Day three in Dublin –> There’s a lot in this post, and much more if you read the links (please do!) so I’ve created headings which will hopefully enhance your viewing experience.
It was recommended that I should definitely eat at a place called Avoca because they have superior scones.
If you like scones, Kerrygold butter and anything that could possibly be made out of wool, go to Avoca. The franchise is actually a retail site with a cafe at the top. It sells everything from funny greeting cards to soap to jewelry, sort of like a walk in Etsy shop. There was also a 5-10 minute video of watching the wool process – from happy, grazing sheep to dyeing the wool to winding the wool spools to the looms in action. I watched that video many times; it was mesmerizing. It made me think, “I would like to work for them.” It is a little like this but longer and without the guy explaining things.
Breakfast was delicious but I didn’t realize that Irish food is a lot healthier than American food so I had some issues with portion control. The scone itself is the size of a small child’s head, and the bowl of yogurt, oats, and berries was about the size of the rest of the small child so there was a lot of food. I felt bad letting it go to waste and was sure the waitress was thinking, “Typical wasteful American.” But Irish food is so much less processed than American food and I could taste the difference. So a little bit is a lot more filling. And so delicious.
Anyway, I was on my own for this day so the first place I went to was a gift shop chain called Carroll’s Irish Gifts that has everything from stereotypical Irish drinking socks to handcrafted porcelain. (Sister rolled her eyes and called the place a “plastic Paddy“.) Next stop was a yarn shop a couple of streets over called This is Knit, recommended by a friend. A couple of hours later I walked out with some wool which, according to the label … was made in Sweden. So I failed at the whole Irish wool thing. My sheepherding Irish ancestors must be weeping. (More on that in the next post.)
After purchasing a lot at Carroll’s, I divested my stuff of souvenirs at the apartment and headed off to Kilmainham Gaol. (pronounced “Jail”)
Second mistake of the day: “Oh, the Gaol is only 3.5 km away? That’s like 1.25 miles. I can walk that easy!”
It was a rather scenic walk and I had much time to ruminate as I left the main touristy part of Dublin and got to the more residential parts. On the way I passed the Guinness Factory as well as St. Catherine’s Church (outside of which is a memorial to Robert Emmet) St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a number of other churches, Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Hospital, and the hospital founded(?) by Jonathan Swift (St. James?).
Unfortunately, 3.5km is kind of a hike so I arrived at the Gaol just in time to miss the last tour of the day. Bummer. Everyone had recommended it as a Place To See and here was me, not seeing it. To console myself, I went across the street to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in hopes of seeing some Francis Bacon. which was closed on Tuesdays. Strike that idea as well. (And I learned later that Bacon’s work is in a different museum. Strike three and a half.)
GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE
Back at City Centre, I wandered up O’Connell Bridge (named after The Liberator, Daniel O’Connell) over the River Liffey. About half a mile (??) north of the river was this place called the Garden of Remembrance, which is dedicated to all those who gave their lives in the struggle for Irish freedom.
The Garden is quite peaceful, a quiet oasis in the midst of all the traffic and away from tourists. There were many benches around the side and I saw several people without their shirts occasionally give themselves another layer of sunscreen while tanning themselves. Okay then. At the far end of the garden was a giant statue but I couldn’t see what it was. It was backlit by the sun and kind of looked like a gigantic T-Rex. Upon closer look, I could see it more clearly and thought, “Aha! Children of Lir!* How fitting!”
A summary of the Children of Lir: The three children are captured by their wicked stepmother, who turns them into swans for 900 years until the enchantment is broken, but they die shortly thereafter because 1) they are 900 years old and 2) the Irish never have happy endings. It is doubly fitting when you realize that Ireland has (had?) been oppressed by the British for nearly 900 years**.
There were some verses inscribed in the walls around the Garden, which you can read here. It was austere yet attractive, reflective yet had an air of almost military-like precision because of all the right angles. I thought it was an appropriate tribute to the Struggle.
I met up with sister and we walked back to Merrion Square. We were on our way to the Royal Irish Academy for a poetry reading by Paul Muldoon in honor of Bloomsday, but first we passed the church erected by Cardinal Newman.
