July 15, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- University of Notre Dame rising senior diver Allison Casareto spent six weeks in Ireland as part of the school's Dublin Summer Program. She was gracious enough to keep a blog of her experiences while she was over there.
Casareto, a native of La Habra Heights, Calif., has qualified for the NCAA Zone C Diving meet all three years she has been at Notre Dame and was the BIG EAST 1-meter champion in 2013 and a three-time all-BIG EAST champion during her first two years under the Golden Dome.
--Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director
Studying in Ireland
Why did I choose Ireland?
I wanted to see how I would do in an environment completely unfamiliar to me, an environment in which I would stick out like a sore thumb and an environment in which I would be forced to always be alert and constantly learn on my feet. I will not lie, I knew nothing of the country of Ireland other than the perception I had formed of Ireland being a country of rolling hills and livestock after watching the movie P.S. I Love You directed by Richard LaGravenese. I was quick to learn this was not the case in Dublin, and I was also quick to learn that whether you have family ties, past experience or a vast knowledge of a different country, all Americans are in the same boat in a different country.
About the Program
The Dublin Summer Program consists of taking two classes during a six-week period, the History of Ireland and a literature class titled Reading the Irish Revival. The first four weeks of class were held in Dublin, the last two weeks of class were held in the West of Ireland. There were a total of 25 Notre Dame undergraduate students selected to go, including myself. If I could sum up the entire six weeks they would all point back to our Professor Kevin Whelan knowing a lot of people and a lot about a lot of things. He gave us an experience that no normal tourist would learn about Ireland. We might have learned more than some of the Irish themselves!
We lived in dorms on the University College Dublin (UCD) campus right outside the city of Dublin. Our classes were held in the city of Dublin at the O'Connell House. Notre Dame owns this building; it is literally a house, with a big blue door in the middle of a line of houses surrounding Merrion Square. Daniel O'Connell had lived in this Georgian Style house. He was known as "The Liberator" and helped Ireland achieve Catholic emancipation from Britain in 1829. It was quite the experience learning about the powerful Daniel O'Connell in our history class that was held in O'Connell's actual house!! Every school day, we would take a bus into town from UCD. O'Connell house was open at 9:30 a.m. for breakfast, which was usually cereal or toast, fruit and coffee. Class would begin at 10:30 a.m. and last for an hour and a half. We would then get an hour free to walk into the city and get lunch before our second hour and a half class began at 13:00 (I had to get used to the military time in Europe). The history class was very interesting, as it was looking at British colonization and Europe through the two world wars in a completely different perspective, the Irish perspective. The literature class was cool because it complemented the history class as we studied literature created during the post-colonial years and how the Irish were trying to revive its culture.
Week 1: Dublin
The first week we hit the ground running. Figuring out the bus system was a little daunting having only been in the city for a whole Sunday before classes started. The O'Connell House staff helped occupy us and keep us awake all day to get used to the time zone! However, the very first day, jetlagged and completely unfamiliar with the layout of Dublin and the bus system, a couple girls and I managed to get ourselves on the correct bus but going in the wrong direction. What should have been a 15-minute bus ride turned into a two-hour bus ride that night!
At UCD we all had single dorm rooms, but all next to each other on the same floor.
There was a gym at the UCD campus (there was also a pool with no diving boards), similar to Rolf's at Notre Dame with weight machines, cardio equipment and free weights. I tended to stick to the smaller gym branch right next to my dorm on the other side of campus for the cardio equipment and dumbbells. It was easy just to get up in the morning and go down to that gym rain or shine before catching the bus into town for class! There was also a whole area on campus with rugby fields, Gaelic football fields and hurling fields (how cool is that?!).
There was a convenience store on campus right by the bus stop where everyone went to get fruit and snacks and a few meals to cook in the dorm kitchens in case people did not like the dinner option served at the O'Connell house during the school days.
The Book of Kells
Once we started getting into a routine and getting a grip on the layout of the city a few people in the program and I decided to go out and begin sightseeing! Trinity College in downtown Dublin housed the Book of Kells in their library. This is a famous collection of manuscripts dated from as early as the sixth century that contain the four Gospels written in medieval Gaelic. This was my first adventure without following some member of the O'Connell house staff!
We were allowed two travel weekends, as the other weekends were planned trips through the Dublin Summer Program. The first weekend of the program was also the first free travel weekend. Most people decided to travel to other cities within Ireland. This weekend, a group of eight of us decided to take a spontaneous trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.
