For every trip we take, there seems to be a standard response when we tell people where we're going. For Japan it was "Isn't that very expensive?" For Yugoslavia (in 1991) it was, "Isn't that dangerous?" For Ireland it was, "Oh, I'd like to go there some day!" This is apparently the first place we've gone in years that other people want to go to, or feel they could go to.
Let me begin by quoting Patrick Nielsen Hayden on the Middle East: "I don't really know enough of the full history of the modern Middle East to have a definite opinion; in fact, I suspect that a great deal of the trouble in that part of the world is caused by an excess of definite opinions." I could say the same of Ireland, so I have neither political insights nor definite opinions, other than that is would be preferable for the inhabitants of the island of Ireland to work out a peaceful solution satisfactory to all.
Note: Everything here will be with a twenty-four hour clock and metric (except for references to "pints" in a pub). (In school, we learned "A pint's a pound the world around," meaning that the liquid measure was sixteen ounces. Now it sounds like the reference to the cost of a beer, and as such would be woefully outdated.)
May 26, 2000: Our flight was at 21:30 so we worked a full day. The limousine arrived early, and we got to the airport around 19:15. I was feeling a little queasy, probably a combination of pre-trip jitters and the McDonalds meal I had for dinner.
May 27, 2000: It probably was the food, because after I threw up I felt better. (Getting off the plane and onto firm ground helped also, but I think that was secondary.)
We took a taxi (17) to our hotel in Dublin (Baile Átha Cliath), Bloom's. (Yes, it's a Joycean reference--they had a silhouette of Joyce on the doors.)
(I will give the Irish name of all the locations, though it seems to be used as the primary reference only on some road signs in the weSt. The language is called Irish, to distinguish it from Scots Gaelic.)
I should briefly explain the currency. Everything on the island of Ireland is in pounds (£). But in the Republic of Ireland these are Irish pounds (punts), while in Northern Ireland they are pounds sterling. As of this writing, a punt is US$1.16, a pound sterling is US$1.47, and a punt is 0.79 pounds sterling. For all other conversions you're on your own.
So the taxi was about US$20.
I rested up for a hour or so at the hotel just to be on the safe side, then we went out and Mark had a snack (I still wasn't ready to face food).
"If ever you go to Dublin town In a hundred years or so Inquire for me in Baggot Street And what I was like to know. O he was a queer one, Fol dol the di do, He was a queer one I tell you." --Patrick Kavanagh
We killed a little time at a bookshop (Books Upstairs, 36 Dame Street, mostly Irish literature, both new and remaindered). Then at 15:00 we went to the front gate of Trinity College where we joined the Historical Walking Tour of Dublin. This is a two-hour tour of medieval through Georgian Dublin led by a Trinity College history graduate. Our guide was named Peter and he gave us a very thorough description of the history of Dublin for the last nine thousand years or so. (Well, okay, the descriptions of the Plantations and that era were a little quick.) We started at Trinity College, established as a place to train good Anglicans, but which finally started admitting non-Anglicans in the nineteenth century. (However, Catholics were forbidden by the Catholic Church from attending until the 1970s.) Famous graduates included Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, George Berkley, and Edmund Burke. Peter did give us some quotes about other famous graduates. Someone said of Samuel Beckett that he would "r
(In looking up the quotations when I got back, I discovered that some seemed to be quoted in a different context than I found them, so I make no guarantees to their accuracy.)
I will say more about Trinity College, or at least the Old Library, when we return to see the Book of Kells there.
After this we crossed the street to the old Houses of Parliament, now the Bank of Ireland. This was the Parliament of the late eighteenth century, which voted itself out of existence in 1801 with the Act of Union, the all-Anglican members being heavily bribed by England to do so.
We walked on, through Temple Bar (named not for temples, or for pubs, but for the quay--or bar--of a man named Temple), and to Dublin Castle. This is more a palace than a castle, with only one of the original Norman towers surviving, and the rest from various eras. Peter didn't talk much about the Castle itself, but used this as a place to talk about An Gorta Mor, or The Great Hunger (which we also call the Famine).
Much of the bare history is fairly well known. The Irish peasants were dependent on potatoes as their only food. A blight in 1845 killed virtually all of the potato crop. In 1846 the blight was slightly less severe, then in 1847 and 1848 it again destroyed the entire crop. A million people died and a million and a half emigrated, mostly to the United States. (In part this was because when the landlords were told to provide assistance to their tenants, they calculated that it was cheaper to give them passage money to emigrate than to support them.)
But Peter said that until very recently, no one ever talked about the psychological effects of the Famine. He said that sociologists have described the three stages of famine: first, a sense of community, then a withdrawal into a sense of families against each other, and finally, a dissolution of family ties as well. The result is that the survivors (and their descendents) don't want to examine the details too closely.
While we stood there (under an awning), it not only rained but hailed as well.
Peter gave us several famous Irishmen's comments on Dublin during the walk. Swift called something (Trinity College, I think) "the pearl in the foul oyster." (Actually, this phrase is originally from Shakespeare's As You Like It. As I said, the quotations may not always have been strictly accurate.) And Brendan Behan preferred the city to the country because he was "less likely to be bitten by a sheep."
We finished up outside Christchurch Cathedral (is that redundant?). Across from it is a government building with a rather sordid paSt. When they were excavating for it in the 1970s (or so), they came across the remains of the original Viking town, including wooden streets, artifacts, etc. Instead of turning it into an archaeological site, they just built the building anyway, crushing everything underneath.
People are far more trusting in Ireland. Peter collected the £6 each from people at the end of the tour rather than at the beginning. It would have been very easy to disappear right before the end, but no one did (at least on our tour).
We walked back to the hotel through the Temple Bar area and ended up eating at Zaytoon's, a kebab place. Then back to the hotel and sleep.
May 28, 2000: I woke up once about 1:30 to the sound of really loud Irish music coming from the bar three floors down. It was even louder in the (interior) bathroom--I guess the sound was coming up through the pipes or something. But I was tired enough that I didn't have trouble getting back to sleep.
We had breakfast at Bewley's Oriental Cafe, which two people had recommended for tea. However, it is so convenient and reasonable for breakfast (£2.95 for three items, toast, and coffee) that I suspect we'll be there every day for breakfast instead.
This being Sunday morning, a lot was closed, so we walked south toward the Irish Jewish Museum. On the way we passed the Gaiety Theatre, which has a limited run of Sean O'Casey's Plough and the Stars, directed by and starring Stephen Rea (best known for The Crying Game, though I tend to think of Citizen X as his best work). Unfortunately, the box office wasn't open at 10:00 on a Sunday morning. Someone thought it might open at 15:00 but it didn't, probably because the theatre itself was "dark" on Sundays.
We walked past St. Stephen's Green and the Royal College of Surgeons, which still has the bullet marks on its façade from the Easter Rising.
