Four leaf clovers and Leprechauns are the first two things that pop up in your mind when you think of Ireland. However, that was not our experience. We were a group of five young volunteers from Macedonia who went to visit Ireland for the first time in their lives on a youth exchange on the subject of Teen healthy relationships. We were mostly interested in this subject because we discovered that the organizer of the project is an organization called Adapt Youth Services which is actually a very experienced centre helping abused women – something that we don’t have in our country, but is strongly needed. We were situated in a small and charming town called Bruff on the outskirts of County Limerick, filled with tons of incredibly friendly people. The spooky detail was that our accommodation was actually an old Convent of the Faithful Companions of Jesus – Catholic Sisters whose mission used to be “to follow Jesus to the cross and beyond”. The interesting part, which we found out later in our journey, was that one of our team, our team leader more precisely, slept in the exact same room where one of the sisters had committed suicidea couple hundred years ago! As we researched later, the basketball court where a guy on our team cut his leg, used to be a graveyard! – coincidence? However, we met the most wonderful friends from Croatia and Greece with whom we had a laugh about these strange and spooky circumstances. We shared our ajvar, Macedonian yellow cheese, rakija and some sweets with them, while we tried tzatziki, Greek white wine and Croatian salami delicatessen. They were amazed by our home-made video about the beauties of Macedonia, where they followed our journey from the fortress of Kale, through the beauties of the Matka canyon, the Skopje city square and the Old Bazaar, finally to the highest point in Skopje – The Millennium Cross on mountain Vodno. They promised to visit us very soon! Macedonia is our homeland, so we’d say that there is nothing compared to its beauties, but Ireland had a lot to offer in that field. We found out what the colour green really is in Ireland. We have never seen such green fields, such green grass in our lives, however funny it may sound! The nature was amazing, with one of the most wonderful views we’ve ever seen from the top of the Cliffs of Moher. Imagine yourself standing on the edge of a cliff; wind blowing in your face; in front of you 50 shades of blue – sea and sky connecting in one thin line in the far horizons and below you thousand waves crushing in the distant shore of the cliff. Fear rising, your heart is pounding, but in the same time, the wild beauty of it all overcomes the fear and all you feel is awe. The Irish beauty was expressed, although in a different way, in the pretty, cute cities of Galway, Cork and Limerick that we visited. Christmas lights, jolly songs and friendly faces were waiting for us, the only thing missing was snow! We tried some hot nutella buns and mulled wine to help us with the cold, while we shopped for souvenirs and magnets. The Christmas atmosphere was amazing and kept us happy for the day.
During the nights, we visited local bars, trying the famous Guinness beer and enjoying some Ed Sheeran songs. However, the most magical city of all was Dublin! There was something to do for everyone there! We took pictures by the famous Ha’pennybridge, enjoyed the gardens and library of Trinity College, visited Dublin castle and admired the paintings from the art exhibition in the National Gallery. The most famous place in Dublin is the Temple bar district in the night, but during the day as well.
In the afternoons, we would relax in a cozy restaurant and try out traditional Irish dishes, such as the Irish stew and shepherd’s pie. During the nights, we would party with our friends from Croatia and Greece in a local pub. Grabbing a Guinness or cider at The Temple Bar, while enjoying the Christmas moodbecame a special treat. While enjoying the beauties of Ireland, we managed to do a little learning as well. We did diagrams and drawings with a trainer on what it means to have a healthy relationship, and what characterizes the opposite of one.
We did the same exercise with kids in high school a few days later. It was very interesting to see the difference in sharing opinions between the ages and the different ways in which we reacted after seeing a video of an abusive boyfriend, opposed to their reaction to it. We visited the center for abused women in Limerick, but unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to meet or talk to one of the victims. We didn’t manage to see examples of the processes we were told in theory – in real life, nor were we able to learn something more about helping the abused women in our countries. But, luckily, the things we lacked in training and learning, we made up by enjoying this beautiful and magical country full of wonderful people and friends. When people ask us what we remember from our trip, I’m sure our answer would be the green fields everywhere you look, the breathtaking views from the Cliffs of Moher, the amazing friends we met and last but not least – that we all found a coin or a penny in every corner we turned – luck of the Irish, eh?