Dublin, Ireland

Sunday, May 13, 2012: Dublin

After an excellent breakfast at Ariel House, we braved a wicked wind to roam the streets of Temple Bar (very quiet on a Sunday morning, as you might think) and central Dublin until the museums opened that afternoon. A public art show wrapped two sides of the edge of St. Stephen’s Green, where, again, a young artist stepped up to us, told us about his experiences in the states, and added to the notes others had drawn on our map of Dublin. Such friendly folks, these Irish.

Then we headed first to the National Museum of Natural History briefly, which was a old-style glass-cases full of taxidermy type museum. We looked through the native fauna and mineral displays, and then walked through the National Gallery of Art, which had a few famous world artists as well as Irish artists, but what we were really slavering after opened at 2 p.m.: The National Museum of Archaeology, a beautiful old building full of ancient Celtic treasures.

I took a lot of photos here without flash, but even though I checked with several guards for permission, I still got ugly looks from the other patrons. My purpose was to document ideas for an art history research class that I’ll be taking next spring, and boy did I get plenty of ideas. The treasures that have been pulled out of the Irish bogs, including clothing and books, are amazing. I saw bog mummies with nearly perfect hands, which I did not photograph because I feel funny about bodies on display. Embroidered treasures and golden gem-encrusted reliquaries and book shrines. Egyptian treasures as well – I saw ancient tapestry woven textiles. A little Alice in Wonderland door (”Mind Your Head”) beside a steep old spiral staircase. The tilework and woodwork and structure of the building were as fascinating to me as the trove housed within. Even the doorknockers drew me in.

When we forced ourselves to leave at 5 p.m., we decided that it was time to find a pub and something to eat. As we walked along the nearly traffic-less Sunday afternoon streets, disagreeing on our options, Sandy spotted an interesting looking shop that was open: Sweny Chemist. He knew that I had read some James Joyce before our trip and was attempting Ulysses, and a sign in the window said it was where Leopold Bloom bought his lemon soap. Well. Although I am at the moment 28% finished with Ulysses and may not ever be 100% finished with it, my inner literary groupie thrilled to this information. The lemon soap – I remember that! Oh joy! We went inside to find the quaint little shop full of interesting knick-knacks and Joyce collectibles and a table full of used books. The volunteers there invited us to a out-loud circle reading of Finnegan’s Wake at 6:00, a cup of hot tea, and pints at a nearby pub afterwards. We weren’t sure. We were tired and hungry and were familiar enough with Finnegan’s Wake to know that it was filled with poetical Joyce-created words, beautiful but barely sensical. We went to the pub they recommended across the street, The Ginger Man, where we were promptly served our beef and Guinness pie and chicken/mushroom pie, and finished in just enough time to decide that this was an Irish experience that would be unique and that we should do it.

So we sat in with the reading group, which included Brazilians and Italians, enunciated Joyce’s fantastical words with our Southern drawls as best we could, and went out with P.J., Mirko, and Emanuele for drinks at the Ginger Man afterwards. We learned a lot about living in Ireland from those who were native, and some, like Mirko and Emanuele, who were there on work Visas. I’m really glad that we made the choice we did.

Next post: Monday, May 14, 2012: County Meath

Dublin, Ireland

Saturday, May 12, 2012: Dublin

>Since we were too early to check into Ariel House, we left our luggage there and hopped back onto the DART train to go to Trinity College, where I wanted to see the Book of Kells. This was a major item on my list, and in retrospect I maybe should have waited until I was more awake. Nevertheless, we took a short student-led tour of Trinity College and filed into the Old Library where the Book of Kells, Book of Durrow, and Book of Armagh are on exhibition, all famous illuminated manuscripts over 1000 years old. The Old Library is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and there were more manuscripts on display down its long hall.

But do you think that I remember much of this? No. I have a hazy memory of nudging myself into a double circle of tourists looking at the books through a glass case, and old books on tall wooden shelves to the top of tall ceilings and ladders, and to prove it wasn’t a dream I came home with a couple of refrigerator magnets from the gift shop. So thank God for You Tube:

Then we gave in and went back to Ariel House, where we slept for a few hours. They say that you should force yourself to stay up and get on European time the very first day. I say they must have slept within the 24 hours prior to landing in Europe.

When we arose, the woman at the front desk gave us a map and circled some pubs and restaurants she thought we’d like within walking distance. It was a bit cool but a fine afternoon for a walk. The first pub we stopped at was O’Donoghue’s, where the notes of fiddles and flutes were wafting out the door. We ordered a couple of pints of Guinness, tipped the bartender, and found seats in a small room behind the room with the music and the bar. There was a family from Portugal, a group of locals who seemed to be talking about politics, and a good-looking young couple who seemed to be very in love with each other. We toasted our old friend George O’Rourke, and ourselves.

I walked into the front room to take a photo of the musicians, and an old man sitting at the bar stopped me, welcomed me to Ireland, and introduced me to his cousin Jerry.

When I returned, Sandy was talking with the Portuguese family. They left, and the young woman across the room began talking to us. Soon she and her boyfriend joined us and gave us advice on where to go during our very short time in Dublin. They also advised us about tipping. We found out from them and others that the Irish don’t make their bartenders and waiters live off tips like they do in the U.S. so the tipping culture is quite different.

These two, Niamh and Johnny, became our first Irish friends (on Facebook as well!). We would find out that we would never lack for conversation at any pub if we were open to it. And we would discover, when we heard his song on the radio later that week, that Johnny and his band, The Aftermath, are accomplished musicians. I hate that our photos from this night are unfocused, because it was a great introduction to Irish pubs and people. We genuinely felt welcome to the Irish party. (2020 Update: Niamh and I are still friends on FB and Instagram.)

We explored around the older part of Dublin until we found O’Neills on Suffolk St., a large pub with lots of little nooks up and down stairs and a “carvery” (what we would call a buffet, I guess) that Johnny and Niamh recommended. We ate Irish stew and stuffed chicken, drank Smithwick’s, bought a t-shirt, and headed back to the guesthouse. There was a time when Sandy and I could have stayed up and partied with the best of them, but those years are long gone, and we knew it. So we did what we knew in our nerdy hearts was best – we got some sleep so that we could hit the museums on Sunday with some fresh energy.

Next – Sunday, May 13, 2012: Dublin

Dublin, Ireland

An introduction, and touching down in Dublin

Saturday, May 12, 2012

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.

Next – Saturday, May 12, 2012: Dublin