The Irish Jewish Museum is in an old synagogue. Though the Jewish population of Ireland was around 5000 during the 1940s, it declined after that, and those Jews who stayed in Dublin moved out of this area (Portobello) and into the suburbs. The synagogue stood disused for a decade or so until someone decided to restore it and add a museum section.
The first mention of Jews in Ireland was in 1079 in the Annals of Inisfallen: "five Jews [Iudaíde] came over the sea with gifts to Tairdelbach, and they were sent back again over the sea." The commentator notes that this sounds as though they were turned away, but says it is also possible that they were merely trade emissaries, since one of the Irish leaders made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land shortly after their visit.
It's unlikely that the museum would be of great interest to Gentiles, but one of the things about Jewish travelers seems to be a desire to learn about the Jews of wherever they are visiting, whether this means visiting a synagogue or going to a Jewish museum. And Jews tend to set up museums to relate their history.
In this museum, the displays talked about all aspects of Jewish life, clearly expecting, or at least hoping for, a non-Jewish audience who might not know what the various ceremonial items were, or what customs were followed. It also had a section on how Ireland reacted during World War II, which was basically to close its doors to all foreigners. As a result, only twenty-five Jewish refugees managed to find asylum in Ireland, though various prominent figures appealed to the Irish government to do more. This may have been due to a certain level of anti-Semitism, as evidenced by various advertisements by companies saying they didn't employ Jews, "only Irish labour."
After this we walked to St. Patrick's Cathedral. Now this is Ireland, and St. Patrick is a major Catholic saint in the United States, but St. Patrick's Cathedral here is an Anglican church. In fact, most of the big churches in Dublin are Anglican, as a result of over three hundred years of English suppression of the Roman Catholic church. There is a fairly large Presbyterian church here (I think the English were marginally less hostile to them), and some smaller, newer Catholic churches.
Although the area around the Irish Jewish Museum is no longer Jewish, there are still signs that it was. One of the stores we passed was a kosher market, featuring Yehuda matzoh, Ossem products, and even some Manischewitz products.
St. Patrick's Cathedral is full of monuments and memorials. The best known monument is probably the Boyle Monument (one of the smaller children featured in the carved figures eventually turned out to become Robert Boyle, the chemist). There were many World War I (Great War) memorials, but also many for soldiers who died in South Africa, the Crimea, the Sudan, and other places fighting for the British.
The best known "memorial," however, would probably be that to Jonathan Swift, who is actually buried in the Cathedral. He was Dean of St. Patrick's for many years, including the period during which he wrote Gulliver's Travels, and is buried next to his beloved "Stella." (The marker stones have apparently been moved further apart and closer together as the opinion of the morality of their relationship changed over the years.)
Swift was quoted on one sign as writing, "A preacher cannot look around from the pulpit, without observing, that . . . of all misbehaviour, none is comparable to that of those who come here to sleep; opium is not so stultifying to many persons as an afternoon sermon." (Mark's comment was, "And whose fault was that?")
Swift's epitaph was there, in Latin, straightforward English, and Yeats's rather free translation:
"Swift has sailed into his rest; Savage indignation there Cannot lacerate his breast. Imitate him if you dare, World-besotted traveller; he Served human liberty."
After this, we went to Dublin Castle for a tour of the interior (£3 each). The guide started out with a quick history of the Castle, noting that the harp motif was added after the Castle was turned over by the British to the Irish government. The harp is the official symbol of Ireland. The guide noted that it was not the same as the Guinness harp--it was reversed from that because "Guinness had the copyright on the other one first."
The Battle Axe Landing had the coats of arms of the seven Prime Ministers who had already left office; that of the current one will be designed and added when she leaves. The Battle Ace Landing is so called because two guards holding battle axes used to stand on it, guarding the doors to the throne room.
The tour took us through the State Apartments, which looked very little like what they were even a hundred years ago. First, they knocked doors between them rather than make the tours keep going out into the hallway each time. In addition, however, the British took all their furniture and movable items with them when they left the Castle in 1922. As a result, the rooms were entirely bare until leading Irish families donated furniture and decorative objects of appropriate age and appearance for the Castle. But what was donated did not necessarily match the rooms' original purposes. So while we saw "the King's Bedroom" and "the Queen's Bedroom," neither had any bedroom furniture in them.
At the end of the tour, we were taken underground to see part of the Norman tower and part of the original Viking wall of "Dubh Linn" (the original name, meaning "Black Water" and named after the pond that was behind the Castle).
Then we walked back to St. Stephen's Green. As I noted, the Gaiety Theatre box office was still closed, but we did walk around St. Stephen's Green, seeing the Shelbourne Hotel (with its statues of Nubian princesses outside), the Huguenot cemetery, and the house where Bram Stoker lived when he wrote Dracula. In fact, the Huguenot Cemetery looks a lot like the cemetery in the various film versions of Dracula, so it's probably a typical English cemetery.
We had an early dinner at Pasta Fresca (£18.10). I had Rotoli, which is like a very wide spinach pasta, rolled with ricotta cheese, then sliced and covered with a mushroom cream sauce. Mark had Pasta Quattro Fromaggio, which also had sliced almonds.
We returned to the hotel for a while resting and writing, then walked over to the Duke Pub for the "Literary Pub Crawl." This was heavily recommended and mobbed--there were two groups of 55 each, where last week there was only 12 altogether. (This was a holiday weekend here as well, and the start of the summer holiday season, so that probably affected it as well.)
The tour consists of two actors taking the group around from pub to pub (four pubs in all), talking about Irish literary figures (from Wilde onward), frequently in terms of their drinking. The result is that more time is spent on Brendan Behan than on Sean O'Casey, and none at all on Bram Stoker. Still, one can't cover all of them. (One of the quiz questions was to name the four Irishmen who have won the Nobel Prize for Literature--a fairly high number for such a small island.) The tour takes about two-and-a-half to three hours and costs £6.50 each.
The actors also did recitations, excerpts, and quotations for the various writers, starting with an abbreviated Waiting for Godot, and including an interview with Brendan Behan by a Canadian journalist.
The other pubs we stopped at were O'Neill's, The Old Stand, and another one almost across the street from the Duke. Unfortunately, while there was a room in the Duke for us to gather in and hear the first part of the "act," there was no such space in the other pubs, so we had to stand outside. Luckily, there were sheltered areas, so we were only cold and not wet as well (since it was raining on and off).
I mentioned a quiz earlier. At each stop, the guides told us some questions that might be on the quiz at the end (but not the answers). At the end, they asked some of those, and some others besides. I did not know which two "Mother Goose" rhymes were actually written by Oliver Goldsmith. (Apparently he was putting together a collection of them and when the time came to turn the collection over and get his money--"the whole point of the exercise," as one guide put it--he was two rhymes short, so rather than do more research, he just made two up. These two were "Hickory, Dickory, Dock" and "Jack and Jill.")
