Tags: observer passport, study abroad Photo courtesy of Kiera Johnsen Kiera Johnsen, a sophomore at Saint Mary’s, said she first fell in love with Ireland when she saw the sunset on Hill of Tara. Tara is said to be the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.I was nervous about studying abroad in Ireland and leaving my friends and family for the semester. I wondered if I made the right decision, leaving behind everything I knew for four months. However, these fears subsided soon after arriving because I was not alone when I traveled to the Emerald Isle. The other Saint Mary’s girls studying in Maynooth are wonderful. We are fortunate to have each other to lean on when we are scared, homesick or stressed. The sisterhood of Saint Mary’s does not exist only in South Bend, Ind. And here, as a sisterhood, we are able to explore the beauty of Irish culture, people and lands.Coming to Ireland, I did not know what to expect. Like many people who have never visited the country, I envisioned Ireland as a green land, full of sheep, pubs, friendly people, a lot of rain and wonderful accents. While some of this is true, I have learned that Ireland is so much more than that. There is something magical about this place, something wonderful and glorious that captures one’s heart. When you look out onto an Irish countryside, it takes your breath away.While on top of the Hill of Tara, said to be the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, looking down on a vast green countryside and watching a beautiful Irish sunset, I fell in love. At that moment, I realized both the beauty and culture of the Emerald Isle have now forever bewitched my soul. Just in the past two weeks of being in Ireland, I have kissed the Blarney Stone, wished upon the Lia Fáil (the stone of destiny) at Tara, learned to Irish dance, gone to pubs and visited ancient ruins that are still standing to this day. In a short span of two weeks, I created experiences I never thought I would be able to. The best part is, I am at the very beginning of my time abroad.This past weekend, the Saint Mary’s students studying in Maynooth took a trip to Dunmore Cave, the Hill of Tara, Newgrange and other amazing places in Ireland. Dunmore Caves and Newgrange are listed as two out of the “three darkest places in Ireland” in “The Triads of Ireland,” a collection of Old Irish triads on a variety of topics. Our tour guide said Newgrange Monument was built 5,000 years ago by Neolithic Irish people and took approximately 40 years to complete. It is a massive, remarkably water-tight stone structure, which may have been used as a tomb for the dead, as well as an ancient temple. It is placed perfectly to calculate the winter solstice based on the movement of the sun. Once the lights are turned off, it is pitch black inside, expect for a single ray of sunlight that shines through.Dunmore Cave in the county of Kilkenny has a dark history. Thousands of years ago, the cave became the site of a Viking Massacre that killed 1,000 people, many of whom were women and children. Our guide said it is thought that the ancient people never entered the cave except to hide from danger. On the day of massacre, the men stood outside the cave, while the women, children and elderly hid in the most difficult places to reach inside. Once the men were killed, the Vikings entered the cave to find the rest of the village. Unable to reach most of the hiding places, they attempted to smoke out the villagers. By setting it on fire, the carbon dioxide eliminated the oxygen and many of the villagers were suffocated to death. Later, people who knew the legend of the massacre never entered the cave due to fear of death. On a lighter note, we were told the bottom of Dunmore Cave is called the fairy floor. According to legend, the fairies and leprechauns kept the floor clear of rocks so these mythical creatures were able to dance. Unfortunately, we were unable to see it due to the rain flooding the bottom.