22 May 2013, Wednesday
So where was I? Oh yes: we parked on Jervis Street, I had lunch with an editor friend, then Gerry and I meandered through the Henry Street shopping district all the way down to St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and then to the GPO. (You can read about all that here.)
But first I should correct myself. We left the GPO and walked half a block up to Eason’s bookstore … and they did have a book I was looking for. I just finished reading Anne Enright’s The Gathering—and noticed it has an Eason’s sticker on it. Fantastic book. Won the Man Booker Prize in 2007. The Independent says her work reflects Ireland’s “difficult past and the stressed zeitgeist of the country today,” which honestly doesn’t make it sound very appealing, does it? But it was fabulous.
It’s so nice to have a native to guide you around a big city. Gerry was born in Dublin, raised in Dublin, and has pretty much been every place in Dublin. The city centre in particular. So the little bit of dithering we engaged in next was all my fault: walk or drive and park? Again, it was smarter to walk. So we walked back the way we had come, up Henry Street—which becomes Mary Street and then Mary’s Lane (Lána Mhuire)—to Church Street.
A good street for a church, right? We were headed to St. Michan’s Church (pronounce this like MY-cans—slightly different than the pronunciation my Dublin-born husband guessed at, but he’s not a parishioner there—see the comment below), which was founded, the website tells us, in 1095. By Vikings. (Dublin was originally a Viking settlement, dating from the ninth century.) The current building dates from a reconstruction in 1686.
You might think it’s not that much to look at from the outside, especially since you approach the church from behind …
… but boy, oh, boy, what an inside! This is a seventeenth/eighteenth-century church. The woodwork is gorgeous. And have a look at that organ! It was built by John Baptist Cucillie between 1723–1725, and Handel is said to have practiced for the first performance of Messiah on it. That gave me pause.
Look closer at the organ gallery. There’s a beautiful carving—from a single block of wood—depicting seventeen musical instruments. It’s believed to have been carved by woodworker Henry Houghton or his son, John Houghton, and is dated 1724.
I read somewhere that when the Vikings built St. Michan’s, it sat on the edge of a woods near the river Liffey. The Liffey, of course, hasn’t moved; the church is still very near it. But the woods are gone and the city has grown up all around the little church.
The cemetery houses a variety of notable parishioners, including Dr. Charles Lucas, a physician and Member of Parliament for Dublin city (1771); Oliver Bond, who took part in the 1798 Rising; and mathemetician/physicist Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1865). It’s believed the remains of Robert Emmet, a patriot executed during the 1803 Rising, may be here too.
But wait—there’s more. St. Michan’s is built on top of five long burial galleries. Crypts. Generations of Dublin families—including the Earls of Leitrim—owned vaults and stored coffins here (this is ongoing; if your family owns a crypt, you, too, can be buried here—though I believe I’d pass). And because of the unique climate below the church—cool, dry—the contents of the coffins have mummified (while the coffins themselves have begun to fall apart).
They give tours.
Frommer’s drily notes “the church is wheelchair accessible, but the vaults are not.” This is a true statement. The stone steps are very steep and there are no hand-holds. I got down OK, but some nice young man from Brazil had to help (uh, pull) me out. Our tour guide—Gerry thought he might be an off-duty priest—was intelligent, multi-lingual, and knew a lot about the mummies. Also funny. I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation, but he rubbed Gerry absolutely the wrong way. Oh well.
Some bodies have become visible. (It’s against the law to open coffins; these fell apart.) There are photos all over the Internet, if you want to see them; I didn’t take any. In one well-lit crypt there are four completely exposed dusty mummies, two women, two men; both men had been cut to fit in the coffins. The oldest body dates to 650 years (you’ll see this man called the Crusader, but the math doesn’t work, really).
It was all very interesting and just a little sad.
From St. Michan’s we went back the way we’d come, down Mary’s Street/Lane and past a Victorian-era building (1892), the Dublin Corporation Fruit and Vegetable Market. (Here’s a little video.) The building is so beautiful it stopped me in my tracks.
From hence, on to the car park. Our new car, a Škoda Octavia, was delighting me. You see, it had been years since I’d driven a manual transmission. I did remember my old trick of putting it into neutral when I was sitting at a long light, so I could take my foot off the clutch. But, oh, these new-fangled machines! When I did that, the car seemed to die—until I stepped on the clutch, when it started right up again. I was quite pleased to be driving such an energy-efficient vehicle.
We stopped at Gerry’s briefly, then went out to the Portmarnock Hotel for dinner. You may recall we’d been there last September for a wedding reception, and had a lovely time. I in particular loved everything about it. We wanted to have a look at the place without the wedding.
Nice meal, nice place. And it’s right on the beach. If you’re ever staying on the east coast of Ireland, you could not go wrong at the Portmarnock Hotel (and Golf Club).
We had an early night; we’d be up early to head west (for another wedding!). In all, we probably walked a couple miles in the city (I mapped it); not that far, but certainly not my norm. As I’m looking back on these very full days, I see it’s no wonder I arrived home exhausted!