Harry and Ellen's Celtic Odyssey

November 23, 2022

2 Templeton Scholars, 9 days, 2 countries, and innumerable cups of tea. 1 remarkable Celtic trip--not just a trip, an Odyssey. Perhaps my flair for the dramatic is getting away with itself, but my Independent Learning Week adventure this year really was epic, at least colloquially, but perhaps in the original Homeric sense.

It's an unofficial tradition for students in the Templeton Honors College to visit each other during semesters abroad, if possible. No one else was studying in Europe during my semester abroad at St. Andrews, so I made up for lost time as an alumna this year. My friend* Harry is studying abroad in Dublin this semester, so the two of us made plans to visit each other in Ireland and Scotland. As we were planning these trips, we discovered that our reading weeks (or fall breaks, if you prefer) followed each other in October, so we made plans for me to visit Dublin for a few days, then to travel back to St. Andrews together for a few days. The resulting 9 days of pan-Celtic sightseeing were too crammed with fun for me to write about everything, so I'll hit the highlights (in not quite chronological order) and try to keep from writing a book instead of a blog post!

Kicking things off with pints in a pub


After an hour-long flight delay and an hour-long bus ride from the airport, I arrived in Dublin hungry for something with potatoes in it. Our first stop after dropping off my bags was a pub for dinner and live music. I tried some beef stew, which was delicious, and a pint of Guinness, which is probably delicious if you like beer.

My first full day in Dublin was quite rainy--"the most rain I've seen in Dublin since I got here," according to Harry--but we managed to stay dry enough by attending classes and visiting museums. We did brave the weather to walk around St. Stephen's Green, where we saw some beautiful foliage and a handful of ducks and swans.

We found some interesting artwork in the National Gallery of Ireland: lots of iconography and religious art. My favorite piece was a painting of scenes from the life of St. Jerome, which featured a frustrated monk who looked a bit like me when I'm translating Latin. While Harry was in class another day, I visited an exhibition on W.B. Yeates in the National Library; I was not aware that he had so many failed marriages and such a fascination with the occult. Both of us enjoyed an exhibition on Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who was only married once and was more interested in peat bogs than dark spiritual forces. I discovered several new favorite poems in a short collection I picked up as a souvenir, and Harry took home a copy of Beowulf translated by Heaney.

Not a royal swan, an Irish Republican swan.

Where is the verb??

Rain in St. Stephen's Green

We also visited the National Museum of Ireland, which was much enhanced by Harry's near-encyclopedic knowledge of Irish history. We enjoyed seeing some ancient and medieval artifacts, including items from gold hoards, an incredibly long canoe, and the famous Tara Brooch. The most memorable artifacts in the museum, and perhaps from the whole trip, were the bog bodies: human remains from as far back as the early Bronze Age that have been remarkably well-preserved in peat bogs. Remarkably well-preserved. They still have hair and fingernails. And I still have nightmares about them.

Harry and I are both church-architecture enthusiasts, and Dublin has plenty of beautiful churches to visit. My 2 favorites were Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick's Cathedral. We arrived at Christ Church just before evensong, so we did not get to see much of the sanctuary or take any pictures, but we did enjoy listening to the choir rehearse their pieces before the service. We spent much more time in St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was the home church for several famous Dubliners. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, was dean of the cathedral, preached there regularly, and is buried there. We learned that his pulpit was mounted on wheels, and an assistant would roll him around the sanctuary to shout at people who were falling asleep during his long sermons. In addition to its historical and literary significance, St. Patrick's is a beautiful church, and we admired the stained glass and other art for a good while.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Trinity College, the Book of Kells, and the Long Room

We spent a good portion of the trip on campus at Trinity College, since classes were still in session. Trinity has a beautiful campus overall (except for the arts building, which looks like a Soviet bloc, sorry not sorry), but its biggest attraction is the Long Room of the Old Library. This room regularly appears on "World's Most Beautiful Libraries" lists and "Must-See Places for Book-Lovers" lists and "Not Actually in Harry Potter But Very Well Could Be" lists. It is fabulous. Books stacked floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, separated by marble busts and bright windows, under a gorgeous arched wooden roof.

On the way to the Long Room, visitors pass through an exhibition on the Book of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. We enjoyed learning about the techniques used to make the book and even tried translating some of the Latin!

The Long Room

Our home-slice Aristotle

The Campanile

A very happy bibliophile

Bray and Howth

After exploring Dublin itself, we took a short train ride to spend a day exploring Bray and Howth, 2 towns on the coast outside Dublin. After arriving in Bray, we picked up breakfast from a lovely cafe, where the owner/chef chatted to us about the Phillies while preparing our food. I had a breakfast roll with sausage, black pudding (look it up), bacon, and potatoes. It was delicious, and I was stuffed for the rest of the day.

After such a filling breakfast, we were ready to tackle a hike along the coast, but the weather had other plans. After being pelted with wind and rain for about 15 minutes straight, we decided to abandon the hike and catch the next train to Howth, where there would be more indoor attractions.

