Thursday, 25 September 2003
Dublin city, Co. Dublin
If you haven’t been keeping track, this is how my trip looked from an itinerary perspective: two days in Dublin to acclimate, ten days driving around the country seeing the sights outside the Pale, then finishing up with five days in Dublin at the end. And we spent one of those days looking for lost jewelry and trying to recover from the ten spent on the road. 🙂
Now here’s a start on the rest of those Dublin Days …
Dublin is a city with a lot of history … and a lot of historic sights, many of which are concentrated in and near the city centre. In addition to its splendid public buildings, Dublin is particularly rich in domestic architecture of the eighteenth century (the Georgian period, as we’ve discussed earlier).
And there are two tour bus companies that offer hop-on-hop-off tours for a flat fee. This means you can climb onto one of those famous double-decker buses (open on the top!) and get off and back on at any one of over thirty stops, and you can do so for a full twenty-four hours. That sounds like a lot of time, but, now that I’ve done it, I’ve concluded there’s no possible way to see, and do justice to, every single stop on the tour in twenty-four hours. It’s a good way to get an overview, though, and I would definitely recommend it.
So, fortified by a “full Irish” (what the locals call that Big Irish Breakfast), we took a cab (like New York City, Dublin is a place that visitors might do best not to try to drive—or park—in) downtown to the heart of the city, literally to O’Connell Street. Named for Daniel O’Connell—the famous politician who campaigned for Catholic Emancipation and repeal of the Act of Union—the street is unusually wide, and is lined in the middle with statues commemorating Irish heroes, including Charles Stewart Parnell (patriot) and Big Jim Larkin (labor leader), as well as O’Connell. (It is also home to the Spire of Dublin, or “the Spike,” as the locals call it, installed just this year, but that’s another story entirely.)
Known as “the Liberator,” O’Connell’s memory is revered in Ireland, and one can find an O’Connell Street in almost every town of any size. Why Liberator? You’ll recall Oliver Cromwell from an earlier episode, the Protestant head of England who had it in for Catholics, and banished all of them “to hell or Connaught” in the 1650s. The Cromwell-controlled British parliament also issued a series of Penal Laws:
The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.
He was forbidden to receive education.
He was forbidden to enter a profession.
He was forbidden to hold public office.
He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.
He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.
He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.
He was forbidden to purchase land.
He was forbidden to lease land.
He was forbidden to vote.
He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.
He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.
He could not be guardian to a child.
He could not himself educate his child.
Sometimes I find it astonishing the Irish have survived at all.
O’Connell the Liberator: he was born in 1775 to a well-to-do Catholic family who, in spite of their wealth, were denied status, opportunity, and influence due to the discriminatory legislation of the time (see that list). He was educated abroad—although that, too, was illegal—and it was during these college years that he became committed to religious tolerance, freedom of conscience, democracy and the separation of church and state. O’Connell returned to Ireland as a qualified lawyer and became involved in the Catholic Emancipation movement. A powerful nationwide organization quickly emerged, fired by O’Connell’s oratory and with the help of the clergy. In 1828, he won election to the House of Commons, but unwillingness to take the anti-Catholic oath of supremacy kept him out of Westminster. The following year, the government conceded Catholic emancipation, and O’Connell finally entered parliament. Little wonder they call him the Liberator.
We boarded the City Tour bus in O’Connell Street, then, and began the tour. It was a glorious day, and we sat on the roof of the bus to enjoy it. First a loop up around Parnell Square and the Garden of Remembrance there, dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom. Then back down O’Connell Street, across the River Liffey, and to a stop at which we hopped off, in front of Trinity College.
It’s actually the University of Dublin, Trinity College, and was founded in 1592 by Elizabeth I, which makes it the oldest university in Ireland. It’s located on College Green in the absolute heart of Dublin. Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett are among its graduates, as well as Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and recently the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The grounds are fully open to the public, and while the main gate and the Campanile are certainly focal points, it is the library that drew us to visit, because that’s where they keep the Book of Kells.