Week 2: Dublin (field trip: Belfast, Giant's Causeway)
This week we scheduled a field trip to the North of Ireland to the city Belfast. Every field trip we had, our professor would lecture during the bus rides over the bus microphone, certainly wasting no time at all for an opportunity for us to learn! Belfast is a city that is part of the United Kingdom. Although now a thriving metropolis, our class focused more on the period called "The Troubles" in which Irish Catholics were persecuted by the Protestant population from the late 1960's until the recent peace agreement of 1998. We were encouraged to refrain from wearing any Notre Dame attire, or any green colored clothing, as it would identify us as a Catholic. Our professor introduced us to a friend of his who grew up in Belfast as a Catholic experiencing the discrimination first hand, and throughout the day he shared very personal stories of his childhood. Hearing the stories that have happened in very recent history, in the actual places they occurred, impacted our group much stronger than any lecture could.
After lunch in Belfast, we then continued on toward the northernmost point of Ireland called Giant's Causeway. There exists a geological wonder, known for the basalt columns formed from volcanic activity. There are few things in nature that form a hexagonal shape, and the rock along the shoreline consists of over 40,000 interlocking hexagonal columns.
Saturday Trip to Howth
This was our only free Saturday, so a few friends and I took a trip to Howth Village, overlooking the Irish Sea. We hiked the cliff path around Howth Head, and treated ourselves to the best fish and chips afterward!
Sunday Field Trip to Glendalough
This field trip was combined with Notre Dame interns in Ireland that were interested in a day trip to this monastic site in County Wicklow. This day was the only day that was pouring rain! It was "lashing," as they say in Ireland, but once the skies cleared, Glendalough was one of my favorite sights. The valley was so unbelievably beautiful, especially when the wind blew through the high grass along the top of the hills surrounding the still lake; no photograph could do it justice.
Week 3: Dublin (field trip: County Wexford, South of Ireland)
Trip to County Wexford
Our history professor is from County Wexford, so this was a passionate field trip on his part! This long day began with a visit to Vinegar Hill where an important battle took place in 1798 when the British regained control of County Wexford, marking the turning point in this era of Irish Rebellion. Then we visited the beautiful Johnstown Castle, which was built in the early 1800's and is known for its garden with a variety of global plant species. Next was a quick visit to the ruins of Tintern Abbey, then a hike along the coast to Hook Head Lighthouse. Our day ended with a seafood feast at the home of Terry Clune that overlooked the ocean, where we learned all about ConnectIreland, a program that incentivizes companies to internationally expand to Ireland.
This weekend was the second travel weekend, and this time one other girl in my program and I had decided to take a weekend trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. We also met up with one of my friends who I grew up diving with my whole life. She finished her NCAA diving career at Northwestern University and is now living in Germany training for the national team!
Week 4: Dublin (field trip: Boyne Valley, County Meath)
After a long weekend in Copenhagen, the gang loaded the bus at 7 a.m. Monday morning to jump into the freezing "snot green" Irish Sea. Thank goodness there was hot traditional Irish breakfast waiting for us after the plunge (consisting of bacon, sausage, fried eggs, white pudding, black pudding, fried tomato, sautéed mushrooms, toast and coffee). Why would anyone in his or her right mind jump into the ice-cold Irish Sea?? Bloomsday is a celebration of the famous Irish writer James Joyce's novel Ulysses. The events of the character Bloom in the novel are relived throughout the day the novel was set, June 16, and a jump in what Joyce calls the "Snot Green" sea was first on the list of activities for the day!
Trip to Boyne Valley
Our field trip this week was to the Boyne Valley, where the famous Battle of the Boyne (1690) took place. This battle is where the Protestant King William defeated the Catholic King James, and Protestantism and British colonization began to rise in Ireland. However, the Boyne Valley has much more history to it than that. We were directed by another one of our history professor's friends, who was an archaeologist that studies in the Boyne Valley. She first took us to a place in the valley called Dowth, where we got to walk inside Neolithic tombs that were created over 5,000 years ago!! Next we visited an early medieval monastery, established around 521 AD called Monasterboice, where we learned about the High Crosses of Ireland. Lastly, we visited another Abbey, at Mellifont, and our trip ended with a beautiful hike along the Slane River.
