Roots of a different sort
First, the answer to “The Teaser”.
The bird in question is the European robin. And the reason he appears here? Well, we saw him several times during our very recent trip to Ireland.
What follows is a pictorial reprise of that visit. If my first several “Roots” instalments speak to the musical environment in which I grew up, this one addresses (in part) my genetic roots… the Morgan clan emigrated from Ireland to Canada about one hundred and fifty years ago and this trip represents my first venture overseas and a chance to see “where I came from”. So, in roughly chronological order, here’s what happened…
Having sent the dogs (the grrrrls) to “doggie day care” we left from Toronto for an overnight flight to Dublin. The flight… hot, cramped, noisy, turbulent and wearisome. (Translation: a typical flight) The two redeeming qualities to the flight… no stopovers and a superb sunrise in the middle of the night (Toronto time) as Europe rolled towards us and we hurtled towards Ireland.
It might have been appropriate to stay at The Morgan but we actually arrived in Dublin around 11:00 am and bussed/DARTed our way to Ariel House. This guest house was located in a suburb dominated by gracious Georgian row houses and we anticipated a quiet night to catch up on lost sleep.
What we didn’t realize (until we arrived) was that, at the end of the block, sat Aviva Stadium, a newly constructed venue which, that night, was hosting a qualifying match (Eurocup) between Ireland and Russia. Our street was closed, vendors were hawking their wares and police were on patrol in anticipation of the arrival of some 50 000 soccer fans on the site.
So, after prowling about the immediate neighourhood and having a late lunch/early supper (including our first Irish Guinness… the Guinness is better in Dublin!), we closeted ourselves in our room and enjoyed a surprisingly tranquil evening (just the odd distant roar) while Ireland went down to defeat, 3 to 2.
Out and About
Congratulations, Kathy and Luke!
The next day we were feeling a bit better and, after a sturdy breakfast at Ariel House, we set forth for the city’s centre (about a twenty minute walk). Even in our catatonic state upon arrival we were struck by a diversity of plant life not common in our corner of Canada.
We were also pleased to see that roses, fuchsia and other flowers on the wane in Ontario October were still blooming vigorously in Dublin.
The first notable sight which we encountered when we reached Dublin’s core was Merrion Square’s enclosed park. It was a beautiful forested area including holly trees which stretched up twenty feet or more. Several monuments and statues graced the park, the most popular of which was native son, Oscar Wilde. We seldom walked by (and we walked by several times daily) without seeing someone posing with the reclining Oscar.
After a visit to the National (Art) Gallery across the road (for which we have no interior photos/prohibited) we caught a Hop On/Hop Off Bus and travelled to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. These buses are convenient in that they stop at 23 Dublin attractions in circuit, a bus coming by every 15 minutes. It means you can hop off, visit the site of interest and, when ready, hop back on to continue your journey. The pass is good for a twenty-four hour period and we utilized it over a two-day span. While you’re travelling the bus drivers (some informative, some funny, some just a bit crazy) provide live commentary on the various sights of Dublin.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was established about 1190 AD. A small chapel within the cathedral dates from this period with many subsequent additions, including the main sanctuary. It’s remarkable both in its beauty and its antiquity. One of the things about visiting Ireland which strikes most Canadian visitors is that where we measure in a few hundred years, Irish heritage is often accounted in many hundreds or, as we will discover, thousands of years. Among the cathedral’s luminaries is Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) who served as Dean of the church from 1713 to 1745.
After a full day of walking and looking, we paid a visit to that perfect union- a book store/restaurant north of the Liffey called The Winding Stair. We then trudged home for welcome night’s sleep.
The Next Day
Happy birthday, Audrey!
We discovered the previous night (to our chagrin) that there was a problem with our room’s TV… and this, combined with several other “limitations”, led to a discussion with the manager and a move to another room, one which suited us (having more of the period features which we had anticipated). After the move and breakfast we were off again, again walking by Oscar. His family home was, by the way, directly across the road on Merrion Square. A plaque on the side of the house suggests Oscar had a formidable father.
After completing our bus tour circuit (see yesterday) we landed at the steps of Trinity College. Our big event of the day was a visit to see The Book of Kells and The Long Room.
The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels written by Celtic monks about 800 AD. Its beauty and very survival over the centuries has earned it the title of Ireland’s finest national treasure. Two pages are customarily on display along with examples from other contemporary manuscripts (such as Book of Durrow and of Howth). Of course, as with many of these attractions, photographs are not permitted so I’ve “borrowed” from the Internet archive.
The Long Room at Trinity College (which was established by Elizabeth I), contains an amazing library of important and rare books from the library’s earlier days. It also houses the Brian Boru harp, one of the three surviving medieval Gaelic harps, and a national symbol of Ireland, notably used on the Irish Euro coins.