I did know some of the others and was the first one to shout out an answer to naming the two Irishmen other than W. B. Yeats and Samuel Beckett who won Nobel Prizes in Literature, (I knew Seamus Heaney; the other was George Bernard Shaw), as well as another answer that I can't remember. The run-off question among the three of us who got two answers each was to name what football (soccer?) position was played by Albert Camus (who wasn't Irish, but had some connection with one of the authors who was Irish). Now I don't even know what the football positions are, so I passed the first time around, but after the others had guessed "forward" and some other position I cannot even remember, I asked, "Is --goalie' a position?" The answer was, yes, it is, and what's more, it was the right answer. Unbelievable! For that I won a Jameson's Whiskey Literary Pub Crawl T-shirt. This may not sound exciting, but I certainly have more use for it than the second and third prizes--small bottle
I did not drink at every pub, but I did try Guinness stout (a half pint, known as "a half of Guinness," which cost £1.65). It tastes pretty much like beer to me, though with a somewhat richer flavor. The fact that is isn't served ice-cold helps.
"When things go wrong and will not come right, Though you do the best you can, When life looks black as the hour of night-- A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN . . ." --Flann O'Brien, "At Swim-Two-Birds"
Pub life is a big part of Irish life, but I don't think the drinking is proportionally higher than in the United States. One reason is that in the United States, you sit at a table and they keep coming around asking if you want another drink, which encourages you to keep saying yes. In Ireland, you get your drink at the bar and bring it to your table. When you want another one, you have to get up and get it yourself.
May 29, 2000: Breakfast at Bewley's, then on to Trinity College and the Book of Kells. We arrived around 10:00, bought our tickets (£4.50 each) and went in. There is an exhibit preceding the Book itself, explaining the history of Christianity in Ireland (it seems to justify the theory that Palladius and other Christians predated St. Patrick in Christianizing Ireland, Palladius having been made Bishop of Ireland in 431 C.E., and Patrick not arriving until 456 C.E. (though others claim 432 C.E.--still after Palladius). It also talked about the various written alphabets, starting with Ogham script and going through the alphabets and language used for various works.
It also gave the history of Kells, the monastery where the book was created. In the chronology, the display said, "1040--Kells and its ecclesiastical buildings were destroyed by fire (and again in 1060, 1095, 1099, 1111, 1135, 1143, 1144, 1150, 1156, ...)." This was clearly a very common occurrence, at least at Kells. It is surprising that the book survived at all.
Other panels contained examples of Irish poetry of the time (such as the poem "Pangur Bán"), descriptions of the physical manufacture of the materials used, and explanations of some of the symbolism used in the illustrations. For example, on "folio 34r, Chi Rho Page" (supposedly the best known page), the element of air is represented by two angels, earth by two mice holding the Eucharist, and water by an otter with a fish in his mouth. Water also signifies baptism, while the peacocks signify the incorruptibility of Jesus's flesh. (It was believed that peacocks did not putrefy.) Two butterflies holding a chrysalis represent the Resurrection, as do the two flowering rods.
Just as we were ready to go in to the room where the actual Book of Kells was, we were all told that there would be a delay. Some VIPs (someone said the King of Norway and some members of the Norwegian Parliament) were being shown in there firSt. So we had to wait about twenty minutes before we could go in. When we finally did get in, there was such a crowd that it was almost impossible to get to the case to see the Book. (There are four volumes, one for each gospel. Two are on display at any one time, one opened to a text page and one to an illustration page. Also on display are the Book of Armagh and the Book of Durrow.) The guard said they had tried everything to improve crowd control, but even a queueing system didn't work (I'm not sure why).
After this we saw the Long Room, the room holding the original Trinity College library (200,000 books). To me, this was more impressive than the Book of Kells. On display here were many rare books, including first editions of Copernicus and other scientific works. It also holds the oldest surviving Irish harp, which (contrary to legend) did not belong to Brian Ború. (For one thing, it is not old enough, Brian Ború having died in 1014 and the harp being carbon-dated to three or four hundred years later.) While having a musical instrument in a library may at first seem odd, when one recalls that the early literature of Ireland was bardic, it makes sense.
Everyone had said to arrive early to avoid having to wait to see the Book of Kells. We had to wait a little while, but weren't sure how much of that was because of the special visitors. When we left the building, we found out.
When we had arrived at 10:00, we walked right in and bought our tickets. When we left, at about 12:00 noon, there was a line from the midpoint of the building down past the end and working its way around the quadrangle. So if you want to see the Book of Kells, you want to get here early. Trust me on this. (It opens at 9:30.)
We stopped in to the Bank of Ireland for a quick look at the old House of Lords, then crossed the Liffey and walked up O'Connell Street. A quick stop at Eason's netted several books, including John Sutherland's Where Was Rebecca Shot?, which is unavailable in the United States (so far) and one of Bernard Cornwall's "Sharpe" novels that is also not available in the United States yet. I looked at the science fiction ("Ficsean Eolaíchta") section, but saw nothing there I wanted to buy.
The G.P.O. (General Post Office) was next. This is the site of the major action of the Easter Rising in 1916, and was at that time almost completely destroyed. It was rebuilt, and returned to use as a post office, but the front still has the bullet marks from 1916. Inside, a series of paintings depicts the Rising.
At the head of O'Connell Street is Parnell Square and the Dublin Writers Museum. (Actually, at the foot of the street is a statue of O'Connell, at the head one of Parnell, and in the middle used to be one of Nelson, leading wags to say it was the only street in the world with statues honoring three famous adulterers. The IRA blew up Nelson's Column in 1966, but at least one of our guides made the joke anyway.)
At the Dublin Writers Museum, they concentrated mostly on "Anglo-Irish" writers, by which I mean those writing in English (although they also include Samuel Beckett, who wrote in French). There is some mention made of Irish-language literature, but not nearly as much as in the book on the literary history of Ireland I got that spent at least three-quarters of its text on Irish-language literature, and mentioned the writers I actually knew something of practically just in passing. (I knew more about the writers than the author actually said.)
In any case, the museum covers the authors English-speakers are likely to be familiar with, including some who aren't the literary (or touristic) giants such as Joyce or Yeats. There had a section featuring Irish horror writers, including Bram Stoker, Sheridan LeFanu, Lafcadio Hearn, and others often overlooked.
They also included a poem from Swift which was also at St. Patrick's, which Swift wrote in his "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift" regarding his bequest to found a hospital for the insane:
"He gave the little wealth he had, To build a home for fools and mad: And shew'd, by one satiric touch, No nation wanted it so much."
And of course, they had the famous review by Vivian Mercier of the two-act Waiting for Godot: "Nothing happens, twice."
What we missed were any readings or audio of the authors represented. There was a lot to read about the authors, but not much by the authors.
(Note: We bought the combined Dublin Writers Museum and James Joyce Tower tickets for £4.90 each. Just the Dublin Writers Museum was £3.60, and there were also combinations involving George Bernard Shaw's Birthplace.)