CARDINAL NEWMAN’S CHURCH
John Henry Cardinal Newman was originally an Anglican clergyman who later converted to Roman Catholicism. While an Anglican, he wanted to emphasize those rituals that were catholic in nature (lowercase “c” catholic just means universal. uppercase “C” means the religion) and this eventually led to his full conversion to the Catholic Church. Shortly after this he was tasked with creating? overseeing? running? a Catholic university because the current universities were either too secular or too anti-Catholic or of poor quality. I think this is an example of the adage If you want something done right, just do it yourself. According to Sister, they expected Newman to just be a warm body filling the spot but he actually went in and took control and was doing such a good job they had to ask him to stop lest he overthrow the status-quo too much. I think that’s how it goes. The university in question eventually became University College, Dublin. Newman had some revolutionary views on the nature of a University and the purpose of education, which are linked below with some more biographical information. He is one of those figures I should have known about before this, but this was a good introduction to him and why he’s such a big deal.
Anyway, the inside of the church was gorgeous. A history and description of the building itself can be found on the Parish’s website. The walls are made out of naturally colored marble from all over Ireland and were topped with vividly painted murals featuring (probably) the Stations of the Cross, a fourteen-point mini-pilgrimage commemorating Jesus’ journey from conviction to death. The marble decorations are elaborately carved and even the ceiling was painted with vines and greenery. Apparently Cardinal Newman didn’t really like Gothic architecture so his church is much more Byzantine in nature. The only only only thing I didn’t like was that the murals and marble didn’t match either in color or style, which just shows art school has ruined me for life.
After our unexpected but not unpleasant detour, Sister and I continued on towards our Bloomsday celebrations and poetry reading.
Ah, Bloomsday. For all of you non-Joyce-ians out there, Bloomsday is the date on which the events of James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place. Joyce was a (self) exiled Irishman who, from what I gather, wrote Ulysses in a fit of nostalgia. Sister says this book is so seminal because it was one of the first books where the narrator did not know what the characters were thinking, creating a greater sense of anticipation with the reader. Having never read Ulysses, nor even finishing the inside flap of the cover, I’ll take her word for it.
The premise is, I think, akin to the Odyssey – a man taking the long way home and his various adventures along the way. But in this case, the protagonist, Leopold Bloom, makes his way home through Dublin. There are even markers scattered throughout the city commemorating certain events. This explains the oddly dressed people I had been seeing throughout the day.
And so on June 16, people dress up like characters or from the time period (early Edwardian) and host readings from the novel. In Dublin, some enthusiasts make their way around the city in sequence to match the events of the book and establishments oblige them with specials. One important artifact is a bar of lemon-scented soap. I have no idea of the soap’s relevance, but Leopold Bloom bought some from a pharmacy shop, Sweny’s, and dad asked me and Sister to pick him up another bar. He has a bar already but doesn’t want to use it because then he wouldn’t have it any more. Right then.
Also, Sweny’s is totally run on volunteer labor and is about to close because they lost public funding and their rent was raised. Donations welcome. While I know nothing about the significance of lemon soap, I recognize a unique historical spot worth preserving when I see it.
Anyway, back to the poetry reading. Sister says Paul Muldoon is kind of a big deal in modern Irish literary circles. He certainly has a pleasant reading voice and I liked some of the things he read, although I can’t recall what pieces he chose for the evening. The event was sponsored by the Notre Dame Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies and I finally – FINALLY – got to meet the director, Kevin Whelan, after hearing about him for years. I think he was pleased to meet Sister’s Irish twin. I also got to see the director, Chris Fox, again, whom I had first met in college at an Irish studies event.
For a moment it was easy to forget I was actually in Ireland. The room was full of current and former Irish Studies students, the very American Chris Fox was there, and there was an Irish Person of Importance, all of which can be found at any Irish Studies department event on campus in Indiana.
But then it was easy to remember we were in a foreign country because after the reading, at about 8pm, we were interested in munchies and the only place that was open was Johnny Rockets, that is, the American food joint. And even they were shutting down for the night.
According to Sister, everything in Ireland is most definitely shut down by 8pm. Only a few watering holes and places of ill repute stay open past what we Americans would consider Happy Hour. And if you needed to make a quick CVS or Walmart run at 11pm, well, good luck. Thus, with not many options to experience Culture, it was time for us to turn in as well.
*not to be confused with the Welsh Children of Llyr, which some say is the seed of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
**depending on how you count. The Normans invaded under Henry II in the 1100s, but the Plague allowed the Irish to assert themselves and lead a cultural revival. The Penal Laws came in 1691, which is only about 300 years ago. The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 officially “ended” hostilities with Northern Ireland, but the fact that Northern Ireland is still not part of the Republic is proof for some that English oppression continues to this day.
***I would marry JSTOR if I could