Ireland Post Mortem – Part III

After leaving Blarney Castle on Day 5 of our trip, we traveled north to Mallow to catch the City Gold Train for Dublin. I had never been on a train before so this was a unique experience by itself. Although we were all in First Class and served lunch on our 2 1/2 hour train ride to Dublin, the meal left a lot to be desired. Plane food is definitely better than train food, but our seats were comfortable and spacious and I was able to nap for a bit.

After arriving in Dublin, we caught up with our tour bus which Jackie (our driver) had driven from Blarney Castle to Dublin, a 4+ hour drive for him.

Anyway, once in Dublin, we had a scenic drive through the city, passing by many historic sites and places before reaching The Westbury Hotel for 3 nights. We had a few hours to wander around close to our hotel which is in the center of the shopping district on Grafton Street and our tour guide, Maggie, was nice enough to provide a list of her personal recommendations for stores, museums, etc. so we checked out some local bookstores and basically walked around the area getting our bearings. On our first night we took a tour of the Jameson Distillery (pronounced Jemison), plus a private dinner and entertainment by local players and dancers. Very lively and engaging after a long day, they kept us awake considering it was almost 11 pm by the end of the evening. The two big distilleries/breweries in Dublin are Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and Guinness. Both offer tours and dining and seem to be big draws. I don’t care for either whiskey or dark beer so I would have happily passed, but dinner was delicious and the conversation at our table was great, so it all worked out for me.

The nexy day was a half day where we toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College to see the Book of Kells in the morning then we were on our own for the rest of the afternoon.

While I don’t get too into churches, I was still amazed with the history of the Cathedral and the interesting stories that go along with it. Some of the tiles in the church date back to the 1100s and the stained glass windows are breathtaking. The second photo shows where the knights used to sit in the church, although their seats are no longer used.

There was an old door on display in the church called the Door of Reconciliation. In the late 1400s, two Irish clans were fighting and one clan ran into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for sanctuary. Although the outside clan had the church surrounded and had a bigger fighting force, as a gesture of truce, the leader of the clan on the outside hacked a hole in the door and put his arm through the hole in the door in order to shake hands with the leader of the clan inside. Rather than chopping his arm off, the leader inside shook hands and this door became a symbol known as “chancing one’s arm,” which means performing an action in the face of probable failure.

After leaving the church, we went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. In addition, my son would be happy to know that the dining hall scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed in the college’s dining hall which are open to the public as well. Not being a religious person, I had no prior knowledge of the Book of Kells, but was suitably impressed upon seeing them and learning their history.

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was transcribed by Celtic monks circa 800. It is widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. Trinity College is its permanent home and displays two of the four volumes at a time, one with text and one with illustrations and the pages are turned every so often to prevent fading. Kells is the Abbey where the books were housed in Ireland for the longest period of time during the medieval ages, although the manuscripts were produced in monasteries throughout Ireland, England and Scotland. At some point, the book was stolen by Vikings and when it was recovered, the bejewelled front and back covers were gone, but the book was largely intact. There are many theories on when and where the manuscripts originated, but the popular belief is that it was begun in Iona and then moved to Kells.

After viewing the manuscripts, we moved through the old Library which is no longer used, but is interesting by itself because of the rows and rows of bookshelves and the busts of famous writers and dignitaries. Just seeing the ladders that were used to access the books on the high shelves was cool to see.

Once our tour of Trinity College was over, we had the afternoon to ourselves. Mom and I chose to go to the National Gallery and the National Museum, both free of charge. We were told the Gallery currently had a painting by Vermeer called Girl With A Pearl Earring. Unfortunately for my mom, it was a mistake. there were several Vermeer paintings, including one with a lady and her maid and the lady has a small pearl earring, but not the famous one. So, we did not spend much time in the gallery and went around the corner to the National Museum which had all kinds of artifacts from Ireland’s history, including the “bog” people. The bogs in Ireland have been host to many artifacts and have preserved people for hundreds of years. The ones we saw in the museum still had hair, a tooth here and there and leathery, but largely intact skin and bones. There was even a container of butter that had been found. The bogs in Ireland cover about 1/6 of the island and the bogs were largely used as a fuel source by turning the peat on top into “bricks” for burning. By themselves, the bricks have no odor, but as they burn, they let off a rather foul odor. The bogs were also used to keep food cold, but they were also used as burial places.

