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…..



Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Dublin (3) Famine and Plenty (of Guinness)

Tuesday had been sunny and warm, Wednesday looked less promising but we set off, undaunted, towards the Liffey, pausing for Lynne to pose with James Joyce. As I write I have every intention of reading Ulysses, and soon. And so the path to hell is paved.


Lynne and James Joyce, Earl Street, Dublin
Reaching the river we turned east, towards the sea, passing the handsome 18th century customs house which now houses the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

 
The Custom's House, Dublin
Near the customs house is the Famine Memorial. Between 1845 and 1852 one million Irish people died, and a further million emigrated. The immediate cause was potato blight – about a third of the population were wholly dependent on this one crop – but throughout this time Ireland was producing sufficient food to feed itself. Grain was exported in bulk as ruthless landlords (many of them absentee landlords, many of them English) saw an opportunity to clear the land of the rural poor. The British government was criminally uncaring, if not worse, and stood by watching as Ireland lost around a quarter of its population.

The memorial is the work of Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie. The group of ragged people and their equally thin dog stand on the quay, almost staggering to the point of embarkation. Dublin has much public art, some of it good (though I have serious doubts about The Spire) but this is something else. You can almost feel these people's misery as they embark on a journey they may well not survive. For some it will be the gateway to a new and better life, but as they stand here, on the very edge of Ireland, they have few dreams and little hope.


The Famine Memorial, Dublin
I also photographed them from behind - I felt the sculptor wants us to see them this way, too. They stand facing the sea with their backs to their old lives knowing there can be no return as the cringing dog realises that he will be left behind


The Famine Memorial, Dublin
A little further down the quay is the Jeanie Johnston, a replica of one of the emigrant ships. We arrived for the 10 o'clock tour, but it was booked by a school party so we had an hour to fill. We strolled along the south side of the Liffey in search of monuments that were either not there - like Molly Malone, the Viking Steyne Stone has given way to the burgeoning tramway - or were hardly worth seeing. I did, though, like the blue lamp outside Pearse Street Garda Station. Everybody knows British policing was better when George Dixon stood beneath a reassuring blue lamp.


Blue lamp, Pearse Street Garda Station
After an early coffee we returned to the Jeanie Johnston. It would be misleading to describe our visit as a guided tour, you can hardly ‘tour’ something so small. We stood on deck and listened to the guide and then we went below and listened to the guide. That said, Paul's tales of life on board, description of his researches into the fate of the migrants, and the stories of their descendants returning to see the ship made an hour slip quickly by. It was his second tour of the morning and would give the same talk six times during the day, but it still sounded fresh.


The Jeanie Johnston, North Wall Quay, Dublin
The original Jeanie Johnston was built in 1847 in Quebec and bought by John Donovan & Sons of Tralee. She carried timber to Ireland and emigrants to North America, making 16 such voyages, sailing to Quebec, Baltimore and New York.

In all those journeys the Jeanie Johnston had the remarkable record of not losing a single life among passengers or crew. Most newcomers landed in Grosse Isle in the St Lawrence at Quebec, where 5,000 who did not make it are buried.


Aboard the Jeanie Johnston, Dublin
Ship owners were businessmen and many cared little for their human cargo, packing them in tightly and often scrimping on food. Jeanie Johnston's owners were relatively enlightened, as was the master James Attridge, and the ship carried a doctor, Richard Blennerhasset, who was not only fully qualified but also competent. Even so Jeanie Johnston carried 17 crew and around 200 migrants on each journey which lasted, on averaged, 47 days. The modern (full-sized) replica is licensed to carry 40, including the crew.
 
Captain Attridge on the Jeanie Johnston, Dublin

Trans-Atlantic passage cost about £4, half the annual pay of an agricultural labourer, so many would-be migrants waited until relatives who had made the journey earlier were well enough established to send money back. Others had been forced off their land by the famine or by avaricious landlords and were reliant on the workhouse. For workhouse guardians it made sense to move their inmates on, funding migrants whether they wanted to go out not.

By 1855 the flood of migrants was abating and the Jeanie Johnston was sold on. In 1858 en route to Hull with a cargo of timber she foundered. After nine days clinging to the rigging of their sinking ship, the crew was picked up by a passing vessel. Again, all survived.
 
Dr Blennerhasset on the Jeanie Johnston, Dublin

The replica Jeanie Johnston was built in Tralee in 2000. She made a trans-Atlantic tour crewed by trainees and regular trips round Britain and Ireland and to Spain, but is now a full-time museum ship. Unlike the original Jeanie Johnston her lower deck is filled by an engine, she has watertight steel bulkheads, firefighting equipment and an emergency generator. Without these she would never have been allowed to sail. Times have changed

Moving on, we walked west down the south bank, through Temple Bar and on to the Medieval/Viking district where we lunched on soup and Guinness in a café bar opposite Christ Church cathedral. As we ate we noticed passers-by carrying raised umbrellas. By the time we emerged there was a light drizzle, but we continued walking, diverting slightly to pass the longest remaining section of Dublin's old city wall,....
 
What remains of Dublin's city wall
... followed by the rather strange sight of an 18th century windmill in the city's 'Digital Hub'. The drizzle was becoming steady by the time a sign to the Guinness Storehouse directed us up a cobbled alley.


Windmill in the digital age
The whole St James's Gate area is the domain of Guinness. The Guinness Storehouse was constructed in 1902 as a fermentation plant but is now a seven storey beer museum where a full price ticket costs a hefty €16, though the seniors’ ticket was good value considering it includes a 'free' pint of Guinness at the end. There are some consolations to age.

