28 May 2013, Tuesday
From St. Kevin’s Park on Camden Row I walked back out to Camden Street (which actually becomes Wexford Street right there) and walked north about four blocks. At some point Wexford becomes Aungier Street, and at the corner of Aungier and York Streets I found the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, which I’d wanted to see on this Dublin drill-down trip. (Dublin is, of course, filled with churches. And they say the South has a church on every corner. Ha!)
The Carmelites are a Roman Catholic religious order founded in the twelfth century (present in Ireland since the latter half of the thirteenth). It is a contemplative order; the original Carmelites were hermits. The current building here dates from 1825, but is located on the site of a pre-Reformation Carmelite priory built in 1539. Still, you must remember the Catholic community in Ireland spent long centuries (that is, from the first decade of the 1600s) under the rule of the Penal Laws; Catholic Emancipation only came in 1829. Thus this church would have been outwardly unassuming; careful.
There are more than a dozen shrines inside too. One of the most visually impressive is the Our Lady of Dublin shrine, in which is ensconced a twelfth-century Madonna and child—a life-sized statue carved from black oak. This places the statue, historically, in the same school of art as some of the statuary in Westminister Abbey. Think about it!
Another important shrine is St. Valentine’s (who knew?). Not a lot is known about Valentinus, a third-century Roman saint commemorated on 14 February, the day of his death as a Roman Christian martyr. A church was built at the site of his death (in Rome), and during one of the many restorations and reconstructions, this one in the 1830s, the remains of of the saint were discovered. Some of them were given to an Irish Carmelite priest, and now they reside here. (Valentine’s skull resides in Rome, still, and there are other relics at a church in Prague. I’m not sure what to think of this sort of thing, honestly, but feel I should report it.)
I also photographed the shrine of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, popularly known as the Little Flower. Born sickly to petit-bourgeoisie—and very, very devout—parents in France, Thérèse became a nun at fifteen, was dead of tuberculosis at twenty-four (in 1897), and became famous after her death, though I’m not entirely sure why. Who can explain these things? I suspect it had to do with the times—the highly sentimental times—and the tragedy of her youth.
The front door is flanked by two statues—the Beloved Disciple and Mary. Inside there is a large anteroom, off which there is a small coffee shop and a bookstore. There’s no hint of the huge church beyond—probably for caution’s sake, again.
I began the walk back, then, to the hotel.
The day before, I’d mentioned the Damascus Gate restaurant on Facebook, thanking Patrick Comerford—a Church of Ireland priest I’d met through a mutual friend—for the recommendation. Patrick sent me a quick message (“You’re here?”) and suggested we meet for coffee, so that was my next stop. We had a delightful conversation about writing and editing (certainly two of my favorite subjects, and Patrick, a former journalist, has also published several books); I am so glad he had time to hang out with me!
By this time Gerry was back from work, and we still had a big evening planned—earlier in the year he had purchased tickets to see the Lion King stage production (a birthday present for me). But first, we walked around the corner to the Bleeding Horse—a historically and literarily significant pub that dates back to at least the mid seventeenth century.
The show was at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre (pronounce this like board-GOSH)—the largest theater in Ireland, designed to present those large theatrical productions that were previously unable to be shown here. Gerry referred to it simply as the Bord Gáis; we took a cab.
The Bord Gáis (with a 2,100-person capacity) opened in March 2010 in an area of Dublin called the Docklands—an area right in the center of the city on either side of the River Liffey that is experiencing a large amount of development including shopping, offices, hotels, you name it. The Bord Gáis is one of two entertainment venues; the other is the O2 concert venue. You can read more about the Docklands area here; it’s a great neighborhood website and there are some fantastic photographs.
Speaking of which, I am kicking myself because when I dressed up I took a smaller purse … and did not take my camera. Once we arrived, I was just ready to scream from the missed opportunities! Sure, you can look at this photo I downloaded from Wikipedia …
… It was taken from the other side of the Grand Canal, which, in the daylight, is an absolutely accurate photograph. In particular, you can see the fabulous red art installation in the courtyard. But it’s nearly impossible to judge the scale unless you zoom in and look closely for the one human walking among the red poles (just to the left of the little bit of blue you can see here).
But now look at this one!
I borrowed this small photo (photographer: Ros Kavanaugh) from the Dublin Docklands Development Authority website. Now you can see more of what I saw. There are four floors above the ground floor; Gerry and I stood on the third and looked out over the courtyard (notice that art installation I mentioned is actually a collection of streetlamps when the sun goes down), across the water, to the skyline. The view was magnificent.
Google’s street view for the Docklands was made in 2009, it seems, when the Bord Gáis was still under construction, but this will give you an idea of location.
So … we were somewhat overdressed for The Lion King. But who cares! You may have seen this show—it’s been around since 1997, it seems—but I had not, and holy cow, was it good! I loved all those animals moving slowly down the aisle in the opening number! The reviews said the production requires twenty-three giant trucks to haul it (which makes me wonder how many ferries had to be scheduled, since it had just come from Manchester, UK). Eighty-five thousand people (more casually dressed than we were, probably) came to see the show the eight weeks it was in town; the company we saw was fifty performers from seventeen different countries. (Read more here.)
It was great. Our seats were fantastic. And we were back snug in the hotel by 10:30. 🙂