We returned to the hotel to drop off all the books we bought, and wrote in our logs a bit before heading out for dinner. We walked towards the theatre (for which we had finally found the box office open and bought tickets for The Plough and the Stars--£22.50 each for the most expensive seats, or about US$26) and ended up at Tsar Ivan's. (Yes, I know it doesn't sound very Irish.) They had a pre-theatre special menu for £5.95. Mark had lamb in a spicy tomato sauce; I had grilled pork loin with a yoghurt sauce. Mark also had borscht--not as sour as we're used to--and the main courses came with rice and a small salad. Everything was very good, and with a coffee it came to only £18.50 (US$22) including service charge!
After this we dashed through the rain to the Gaiety for that drama full of gaiety (not!), The Plough and the Stars by Sean O'Casey. As I noted before, this was directed by and starred Stephen Rea. The Gaiety is the only surviving theatre from the great theatre age (the Abbey is still around, but was completely rebuilt to a new design after being destroyed by fire).
Now, Mark claims I won the quiz yesterday because I know a lot. I claim it's luck. First of all, it was clearly luck that I guessed Albert Camus used to play goalie. And secondly, it has to be luck rather than any special knowledge that led us to pick this night and these seats such that I would find a £20 note stuck in the side of my seat.
Be that as it may, on to the play. The set was very spartan, and the set changes were done by the cast themselves carrying furniture on- and off-stage. From our seats around the side of the balcony, we could see backstage, or at least off-stage, to one side, but did have some difficulty seeing the area of the stage where the entrance to the apartment for the first and last acts was.
I won't describe the whole play, or even try to review it here. For one thing, the accents were far too thick for me to appreciate it. If I hadn't just read the play a few days before, I probably would have been completely loSt. (And it wasn't just me. The Irish woman next to me said that she was having difficulty understanding the actors! I imagine this is the Irish equivalent of Cockney, both in difficulty of accent and in class.) There were some strange anachronisms, such as the looters returning with stereos and televisions, and one character clearly out of her depth, who claimed to be from Rathmines (which I assume is a fancy suburb these days).
What we could have done without was the cell phone going off in the audience right as Nora came forward for her big scene at the end. Had the phone's owner been shot, instead of the rebels, I'm sure the audience would have been a lot happier.
May 30, 2000: We are seeing a lot of men in kilts around--apparently Scotland is playing the Republic of Ireland in some big sporting event (soccer?). Most of them act pretty low-brow, if not downright uncivilized. As Mark describes it, the kilts on the street outnumber the neurons.
Since today promised to be good weather all day, we decided to use this day to do our seaside sightseeing. We took DART down to Dalkey (Deilginis). (DART is the suburban railway--"DART" stands for "Dublin Area Rapid Transit," a fairly fortuitous acronym. In the United States, we have BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit. If Fresno ever builds one, however, I suspect they'll choose a different name.)
Dalkey is the southernmost of three picturesque and historic seaside towns. It was known as the "Town of Seven Castles," though only two survive, and only Goat Castle is still open. We looked around it, and the adjoining heritage center (£2.50 for each of us), which lists all the various writers who lived in Dalkey at one time or other, including George Bernard Shaw and Maeve Binchley.
We then walked along "the Metals" to Sandycove. "The Metals" is a pedestrian path along the route of the old "atmospheric railway." This is important to know, because it is labeled by sign not as "the Metals" (which everyone calls it), but "Atmospheric Road." Now I have to explain that "atmospheric railway" and "atmospheric road" don't refer to a railway or road that has a lot of "atmosphere" or charm, but refers to what is also called a "pneumatic railway."
There are limits to how many levels deep my explanations will go. You have reached that limit.
Anyway, we walked the one kilometer along this that Lonely Planet said took you from Dalkey to Sandycove. Plus the half kilometer or so to get from the center of Dalkey to the Metals. Plus the kilometer or more to get from the Metals to our actual destination in Sandycove--the James Joyce Tower.
With our usual perfect timing, we arrived there just as they closed for one hour for lunch.
Well, we sat outside it for an hour, watching Dublin Bay and catching up on writing. (How appropriate!) Just outside it is the famous Forty Foot Pool, which provided a nude bathing spot for gentlemen for centuries. Because women wished to use it as well, there is now a sign saying that after 9 AM, "togs must be worn." This apparently doesn't apply to small children at the beach next door--there were three or four toddlers happily frisking about in the shallow water al fresco.
By the way, the pool is named for an army regiment stationed here, the Fortieth Foot, not its size or depth.
When the tower opened, we went in. Originally built as a defense against Napoleon (who never showed up), it is a Martello tower. Around the turn of the century, it was de-commissioned and eventually became a summer home. James Joyce lived in it for a week. He had been invited down by a friend, but between the invitation and his arrival, he had written an article impugning the friend's taste. Then when he arrived he didn't pay his share of the rent (half the £8 yearly rent). A third person arrived, who one night had a nightmare about a panther attacking him, and fired a revolver at it. The original occupant took the revolver away, and said if the panther returned, he would shoot it. The panther (or at least the nightmare), returned and the friend took the opportunity to shoot a couple of holes in the wall above Joyce's bed. As the literary pub crawl host said, "Joyce took this as an eviction notice" and left the next day.
Now this alone would not warrant making this into a James Joyce museum. But the tower is also the setting for the first scene of Ulysses (which I have read three times . . . the first scene that is; I still haven't gotten past page 100 any time).
The tower is now a museum to Joyce. The ground floor is filled with Joyce memorabilia, volumes of works by and about him, etc. The first floor is a recreation of the room described in the first scene of Ulysses. The recreation led to some alterations--Joyce has a hammock slung in a room that had no place to sling a hammock from, being entirely stone. So two bolts have been added to the walls. They also added a three-foot high statue of a panther.
By the way, the winding staircase between the ground and first floors confirms that not only was James Joyce a thin man, but Buck Mulligan and Stephen Daedelus were too, because they couldn't have gotten up and down it otherwise.
If you buy a book here, they stamp it "James Joyce Tower." This idea was copied from Shakespeare & Company in Paris, which was the first publisher of Ulysses. In fact, Sylvia Beach, Joyce's mentor from Shakespeare & Company, helped open the James Joyce Tower here.
Dun Laoghaire (pronounced "Dun Leary"), the northernmost of the towns, has the National Maritime Museum (£1.50 each). This seems to feature a lot of sea disasters involving Ireland. For example, there is a display about the mail boat Leinster, which was torpedoed by the Germans 10 October 1918, and 444 of the 700 passengers and crew died. There were sections about Titanic, built in Ireland, and Lusitania, torpedoed off the coast of Ireland.
There were also sections on laying the first transatlantic cable, and on Erskine Childers's gun-running. (Childers wrote The Riddle of the Sands.)
