Day 19, Saturday, 29 September 12
Anyone who knows me will tell you I can get turned around (that’s Southern for lost) quicker than anyone. I can get lost in my own town, for heavens’ sake. So when Gerry helped us get settled at our B&B in Clontarf yesterday, I paid special attention to how to get from his place to ours, the GPS having returned to the States this very morning with Jill and Alli. I was about to be on my own. (Thank goodness I also had a navigator with me! She was very good with detail.)
Clontarf used to be an isolated, sleepy little fishing village. It’s grown to be a nice, upscale Dublin suburb but it is still quiet and has that village atmosphere. We were just about four blocks from the heart of Clontarf, where there is a cluster of restaurants, pubs, and shops (including a bookmaker, patisserie, dress shop, grocery, and more)—at the corner of Vernon Avenue and Clontarf Road, which runs along the sea. The Ferryview is on the Clontarf Road.
We had breakfast in the dining room (with the irrepressible Dominic), then drove in to Gerry’s place, where we parked for the day. Then we caught a cab the rest of the way into the city.
The cab driver was an old man (he told us he was sixty-eight, but he looked older; looked worn out, honestly) who spoke slowly, as if, perhaps, he’d had a stroke. But his mind wasn’t slow at all. The conversation was lively, and we learned he is planning to emigrate to Melbourne, Australia, next year (well, this year, as I write) to live out his days with one of his four sons (he also has a daughter). All of his children except this one son (who has four children of his own) live in Ireland, and the old man himself has lived in Dublin his whole life. I’m thinking this will be a huge adjustment for him at his age, to leave everything he knows (including lifelong friends) and go to a different country. I hope he is happy. I hope they take good care of him, this son and his family.
Our destination was Francis Street, and Dublin’s antiques district; the old man knew right where to take us. Back when the trip was still a gleam in our eyes, Margaret, a retired antiques dealer herself, had done her research and we’d put this stop on the itinerary. It’s nice that so many of the antiques dealers are on this one street—really, in this two or so blocks—because we simply browsed back and forth across the narrow street (since it was headed downhill).
And boy, was I impressed. Margaret knows her stuff. (Me, I’m a hick. I know a little about Depression glass, and that’s the extent of what I know about old things.) I had rarely seen her in action—just knowing what she was looking at and articulating it to me, the interested bystander, in a concise way, as well as holding her own in conversations with experienced dealers who were, to a man, charmed by her. But then, she is charming. 🙂
Our first stop was O’Sullivan Antiques, with a an articulate, nice-looking young man (an architect by trade) behind the desk. We talked a lot. The whole shop is Georgian antiques; “and nothing after 1830,” the young man said. “Except,” Margaret said, “that one piece.” She pointed, with a twinkle in her eye, to a little framed piece on the wall that was a portrait of Queen Victoria as a very young woman. Who would even know to recognize Vicky as a teenager? Not me. The guy was really impressed. Turns out the portrait belongs to the owner and is not for sale. (The website, by the way, advertises items after the Georgian period, but Margaret confirmed the shop on that day was nothing but Georgian antiques.)
We went to many shops, specializing in a variety of things (some more like junk shops! Ha!). One specialized in mid-century modern and I loved everything in it, from a large wall tapestry to a pair of gorgeous cobalt blue table lamps with brick-red shades. This guy, the owner, was so, so Dublin: a generous head of silver hair, casual but cosmopolitan. He also had a twelve-panel Coromandel screen in the shop; while he was on the phone, Margaret was pointing out the really nice features of it to me. (It dominated the tiny space.) Like, you rarely see them intact, all twelve panels; six is more common (they get taken apart for one reason or another). The owner struck up a conversation with us when he got off the phone. Margaret was struck by how chatty everyone was, up and down the street.
At the bottom of the hill we turned left and walked back up Patrick Street to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s the largest church in Ireland, and quite the tourist attraction, as it was built beside a sacred well where St. Patrick is said to have baptized his converts around 450 AD (the building here now was built in 1254–1270). Imagine: a place of pilgrimage since 450. Nonetheless, don’t assume this is a Catholic church, because it is not (England’s Elizabeth I ordered it converted in 1592, around the same time she had Trinity College built).
Back outside, we walked up the street into the park beside the church.
From St. Patrick’s we walked up Patrick Street, working our way toward Christ Church Cathedral. Along the way we stopped in a couple little arts shops (modern young Irish artists) and a place that specialized in old b/w prints (antiques) beautifully framed in a modern style. (It was a great temptation. Really lovely prints!) This was a fun walk. Everywhere we went, the whole morning, every shop we stopped in, people heard our accents (well, I suspect we looked pretty American too) and wanted to talk, wanted to know where we were from, and so on.
Christ Church Cathedral sits at a major intersection (and about two blocks from the River Liffey); the route north out of the city center to Gerry’s place passes between Christ Church and its Synod Hall (seen below). The pedestrian bridge between the two was built during the cathedral’s restoration in the 1870s. Now the Synod Hall houses the Dublinia museum (which would be great for kids—but we had a quick look and decided to decline).
So we crossed the busy street.
There were a lot of tourists milling around outside, but it wasn’t immediately evident how to get inside. So we walked all the way around the building. It’s quite large.
The Christ Church we see today replaced a wooden church that had been built by the Vikings in 1038; this massive stone building was commissioned by Strongbow—Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, notable for his leading role in the Norman invasion of Ireland (1169)—in 1172. Strongbow is actually buried in the cathedral. Like St. Patrick’s, Christ Church passed to the Protestant Church of Ireland during the Reformation.
We did finally figure out how to get inside. 🙂 The nave has many fine gothic arches; these walls are from the original thirteenth-century structure (the north side leans out by as much as a foot and a half due to settling). By the nineteenth century the cathedral was in a pretty bad state, and was completely remodeled in the 1870s. The floor is mostly Victorian tile but at least one of the chapels near the altar still retains the medieval floor. (Neither of us took a photo but here’s one!)
Interestingly, the crypt is open to the public (there’s even a small café and gift shop down there) and we did go down; it’s the most that’s left of the medieval church. But it’s a bit creepy, as you might imagine, and we didn’t linger. Not even at the gift shop—a first for us. The air was heavy and humid and … just unpleasant. Maybe I am reading too much into it. (Clearly I am: I’ve just read they offer the crypt for wedding receptions and parties. No, thank you!)
By this point we were exhausted and ready for lunch, the time for that meal having come and gone. We caught a cab and met Gerry at the Goblet, a pub in his neighborhood, for some chow.
After that I took Margaret back to the B&B, as she’d decided she wasn’t up to meeting a bunch of the Hampsons back at the Goblet for drinks that evening. So I drove back to Gerry’s and worked a little before we went down to the pub. Let’s see … Clare, Orla, and their mam, Gwen, were there, as were Eoin and Tracy and Neil and Maureen. I’m so blessed to call them family! I got home close to midnight, ducked into the lounge downstairs (the only room in the inn that had wi-fi), and updated Facebook before bed.
As our cab inched past the Hapenny Bridge in midmorning traffic, a gull alighted on one of the ornaments. It settled its wings repeatedly until they were just right, folded them tight, and then became a bird statue.