The best way to experience another culture, is to jump right in! This is what I did this past weekend, mud and all!
I awoke on Saturday morning to 20 mile per hour winds and pouring down rain. As any Irish person would do, I had my cup of tea, layered on my waterproof clothing, and ventured out into the storm, not letting the weather alter my plans. I was going on a UCD Center for Study Abroad (CSA) trip to Causey Farm in County Meath. When we arrived at the farm, our first activity was making Irish soda bread. The lead chef gave a five-minute demonstration of how to make the bread and then set us to work, making loafs in groups of two. The cooking environment was quite relaxed: “oh just add one heaping coffee cup’s worth” of this or “a little more than a dash” of that. We all passed the ingredients around; however, the eggs were missing from the table. When we asked about this, we were told we would have to catch our eggs. The lead chef proceeded to actually throw an egg to each group. Gary, my cooking buddy, was thrown the egg. To his dismay, either the shell was soft or he caught it with too much force. No matter the explanation, the reality was the egg broke in Gary’s hands, sending splashes of yolk to his apron and the table. Thankfully, Gary was a good sport about it, and we all broke out in laughter. To our surprise, the chef responded, “We don’t waste eggs here so you’ll have to use that one.” We worked together to pick out the bits of shell, and added the egg to our mixing bowl. (I was quite thankful we had washed our hands before beginning cooking!) We finished our baking, marked our bread with flags with our names on them, and sent them off to be baked.
Next, we ventured to a 200 year old barn to learn some traditional Irish dancing. It took us a little while to learn the steps, but we soon caught on and had a blast showing off our Irish dancing skills. Once we had reached our dancing capacity for the day, we circled the barn to reach the section that housed the animals. There we were greeted by a 3-week-old litter of puppies, Irish reindeer, and a one-day-old piglet! We all swooned over the animals, taking turns cuddling with and petting the puppies. I even got the chance to feed the piglet with a bottle. Then we met Daisy the cow and each had a chance to milk her. It came time for us to say our farewells and take a hayride down to the bog. When I heard the term “bog,” the first thing that came to mind was the Ocean Spray cranberry bog commercials. (Wow am I a product of American capitalism!) I soon learned that Irish bogs are a compilation of soil, water, and decaying plant matter. Many Irish families used to own their own bog plots (some continue to own them today). The bog serves as great insulation, and food products could be stored below ground prior to the invention of refrigeration. The primary usage of bog lands, though, was to create peat bricks, blocks of dried bog that could be burned for heat and light. Our guide explained how in the summer, visitors are encouraged to take a plunge into the bog, but unfortunately, due to the cold and rainy November conditions, she figured none of us would have interest. Boy was she wrong! Before she was even done speaking, I was already taking off my shoes. (Given the weather, I had brought an entire change of clothes, so nothing was holding me back from getting a little muddy.) With our guide’s grace, a few of us made the plunge into the bog. It was so squishy and tickled my toes. As I trudged forward, I suddenly sank all the way past my knees, to which our guide responded, “Oh yeah, I forgot to warn you; at points it is chest deep.” Upon that announcement, I decided I had better return to shallower parts, and I began the effort filled journey of slogging back to the edge of the bog. Despite being covered in muck and quite cold, I could not stop smiling. I had never had an experience like this; plus, I was quite encouraged by the fact that mud from bog lands serves as a great moisturizer!
It took quite some time to scrub off all the mud, but it was totally worth it! We concluded our visit to Causey Farm by eating our homemade Irish soda bread and butternut squash soup. On our way back to UCD, we stopped at Trim Castle for a visit. It was surely another memorable day in Ireland!