It is a slick operation and whereas most museum visits finish in the gift shop, this one started there as well. In 1759 Arthur Guinness signed a 9000 year lease on the brewery site and a copy of this lease is set in the floor at the side of the gift shop. At the bottom is the signature of Arthur Guinness, the same signature that appears on every bottle and can.


9000 year lease, Guinness brewery, Dublin
The exhibition starts with the basic ingredients of Guinness, or any other beer, the malt, hops and water. I have done my share of brewery tours over the years, though mostly in smaller breweries where they are keen to tell you the variety of barley, the degree of roasting and the specific hops. Guinness is a big brewery doing large scale tours for a general audience and skips these details. They do, though, make a point of their water, which is not, as legend has it, from the Liffey, but is piped in from the Wicklow Mountains. Having seen and smelled the Liffey I found this reassuring.
 
The water for Guinness - from the Wicklow Hills, not the Liffey
The next floor or two take you through the brewing process, the head brewer popping up on screens to demonstrate the equipment which is made to work by audio-visual trickery. It is all rather well done. One commemorative plaque that interested me particularly (though possibly few others) was to William Gosset, who was employed in 1908 to apply his statistical expertise to Guinness’ processes. He developed Student’s t-test, one of the basic tests for statistical significance, and a technique I taught many times in my previous incarnation. Guinness would not let him publish under his own name so he used the name Student, as he considered himself a student of statistics.
 
William Gosset, Brewer and Mathematician
There is, unsurprisingly, a section on Guinness's well-known and distinctive advertising campaigns. Some of the television adverts are minor works of art, and many of the posters are equally memorable - the toucan was always my childhood favourite.
 
Lynne and that Toucan, Guinness Brewery, Dublin
I am unsure that the slogan ‘Guinness is good for you’ would pass the advertising standards current guidelines, but we all remember it. I also took the opportunity to make a guest appearance in one of their best known posters.
 
I'm really in the poster, Guinness Brewery, Dublin

The gravity bar on the seventh floor is the best place to claim your 'free' pint. The circular room gives a panoramic view of the city, while the stout is dispensed from a circular bar in the centre. It was noisy and crowded, but the youthful barmaids had the ready charm of all Dublin bar staff. We found somewhere to sit and drink and observe those around us. Every tourist who ever came to Dublin has visited the Guinness Storehouse - the guest photos include Bill Clinton, Barak Obama, David Cameron and Mrs Elizabeth Windsor - and not all of them are regular beer drinkers. I enjoyed watching well-dressed elderly ladies who looked like they had never held a pint glass before cradling a pint of the black stuff and wondering what to do with it.
 
In the Gravity Bar, Guinness Brewery, Dublin

Our glasses empty, we walked round to take in the view. Dublin does not have the most memorable of skylines at the best of times, and on a dull overcast day with the rain splattering against the glass this was a far from being the best of times.
 
Dublin's less than memorable skyline

We descended to the gift shop, made a few purchases and headed out into the rain.

Our hotel was a forty minute walk from the Guinness Storehouse. We would have been better advised to take a tram, but we could not immediately locate the St James's tram stop, and we had no idea how persistent - and eventually, hard - the rain would become. We slogged along beside the Liffey, not the sweetest of rivers, as a curtain of mist with rain in it turned into a steady downpour.
 

Plodding along in the rain beside the Liffey
We were soaked long before we reached O'Connell Street and turned directly into the rain. The Savoy Cinema was hosting the world premiere of Mrs Brown's Boys: D'Movie that evening. We had thought of going to see the stars arrive, and a few die-hard fans were already leaning against the barriers although it was not yet five and the red carpet arrivals were scheduled for 6.30. They looked wet and could only get wetter. We decided to give it a miss*.

We dropped into Londis as we would not have time for a hotel breakfast in the morning. As we stood by the bakery section deliberating what to buy the bottom dropped out of our soaked Guinness bag and deposited our small collection of gifts on the floor. It summed up the last hour.

Continuing rain dissuaded us from going out to eat and we broke our usual rule and ate in the hotel. The restaurant decor had upmarket pretensions, but the food was no more expensive than at a pub. My chicken breast, stuffed with Clonakilty black pudding and roasted en croute, was dry. Served with scoops of mashed potato and plain boiled cauliflower and broccoli it was very dry and crying out for a sauce. Having recently discussed Bury black pudding with a native of Datong, Bury's Chinese twin town, Clonakilty's more herbal version may bear further investigation; the rest of the dish is best forgotten. Lynne's vegetarian pasta was the sort of thing you can throw together yourself for a Euro, but in a restaurant costs 12 and is no better, in fact not as good. The sundried tomatoes had been slipped straight out of a jar and were slimy, there were too many olives for the balance of the dish and the 'crumbled goat's cheese' was more slabbed than crumbled. Feeling we had drunk enough Guinness we washed it down with a very poor bottle of Spanish chardonnay which, at an exorbitant €23, was the cheapest wine on the shortish list. The mark-up policy is generous.

When we had finished we stuck our heads outside the door. The rain looked to have stopped and the streets to have dried, but we only walked a few paces before discovering that rain still hung in the breeze. We could not complain, this is, after all, Ireland, and we had enjoyed a day and a half of sunshine before the clouds arrived, and the Welsh, as I had cause to observe yesterday, are not a nation of moaners (pity nobody told my 'aunty' Edith.)

*We saw the pictures on RTE in the morning. The cast seemed dry enough, but the crowd looked bedraggled. I would not have recognised Brendan O’Carroll wearing trousers.

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