By the time we finished the Maritime Museum we were exhausted, so we didn't walk out along the pier, which is probably what Dun Laoghaire is best known for.
We returned and had dinner at Gallagher's, known for its "boxties." A boxty is a potato pancake wrapped around some sort of filling, usually meat. But it is not from shredded potatoes, but more like ground potatoes or potato flour, so it much more like a crepe than it sounds. Mine had a lamb and yoghurt filling; Mark's had a "spicy" chicken filling. Neither had a lot of flavor. The half of Murphy's I had had a stronger taste than the meal. This may be Irish-style cooking.
May 31, 2000: And speaking of Irish-style cooking, at breakfast what the Irish call bacon we call ham, and what they call coffee we call . . . well, I'm not sure, but it isn't quite like coffee.
After breakfast, we went to the National Museum. This has various sections: Prehistoric Ireland, Viking Ireland, The Treasury, and Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt? Well, I think it's like natural history museums and dinosaurs--all museums with any possible Egyptian connection must have an Egyptian section, because everyone loves mummies.
One of the more interesting displays was a log boat from 2500 B.C.E., which is the oldest boat found in Ireland, having been preserved in a bog. There was a school group there, and the guide was telling them that the boat was actually too heavy to float, and probably sank into the bog on its test voyage.
There were also "crotals" (which looked like bronze grenades) which the sign said might have been used with horns in fertility rites--in other words, they have no clue what they are.
(All the Viking displays made Mark ask what things would be like if the Vikings had continued as a culture. I don't know if there was ever an alternate history of Viking world domination or even cultural survival in English, though there seems to be at least one in Swedish).
A display on the upper floor showed what middle school (junior high school?) students though the most important inventions, etc., of the twentieth century. Roald Dahl was voted the greatest author, and while the end of World War II placed first in important events, most of the others in the top ten were specifically Irish (the Rising of 1916 [number 2], the bombing at Omagh, the Peace Process, and so on). This is some consolation--I had thought only Americans were so parochial in voting on important events. (World Press Review has two sets of polls in their January issue: what American journalists voted the most important stories of the previous year, and what world journalists voted the most important stories of the previous year. The world journalists pick things like "the collapse of financial markets in the Far East"; the Americans pick things like "the McGuire-Sosa home-run race.")
After this, we went to the Natural History Museum, which is described as the one of the best museums in the "old cabinet style" (that is, lots of glass cases full of dead stuffed animals). It is almost better as a museum of museums rather than of natural history. The upper levels are balconies so that the natural light from the skylight roof can illuminate everything. (Well, it was opened by David Livingstone, which tells you how old it is.)
On the ground floor there are specimens of all Irish animals, including the extinct Giant Irish Deer (Megaloceros giganteus, often mistakenly called an Irish Elk), and the wolf (which became extinct some time between 1786 and 1810--at least those were the last reported sightings).
One note on Anglo-Irish spelling: I have to conclude that the correct Anglo-Irish spelling for the third person neuter possessive is "it's" since that is how it is spelled almost everywhere, including museum signs and brochures (although I did see one place where it was spelled "its'"). Just because the rest of the English-speaking world spells it "its" and reserves "it's" for the contraction of "it is" is apparently no reason for the Irish to follow suit.
One unique feature of this museum is the glass models by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, which were made in the mid-nineteenth century. These incredibly detailed and accurate of marine life and small animals such as planeria are sometimes life-sized, but often enlarged so that you can see the detail that you couldn't in the real thing.
One of the more depressing features, however, is the primate case, which reminds me of the museum we see in the film Planet of the Apes. Our current knowledge of how close we are to chimpanzees and gorillas, and how intelligent they are, makes this case only a small step away from seeing humans stuffed and mounted.
A bulletin board announced a lecture, "Acts of God: The Natural Science Behind Biblical Events," with a URL ( http://www.tcd.ie/Geology/) for further information.
Remember how I said that natural history museums must have dinosaurs. Well, this was too early for dinosaurs to be incorporated from the beginning, and not large enough to acquire them when they became popular, but there were a few small dinosaur models in the back of one of the balconies, one inaccurate in the positioning of its legs, indicating that it was probably added in the early 1900s.
We dropped into the National Gallery briefly, but the Irish artists were not all that engaging. There was a painting by Domenicus van Wijnen (Ascanius) of the Temptation of St. Anthony, a topic I thought Hieronymus Bosch had a monopoly on.
We picked up our car at Dan Dooley. They are the cheapest major rental agency, but the car was less than perfect. It was a Ford Fiesta (which we rapidly renamed a Ford Fiasco), purple (they called it blue), with a ding in the windscreen and an interior rear-view mirror attached by adhesive, only not very well. While it didn't fall off until only a day before the end of the trip, it did loosen and dangle throughout and had to be re-pressed down every hour or so on good roads, and every five minutes on bumpy roads. The glove box was hard to reach from the passenger seat and the trip odometer (which was the one that measured in tenths of a mile) was hidden behind the steering wheel. Even if you craned your neck, the tenths figure was hard to read.
Oh, yes, miles. Ireland has gone over to metric only fitfully. Road distance signs are sometimes in miles, sometimes in kilometers, and rarely say which. Speed limits seem to be in miles per hour. The car reads in miles and miles per hour. Lonely Planet, however, gives distances in kilometers, and I have no idea what the units are on the distance chart on the map Dan Dooley gave us. Since driving takes longer here, though, having the correct numbers still doesn't help you much with times.
The parking garage near the hotel had an overnight rate of £4.50 starting at 18:00, so we drove around until then, partly to get used to the car, and partly to avoid paying exhorbitant parking fees. We drove north to Howth and Malahide and back. We thought we would return too early, but terrible traffic in Dublin got us back just a few minutes after 18:00.
We had dinner at the Palm Tree, around the corner from the hotel. Mark had a pasta dish and I had smoked salmon, which was indeed just like smoked salmon back home (served in thin slices).
June 1, 2000: We had our final breakfast at Bewley's and checked out of Bloom's. I was a trifle annoyed to find that they convert the bill to United States dollars and charge your credit card in dollars, since their conversion rate was not as good as we would have gotten from our credit card company (which does not add an additional "foreign currency" charge).
We drove north to Trim (Baile Átha Troim) and Trim Castle, only to find that it was closed until mid-June. They are doing renovation/restoration on it, and while it was open last summer while they were working, I guess they decided to close it during the off-season. We did get a view from the outside.
We then proceeded to get lost on the way to the Hill of Tara (Teamhair). The Hill of Tara is presumably one of Ireland's major sites, the seat of its High Kings, the place where St. Patrick challenged the pagans, the site of the original "Million Man March" (Daniel O'Connell held a rally here in 1843 supposedly attended by a million people). We got lost because, while we made the turn-off from the N3, we missed the turn-off for the Hill of Tara because we didn't see the small white signpost behind a tree. We then drove around for an hour looking for a sign. We were not helped by the fact that the map had two different spots labeled "Hill of Tara"! Eventually, we found it, using the instructions from one of the guidebooks and asking directions of someone walking down the road.
