Barry McNamara  |   Published June 14, 2016

Emerald Isle

Monmouth students, alumni discover Ireland’s many shades of green
  • Gary Sears ’70 and his wife, Dianne, are pictured at the Rock of Cashel, a historical site in County Tipperary. It was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion.
Monmouth College psychology professor Joan Wertz didn’t know “there were so many shades of green” until she led a study-abroad trip to Ireland.

Wertz oversaw a group of 22 – which included 11 Monmouth students – on a May 16-28 trip to Ireland.

“The countryside is beautiful,” she said. “I didn’t know there were so many shades of green.”

In addition to exploring Ireland’s pastoral landscape, the Monmouth group also learned a lot more about the nation’s people and culture – lessons they could have learned only by traveling abroad.

“We got close with some of the Irish people there and listened to Irish music in an Irish pub,” said Monmouth student Michelle Ravel ’17 of Monmouth. “That night we got the true Irish experience, and I will not forget it.”

The trip to Ireland also included 11 alumni and friends. That idea came from associate development officer Jeri Candor, who said she wanted to “engage alumni and friends in the work that our faculty and students are doing on campus and abroad.”

“I feel this was a very successful beta test for an alumni relations program,” said Candor, who was also part of the trip.

The students prepared for the trip by taking a class in the spring from Wertz called “Cross-Cultural Psychology Practicum.” The alumni and friends prepared with a reading about Irish history, which focused on the 19th-century famine that caused many Irish people to emigrate to the United States.

Ireland’s history came alive for the group in several ways, especially as they learned about the centennial commemoration of the Easter Rising of 1916, a six-day armed insurrection during Easter Week 1916 in which Irish republicans tried in vain to end British rule.

“It was a great opportunity to learn about Ireland’s struggles for independence,” Wertz said. “The added bonus was the stories about the people involved, which made it very interesting and human, instead of just historical.”

Candor said the trip helped bring a major historical event to life.

“The walking tour was a unique way to learn about something that you’ve only read about,” she said. “Being able to walk the streets and to see the bullet holes in the statues and in the buildings gave everyone a sense of place and the people during this very troubled time in Ireland’s history.”

In addition to taking students to Europe, Wertz said she also enjoyed getting to know the Monmouth alumni and friends who made the trip: Vicki Birk Horneck ’80, Karen Williams Phinney ’84, Jacquelyn Grier Salvato ’73, Gary Sears ’70 and Randall Vickroy ’76.

“They were a great group of people,” Wertz said. “We shared stories about (the late chemistry professor) Doc Kieft in a pub one day. I think he’d appreciate that.”

Another educational experience happened on a visit to Kilmainham Gaol, a prison in Dublin that housed many Irish nationalists, including leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.

“I was surprised at how beautiful the architecture was there,” said Miranda Jones ’17 of Grinnell, Iowa. “It was full of history from the 1916 Easter Rising, which we had discussed in class and heard about from tour guides. Because of the unique stories we learned in Kilmainham Gaol, I would consider it a must-see tourist location.”

Another memorable part of the trip was a scenic drive along the Ring of Kerry in south-western Ireland.

“The Ring of Kerry excursion was unbelievable,” Ravel said. “I have seen the pictures of how beautiful it was and I even took many beautiful pictures, but no camera can capture how beautiful it is in person. It was so pretty along the coast and unlike any coastline I have seen before.”

Added Wertz: “You see mountains, the ocean, green fields and animals. You get to see some of the prettiest parts of Ireland all in one day. And we had a beautiful, clear, sunny day for it.”

The group also visited the fabled Blarney Castle – where several members of the contingent kissed the Blarney Stone – and the Guinness Storehouse Tour.

“Hearing the Irish people talk about their past, I learned that they would not have been so proud of who they are without recognizing where they had been,” Jones said. “This wasn’t something I feel like I could have learned in a classroom, because on the trip I was able to listen to stories of their troubled past and see the history in front of me. I was then able to see how the culture developed and was affected by the past even into the present day.”

Wertz said those kind of experiences reminded the group’s members about the common heritage and experiences shared by American and Irish citizens.

“When studying culture, we often focus on the differences between the U.S. and other places,” she said. “While it was interesting and informative to do this, we also noticed how much of our culture is shared as well. There are many similarities between people around the world, which I think we often overlook.”

The trip to Ireland was the first for Ravel. She said it likely won’t be two decades before she makes another trip abroad.
“I would suggest everyone to travel abroad at least once in their life,” she said. “I struggled with the idea at first, as it was my first big trip. However, I learned so much and had the time of my life. I do not regret it one bit and cannot wait until my next adventure abroad.”
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