By the time we arrived in Howth, still rather wet and cold, the rain had stopped and the sun had reappeared. We visited a small castle, the harbor, where King George IV's footprints are impressed in the pavement, and a lighthouse overlooking the Irish Sea.

Breakfast roll fit for a Hobbit

Check the forecast before attempting a hike on the Irish coast.

King George IV's (kinda small) footprints


How many Scottish things can you fit into 1 picture? The Swilcan Bridge, a waxed jacket, some tartan, and some ultra-grey weather...

St. Andrews

After a fun few days in Dublin, it was time for both of us to fly into Edinburgh for a tour of Scotland! It was dark by the time we arrived at my house in St. Andrews on Saturday night, so we hit the ground running on Sunday. Harry and I attended my usual church service in the morning, followed by a visit to the Old Course and lunch at the Fisher and Donaldson cafe on South Street--fudge donut included. That evening, we attended mass at the Catholic church in town, which was celebrated by Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain. The service was beautiful and quite elaborate; there was plenty of incense and plenty of Latin chanting, and the archbishop's sermon was insightful and well-delivered. Afterwards, I dragged Harry to my Scottish Country Dance class, where he kept up remarkably well, even with some tricky figures and casting.

In the following days, we visited some St. Andrews landmarks on our way to and from other places and events. We explored the cathedral ruins, went on a pier walk, and stepped around the PH stones outside St. Salvator's Chapel. Before attending compline on Thursday night, we browsed in Topping and Company (where they offered me tea for the first time!) and enjoyed some ice cream at Janettas.

Harry's first pier walk

Ice cream at Janettas...

...and tea at Topping and Company: 2 St. Andrews Staples

Beneath the cathedral and a bonnie blue sky

East Neuk of Fife

Unless you're a student or a golfer, you can see St. Andrews pretty quickly, so Harry and I also went on some excursions to coastal towns around Fife. At the recommendation of one of my SCD instructors, we tried out an adorable hot chocolate shop in Pittenweem and took in the views from the harbor there. Afterwards, we caught a bus for nearby Anstruther and had fish and chips for dinner at a different, but equally charming harbor. Another day, we visited Crail, which also has quite a nice harbor, as well as a pottery studio. I visited here last fall and took home a mug; I have drawn the conclusion that I cannot visit the pottery studio without buying something, because Harry and I both took home a mug as a souvenir.

After taking my family last fall, I thought it would be fun to visit Scotland's Secret Bunker again. This time we were in luck because the buses were on a diverted route that went right past the entrance, so there would be no nearly-two-mile walk past cow pastures! We enjoyed our tour of the bunker, including a reunion with Cleo the bunker cat, pleased with ourselves for avoiding an impromptu hike and confident that we could take a quick taxi ride to the nearest town whenever we were ready to leave.

And then there weren't any taxis available to pick us up. So...

We walked for about a mile towards Crail, hoping that we might flag down a bus, but anticipating that we would have to walk about 3 miles down a winding 2-lane road to reach civilization. Luckily, Harry managed to flag down a bus, and the driver was kind enough to stop for us, so we made it to Crail in time for a picnic dinner and to visit the pottery shop. The moral of the story is that you should not visit Scotland's Secret Bunker without your own car, or maybe that you shouldn't travel with me unless you're willing to get into adventures like this.

Left! Your other left!

An appropriate souvenir for the copious amounts of tea we drank during the trip.


Our biggest excursion in Scotland was a day trip to Edinburgh. After arriving at Waverley station, we walked down the Royal Mile toward Holyrood Palace. Unfortunately, Holyrood was closed the day we visited, but we looked around the Scottish Parliament building, which I had never seen before. Afterwards, we walked back up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle, stopping to pick up barbeque sandwiches for lunch and to tour St. Giles' Cathedral. We arrived at Edinburgh Castle just in time to hear the one o'clock gun, which is still fired every day at... well, you can guess.

Turning back down the Royal Mile, we made a new friend: Guinevere the owl, who has incredibly large talons and likes to eat rabbits. Next, we stopped in the Writers' Museum, which has many artifacts from Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, and many more artifacts from friends of Robert Burns and places Robert Burns might have visited once. Some other stops that afternoon were Princes Street Gardens, the Waterstone's cafe (which has the best view of Edinburgh Castle), and Greyfriars Kirk.

We continued with a visit to the Museum of Scotland, which exhibits some of the Lewis chessmen, a very large guillotine, a very large jacquard loom, and a very taxidermied Dolly the sheep--the first animal to be successfully cloned. Finally, we wrapped up the day with a visit to St. Mary's Cathedral to see some relics of St. Andrew and rest for a while. When other parishioners started praying loudly and in Polish, we figured it was time to leave, grab dinner at an Italian restaurant, and catch our train back to St. Andrews.

Interior of the Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh Castle (from the street)

Edinburgh Castle (from below)

Guinevere. She's a hoot.

* "My friend* Harry is studying abroad in Dublin this semester, so the two of us made plans to visit each other in Ireland and Scotland."

This was true at the beginning of the trip, but the result of Harry and Ellen's Celtic Odyssey is that Harry and Ellen are now dating. :)