By T.R. Laputka
Director of Technology
Over spring break, sixteen MMI students, four parents and three faculty members traveled to the British Isles for an incredible educational tour. Coordinated by Education First Tours, the trip took them through Dublin, Belfast, Derry, Edinburgh, London, and many other locales. For most of the students this had been the first time they had traveled to Europe. T.R. Laputka, MMI technology director; Michael Mele, Science Department Chair and Science instructor; Christina Spencer, Chinese Language teacher; and Jaime of Education First Tours led the private group.
The first stop was in Dublin where the group explored the Dublin Castle and Dubh Linn Gardens behind the castle. They toured the Temple Bar district and had lunch in Temple Square. The group visited Trinity College and were able to see the Book of Kells, and hear from the custodians in the Long Room of the Old Library, which holds over 200,000 volumes dating back four centuries. Later on, they went to the National Museum of Ireland, which included a fascinating exhibit of preserved bodies from Ireland’s Iron Age (400 B.C.).
At each stop, local tour guides provided the group with a native’s guide to the area. On the second day, the group received a lesson in political and religious history of Ireland along with a tour of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Other sites visited included O’Connell Street and St. Stephen’s Green.
Following their visit to Dublin, the group traveled by motor coach to Belfast, Northern Ireland (UK), where another local tour guide told the group all about Belfast’s violent history, and showed them various political landmarks and famous murals reflecting the past. This included letting the students add their own messages on one of the boundary walls. At the Titanic Museum, the group learned about the history of the infamous luxury liner, and the effect its creation had on Belfast’s local economy.
Next stop was Derry/Londonderry where another local tour guide gave them a tour of the fortifications and city hall, and explained Northern Ireland’s history of emigration, politics, and culture. With this discussion, the group was able to find similarities to current events back home.
Then it was off to the coast, where they stopped to traverse Giant’s Causeway. This fascinating geological phenomenon comprises thousands of 55-million-year-old hexagonal basalt columns that form a honeycomb pathway into the sea. While there, they learned about the legend of how Finn the Giant created the causeway. The group was amazed by the natural rock formation, and overwhelmed by the magnificence of it all.
After leaving Ireland, the group visited Cairnryan Scotland. While there, they visited the Brig o’ Doon Bridge, and saw a local wedding with bagpipes. Continuing on to Edinburgh, they visited the National Scottish Museum. Another local tour guide provided a tour of Edinburgh and the Castle, which included seeing the crown jewels.
Late in the afternoon, they all met up at the train station, and caught the express train to London. While on the train, they met an acapella group from the University of St. Andrews on their way to London for a national ICCA competition. Upon arriving at King’s Cross Station, they visited track 9-3/4, and the Harry Potter store.
The next morning a local London tour guide gave them the grand tour of London, including Buckingham Palace, St. James, Westminster Abbey, and Parliament. For lunch, the group went out to Windsor Castle, where Queen Elizabeth was staying. They were able to tour the castle and St George's Chapel.
For Easter Sunday, the group had a free day to explore London on their own. Some of the sights included the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, the British Museum, the London Eye, Harrods, the Science Museum, The HMS Belfast, and the Imperial War Museum. The group wrapped up the day with a nighttime Jack the Ripper walking tour.
The following morning they had a rainy ride to Heathrow airport, where they bid a tearful goodbye to Jaime, who had been a wonderful tour director throughout the whole trip. After a long flight and bus ride from JFK, they met up with their families at MMI, who were very happy to see them again and hear all about their trip.
It was an extremely inspiring experience – not only intellectually, but also personally. The connections and memories made, things learned, places seen, and food tasted, will not soon be forgotten.