There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Dublin (2) From the Book of Kells to Dublin Castle

On a promisingly warm morning we strolled down O'Connell Street, crossed the Liffey and took the short walk to Trinity College. The sensation of encountering one of the great groves of academe - Trinity was founded in 1592 and is one of Europe's oldest seats of learning - was rather spoilt by the extensive road works going on outside. It was originally the university of the Protestant Ascendency, but became open to Catholics and Dissenters in 1793, though professorships, fellowships and scholarships were for Protestants only until 1873. Catholics got a fairer deal than women of all religions - they were not admitted until 1904.

Crossing the Liffey on a promisingly warm morning
 Once through the gate we were in an area of quiet squares, grassy quadrangles and a mixture of sober old buildings and the glass and concrete structures which characterize universities everywhere.

Inside Trinity College, Dublin
Quieter it may have been, but despite the students being absent for the summer we hardly had the place to ourselves; the Book of Kells, housed in a section of the old library, pulls in visitors by the thousand.  The old library opens at 9.30 and when we arrived at 9.25 the queue stretched round two sides of the quadrangle. We had bought tickets online before leaving home, but any thought that this might save us queuing were quickly dashed.

The Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin
(photographed at 10.40 when the queue was much smaller)
The queue moved relatively quickly - we were inside in 20 minutes - but that meant it was crowded. The preliminary exhibition, a general introduction to early illuminated manuscripts, the techniques for their production and specific information about the Book of Kells itself, the Book of Armagh and the Book of Dimma would have been good if it had been better planned. Following the crowd round one side of the room was simple, but to see the other half of the exhibition we had to fight our way back round the other side against the flow. We were also surprised that although audio guides were available in a variety of languages, the written information was in English only.

We almost missed the Book of Dimma, a remarkable 'pocket gospel' produced in the 8th century in Tipperary by a scribe called Dimma. Much of the text has survived and a little of the illumination.

The Book of Kells is in the next room in a cabinet the size of a pool table with a generous flat metal surround so there is somewhere convenient to put your hands.

The Book of Kells is a richly illuminated copy of the four gospels. 'Is it in English?' asked a Japanese tourist next to me, who clearly knew as little about medieval European manuscripts as I know about their Japanese equivalents. In Latin, and based on the Vulgate text, it was produced in the eighth century by at least three scribes, at one or more of the Columban monasteries. It was kept on Iona until Viking raids made its movement to Kells (a small town 65km north of Dublin) advisable where it later survived more attention from the Vikings. In 1654, when Oliver Cromwell’s cavalry were quartered in Kells Church, the town’s governor sent it to Dublin for safe keeping. It found its way to Trinity College in 1661 and has been there ever since.

The book was written on vellum and is bound in four volumes. Two pages were on display; the highly coloured drawing of St John, which is the frontispiece of his gospel, and chapter three of St Luke's gospel. Also in the cabinet was a page from the Book of Armagh - a ninth century manuscript of the gospels also containing information concerning St Patrick and some of the earliest examples of written Old Irish - and its damaged wooden binding.

St John, Book of Kells
(picture Wikipedia)
They are all magnificent, but the Book of Kells with its deep, rich colours, engaging illustrations and masterful calligraphy is a marvel. It is larger than I had expected – roughly A4 size – and designed to be placed on a lectern and used in services.

Sadly, the management of the scrum about around the display table left something to be desired. Various unofficial voices urged clockwise circulation while an Italian tour guide with a sizeable group monopolised pole position for longer than was reasonable.

Once the circulation got going, we cheated and went round twice before heading upstairs to the Long Room of the old library.

The Long Room, Trinity College Library, Dublin
By one of the many quirks that followed the separation of Great Britain and Ireland, Trinity College library is a ‘deposit library’ both for the Republic of Ireland (i.e. it has a copy of every book published in Ireland), and for the United Kingdom.

The Long Room (and, at 65m, it really is long) is a retirement home for 200,000 of the library’s oldest volumes. If I was a book this is where I would choose to spend my declining years, nestled beside the elegant metal library ladders, and guarded by the busts of the great and the good. I doubt if anybody opens these books any more, but somebody has to dust them occasionally, and I am glad that somebody is not me.

The end of the Long Room, Trintiy College library, Dublin
The library also contains the so-called ‘Brian Boru’ Harp, though it was made in the 14th or15th century, while Brian Boru died in 1014. Facing left it is the heraldic symbol of Ireland and appears on the coinage, among other places; facing right it is a trademark of Guinness and adorns their beer bottles and cans.

