I’ve no Irish blood in me, cannot dance a jig and have never been crazy about St. Patrick’s day celebrations, so what am I doing in Ireland? Mostly because of the 51 countries in Europe, I have visited 24 to date and have 27 to go, including Ireland, so I gave into the temptation to cross another country off the list and flew into Dublin. There was more, of course, like its history, its spectacular Western seacoast and the opportunity to hang upside down and plant my lips on a stone upon which millions had smooched before. Deciding against kissing the Blarney Stone, I arrived in Dublin one rainy afternoon to enjoy its other delights.
It began as soon as I settled into the taxi from the airport to the hotel. The driver, upon learning it was my first time in Ireland, launched into a trove of useful information about the city. “Go see The Book of Kells, the library at Trinity College and the Guinness factory,” he advised “and you must eat Irish stew and the seafood.” He had a few other gems, including “all Irish politicians are idiots.” The free guided tour was, I would discover, standard on every taxi ride I took. As soon as my decidedly non-Irish accent was heard, every taxi driver pointed out things I should do, provided commentary on current Irish issues and mentioned their sons, daughters or other relatives who now lived in Canada.
So, too, on the Hop on/ Hop off bus tour I took my first day. Instead of the standard recording in half a dozen languages, 2 of my buses had live and lively commentary from the drivers. One driver, after noting that Alexander Guinness (of the Guinness beer fame) had 21 children, said he only had 5, since the Irish had finally managed to unshackle the chains of the Roman Catholic Church. He then broke into a song variously referring to brothels, prostitutes and a bastard. Not quite X-rated but not the usual Hop On/Hop Off fare. Another common theme of every tour bus driver was a lack of enthusiasm for Donald Trump. One bragged that Ireland was a true democracy since its president had received the majority of votes, something Trump could not claim (Hilary won the popular vote by more than 3 million votes).
Following the taxi driver’s recommendation, I created a To Do list for Dublin with the aid of a Hop On/Hop Off bus (18 Euros). First stop, Trinity College. After paying the 14 Euros entrance fee, I entered the library where the Book of Kells rests. The Book is a 9th century, ornately decorated, manuscript containing the first 4 gospel books. The museum housing the Book is underwhelming. Giant cut-outs of various pages introduce the book, outline theories about when it was written, where, by whom, its subsequent history and its physical properties- how vellum is made, where the different colour dyes used in the illustrations were acquired, etc.
The actual Book is under glass in a darkened room, with no photos allowed. Two different pages are on display-they change the pages every week- along with two other similar books. I patiently stood in line waiting my turn to glance at the books, walked around the cabinet where it and the others were open, admired the decorations and moved towards the library. One To Do off my list, 5 more to go.
The Library at Trinity College deservedly makes all the Most Beautiful Libraries in the world lists. The Long Room was constructed in the 18th century and, since 1801, was given the right to acquire a free copy of every book published in England and Ireland. Needless to say, it has a lot of old books in it. Visitors are limited to walking down the center aisle, which I did, and good photos are difficult due to the large number of visitors. I snapped a few not so good ones anyway and after 10 minutes left and struck To Do #2 off my list.
# 3 was Dublinia (11 Euros) , a museum located in the 12th century St. Michael’s Church, focusing on Viking and medieval Dublin. Here’s the abbreviated version of Irish history. Dublin had been founded by the Vikings in the 8th century who called it Dubh Linn (Black Pool) to which Dublin owes its name. The Vikings and the local Celtic tribes variously fought each other and intermarried until the Anglo-Normans invaded in 1171 and established themselves for the next 700 years. It was incorporated into England in the 14th century. Henry VIII began a series of plantations, confiscating land held by Celts or Normans and settling them instead with British Protestants. His daughter, Queen Elizabeth, continued the plantations and worried about having a Catholic island on England’s doorstep. She enacted the penal laws, forcibly requiring Roman Catholics to convert to Anglicanism and severely limiting the rights of Irish Catholics. For the next 300 years, Irish history was dominated by uprisings by Catholics/Irish against the British and the British’s ruthless oppression to tame the rebellious spirits. Ultimately, these failed. In 1916, demands for independence culminated in the Easter rising. The execution of its 14 leaders by the British only heightened the cries for independence and led to a bloody civil war. In 1921, a Treaty ended the war and the Irish Free State was established. In 1949, Ireland declared itself a republic but 6 counties in Northern Ireland opted for Home Rule, remaining part of the United Kingdom.
#4 was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, just a few blocks away. After paying the 7 Euro restoration fee, I entered the largest and highest Cathedral in Ireland. The first church was constructed in 1192, but it has been through so many renovations and reincarnations that no one is sure when each section was constructed and how much is original. Today, its official title is the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland, having been at various times Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Huguenot and, during Oliver Cromwell’s foray into Ireland, a stable for horses.
Jonathon Swift, of Gulliver’s Travels fame, was given a place of prominence in the Cathedral. In addition to being an author, he was the dean or overseer of the cathedral between 1713 and 1745 and his grave is there. The Cathedral boasts fine stain glass windows, two alleged statues of St. Patrick (the Cathedral says they were sculpted centuries after his death so their accuracy is in doubt), Celtic Crosses said to mark the well were St. Patrick was baptized and, this being Ireland, a statue of Benjamin Guinness (of the beer fame, see below), who provided generously for a major reconstruction in the 19th century. It can therefore lay claim to being the Church that was built by beer.
#5 was the Guinness factory. I limit my beer consumption to a glass a century and figured this was as good a place as any to have my 21st century stein. After paying the 24 euro entrance fee, which included a pint of beer, I embarked on the self guided tour.
Frankly, I found it underwhelming. I walked through a giant display about the ingredients in beer, then another large display showing the brewing process with special emphasis on the temperature for roasting barley (exactly 232 degrees celcius). A room full of barrels explains the cooper process; another giant hall talks about the transportation of the barrels all over the world. Then the fun starts, in one of two tasting rooms. A group of 25 of us were shown the proper technique for tasting beer (let it sit on the tongue for a few seconds and inhale it) before being allowed to gulp down a shooter size sample. Next was a display showing different advertising campaigns used by Guinness over the years, including the iconic Fish riding a Bicycle (A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle) but I still have no idea what it has to do with beer.
On the 7th floor is a bar with floor to ceiling windows providing 360 degree views of Dublin. I ordered my pint and slowly drank it. I found it quite flavourful, with the roasted barley invoking both coffee and chocolate. However, I still don’t like beer, not even Guinness, and can now safely refuse another one until the next century.
#6 on the To Do list was to go to an Irish song and dance show. I attended the touristy, but enthusiastic show at the Arlington (34 Euros before liquor) where not only did I strike # 6 off my list, but I had the Irish stew. Okay, but needs more seasoning for my taste.
Feeling quite content with having completed my To Do list in a single day, but quite a bit poorer, I returned to my hotel wondering what to do for my remaining days in Dublin. Stay tuned for the next post.