What follows is a crude draft of a planned trip to Ireland with our students in June 2013...suggestions etc welcome...nothing is set in stone but generally this is what we'll be doing....
“The way that I went,” wrote Robert Lloyd Praeger in 1937 “was an Irish way, with extraorbital aberrations, especially in later years, to the extent of a thousand or fifteen hundred miles. It was from the beginning a way of flowers and stones and beasts.” Seventy-five years after the publication of his classic account of Irish natural history we are proposing to follow after Praeger in a study abroad trip to Ireland’s wildest places.
We will follow Praeger to four distinct regions: the Wicklow Highlands, Connemara, the Burren, and the Kerry Highlands. Each area is ecologically distinct exemplifying a particular aspect of Ireland’s natural legacy, and each is the location of a National Park which form the focal points of the study-abroad trip. In addition to their unique natural history, the three regions are also culturally distinct, presenting opportunities for students to appreciate both the history and the contemporary situation of Ireland.
The overarching theme for our study will be an examination of the Irish landscape as a co-production of nature and culture. Drawing upon the long tradition of Irish archaeology, landscape interpretation, and historical botany in which Ireland’s ecosystems have been investigated in order to understand both the ecological and human-historical factors that shaped them, we will create case studies assessing issues pertinent to each location we visit. The theme of co-production is, in turn, relevant, for an assessment of environmental issues elsewhere in the world: how does one think ecologically about cultural landscapes, and how does one manage a relationship with environments which have historically been influenced by cultural factors? Ireland has not been a wilderness in the sense used in the writings of the American tradition for almost 10,000 years. As ecologists increasingly appreciate that we live on a humanized globe, well characterized case studies of ecologically valuable cultural landscapes, such as are found in the Irish National Parks, will be helpful in developing sustainability models. That being said, many problems beset Irish landscapes: tensions stemming from very recent economic development as well as from the range of ecological pressures arising from global change: modified climates, invasive species, atmospheric pollution, and so forth. We shall comprehensively analyze and learn from these. Students will be explicitly invited to apply what they learn in Ireland to the situation in the American Midwest.
We will fly from Chicago to Dublin on June 16th (Bloomsday!) and will base ourselves there for four subsequent days. On the first of these days we will tour of north Dublin, exploring areas of great recreational and conservation importance including North Bull Island and the charming fishing town (and suburb) of Howth. On the 18th June we will visit the National Museum (including the Natural History Museum) after which students can sightsee in Dublin for part of the day, followed by a cultural event that evening (either a traditional Irish music “seisún” or an Irish dancing “céile”). The following day we will visit Wicklow Mountains National Park and the old monastic settlement of Glendalough, which is located in a spectacular glaciated valley in Co. Wicklow. On the 20th June we will visit Newgrange, a prehistoric monument located in County Meath, a bus ride away from Dublin, dating to the Irish Neolithic (3200 BC).
The next day, the 21st June, we will leave for the west of Ireland, with Connemara as our destination. Along the way we stop at the Bog of Allen, a raised bog of exceptional cultural and ecological interest. We will stay initially in the village of Roundstone, where we will walk out on Roundstone bog. This bog is part of the Connemara National Park. It is a blanket bog and therefore forms a nice contrast with the Bog of Allen. On the 23rd we move on to Letterfrack, the official centre of the National Park and will spend the day hiking around the “Twelve Bens” with a local guide paying special attention to the geology of this region. The day after, we travel a little south to the Burren of Co Clare. The Burren is a karst landscape – one of the large such landscapes in Europe – and is of exceptional interest to botanists and students of Irish culture, home of the West Clare Style of traditional music. We will stay in Doolin – the epicenter of traditional Irish music in the West of Ireland.
On the 25th June we continue south to Killarney where we will spend time in Killarney National Park. On the 26th We will tour the Lakes of Killarney and hike in the park through some of the last remaining large stands of oak woodland on the island and to see a habitat of exceptional rarity – a yew woodland. This is one of only three remaining yew woodlands in Europe. On the 27th we will take a bus tour of the Ring of Kerry passing through areas of Irish cultural interest. Parts of this region are official Gaeltacht where the Irish language is spoken.
After a free day in Killarney we will return to Dublin on the 29th. The following day we will have several optional trips, including a hiking trip to the Dublin Mountains, before returning to Chicago on the 1st of July.