It has been three weeks since returning from Ireland. As soon as I heard about the trip, I decided to go. I love to travel, had never been to Ireland, it has long been on my proverbial “bucket” list, and the timing was right!
Coming from the GREEN state of Vermont to the EMERALD ISLE, having heard SO many stories from my students was a real joy. As the Program Director for Media Communication, I regularly encourage students to travel abroad during their junior year. As students began returning with their stories, I began to envy them! They regaled me with tales of Dublin, places to see, travel they arranged, food they learned to love, and of course Dr. Stephen Robinson and the faculty and staff at Champlain Dublin.
Let me tell you about a few of the highlights I experienced! Dublin itself is a beautiful city which lends itself to foot traffic. Although I didn’t completely figure out all the streets, I think with another day or two in the city, I could have mastered my directions a little better!
One of my favorite trips was to visit Joyce Country Sheepdogs on the shores of Lough Na Fooey in beautiful Connemara, in western Ireland. We were driving along, 26 of us in a premier coach bus with our beloved driver Kieran, passing “to die for” scenery. We had been traveling along a lake – Lough Na Fooey, when we pulled up along the side of the road, and Stephen Robinson, hopped out and jogged up someone’s driveway.
A few minutes later, we were all walking up that same driveway to meet Joe Joyce who spent the next hour or more showing us his amazing Border Collie Sheepdogs, sheep and talking about the life of a sheep and dog owner/breeder. Joe farms in Shanafaraghaun, County Galway where he lives with his wife and three children. Nestled between the Maumturk and Partry Mountains, Joe is a hill sheep farmer and although he has some fenced in land by the house, the majority of his 200 sheep are on the other side of Lough Na Fooey, spread out over the 1000 acres of mountainous common land which Joe shares with four neighboring farmers.
To say that the sheep were astonishingly attractive is an understatement. They are of the Connemara Blackface variety. They are the only breed with the resilience to thrive in the rugged and challenging terrain of Connemara. Be sure to check them out online: https://www.joycecountrysheepdogs.ie/
Joe introduced us to his dogs, and one by one, the dogs came out of their pens to show us how they work with Joe to herd the sheep to the desired place. Joe whistled, talked and spoke to the dogs throughout the demonstration. With names like: Ben, Sweep, Gwen, Roy, Gill, Prince, Jill, and Fly, it is hard not to be enchanted by these energetic dogs. It was amazing to watch how the sheep dogs love what they do and the techniques to move the sheep. Each sheep dog behaves and approaches the sheep a little differently. My fellow travelers and I continue to talk about Sweep, and how he would hunker down and just watch from behind a mound of grass or a rock once he had the sheep where he wanted them, but remaining ever alert and focused.
I was particularly touched by how much Joe loved his dogs. He lavished praise and attention on each dog, which was nice to see. As well, Joe never seemed to tire of answering our multitude of questions! He was the epitome of patience both with the dogs and with the humans!
It hasn’t harmed Joe’s marketing drive that Joyce Country Sheepdogs is endorsed by Hollywood. Joe was approached one day by a location scout for the film ‘Marley and Me’, looking for some sheep and a sheepdog to film a scene with the film’s stars. Before he knew what was happening Joe was playing host in his kitchen to Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. You can bet that we all came back and watched the movie over just to see the scene where Joe’s sheep and dog have a starring role.
To me the visit to Joyce Country Sheepdogs, was an opportunity to step into someone’s home and livelihood for a brief pause in time, to really understand the culture and people of Ireland. I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to stand there in Joe’s yard watching this incredible demonstration, and how many people never get to see something like this. It was a real highlight for me!
Professor and Program Director