There were artifacts and clothing from centuries ago in the museum and we really enjoyed the time we spent there.

That night, I journeyed out on my own for an Irish Pub Crawl. It started at one pub (Gogarty’s in the touristy Temple Bar area) and went to two other pubs where the group followed two musicians who sang traditional Irish songs and played traditional Irish instruments. I was thoroughly impressed, although I decided to go back to the hotel after the second bar (Ha’Penny Bridge Inn Bar). I don’t drink a lot and after two pints (which are larger than American beers), I was feeling a little lightheaded and did not want to be wandering the streets of Dublin by myself as it got darker. Not that I had anything to worry about, but I wasn’t willing to take any chances in a strange city. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the part of the crawl I went on and the musicians were funny and talented. Other than chatting with a couple of Americans from Atlanta and Dallas on a golfing vacation for a 40th birthday, I was not looking to hook up with anyone. These pub crawls do not typically attract the locals anyway and are set up for the benfit of the tourists. Now, if I had been in Dublin a little longer, I’m sure I would have found the local hangouts and attempted one of those.

Our last day in Dublin took us to Glendalough, the world’s best preserved monastic site. Just the story of how the monastery was established was incredible, even without seeing anything. Glendalough is in a glacial valley in County Wicklow. The settlement was founded in the 6th century by Saint Kevin who was a hermit priest and he would go into a mountain cave and live there by himself during times of self-reflection. Part of the monastery was destroyed in the 13th century by English troops, but there is much that has survived the centuries. It was an entire monastic city with workshops, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for a large population. We noticed that the graveyard has graves from the 1900s so it is currently being used.

After we returned from Glendalough, we had the afternoon free and decided to visit Kilmainham Gaol. The main reason was a fascination with the story about the 1916 Easter Rising. It was an insurrection staged during Easter Week in 1916, mounted by Irish Republicans. Their goal was to end English rule and establish an Irish Republic. Organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which later became the IRA (Irish Republican Army), the uprising lasted only 6 days before the British military quickly took back the key Dublin locations that had been seized. The IRB eroniously believed that with Britain’s participation in WWI, they would not have enough power or energy to take back the city, but they were wrong. The group was also waiting for an arms shipment from Germany, but this was intercepted by the British. The main headquarters for the leaders of the uprising was in the General Post Office, centrally located within the city, but it was eventually destroyed by shelling and gunfire. A total of 90 people were court martialled and sentenced to death, including the 7 signatories on the Proclamation of Independence. Fifteen were executed by firing squad between May 2 and May 14th at Kilmainham Gaol and their cells are now memorialized with their name plates. One prisoner, James Plunkett was permitted to marry his sweetheart just hours before his death and she was given a cell in which to wait until her marriage, then afterwards until her husband’s death. One of the leaders was seriously wounded during the uprising and was brought from the hospital and tied to a chair for the firing squad since he was unable to stand.

Not long afterwards, between 1919 – 1921, the Irish War for Independence continued Ireland’s struggle against Britain. By July 1921, a truce was arranged and a treaty was authored with the 6 northern counties of Ireland remaining under British rule while the 26 counties to the south became the Irish Republic and began to govern themselves. Disagreement over the fact that not all of Ireland was independent lead to a Civil War between 1921-1922. There is a lot more history to this, but this is the gist of what I learned about northern and southern Ireland. One of the main reasons that northern Ireland chose to remain a British territory is probably because it is thought that there is more British integration in the northern counties.

The history of Kilmainham Gaol, no longer operating as a prison, was fascinating, and there have been several Hollywood movies filmed in part there.

Our last evening in Dublin included a farewell reception and dinner at our hotel where everyone exchanged email addresses and contact information with others within the tour. The next morning, we had a 6:15 am pickup for the airport and arrived home at 10:30 pm. I had breakfast to serve to guests the following morning and it took me about 2 days to reacclimate to the States. I found myself needing an afternoon nap the first couple of days, but I missed my son and my pets so I was glad to be back. As I write this, I am amazed that we have been back for a week now. There is so much more of Ireland to see and experience and I hope to go back some day.

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