After all that edification we were hungry and ventured over to the Avoca Cafe (highly recommended in tourism guides), which is found on the top floor of the Avoca Shop. Avoca specializes in Irish-made woollen goods, milled in village of Avoca, which was also the fictional home of the BBC series, Ballykissangel. The food was as good as touted in the guides and we tipped our caps to Oscar as we passed the park and returned to our guest house for the night.
The Day After That
Monday was tour day to Newgrange. Newgrange is an ancient site (the best known of a number) north of Dublin which, it is conjectured, functioned as a worship and burial site for the prehistoric inhabitants. The burial mound dates from about 3200 BC and that predates the Egyptian pyramids. A limited number of visitors is able to tour the site daily and enter the cruciform chamber. The roof box over the entrance is designed such that it allows light to enter the passage and chamber only at sunrise during the Winter Solstice. Newgrange has been designated a World Heritage Site and was a particular highlight of our trip.
Our tour also took us to Tara (not the Gone with the Wind variety), ancient seat of Irish kings in prehistoric and historic times. The vista from the hill is breathtaking and is also said to be a site visited by St. Patrick in 433 AD.
A wee anecdote… lest you think the tour was without incident. While visiting Tara, we were required to cross through a break in a stone wall (as illustrated below). One of our tour group slipped on her return through the aperture and injured her wrist (we discovered this afterwards on the bus). She blacked out after taking her seat with her husband and the bus driver was required to negotiate the streets of Slane in search of a hospital. We heard later that she had badly broken her wrist and was taken to Dublin for a cast. Ironically (and unfortunately) she and her husband had extended their stay in Ireland by a day in order to visit Newgrange before returning to the States.
Yet Another Day
We set out for the National Museum of History and Archaeology the next morning. Like many of Dublin’s attractions, there was no admission fee but also no photography. Suffice it to say that the museum contained a substantial collection dating from the era of Newgrange through the Medieval period. Among the most striking objects were the gold jewellery and emblems which maintain their freshness and craftsmanship after the passage several thousand years. Sometimes intriguing, sometimes repulsive- the museum contained a selection of bodies (partial) and clothing preserved by burial in the country’s peat bogs. No pictures of that either (fortunately) but here’s the rotunda ceiling at the entrance to the museum…
Following that we ventured over to the Chester Beatty Library which is located beside Dublin Castle. There (again, no charge but no pictures) we examined manuscipts of the great religions dating back hundreds and thousands of years- Islam, Hinduism, Buddism, Judaism and Christianity. Among the most moving for us was a fragment from the book of John dating from about 150 AD. Courtesy of a postcard purchase it looked something like this…
In memory of Bill, who provided us with both the inspiration and opportunity for this trip.
Dublin doesn’t have a subway but it does have the DART, an above ground rail system which runs from Howth (north of Dublin) to Greystones (south of Dublin). It’s an efficient way to get out of the city and into some smaller communities (located along the Irish Sea aka the Atlantic). We got a day pass and visited two such communities, Bray and Dalkey. Bray is a seaside town which boasts a pleasant beach and the dramatic backdrop of Bray Head. We had breakfast there followed by a seaside stroll, taking in the fresh salt air.
Back onto the DART we headed north to Dalkey. This town is famous as home to a significant number of Irish notables, including author Maeve Binchey and U2’s Bono. It is an affluent and picturesque Irish town which is well worth a visit but requires a very healthy income if you plan to take up residence. Some highlights…
The town is also home to several medieval structures, including Goat Castle (actually a towerhouse built in the early 1400’s) and its adjacent church and cemetery. The town boasted seven such “castles” but only three remain, the “Goat” being the best preserved. The church, built around 1000 AD, is dedicated to St. Begnet, patron saint of Dalkey. The “Goat” was mildly intriguing but the addition which really brought it to life was a troupe of actors recreating life in Tudor times.
After spending the remainder of the day strolling about the town, we DARTed back to Ariel House to recoup for our last full day in Ireland.
The Final Full Day
Mercifully, dear reader, we opted to take no pictures on the final day. It was a day to wander aimlessly, purchased some souvenirs and gifts and prepare for our return to Canada. My only photo was the “Teaser” robin flitting about in Merrion Square… and you’ve already met him. On Friday, October 15th we boarded our Air Transat flight for the journey home. I’m pleased to report that our seats were somewhat more roomy and the temperature was more moderate… all in all a gentle end to a memorable visit.
Remember the roof work being undertaken in a previous blog? (If not, you really should be keeping up!) Well, the roof is finally done and looks something like this…
And… if you’ve managed to make it this far, congratulations! Like the roof, you’re done…