The Brian Boru Harp
Leaving Trinity College by the Nassau Street exit we crossed the road to the more mundane realm of Costa Coffee. Duly refreshed, we set off south for Merrion Square and ‘Georgian Dublin’, but first we took a short detour to see Molly Malone. Every child knows that sweet Molly Malone pushed a trolley through streets of varying widths vending fresh seafood, but we could not find her. We did, however, spot a sign saying that as she had been in the way of the new tram system, and had been removed and after cleaning she would reappear in mid-June outside the tourist board office in Suffolk Street. We walked to the end of Suffolk Street and although we thought the 24th was past ‘mid’ June all we found was construction work on what may have been a plinth.

Merrion Square, a few blocks south, is a beautifully preserved Georgian square. The house on the first corner – not the finest building - was the childhood home of Oscar Wilde and a plaque commemorates both Oscar and his father, Sir William Wilde, a leading surgeon.
The childhood home of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Square, Dublin

A well wooded park occupies the centre of the square making it difficult to view the whole thing. Inside the park Oscar leans louchly on a boulder opposite his former home.

Lynne and Oscar, Merrion Square Park, Dublin
We walked through the park looking for the memorial to the wonderfully named Bernardo O'Higgins, the liberator of Chile, but instead found a throne commemorating comedian and satirist Dermot Morgan (Father Ted) who died in 1998 at the sadly early age of 45.

'Father Ted's' throne, Merrion Square Park, Dublin
Outside the park I attempted to photograph the Georgian square, but with only partial success, it is too big and there is too much park. St Stephen’s Church, known as ‘The Pepper Canister’ was built in 1834 to serve the Anglo-Irish protestant elite who lived in this area.

'The Pepper Canister' St Stephen's, Dublin 
Walking to the end of the street we passed the house of W B Yeats, who was born into the Protestant Ascendancy and became a nationalist.
The home of WB Yeats, Merrion Square, Dublin

We walked down to St Stephen’s Green before turning up Kildare Street which has Leinster House, home of the Oireachtas – the two houses of parliament and the presidency – on one side…..
Leinster House Kildare Street, Dublin
… and the home of  Bram Stoker on the other – you cannot go far in Dublin without tripping over a major writer.

The home of Bram Stoker, Kildare Street, Dublin
Working our way through the Grafton Street shopping area, we emerged into the Temple Bar district which is full of tourist shops and restaurants.
Temple Bar, Dublin

After a little shopping - including the inevitable fridge magnet – we dropped into The Old Storehouse for lunch. Like every other pub we visited in Dublin the building was interesting, the staff charming and the Guinness excellent. So was the soup which came with the same pleasingly chunky brown bread we had eaten at breakfast. Had this not been a quick lunchtime stop we might have investigated the crab claws or the mussels, but this was, surprisingly, the only seafood we saw on a menu during our whole trip.

Continuing westwards we rather stumbled across Dublin Castle which is set back from the road on the edge of the medieval/Viking area.

The back of the 'Justice' Gate, Dublin Castle
We entered a Georgian courtyard dominated by the Bedford Tower, home of the Irish crown jewels – before they were stolen in 1907. The tower is flanked by two gates surmounted by ‘Fortitude’ on the left and ‘Justice’ on the right

The Bedford Tower, Dublin Castle

Unusually Justice is not blindfolded and instead of looking towards the people she faces inwards to the castle…

The statute of justice, mark well her station,
Face to the castle and arse to the nation.

The fully functioning scales of justice were also usually tilted towards the castle. This was due less to perfidy than to rainwater collecting more in one scale pan than the other and was solved by drilling holes in the pans.

The guided tour started by leaving the state apartments, and the Georgian square. Standing in what had once been the moat we paused to look at the Record Tower, the sole survivor of the four towers of the Norman castle, before disappearing through a door on the other side of the courtyard and descending into the past.
The Record Tower, Dublin Castle
(photograph taken from what was once the moat)

There may have been an earlier Gaelic village, but Dublin first came to prominence as a Viking stronghold. The Vikings built a wooden defensive wall on a stone foundation at the confluence of the Rivers Liffey (now moved north) and Poddy (now underground) beside a black pool (Dubh Linn) which gave the settlement its name. The Normans arrived in the 12th century and King John ordered the construction of a stone castle in 1204.

The base of the Powder Tower perched on Viking foundations, Dublin Castle
Beneath the modern ground level we saw the base of the Norman Powder Tower standing on the Viking foundations. We also saw where the old city wall met the tower while below water still seeped up from the invisible River Poddy.