We did pass Dunsany Castle on the way. Dunsany Castle belongs to the lords of Dunsany--yes, including that one. (And if you don't know which Lord Dunsany I'm referring to, telling you that he was a famous Irish fantasist who wrote such works as The King of Elfland's Daughter and Beyond the Fields We Know isn't going to mean much to you. Telling you that he wrote all his works with a quill pen long after that implement was passé might at least be of some interest.)
We finally found the Hill of Tara, and it was only raining a little. The weather was fairly poor so far (and continued so, with an occasional respite). We saw the audiovisual presentation inside the church there, then went out to the site with the guide and someone else who seemed to be either a guide-in-training or a guide inspector.
There are various formations on the Hill of Tara: circular stone rings, long stone alleys or corridors, and so on. The main ones are mostly misnamed. The Ráth of the Synods is a triple-ringed fort. The Royal Enclosure (Ráth na Ríogh) is actually an oval Iron Age hill fort. The Mound of the Hostages (Dumha na nGiall) was supposedly a prison for hostages of King Cormac MacArt, but was actually a Stone Age passage grave. Cormac's House (Teach Cormaic) and the Royal Seat (Forradh) are a burial mound and a ring fort respectively. The Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil) is on top of Cormac's House and is said to be the inauguration stone of the high kings. The Enclosure of King Laoghaire (Ráth Laoghaire) is a ring fort. And the Banquet Hall (Teach Miodhchuarta) was never enclosed and is either a ceremonial avenue or a row of burial sites.
The used bookstore near the site had only one Lord Dunsany book (My Ireland)--the owner said Dunsany's works were hard to find and sold quickly. They did have a Irish translation of The Hound of the Baskervilles which I picked up for my Sherlock Holmes collection. (So far, I have Holmes in Chinese, Finnish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.)
Newgrange, or rather the entire complex at Brú na Bóinne (pronounced "brew-na bone-ya"), was a bit easier to find. Visitors must go to the Visitors Centre and be taken by minibus to the sites for guided tours. We took both the Newgrange and Knowth (pronounced "nowth" rather than "noath") (Cnóbha); with the Visitors Centre presentation that was 7 each.
Newgrange is considered the finest Stone Age passage tomb in Ireland. It dates from about 3200 B.C.E., and so is about 600 years older than the Pyramids at Giza. During the winter solstice at sunrise the sun shines directly down the passage. They were taking bookings for this time, but stopped when they got to 2008, and I'm not sure what will happen to even those if they close the tomb to visitors. (We heard from someone that this is the last year they will be letting people go into Newgrange itself. In future they will have a replica people can walk into, and I could see why, as the stones along the passage are getting worn, and black from the oils deposited on them.)
Knowth cannot be entered at all, and in fact is still being excavated and is partially barricaded and covered with plastic.
While Ireland has over half the Stone Art carvings in Europe, Knowth alone has over a quarter. A Canadian professor has recently claimed that one of the carvings at Knowth is actually a map of the moon.
After a few glitches, we stayed at the Castle View B&B in Slane (Baile Shláine). (What Lonely Planet called the Old Post House is actually the Old Post Office, and both the B&B and the restaurant were closed by 18:00, even though Lonely Planet specifically says they serve dinner until 21:00. And the next B&B we tried was full. In fact, the claim on the Net that there was no problem finding a B&B in June turned out to be a bit over-optimistic. Bank Holiday weekend in particular they tended to fill up.)
June 2, 2000: After an Irish breakfast of fat, cholesterol, and salt, we maneuvered the car out of the postage-stamp packing area behind the B&B and got lost again. This was partly because we had driven around Slane so much that I thought I was pointed north, when actually we we pointed weSt. At any rate, we got that sorted out relatively soon, and drove to Armagh (Ard Mhacha, though Irish names are not used in Northern Ireland).
Up until now we had been in the Republic of Ireland, but Armagh is in Northern Ireland. I'm going to assume that anyone reading this has some understanding of the geography and politics of the island of Ireland and not give a full explanation of it. I will note that Northern Ireland consists of six counties (Armagh, Down, Antrim, Tyrone, Londonderry, and Fermanagh) which form most of the traditional province of Ulster. (The other provinces were Munster, Leinster, and Connaught; the symbols of these were music, commerce, and wisdom, while for Ulster it was cattle. Counties Donegal, Monaghan, and Cavan are part of the traditional province of Ulster, but are in the Republic rather than Northern Ireland.) Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but not part of Great Britain. On the whole, however, it is less likely to offend by referring to it as Northern Ireland or "the North" than as the UK.
However, it is a different country, and with all the troubles (or "the Troubles," if you want to refer to the conditions specifically since 1969), I figured that there would be passport checks, etc., at the border. Not only were they no border checks, I couldn't even tell where the border was. The only ways to tell are that the phone booths in Northern Ireland say "BT" and the road signs are not in both Gaelic and English. (The lack of border checks is probably a result of both countries being in the EU, though the books indicate checkpoints did exist until recently.)
And because Armagh is in a different country, it uses pounds sterling rather than punts. Luckily, I had brought my left-over UK money from our last trip to Britain, so we had about £6. This meant we could go to the Planetarium in Armagh before having to hunt down a cash machine. (Or rather, the exhibits at the Planetarium, but not the show itself, but that was our plan anyway.)
The surroundings of the Planetarium are as interesting as the Planetarium itself. There is a "Solar Garden"--a scale model of the distances of the various planetary orbits from the sun. The sizes of the planets are (I think) also to scale, though not the same scale. They also go out only as far as Uranus, unless Neptune and Pluto were off somewhere in someone's backyard outside the park.
They had a "Hypercube" which they claimed helped measure large distances. Actually, it wasn't a hypercube, and it wasn't used to measure long distances. What it was was three nested cubes, each a thousand times larger than the one inside it (that is, a side was ten times the length). They gave this as an aid to understanding the distances on the "Hill of Infinity," where every ten meters represented a thousand times the distance that the previous ten meters did. A real hypercube is a four-dimensional cube, often represented in three dimensions by a cube within a cube, with the corresponding corners joined by edges. The physical resemblance is probably what made them call this a "Hypercube."
As I said, we didn't attend the planetarium shown at Armagh Planetarium (that is something we can do back home), but we did see the exhibit halls (£1). There was a "Hall of Astronomy" which had exhibits about space exploration and a section on eclipses (added for the recent European total solar eclipse, apparently) with famous quotations about various eclipses of the past:
(There's a good collection of eclipse quotations--for now, anyway--at http://ds.dial.pipex.com/eclipse99page/quotes.htm.)
There was also an "Earth Hall" which had the environmental preaching that is becoming common in museums today. I suppose it is an improvement over the "glass cases full of dead, stuffed animals," but one needs to be careful to make it at least somewhat interesting.
