Way back in September, about two weeks after my trip to Kamloops, British Columbia, I flew to Dublin, the capital of Ireland. My ethnic background includes Irish and I had never been to Ireland. I got a good price on a ticket, so off I went. I got into the city really early in the morning. My room, unsurprisingly, was not ready, so I stored my luggage and went to walk around O’Connell Street. (My hotel was right off it.)
Across from the Post Office, there were tour groups led by locals. They were free, so I decided to do a little sightseeing to kill some time. Little did I know that the tour would wind all around Central Dublin and last close to three hours. The tour did not go into the Trinity College grounds because Trinity College wanted a cut of the profits. No charging fees equals no profits, so the locals leading tours were banned from the campus. There was still a lot to see.
We made our way down to the River Liffey. There we got an overview of the city. Dublin is very diverse, with ethnic groups from all over the world. One of the recent immigrants were the Brazilians who, we were told, fit into the city quite well. We were told about Daniel O’Connell and his contribution to the Irish nation. It was he who pushed to have the anti-Catholic laws that had been enacted repealed. (Every time I would pass this statue, there was a bird on top of his head.) We walked over the O’Connell bridge and towards Trinity College, turning away from the campus. We were shown the Parliament Building. Dublin, after London, was the most important city in the British Empire. It was granted its own parliament, which was later rescinded after an attempt at independence failed. The Bank of Ireland is now in the building.
After a stop in the Temple Bar district, which is very popular with tourists and the young Irish, we walked over to Dublin Castle, which doesn’t look like a traditional castle, except it does have a keep. This is where offices of the government are, with a chapel next to the keep and the State Apartments behind it. The tour ended in Dubh Linn Garden, where there was much talk and picture-taking of the castle. I tipped my tour guide.
I went onto the Trinity College campus, mainly to see the Book of Kells, which has several parts. I was disappointed with what I saw. For the price of admission (which was high), I was not impressed. First off, there was not much to see. They had a huge exhibit about the Book and the different illustrations, but when I finally got to see two pages of the Book, there were a lot of tourists around it. How about displaying several pages? I left and wandered around the campus, enjoying the academic vibe. I went into the Old Library to look around. There was a harp that has been called Brian Boru’s, but it is from the late Middle Ages. However, it is the oldest Irish harp in existence. From here I went to The Perch, a small cafe on the campus that has an owl on the sign. I had something before I left the campus.
From Trinity, I walked over to Merrion Square, which I found enchanting. It has some wild overgrown parts, but the lawn was well-manicured. I had an ice cream (real cream!) while walking around there. I came across a pyramid. Intrigued, I went and looked in one of the four windows that stretch the entire pyramid. Inside I could see four figures standing around a flame. Here this is Defense Forces Monument to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the state. There used to be an eternal flame in Madison Square Park in New York City. There used to be a plaque explaining that it was in memory of those who died in World War I. Then they turned it into a flag post, and now I don’t think that the plaque is even visible since the park entrance it was near has been reconfigured. This isn’t the first time World War I monuments have been conveniently forgotten or destroyed. It has quickly become a forgotten war. Anyway, I found the Irish monument to be quite nice–not monumental, yet elegant in its simplicity–and I like an eternal flame that is lighted.
My stop at Merrion Square was on my way to the Archaeological Museum. I had heard good things about the museum (thanks to Rick Steves’ Dublin travel book), so I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the exhibits. The grave reminded me of one in the Corinth Archaeological Museum, which is also under glass. The silver chalice was beautiful. They had several bog bodies on display in special round rooms. They were, of course, protected by glass and these areas were temperature-controlled. They were amazing, but I wasn’t sure that I could take a picture of a bog body.
There was an exhibit on an Irish explorer who traveled through Africa and South America. Roger Casement discovered how King Leopold was mistreating the natives in the Belgian Congo and brought it to the attention of the world, which created a scandal and helped bring changes. He was also a naturalist and collected many different things on his trips. One statue is a power (Nkisi) figure from Angola. According to the display, it was created by a Senhor Oliviera. The ritual specialists (nganga) used the Nkisi to focus spiritual power. They would put things in his stomach compartment depending on the need of the client. It would then be given to the client, who would then activate the Nkisi in different ways, one being by blowing smoke over it. The mirror covering the stomach was symbolic of the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural, and the living and the dead. When I took the picture, I was a bit creeped out. It still unsettles me when I look at it.
Next I visited the Chester Beatty Library. Chester Beatty was a rich American who left his entire collection to Ireland if they would give him a state funeral. Well, Ireland complied and got the rich man’s collection. There was a East Asian book exposition going on, and I took quite a few pictures. These were not the traditional books that we are used to. These books came in all shapes and sizes.
There were so many books with so many beautiful colors. A Nara ebon could either be a regular manuscript or a scroll. I got excited when I saw a Nara ebon with a painting on silk of Prince Shotoku. Shotoku was the Regent of Japan for Empress Suiko (reigned 593-628) and had an influence on the development of Buddhism in Japan. I remember him from my Japanese history class.
The final books were of Christian Ethiopia. The Praises of Mary was interesting, with the annunciation, Mary posing with Jesus and Joseph, and Mary standing at the foot of Jacob’s ladder. I liked The Gospel of Matthew, though. The image of Jesus asleep in the boat as the boat rocks and dips because of the rough waves and blowing wind was really nice. I enjoyed my time at the Chester Beatty Library.
I had to take public transportation to get to St. Michan’s Church. Built on a Hiberno-Norse site, St. Michan’s was the only church built above the River Liffey for over 500 years. It is a parish of the Church of Ireland, which is part of the Anglican Communion. It was a nice little church, but what I came to see were the mummified bodies in the crypt below. Supposedly, the temperature and environment are perfect for preserving bodies. There are bodies 800 years old in the crypt.
You are not allowed to take pictures of them, so I took a picture of the postcard I bought at the church and the program I was given. There is still one crypt still in use by parish members. The most interesting one of all was the one called “The Crusader.” This man was 6′ 5″ tall. He must have towered over the people around him. He was so tall that he would not fit into his coffin, so his legs were broken. Whether or not he was really a crusader can be debated; his name is not known, nor is his family.
I went to the Irish Museum of Modern Art while I was trying to kill time. I had gone to the Kilmainham Gaol to see if I could book a tour. Unfortunately, all the tours were booked except the last one. So after going around the museum (they let me take a tour of this before going to the gaol because it would already be closed after the tour), I walked over to the museum. The grounds are huge and beautiful. There were people playing with their dogs and just enjoying being outdoors. There are artists’ exhibits that you can see, but this is only a small part of the museum. I accidentally wandered into an area where you only had access if you bought a ticket. Needless to say, I didn’t bother. I really don’t like most modern art. I have a standard that I always apply to art. It is quite simple: if I can do it, then it isn’t art. What I saw did not impress me. To top it off, I LOST MY TICKET TO THE GAOL, so I was never able to take the tour of the place, which really disappointed me. A friend told me that I had to see it because of its significance to Irish history.
The rest of my trip will be in my next posting, because although it was part of my trip to Dublin, it was well outside of Dublin and the Republic of Ireland.