Week 5: Parknasilla Resort, Sneem, County Kerry
The West of Ireland is quite the change of pace from the high energy Dublin pace. The first of two weeks we spent out West, we spent at a resort in County Kerry called Parknasilla. The resort was right on the Wild Atlantic Way! The students all stayed in the Villas, which was an area of cabins that housed about five students in each cabin. The Villas were about a 15-minute walk from the main hotel to where our classes were held.
Sneem was the small town about a 10-minute drive away from the hotel where there was a convenience store, a few cafes and pubs, a few gift shops and that was it! Sneem made Dublin seem daunting!
The first day in the West, we visited the beautiful open countryside of Kenmare in Gleninchaquin Park with wild sheep roaming the hills. Next we went to the coast to visit a Mussel Farm, and learn about the Mussel industry. Our whole group boarded a fisherman boat and went out to look at the different ages of Mussels, the one month old mussels were about the size of ground pepper on my fingertip! After having another wonderful seafood dinner, we all gathered around and had a music session, where the musically talented joined in and contributed to the session.
Ring of Kerry
Also during the week our group took a three-hour hike along the Ring of Kerry, right along the Wild Atlantic Coast. The hike ended at a beach where a few of us jumped into the ocean! It was not nearly as cold as the Bloomsday jump!
Week 6: Ballyvaughan, County Clare
The final week in the West we stayed in a small town called Ballyvaughan in County Clare. Ballyvaughan was right in the middle of the Burren, which is a completely different type of landscape in Ireland than the green hills you usually picture. The Burren is rocky, hilly and dry, but equally as beautiful as the rest of green Ireland!
The Skellig Islands
The Skellig was one of my favorite things during the program! We took an hour boat ride out to the Skellig Islands, and climbed 750 stairs to the top of the mountain where there were the remains of an early Christian monastery! It is hard to imagine living at the top of a huge mountain in the middle of the ocean. The best part about this place was that it was mating season for Puffins, and they were everywhere!
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher is a famous tourist attraction in the West of Ireland, and I can attest to all the attraction because this was my most favorite part of the trip. Hiking along the edge of the cliffs was such an adrenaline rush, as there were no fences or gates to keep people from going as close to the edge as they wanted. The ocean looked so bright blue down below, and so endless into the horizon. A few friends and I tried to throw a rock over the edge and count how many seconds it took for the rock to hit the water, but we lost sight of the rock before we could finish counting!
Fourth of July
The Fourth of July was spent in Dublin. We had returned from the West to spend our last night before catching planes home. It was very interesting being in a country where no one knew or cared about "The Fourth." The O'Connell House set up a barbeque at the Naughon household, the family that sponsors and supports the study abroad programs and internship programs in Dublin. We had hamburgers, ice cream and another great music session to finish the program with a bang! Although there were no fireworks, we all proudly sang the American national anthem, followed by the Notre Dame Alma Mater and fight song!
Irish versus American Sports
One thing I noticed is a huge difference in the sports realm in Ireland as compared to America. After having learned all about Gaelic football, hurling and rugby, I could not help but compare and contrast them with the spirit of American sports such as football, hockey and basketball.
America can certainly learn how to build a stronger sense of community through sports from Ireland. In Ireland, the community is very centered around family, county sporting events and finding "the craic" (a good time or a good conversation) at the pubs. Having such a tight knit community gives a sense of stability and support that is not common in the states. However, I believe there should be a balance. In Ireland, children play for the Gaelic sports teams that are in the city their parish is in. There is no such thing as moving to a better team. Your county and cities are established and permanent with the people coming from those communities. Most importantly, athletes in Ireland are never paid, no matter what level they perform at. This promotes a sense of the love of the game, and a passion for the sport, rather than a love of winning.
On the flip side, I believe that Ireland can learn something from America about the power of individuality. Athletes in America are paid at the professional level, whereas athletes in Ireland are not. I think that establishing a status as an athlete, based on any measure including monetary worth, is a way to incentivize and motivate athletes to push them further than they could ever imagine. With the salary comes the responsibility and pressure to perform exceptionally well for your team, your city, your state, your league and your country. Pressure then is also put onto the medical industry to develop the latest physical therapy treatments and the nutrition industry to help prepare the body to perform its best, which in turn amplifies the level of competition. I can't see this happening in Ireland, when people still have to work outside of their sport, rather than the sport being their occupation. It's possible for athletes to have a passion for the game even though they are on salary, but while it might be difficult for some athletes to maintain that love for the game, it certainly does not mean it kills the passion for it.
--Allison Casareto, Notre Dame Senior Women's Diver