was not far behind."
The display was crafted with a great interest in sensuality and intimacy, putting into perspective literary topics and tropes such as the gaze, panopticism, and the Freudian realization of a deeper meaning in dreams leading back to unrealized desires. The Lucian Freud artist’s studio exhibit also featured works that examined the role of the gaze in people’s everyday lives, putting into perspective the artist’s view of subjects from a vantage point loosely centered in desire and a deliberately honest view of the body.
Unconsciously, I had found myself back in literature while walking around a visual art museum.
Even while conversing with locals, I found that at least at one point in a conversation, literature would become the main subject. For instance, a few friends and I took up speaking to a Dubliner in a fishing village called Howth. The man talked to us on a variety of subjects, one of which was the universal message of love in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Wherever we went, literature was not far behind. In the more rural County Sligo, where we stayed approximately for a day and a half, the natural landscape radiated W. B. Yeats’s poetry, collections of Celtic folktales and mythology. The cobbled streets, paved sidewalks, and close-knit stores of Dublin hid the claustrophobic yet beloved stories of Joyce’s Dubliners. And the Abbey Theatre’s attentiveness to details echoed the spirit of Sean O’Casey’s three Dublin plays.
The experience Literary Dublin awarded me in a literary, scholarly, and social sense, was beyond anything I could have imagined before the journey. When the COVID-19 commotion dies down, trips abroad should be back on. I recommend going on a trip like this for sure.