In the entry to the "Earth Hall" was Richard Dawkins's recent letter to Prince Charles regarding Charles's Reith Lecture in which he attacked genetic modification of plants in specific and science in general. Dawkins pointed out that all agriculture was unnatural, and that a return to nature would mean a return to strict Darwinism, which rewards short-term goals more than long-term ones.
There were also mathematics posters--symmetry, angles of polygons, and so on--definitely more advanced than those one sees in United States museums.
After this, we decided we needed money and petrol. It turns out that contrary to the books, petrol is appreciably more expensive in the North, so we should have filled up before crossing over. However, we managed to find a place that was only 67.9 pence per liter (many places were 81.9 pence) and got 26.51 liters for £18, having traveled 202 miles. But this petrol station had no cash machine, so we paid by credit card and went off to find a cash machine, which we did.
(For people complaining about US$1.50 a gallon prices, the price in Northern Ireland is around 81.9 pence per liter, which is about US$4.65 a gallon.)
Cash in hand, we went to Navan Fort (Emain Macha). This is the center of events described in what is called the "Ulster cycle" of poems, called Tain Bó Cúailnge. (Thomas Kinsella did a translation which seems to be highly regarded, so I picked up a copy in the gift shop. I was originally somewhat surprised to see they didn't have it, or any other version of it, but when I asked it turned out to be because they "fly off the shelves," according to the clerk.) There is also a novella by Charles DeLint, "The Fair at Emain Macha," which I meant to re-read before the trip but didn't get to.
We passed up the audiovisual presentation, which may have been a mistake, but having just seen presentations at the Hill of Tara and Newgrange, it seemed as if this would be somewhat repetitive.
The site itself is open, with signs rather than having a guide. It is not a fort, however, but rather the remains of a large cairn. Though it was an earthworks at some time, it appears to be primarily the result of the burning of a large timber building constructed over a cairn, and then the whole thing being buried under a mound of earth.
We drove on to Ballycastle (Baile an Chaisil) and got a room at the Fragrens B&B (£17 each). Dinner was fish and chips at Dallat's Sea Fry. I have concluded that I do not really like fish and chips--the fish usually have far more coating than I like, and often have bones. Chips and vinegar are okay, though.
June 3, 2000: At last, the weather cleared, which was good, because today was our visit to the Giant's Causeway (Clochán an Aifir) and it would not have been enjoyable in the rain.
Just to balance the benefit of the weather, the Visitors Centre was closed because of a recent fire.
The Giant's Causeway is an area of basalt columns which forms a peninsula out from the land, looking like a causeway (or partial causeway) to some off-shore island. The legend is that it was built by Finn McCool (whom Mark describes as an Irish Paul Bunyan), but geologists claim it is the result of volcanic activity. At any rate it is quite a striking formation, named as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (the only one in Northern Ireland).
We climbed up the cliff overlooking the area, but the view there, while panoramic, does not show off the Causeway itself very well. We then walked down the road along the shore to the Causeway where we could see it closer up. It is very regular (except around the edges) and very mathematical. We didn't go out on it as far as some (our scrambling-over-rocks days are probably past) but we walked along the shore a bit past the Causeway. There are other formations further on, but they require quite a hike to get to them and back.
We spent about an hour and a half here, taking the mini-bus back up the hill from the Causeway to the parking lot. We then drove to Derry/Londonderry (Doire).
In many ways, Derry/Londonderry was the most political city we visited. Even the name is political. The official name is Londonderry, based on an early Seventeenth Century charter. But signs saying "Londonderry" all have the "London" spray-painted out. Similarly, most references to English monarchs are scratched or spray-painted out on various signs along the city walls. And there are political murals on a lot of buildings.
All this is not surprising, since Derry/Londonderry is where "The Troubles" began in October 1968 when a civil rights march there was violently broken up by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Further conflicts, first with the RUC and later with British troops sent in, occurred, and on 30 January 1972, known as Bloody Sunday, thirteen civilians were killed by British troops. Only now is an official inquiry into this taking place.
(The civil rights march was in part to protest the gerrymandering of the city that led to the 60% Catholic majority consistently getting less than 40% of the council seats. Other factors entered in, mostly as a result of that, such as the public services in Catholic areas being less well funded, and so on. I mention this in part because in the United States, when we hear "civil rights march" we tend to think of it strictly in racial terms. Similarly, Catholic Emancipation in 1830 refers to the granting of the right to vote and hold office to Catholics rather than freeing them from slavery, which is the sense that "emancipation" has in the United States.)
The result of all this was the abolition of the Northern Ireland parliament in 1972; it was only re-established two years ago (1998) and just re-established after being suspended once again.
As a result of all this, the Tower Museum (which shows the history of Derry/Londonderry) has a big disclaimer at the beginning, saying how they were trying to be fair to everyone, etc.
The museum covers the history from the founding of Derry in 546 C.E. by St. Colmcille (otherwise known as St. Columba) up through the present day, with a video showing the more recent history.
We then walked around the tops of the walls of Derry/Londonderry, from which we could see a lot of the murals I mentioned. There are guided tours of this available, and if we had arrived earlier, we probably would have taken one. The fact that Ireland is so far north means it stays light very late in the evening, so we can sightsee well past when museums, tours, etc., close down. (Sunset is about 21:45.) It also means we never have to drive on these roads in the dark, which is a good thing.
We stopped in a supermarket on the way back to the car. They had matzoh! I can't believe that there is a large Jewish population here, but I can report that matzoh is £1.12 for 300 grams (or about US$2.50 a pound).
We tried to find a B&B in town, but the first we looked at from Lonely Planet seemed to be closed. We decided to find some place outside of town and closer to our first stop tomorrow, so ended up crossing back into the Republic. We drove up to Buncrana (Bun Cranncha), but even here had problems (Bank Holiday weekend and all). We ended up staying at the Osborne B&B, an older B&B not quite as nice as the others we stayed at, but certainly acceptable (£18 each).
Dinner was at the Ubiquitous Pub. I had goat cheese and tomato on garlic bread and a half of Guinness (since we had walked from the B&B and I didn't have to drive), and Mark had a Thai chicken dish. For comparison, a half of Guinness that is £1.65 in a Dublin pub is £1.15 here.
June 4, 2000: Our first stop was the Grianán of Aileách, a stone ring fort that was destroyed several centuries ago. Yet there it was, standing perfectly intact. How could this be? Well, some (amateur?) archaeologist a hundred years or so ago decided to reconstruct it from the stones lying around in the field. There isn't much there besides the rather spartan fort itself. Supposedly the view is magnificent on a good day; need I mention it was raining? (This is all very unusual weather for this time of year, we're told, and indeed the news reports that Britain is having terrible flooding.)