Where the old city wall meets the Powder Tower, Dublin Castle
The Norman castle was severely damaged by fire in 1673 and was rebuilt as a palace which, at independence, was handed over to the Irish Republic. We returned to the state apartments and made our way upstairs to the State Drawing Room, now used for the receiving visiting dignitaries, but in the absence of anyone dignified they let us in.
State Drawing Room, Dublin Castle
They no longer have much use for Throne Room, but it is still there with the throne built for the visit of George IV and a footstool specially made for the vertically challenged Queen Victoria.

The throne, Dublin Castle
On top of the canopy are gilded heraldic carvings. On the left is the unicorn of England, on the right the lion of Scotland, both are leaning on the harp of Ireland. ‘Perhaps that is what they thought of us,’ the guide suggested. The Irish may grumble, but as a Welshman I might point out that at least the harp is there – leeks and daffodils are entirely absent, but do we ever complain? Well, maybe, sometimes.

The unicorn and the lion leaning on the harp

Irish presidents are inaugurated in St Patrick’s Hall, which is also used for major state dinners. Queen Elizabeth dined here with President Michael Higgins in May 2011. If her maj did creep quietly into the throne room for a regal sit down, just for all times sake, nobody is saying.

St Patrick's Hall, Dublin Castle
An American delegation had just been entertained to lunch, hence the American flag flying with the Irish tricolour
After the guided tour (and thanks to Siobhan for being informative, amusing and even handed) we walked round the back, crossed the gardens - site of the original ‘black pool’ -...

Dublin Castle across the garden

... to the coach house where there is an exhibition of paintings by Seaver Leslie and glass cylinders by Dale Chihuly (who has apparently been stalking us since we first encountered his work in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington back in 1998) based on the events in James Joyce’s Ulysses. It was interesting, but I am sure we would have got more from the exhibition if we had actually read the book – but who has? It is the greatest unread novels of the 20th century.

The Coach House, Dublin Castle
The Chester Beatty collection is in a purpose built museum next door. As much a bibliophile’s delight as the Book of Kells, this collection of ancient manuscripts from all the world’s main religions is absolutely free (donation requested) and contains so much to marvel at.

Leaving the castle and venturing a little deeper into the medieval/Viking quarter we paused beside Christ Church Cathedral. A quirk of history provided Dublin with two medieval cathedrals - the other, St Patrick’s is only a kilometre to the south. When Henry VIII broke with Rome, both cathedrals became Church of Ireland and served the Protestant Ascendancy. Although Dublin is an overwhelmingly Catholic city, it has no Catholic cathedral; the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin being St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral off O’Connell Street. St Mary’s has not been promoted to a full cathedral as the Vatican still claims Christ Church as its own.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
We did not go in as they were charging €6 entrance and Lynne objects to paying to enter a church. Had it been free, we would have made a donation as we did at the Chester Beatty Library.
Norman doorway, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

It was a long but pleasant walk back to the hotel. We made our way down to the Liffey, crossed the Ha’penny Bridge and proceeded back to O’Connell Street. Constructed in 1816, the cast iron Ha’penny Bridge was built at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, (as was the world’s first iron bridge which still spans the Severn Ironbridge - see Cowpat Walk 1). It was officially called the Duke of Wellington Bridge and is now the Liffey Bridge, but has always been known as the Ha’penny Bridge after the original toll. The name stuck even when the toll rose to 1½d before being abolished in 1919.

The Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin
In the evening we toured the north end of O'Connell Street reading menus, before finally arriving back at Madigan's where again the welcome was warm, the Guinness gently chilled and the  steak rare. Actually Lynne had fish and chips which, being classic chip-shop style cannot be considered seafood.

Madigan's 'Drinking Emporium', O'Connell Street, Dublin
We lingered over our dinner and with sunset around 10pm we took a stroll in the last of the daylight before returning to our hotel. Circumambulating a sizeable block we passed substantial Georgian houses, most now converted into offices or split into apartments. A few have become hostels, some frequented by backpackers others having a somewhat ‘rougher’ clientele.

Approaching a pub we saw an old man being decanted into the street to join his swaying friend. As we  passed he slurred 'spare a Euro?' Dublin has many beggars - far too many for a European capital, and Ireland remains relatively prosperous, even after the recent financial dramas. Despite encountering numerous beggars during the day, I was still surprised to be tapped for cash by an elderly man who clearly had ample euros to spend not very long before.

'Sorry, no,' I said as we navigated round them. 'What did he say?' the failed beggar asked his friend. 'He said ‘sorry, no,'’ was the accurate if thick-tongued reply. 'Oh,' said the first man and then, louder 'Why don't you go home?' I waved - there was not much else to do and it is difficult to take offence at anything said in a Dublin accent, however slurred the words.

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