“Over 1000 years ago, when the Book of Kells was written,” the official guide pamphlet says,
Ireland had a population of less than a half a million people living in fortified homesteads along its coasts and inland waterways. The Irish church was largely monastic in organization. Monks lived in communities devoted to the study of God’s word, fasts, and manual work. The message of Christ’s life was spread primarily through gospel books, and the scribes and artists who produced them held an honored place in Irish society. The Book of Kells contains a lavishly decorated copy, in Latin, of the four gospels. It has long been associated with St. Colum Cille (ca. 521–597 AD), who founded his principal monastery on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, in about 561. The Book of Kells was probably produced early in the 9th century by the monks of Iona, working wholly or partially at Iona itself or at Kells, County Meath, where they moved after 806 AD, when Iona was attacked by Vikings in a raid which left sixty-eight monks dead. The Book was sent to Dublin around 1653 for reasons of security during the Cromwellian period. It came to Trinity College through the agency of Henry Jones, after he became bishop of Meath in 1661.
So you see—the story of the Book of Kells encapsulates all the Irish history I have been giving you in pieces throughout this travelogue! 🙂
It is gorgeous, and, frankly, its beauty cannot be described. (But you can look at it yourself here.) Most of you know how I feel about books, so you can imagine how excited I was to finally see this treasure, which is kept, of course, in a climate-controlled case. The 340 folios are bound in four volumes now, and generally two volumes can be seen at a time, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script. They only turn the pages every six weeks (or maybe it’s every six months! I overheard someone ask this question and can’t quite remember the answer, but I remember being disappointed that I couldn’t have seen something different during the course of my visit).
The Old Library at Trinity was built in 1732, and that original building is now known as the Long Room.
Currently it contains 4.25 million volumes, thirty thousand current serials, significant holdings of maps and music and an extensive collection of manuscripts (the most famous, of course, being the Book of Kells), spread out in eight buildings. It is the largest research library in Ireland. The Long Room houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books and manuscripts, and is quite a magnificent sight in its own right. We strolled through this lovely room, and I was awestruck. (Here is a link to my visit a decade later.)
Across the street from Trinity’s main gate is a massive building that now houses the Bank of Ireland; but until the Act of Union in 1800, this building was the Irish Houses of Parliament. Everywhere you turn in this city, there’s a little (or not so little: this building is huge!) piece of history.
Back on the bus, we rode to Kildare Street to the National Museum of Ireland. I was quite taken, first, by the museum’s “identity system,” that is, its logo and signage and advertising materials. I found it to be classic yet modern, eye-catching but not overly designed … definitely eye-pleasing. This was often the case, by the way: Dublin seems to be a city in which art is important, even if it’s just a bank logo.
The National Museum (opened in 1890) has on display an extensive range of Irish antiquities, which as you know are what fascinate me. It houses the largest collection of Celtic artifacts in the world, including the Tara Brooch, which dates from the eighth century. The museum had a lovely exhibit of gold items—they were that dazzling color pure gold is, which is something you don’t see every day.
From the museum, we walked a block over to St. Stephen’s Green, billed as Europe’s biggest square. What they mean, of course, is that it’s a park (I make that distinction because we Southerners tend to think of a square as something that has an antebellum courthouse in the middle of it). In Georgian times, a square would have been fenced in and locked; only the owners of the homes surrounding it would have had keys. St. Stephen’s Green is so large, however, that I suspected that it was always intended to be a public park.
Well, I was both right and wrong: I researched this subject a bit (though I no longer can say where I got this information, as the website’s gone) and learned the following:
Named after St Stephen’s Church and a leper hospital that was in the vicinity, the Green (as it is popularly known) is first shown on a map in 1655 when it is shown without boundaries. By the 17th century, it consisted of about 60 acres with access from a lane that later became Grafton Street. In 1664, the Corporation [as best I can understand, the Corporation is the Dublin city government] marked out twenty-seven acres and divided the remainder into lots for development, and by 1669 it was surrounded by a high stone wall. In 1814, Commissioners were appointed to improve the square, and enclose it with gates and railings, and only allow access to householders who paid a Guinea a year. In 1877 Sir Arthur Guinness engineered an Act of Parliament to place the area under the control of the Board of Works and re-opened it to the public in 1880.
