Day 22, Tuesday, 2 October 12
Today was—we hoped—museum day. We picked up Gerry and went back to the Nassau Street area (good shopping; we revisited a couple places too).
We stopped at Trinity College hoping to get in to see the Book of Kells, but there was a huge line waiting to get in—all school kids. Perhaps it was a specially scheduled day with every stinkin’ high school in the city (yes, there were that many teenagers and the line was that long), but we decided to check back later. (As a side note, Trinity does have a nice gift shop. I know this from previous experience; we weren’t brave enough to try it that day.)
So on we went to the National Museum of Ireland. The museum has four locations (one in County Mayo on the other side of the country, which features country life): in Dublin City there’s decorative arts in Collins Barracks on Benburb Street, natural history on Merrion Street, and archealogy on Kildare Street.
It was to the latter we were headed. The museum’s website tells us:
The archaeological collection is the primary repository of ancient Irish artefacts … The period covered by the exhibitions extends from the Mesolithic through to the end of the medieval period, and includes internationally known treasures such as the Ardagh Chalice, Tara Brooch and Derrynaflan Hoard.
Based on core collections assembled in the late 18th and 19th Centuries by the Royal Dublin Society and the Royal Irish Academy, the archaeological collections have been added to considerably over the last 100 years and now number in excess of two million objects. The collection is significant in extent, diversity and quality and three areas are of acknowledged international standing. These are the prehistoric gold collections; ecclesiastical metalwork and personal ornaments of the early medieval period; and the Viking Dublin assemblage.
There are many important pieces in the collection besides the boat. The Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Chalice, and the Cross of Cong, just to name a few. We wandered slowly—and even so, when we’d made our way through the gold room, we realized we’d missed the brooch.
So we went back and asked a docent, a lovely older gentleman who smiled and led us to the display case with the brooch. Then he proceeded to give us a personal history lecture, and it was just wonderful. He used both the piece itself and some of the written displays about it on the wall—which had blow-up images to show the fine detail that was hard to see with your own eye—to tell us about it. How many animal images in this one square inch? The craftsmanship was just spectacular. Then we talked about the horse imagery and how the Christians used pagan images and stories to help convert the locals.
Then he walked us to the Lismore Crozier (it looks like a horse’s head) and then the Cross of Cong and gave us a similar talk. From there we went to the Ardagh Chalice (here are two views of it, front and side). Again he took us to a large wall display and showed us how the names of the eleven apostles (Judas was left off) are inscribed around the edge, under the fancy gold work. You might miss it unless you knew it was there, but … wow.
My tendency is to look more at the thing and less at the media on the wall describing the thing, but in this case, there really was a lot of interesting information to be had. Lesson learned! This gentleman really knew his stuff and was enthusiastic about it. We really got quite a nice lecture. He might have kept us there all day except then his wife called on his cell phone. (We had a little giggle about this man who was eighty if he was a day, chatting on his iPhone.)
We took a few moments in the gift shop, then walked back to Trinity to see about the Book of Kells. But the line was even longer than before, so we decided to blow it off. That was a shame, but the National Museum had also been packed with bored teenagers and we already knew they were no fun to be around. We figured we probably wouldn’t even get close to the Book.
Oh well—next time!
It was lunchtime, so we walked over to Powerscourt, approaching from Johnson’s Court. Gerry looked for Magill’s Delicatessen, which had been there forty years earlier when he worked in this neighborhood—he used to get sandwiches for lunch at Magill’s (look at this little video). They didn’t appear to be making sandwiches the way they once had, though, so we didn’t linger—although the smell was divine. There’s nothing quite like a dry-cured salami. Oh!
We walked through the shopping center but as we did we realized we all were ready for a break. We’d come back to the shopping center, but first—lunch. Gerry took us to lunch at the Old Stand, a pub on the corner of Exchequer and St. Andrews Streets.
It was packed with locals eating lunch; not a single American in the place save us. The Old Stand is a classy place and we got superior service from the smiling barman (he appeared to be serving, bartending, and overseeing everything, very neat in black trousers and tie with crisp white shirt). Always smiling.
When you eat at a pub, it’s a different experience than eating at a restaurant—mostly due to the seating arrangements. It’s a bar, after all. The tables are small and low. So are the lights. 🙂 It can be quite cozy.
Refreshed, we went back up the half block to Powerscourt Centre. This shopping center was cobbled together from a restored Georgian townhouse: the website tells us “59 South William Street was home to Richard Wingfield 3rd Viscount Powerscourt (1730–1788) and his wife Lady Amelia, who bought the townhouse to entertain guests during Parliament season”—and apparently you can still have parties at the house. The Powerscourts moved in in 1774; it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of a house this big. (Take a look here for some great photos.) There are more than sixty merchants here now, from boutiques to craft shops to art galleries to antiques to restaurants. And I’ve just read you can book a tour to learn more about the house.
Margaret shopped along antique row—she found some great bargains—while Gerry and I sat and talked and admired the view. (Really: I was worn out—it would be another month at home before I got my lungs back—and Gerry kept me company.)
By then we were done. We took a taxi back to Gerry’s house, where we admired our purchases while Gerry was changing (and the kettle was boiling). He and I are both the sort of people who want to get into sweats as quickly as the front door is shut, and that’s what he was doing: getting comfortable.
When he came back downstairs, I remarked that it suuuure would be nice to have something from that fancy French bakery up in Clontarf (where our B&B was) to go with the tea, and that I’d be willing to run up there to get it. Gerry replied that I needn’t go that far (Clontarf’s only ten minutes from the house, but still); there was a bakery much closer and he’d ride in the car with me (to give directions) if he didn’t have to change into street clothes again (that is, not get out of the car).
“Done!” I said, and picked up my purse. Margaret just sat there and laughed, astonished. It was like a complicated negotiation, but Gerry and I are so tuned to what the other would like and is willing to contribute to the acquisition effort that it was just textbook—1, 2, 3, decided and done! The place was called Cinnamon, and I bought a selection of sweets, including the last pieces of apple tart, which is what I really wanted. Ducked in to the shop next door for vanilla ice cream, then back to Gerry’s for tea. (Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m talking about apple pie. It’s an apple tart in Ireland. There’s very little sugar in either the filling, which is all apples, or the crust, which is thick and shortbread-like. Here’s an authentic recipe with beautiful pictures.)
We lingered a couple hours, sipping tea, using the wi-fi, then Margaret and I drove back to Clontarf. We stopped in the village at an Italian place (called Picasso! oh, the irony) which was in the middle of its early-bird special (two courses, your choice, for twenty euro). Back at the B&B we took some time to pack up and get ready to move to the airport hotel tomorrow. Just one more day in beautiful, green Ireland …
During lunch at the Old Stand, there was a group of older gentlemen, casually dressed, crowded around the table next to us. At one point I zeroed in on the conversation of one white-haired member of the group, who was saying, “And then I took my laptop and showed him—” The man sitting across from him said, “Google this, google that” and laughed. It just wasn’t the conversation I expected, you know?