Sunday May 29th, 2016 (cont)
Did you know that it can be argued that Ireland is the saviour of modern civilization? Much of our learned histories and knowledge would have been lost if not for the studious monks and historians who spent years, often in self exile, copying texts, recording, writing and illustrating. After the Fall of Rome and into the Dark Ages, many European literary centres were sacked and burned. It was in the remote places of Ireland where both Christian and Pagan knowledge was preserved. This in part was also due to Ireland’s strong preservation of oral history by the seanchaithe (storytellers).
The Secret of Kells
Prior to my trip to Ireland, my friend Benjamin, a history buff told me about the Book of Kells, one of the world’s most famous manuscripts. As an artist, the book fascinated me and I couldn’t wait to see it one day. I also discovered a brilliant animated film called The Secret of Kells, depicting the creation of the book, albeit a partially inaccurate and fantastical version. The animation is stunning and the story incredible. The manuscript was believed to have been written primarily in Iona, a small island monastery on the west coast of Scotland, but that is up for debate. At some point along it’s lifespan around 800AD it was brought to the Abbey of Kells for sanctuary and perhaps that was where the illustrations were completed. The settlement at Kells was sacked by Vikings repeatedly, but the book survived. Many of the other books (and people) there did not. The book was presented to the Library of Trinity College Dublin in the 1660s. That’s where I am headed to see the book in person. I had just visited the campus that morning, but I had to go back to see one of the greatest literary treasures, The Book of Kells.
In the Library
The Library at Trinity College is the largest in Ireland and dates back to the establishment of the college in 1592. I suggest booking a ticket in advance, as I was able to march past the lineup of people waiting to get inside and flash my prepaid ticket. The sun is still shining, so I almost feel bad heading indoors. That feeling is quickly shunned aside as I stride in awe down the Long Room of the Old Library, a stunning hall built between 1712 and 1732. The Long Room holds 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books and is lined with busts of great authors and thinkers of history. There are alcoves with ladders ascending to the highest shelves and row upon row of cloth bound, gold lettered spines that I was just dying to peruse. It seems to be all just display; roped off, inaccessible relics. A medieval harp, very possibly the oldest in the world and once thought to belong to Brian Boru is also a main fixture of the library.
I dally around the displays and information plastered in the first couple of rooms adjoined to the library. There are large lit up screens depicting the old illustrations from both the Book of Kells and other sacred manuscripts such as the Book of Durrow. Stories and biographies of monks and saints, followed by specific instructions about inks and materials used in the book production provide a ton of information to absorb. I was fascinated by the different stones, minerals and plants blended to create the colourful inks, as well as the reeds and feathers used for quills.
Finally I advance to a darkened room with a glass case in the centre. Two volumes, each open to a page in the middle, the Book of Kells is only viewed by a half dozen people at a time and there are always people waiting behind you for their turn. I spend a minute or two admiring the graceful penned lines of calligraphy and the decorated edging of the illustrious drawings, the colours somehow subtle and vibrant simultaneously. It’s a stunning work of art. How much time is acceptable to stare at one page of a book, especially when you’ve paid for this fleeting glance? I’ll probably never see that book again, and I wanted to engrain in in my memory. Failing that, I’ll buy a postcard at the gift shop.
Queen of Tarts
Evidently, I bought a book of postcards, showing some of the other pages I didn’t see and a card of the page I did see, plus a copy of the Secret of Kells on DVD (It was Region 2, so I highly doubted I could play it, but being a Belgian/Irish release, I hadn’t seen it available in any Canadian store) and a shot glass with a beautiful pewter triple spiral on it. Might as well have some spiritual art to admire while doling out some Jameson Whiskey back home. Speaking of drinks, I am very hungry and thirsty having not eaten since toast in the morning before the walking tour. I know just the place to go: My Dublin host just left his job at the Queen of Tarts, as he is moving to Galway in a week. He still said I should stop in for a nibble of their fine food. I walk the short few blocks west and sit in the quaint cafe, filled with ceramic kitsch. I love it. Plus there’s frittata and Irish coffee (do I still call it that when I am in Ireland?), so I am in gourmet heaven.
Get out of Gaol
I check the bus schedule and decide to head a ways across town to see the Kilmainham Gaol. It was recommended to me by the Irish lads I met while waiting to board the ferry the day before. They said it was definitely worth checking out. I took the bus over there, but I just missed the last admission time and was denied entrance to the gaol proper. I could however wander the courtroom, so I did.
It was a quick loop around the building, past the bench where the verdicts would have been handed out and a display case listing names of female convicts from 1879-1956, highlighting the entry of Constance Georgine Markievicz (1868-1927) a fascinating artist, activist, socialist, suffragette and revolutionist, who was sentenced to death for her participation in the Easter Rising. Her sentence was reduced to life in prison, then she was released in general amnesty in 1917.
“Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.” – Constance Georgine Markievicz
A Walk in the Park
Back outside, the sun is beaming down and while the Museum of Modern Art is right across the street I am sick of being indoors so I walk North up to Phoenix Park. A short distance into the park, I come across a large grassy lawn, with many people sitting and hanging out, playing guitar and chatting under the shadow of the 63m high obelisk that is the Wellington Monument. I veer away from the crowd, cross a lane and enter a sparse forested area. The trees are lovely and I find a shady spot to lay out my shawl and read a book. I’ve selected a slim volume of James Joyce’s Dubliners. It’s appropriate and travel friendly. It’s also a nice read, containing short, digestible stories about rough and tumble life in early 20th century Dublin. I smile when I read a passage mentioning a place I’ve been or a familiar street name. I’m really enjoying this day outside and decide to walk the 5.5 kilometres home, as the route meanders alongside the Liffey and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do on such a nice day.
“I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.” ― James Joyce, Dubliners
Meander Along The Liffey
So, this is now my self guided tour of Dublin, from the banks of the Liffey, I see the modern Criminal Courts of Justice, Sean Heuston Bridge (1827, LUAS and pedestrians), Heuston Station (re-named after the executed leader of the Rising), Guinness Brewery (save the tour for a rainy day), National Museum of Ireland (Decorated Arts & History branch on the site of the former Collins Barracks), Rory O’ More Bridge (1859), Liam Mellow’s Bridge (1764 aka Queen Maeve Bridge), Saint Paul’s Church (1835), Aras Ui Dhailigh and The Four Courts (Late 1700s). Crossing the Liffey at the Ha’penny Bridge (1816), which is a lovely pedestrian bridge indeed, adorned with cast iron spiralling details and blooming flower baskets it’s obvious why it’s such a popular symbol of Dublin. I can see the Custom House in the distance and take the obligatory photo. Now on the South side of the River Liffey, the golden hour splashed beautiful light on the iron bridge curves and shadows.
Dusk Falls in Dublin
I cross back over at O’Connell Bridge. The street and bridge are named in honour of nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell. This street was a battlefield during the Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War.
I’ve been residing on the top floor of a 4 storey walkup in the Granby Park area on Dominick St. Next door is a beautiful old church. I drop off my things, change and head out for a night on the town, solo. Speed walking west, I glance over my shoulder to keep an eye out for any knackers lurking around, but the streets are relatively empty and I know where I am heading. I had read about this cool hidden gem called Hacienda Bar and I had to check it out. It’s a tricky spot to find, with no sign announcing it’s location, but I was persistent and I knew whereabouts it should be located. Once I passed the old fruit markets, almost all the way to the Jameson Distillery, I knew I had gone too far. After backtracking a block or two, I rang the buzzer of a nondescript building with one beer sign outside. A few seconds later an older hippie fellow with long grey hair and a colourful shirt answered the door. “Ah, you must be Shay”, I said with confidence. He looked me up and down and welcomed me inside.
The Best Bar.
What is this place, where the door is locked and you must be approved entry? Well, it’s a delightful bar, with a pool table, a juke box, and very decent pint prices. The walls are laden with photographs of the famous visitors and Shay is quick to tell you all about the time Ed Sheeran or the lads from Radiohead came in, ‘oh and do you recognize the fella in the picture with me there, did ya know that’s Matthew McConnaughey’. I sat at the bar and chatted with Shay and the server about world travels. A pint of Guinness later and the entertainment for the evening was just tuning their guitars. I thanked the staff, Shay walked me to the door and said I would surely be back tomorrow. I wanted to visit a few more places that evening. Next up was another recommendation from the fellas waiting for the ferry the day before. One of them worked at a pub called Foggy Dew (I had to get them to repeat it 3 times because I thought they said Foggy Jew). South of the Liffey in Temple Bar, the Foggy Dew was packed with young people and a loud boisterous funky ska type band was performing. I had another pint and tried to find a place to sit. It was fun, but there was still one more place on my list for the night.
Walking west past the cathedrals, I hit up the oldest pub in Dublin, The Brazenhead (1198). It was a different crowd here, a bit older but still rambunctious with the majority of them having just come from seeing The Boss himself (Bruce Springsteen) at Croke Park. They were having good craic and everyone was already quite buzzed by the time I showed up! A band was playing and I filmed a couple of the tunes. I joined an older lady at a table near the front and she goaded me to get up and dance when a hand was proffered my way. Eventually I did get up, for one tune, stepping on the poor boys feet a lot I imagine, before collapsing breathless back in my chair when the song was over. There was banjo and it was a fast stomping beat full of do-si-dos and spins. I had a grand time.
Midnight had come and gone and I still had to walk myself back to the flat. I stopped outside to take a photo of the Brazenhead and a random man beckoned me to wait until he got into place to pose in the picture, hah! It turned out better that way, don’t you think? My walk home past the cathedral churchyards was uneventful and relaxing, followed by the mayhem of Temple Bar, then back across the river, up the torn up cobbles of the streets under construction for LUAS, and up the 4 flights of stairs to my comfy mattress on the floor. Tomorrow’s adventure involves a bus trip out of town to the lush green countryside, north a short way to Tara and Kells!