There’s that family again … it seems that Sir Arthur also paid to improve the Green to the form it’s seen today, including the gardens and ponds, which all date from 1880. The 1887 bandstand is still a focal point, and the park was packed the day we were there … understandably, since it was a beautiful day. The park has many statues, including memorials to Yeats and also to James Joyce. Also present are the Three Fates, a group of bronze female figures watching over man’s destiny. Ha. 🙂
Then it was back to the bus for a ride up to Dublin Castle, and the Chester Beatty Library. This is a really cool website that shows the whole Dublin Castle complex: roll your cursor over each yellow dot, and a brief description rolls down; this will give you an idea of how much is available on the site. The complex is massive, and now houses all sorts of governmental offices, as well as areas for state functions and commercial use.
The following brief history is from this site:
Dublin Castle is situated in the very heart of historic Dublin. In fact the city gets its name from the [Gaelic] Dubh Linn or Black Pool (dubh = black), on the site of the present Castle Gardens and Coach House. The Castle stands on the high ridge, the highest ground in the locality, at the junction of the River Liffey and its tributary the (now underground) Poddle, which formed a natural boundary on two sides. It is very probable that the original fortification on this easily defended strategic site was a Gaelic Ringfort, which guarded the harbour, the adjacent Dubhlinn Ecclesiastical Centre, and the four long distant roads that converged nearby.
In the 930’s, a Danish Viking Fortress stood on this site … Their settlement of Dyflinn (a corruption of Dubhlinn) quickly became the main Viking military base and trading centre of slaves and silver, in Ireland. The Norwegian and sometimes Danish rulers had control of the Irish Sea and forayed deep into the centre of Ireland, where monasteries, with their precious ornaments and vessels, were easy targets. Eventually their power was broken, when they and their allies were heavily defeated by an Irish army under the command of King Brian Boru, at the Battle of Clontarf, 1014.
Neither the Irish nor the Vikings could withstand the Norman invasion of 1169. The Vikings were ejected and the Normans became the next occupiers of Dublin. They strengthened and expanded the existing town walls. It is assumed that their first fortification was an earth and wooden motte and bailey, on the site of present day Dublin Castle. There is archaeological evidence of a wooden and stone castle there in the 1170’s.
In August 1204, King John of England commanded the erection of a (larger) strong castle, with strong walls and good ditches, for the defence of the city, administration of justice and safe custody of treasure. It was completed by 1230 and the Great Courtyard (Upper Castle Yard) of today corresponds closely with the fortification.
The Chester Beatty Library is a part of this massive complex. This venue will be of particular interest to you, friends, because Mr. Beatty was an American, born in New York City in 1875. A mining engineer by trade, he established a highly successful mining consultancy and became quite wealthy. In 1900 he married, but eleven years later his wife died, leaving him a widower with two small children. Suffering from ill health, Beatty moved to London, where he founded a new consultancy. From an early age he’d been a collector, and he already had a library of note when he married for the second time in 1913. A honeymoon journey to Egypt extended his range of interests to include Arabic manuscripts, and a further journey in 1917 to the Far East expanded his interests more widely into Chinese and Japanese works of art. His eye was drawn to richly illustrated material, fine bindings and beautiful calligraphy, but he was also concerned to preserve texts for their historic value. Mindful of his Irish ancestry, he moved to Dublin in 1950. In 1957, Chester Beatty became Ireland’s first honorary citizen. Upon his death in 1968, the collection was bequeathed to a trust for the benefit of the public.
Yes, admission to the library (like the National Museum) is free. We browsed through this stunning collection of manuscripts, prints, icons, miniature paintings, early printed books, and objets d’art from countries across Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. In its diversity, the collection captures much of the richness of human creative expression from about 2700 BC to the present day!
This episode has gotten rather longish—just as that particular day was quite long—so I’ll pause here.