The Kiplin Hall Summer Program is a three week course for students to explore the famous Romantics and their places of inspiration around England and Ireland. Professor Richard Gillin and his wife, Barbara, have led the course for the past twenty years. Written by Dr. Gillin.
For the last twenty years it has been a privilege for my wife, Barbara, and myself to lead the Kiplin Hall Summer Program in England and Ireland. From its inception the purpose of the program has been to link a relationship between literature written in or about particular landscapes, and the physical landscapes themselves. Our emphasis has been on experiencing the physical environment and the literature, and to accomplish that end, we hike into the mountains of the Lake District connected to the Romantic Poets. We also hike the Haworth Moors with their association with the Bronte sisters, the cliffs of the North Sea and Caedmon, England’s first poet, and visits to York City and Edinburgh, Scotland. Then we travel to Ireland and stay in a village, Glengarriff. While there we hike into the hills of West Cork, and Kerry and read a variety of Irish poets. From my perspective the program provides the best classroom in the world to read and talk about the poets and writers from the various locations we visit.
Each day we hike into those landscapes and the purpose is to have students create their own experience of the poetry and the environment. Weather can be a challenge in England and Ireland, yet we go out everyday. Enduring the elements helps to provide a bond for each group. Interestingly though we visit many of the same places each year, no two groups experience them in the same way. Scaling a mountain on a cold, wet, windy day takes determination and fortitude, and students have commented through the years about how much achieving a summit meant to them, even though it was hard, and at times unpleasant. Visiting sites directly connected to particular poems provides something of a unique dimension to the discussion of the poems. One example is the way that the landscape that we sit in to read and discuss Wordsworth’s poem, “Michael,” has not changed since the early 19th Century. The beginning of the poem is descriptive of the formidable climb along Greenhead Ghyll, the very same path that led us to our location. As we get into the poem I can see on the students’ facial expressions the way that the climb is affecting their understanding of the poem; they are living a literary landscape and a physical one at the same time.
The legal drinking age in England and Ireland is eighteen. All of the students are legal, and we do take them to the local village pub in England, and we stay at an inn in Ireland that is also a pub. Generally speaking I am glad to say that our students handle the alcohol issue well. I ask them to take note of what is distinctive about pub life in England and pub life in Ireland as they experience each. I do tell them ahead of time that in Ireland they can be expected to sing a song, tell a story, dance, or tell a joke. Over the years there have been many remarkably talented students, and they have melded into village life very quickly. One of the proudest moments came one evening when some local young musicians were playing Elvis Presley songs for the “Yanks.” In the pub was a teenager with downs syndrome along with his family. He was singing the songs with vigor, and playing an air guitar. As a number of our students got up to dance, one of our young women went over the teenager and asked him to dance with her. His face bloomed into an outsized smile and he eagerly jumped into the gyrating bodies. In short order he became part of the dancers, and spent the evening being cheered, and laughing with the group. I noticed that both of his parents were in tears of joy. Afterwards they talked with me to express their gratitude for the student’s kindness, and what I would call a typical Irish way. They called for a blessing on the students, and gratitude for the Yanks.
Memories abound, too many to include here. But the value of the program and all the experiences are inestimable. As teachers Barbara and I have found fulfillment in working very closely with the participants over the years in ways very different than conventional classes on campus. Students in significant numbers have expressed how participating in the program changed their lives, the very thing that is at the core of a liberal arts education. We sincerely hope that students will continue to take advantage of summer programs in foreign countries.