Dancing across the border
There are many great things about studying abroad. But the best are the spontaneous experiences you are sure to encounter if you allow yourself to be open to them.
There was one weekend I was invited to a friend’s hometown in County Monaghan—a seventy-five minute drive from Dublin city and about sixty minutes from Belfast. I welcomed the opportunity to get out of the city for a while. More so, I wanted to get a taste for where she was from, as I was sure it would be very different from my hometown of Freehold, New Jersey. She was such a great host and even arranged for a group of us to go across the border of Ireland and North Ireland to Moy, Country Tyrone, to see some Irish country dancing. This type of jive dancing is common in rural towns throughout Ireland, but very popular in the border towns.
“I received the “100 thousand welcomes” that Ireland promises. It’s the type of cultural experience you could never truly plan for. It is a side effect of fun, and can only be gained from studying in Ireland.”
We got off the bus at the Great Northern Railway (GNR) station, which was built before the separation of the six Northern Irish counties. The border was created in 1922 between Northern Ireland and the Republic, so the GNR ran right through it as the first express route between Dublin and Belfast. Throughout wartime in the 1930’s and ’40’s, people smuggled goods across the border using the railway. It was closed down in 1958.
As I walked around Monaghan Town, I learned a great deal more about its history and geography. Monaghan, or Muineachán in Irish, means “a place full of little hills”. It was built on a lake and is nestled among little hills called drumlins. The local museum holds artefacts from the first farmers (dating back to 5500 BC!) and pieces of history documenting the establishment of the border in the 20th century. I saw samples of handmade Carrickmacross Lace and linen, and learned that the town used to be filled with crannogs, which are man-made island lakes which date to 500 AD. And, of course, no hometown visit would be complete without a proper Irish meal: a carvery lunch complete with three different types of potatoes.
In the evening we drove to the dance hall. It was like something you’d only see in a movie. There was a long wooden floor with a bar on one end and a band at the other. There were tables and chairs on either side facing the dance floor for optimum viewing. Women wore dresses and men had on their dancing shoes. As the band began to play upbeat country songs, the whole room began bouncing and jiving to the beat. I learned to jive by asking random people to dance and had a blast spinning around the dance floor. It was another world for me.
Spending the weekend with someone I met at TCD, sharing meals with her family, and dancing with her friends really felt like I received the “100 thousand welcomes” that Ireland promises. It’s the type of cultural experience you could never truly plan for. It is a side effect of fun, and can only be gained from studying in Ireland.
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