I had the privilege of studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic for the Fall 2019 semester. As a history major, I chose to study in Prague for its connection to my personal family heritage – my maternal grandfather’s parents were from Czechoslovakia and immigrated to the US in the early 1900s. In Prague, I was in a homestay where my host mother taught me about Czech and Slovak cultures through food, language, and our dinner time conversations. The opportunities in Prague to learn about Czech and Slovak culture were extremely valuable and educational, and I immersed myself in this area of my family heritage through my semester long program.
Having covered my Czechoslovak family roots in Prague, for my travel grant, I wanted to study the cultures, physical locations, and sense of place in Cork and Limerick, Ireland to explore this side of my personal family history. For me, studying a sense of place meant giving meaning to these locations in Ireland as they pertain to my ancestors, while also studying the present day identity of these locations. I did this through engagement with my Irish heritage in a number of ways: I learned about the history of the regions through trips to museums, engaged with locals through food and religion, and spent my time exploring the physical locations of the cities, wandering around the streets and discovering the local life through this on-the-ground learning.
In an effort to learn more about the broader history of Counties Cork and Limerick, I visited a number of small, local museums as well as well-developed museum complexes and tourist locations. I learned about the history of County Cork going back to the Viking Era at the Blarney Castle complex and learned about the more recent history of County Cork at the Cork Public Museum. In Limerick, I went to St. John’s Castle, a museum complex with the original medieval fortress and exhibits presenting a history of the city of Limerick and the county. I also visited the Hunt Museum, where the Hunt Family displays their collections of art and miscellaneous treasures, revealing a more nuanced way of studying the local history.
I also made an effort to engage with the locals through visiting restaurants, pubs, markets, and even going to church. I visited a number of pubs and eateries in both Limerick and Cork, where I had authentic Irish cuisine and drink while chatting with locals as we listened to traditional Irish jigs. I felt so safe and welcomed by the locals and fellow travelers in the communities I visited. I similarly engaged with the locals through religion, visiting a number of churches in both Cork and Limerick. The Roman Catholic faith that my ancestors brought over from Ireland and Czechoslovakia is still very prevalent on my mom’s side of the family, so I honored that tradition by attending a mass in Limerick. The mass was the fastest I’ve ever been to, and it was a unique way to commemorate this important element of my Irish heritage.
Finally, I made a particular effort to walk around Cork and Limerick to gain a sense of how the city felt, what the buildings were like and what the daily life in Southern Ireland was like today. In County Cork, I wandered around the small town of Blarney, and did a tour of Cork, walking around to various locations and stumbling upon a number of “English markets.” I rented a bike in Limerick and rode around the countryside, going by farms, smaller villages, and even the University of Limerick. Using the knowledge I have of my Irish ancestors, I was able to walk around these cities and picture where they would have been and what they would have done during these historical events and in their daily lives, and I owe that to this travel grant.