After touching down early in the morning at Dublin Airport, bleary from our body clocks’ insistence that it was 1:30 a.m., we muddled our way to a city bus taking us to the center of Dublin, where we hopped off too early on O’Connell St. on the advice of someone who probably didn’t understand me. We found a DART (train) station after some wandering around. One of our first sights was The Spire. I didn’t get a photo but I keep finding my thoughts returning to this sculpture. It reminded me of a recurring dream I have about trees so tall that I cannot see the tops of them. How did they erect such a tall structure? It melds into the sky and makes you wonder if it ever ends. I think that it is a fitting symbol for the Ireland we explored.
One of the many things I learned about Ireland in my preparations for this trip is that although it looms large in our American imaginations, it is actually quite a small country. The square mileage of Republic of Ireland is a little more than half the area of my home state, North Carolina. The population is small. Nearly half the population of Ireland lives in Dublin, the only large city. Most of us know about the Irish Diaspora of the mid-19th century, when so many of our ancestors in the U.S. fled the “Great Hunger” in Ireland. They were the lucky ones, because a million people died of starvation and disease. The population of Ireland today is about half of what it was 200 years ago. I’m not planning to give you a lesson in Irish history, but this is a vital part of understanding the Irish people and the nation that it is today.
The Irish economy boomed from 1995-2007, a period they called the “Celtic Tiger.” A lot of EU money poured in and development surged. There was 0% unemployment. Now the young people are again leaving the country in search of jobs, and the streets of every town are plastered with political signs advocating voting “Yes” or “No” to a constitutional amendment that would change the way their economy is handled. People stopped us in the streets when they heard our American accents and said “thank you” for coming here (unsaid but politely implicit: “and spending your money”). There continues to be a lot of disappointment and turmoil in Ireland, but the days of the “Troubles” when violence was used to try to make a difference seem to be over for the most part now.
But, I’m an artist, not a historian or economist. I’m going to concentrate on the beauty of Ireland in this series. It was the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life.