We filled up the tank before returning to the North and our drive to Omagh (An Omaigh). Omagh (which was listed on our itinerary but no one commented on) was the site of the worst event of The Troubles when a car bomb went off in a marketplace there in 1998 killing 29 and injuring 200. (This was partly due to a misunderstanding of the warning sent to the police, who evacuated people into the area where the bomb went off.) However, we weren't in Omagh itself in any case, but at the Ulster-American Folk Park (£4).
This is a rather strange outdoor museum. There are many outdoor museums showing a cross-section of life in the past in a given country or area, but this one focuses on Ireland and the United States. Mostly funded by the Mellon family, this museum "celebrates" the emigrant experience by showing life in Ireland before emigration, then an emigration ship, then life in the United States after emigration. Because it tries to cover two hundred years in time as well as two locations in space, it has a bit of a problem doing this along a one-dimensional path through the museum.
Mark describes what he suspects are people's reactions to this museum by saying that the Irish see it as what the Irish did for America, and Americans see it as what America did for the Irish.
The opening exhibit shows a savage Indian attacking an Irish settler on the American frontier--the sort of thing being phased out of American museums due to political correctness (though there is an exhibit later that explains that one of the better-known emigrés mistakenly attacked what turned out to be a peaceful tribe).
The museum also covers only the emigration from Ulster, not from all of Ireland. Between 1700 and 1900, 2,000,000 people emigrated from Ulster. (I'm not sure if this includes emigration to Australia, but even if so, that would be a very small percentage. It probably does include the three countries of Ulster not in Northern Ireland.) These included Francis Makemie, the "Father of American Presbyterianism" and John Dunlap, who printed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and who wrote "all young men of Ireland who wish to be free and happy to come here as quick as possible. There is no place in the world where a man meets so rich a reward for good conduct and industry as in America." There was also Margaret Gafney Haughery, to whom New Orleans erected a statue in 1884 which the Folk Park claimed was "the first monument to a woman in America." I am skeptical of that claim, even if one doesn't count statues of saints.
While the best-known period of Irish emigration was the Great Famine of 1846-1849, another major period was the earlier collapse of the linen market in 1772-1773. During the Famine, 500,000 emigrated from nine counties of Ulster (that would be about a third of the total Irish emigration), and a sixth of those died during or shortly after the voyage.
The first person processed at Ellis Island was an Irish woman, Annie Moore. There is now a statue to her there.
The park itself is a typical outdoor museum, with homes representing all levels of society, though the homes (originals and replicas) of the Mellon family feature heavily. Of the accuracy, a friend observed, "It's fun to see such an American concept, funded by Mellon money, set up over there. It's well done. My only complaint was the spinning wheel being used by the --Humble Crofter' to show how they did it in the old days--she was using a modern Australian wheel, rubbed with a little peat to look old. The effect was like aged 1950s Danish Teak. Maybe I'm a purist, but in a country that only recently saw widespread indoor plumbing and electricity, and with that many sheep, how can they not find a legitimate local wheel? (Call me picky....)"
Up to now, we had stuck fairly closely to our itinerary, but we were well ahead of schedule (which will either astonish or appall the people who thought it was already very ambitious), so we started adding things. The first was Marble Arch Caves (£6). This is your usual stalactite/stalagmite cave, with the added feature of a boat ride along an underground river. Unfortunately, the ride was really rather short, and while the cave was okay, we had a hard time understanding the guide, who had difficulty in projecting her voice and avoiding echo problems.
We tried finding a place to stay, but the first couple were full. We drove off the main road a kilometer to a farmhouse B&B, which was also full, but the woman there called and found us a room at the Corralea Forest Lodge. When we arrived it looked very posh, set on the edge of Loch McNeaman Upper, but the cost turned out to be about what it was for all the other B&Bs (£20 each).
We drove into Blacklion, just over the border in the Republic for dinner. Our choices were very limited--the town on the Northern side of the border, Belcoo, had a diner, but it was been renovated and they were doing only take-away. Blacklion had a restaurant, but it was fairly fancy and completely booked for the evening. The pub (either Eamon's or Fitzpatrick's--it seemed to have both names on it) was serving only cold sandwiches, so we ended up with cheese sandwiches for dinner. At least it was good cheese.
June 5, 2000: We left the North one last time (here the border was a little more obvious, but only because it was a river) and drove to Sligo (Sligeach), or Sligo Town, as it seems to be called.
We started with Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, north of Sligo Town. This is a major Neolithic site, and the guide here was quite good, mixing the legends of the area with the archaeologists' theories.
There were two early migrations to Ireland: the Iberians from Africa and the Celts from the Danube area. Until recently it was thought that the people from the Danube built Newgrange and then moved weSt. But Carrowmore was recently dated to 5400 B.C.E., 1500 years before Newgrange. So now it appears that the migration was actually west to eaSt. At 5400 B.C.E., the main structure at Carrowmore is claimed to be the oldest stone structure in the world.
When the Ice Ages ended, the glaciers left fertile areas for game and plants here, so hunter-gatherers moved in, but there was also basic agriculture. The guide said there are two main forms of structure: the ring of stones and the dolmen. The ring of stones he said was in Irish "teampall," from which we get the word "temple." He described the ring as possibly representing the feminine, or matricentric, aspect and the dolmen as representing the masculine, or patriarchal, aspect. Hence, the later joining of the two, the ring of stones with the dolmen in the middle (as one finds in Newgrange and other parts of the Boyne Valley), represents the transition from matricentric to patriarchal. He also said that the older name for Newgrange was Dun Aengus (meaning "Home of the Sun God"), and that Knowth meant "Place of Darkness," while Dowth meant "Place of Light."
Carrowmore is called Carrowmore Cemetery because graves were found there, not because it was a formal cemetery in any sense.
In the early 1800s, the Enclosures Act decreed that all fields be demarcated by fences or walls. So people used the stones from the structures to build the stone walls. In 1777, the Reverend Henry said there were over 200 structures at Carrowmore. In early 1800s, Dr. Petrie numbered them at about the same, even as they were being used for enclosures. Ironically, though, this helped protect the larger structures, because as the smaller stones were cleared, they were dumped into the remaining dolmens, and so protected them. (The claim was that the small stones were also in patterns, but this seems unlikely, given how sheep, weather, etc., would have moved them around.
The guide pointed out "Auntie Maeve" (Maeve's Cairn) on the top of a mountain. Someone has suggested that we visit it, even though it was "a bit of a clamber." One look convinced us we didn't want to clamber that much. Maeve is also called Mor Rhiannon (or the Great Queen) and figures heavily in Irish legend.
The rocks themselves were left by the sheet of the glacier, for example, but the local legend is that a woman was collecting rocks for Maeve's Cairn and when she was flying over carrying them in the sheet of her apron, the apron ripped and they spilled out.
Our guide seemed to believe in a lot of theories that seemed a bit far-fetched to me. For example, he said that the cruciform shape of the passage tomb at Newgrange represents the womb, ovaries, and birth canal, and the sun coming in at the winter solstice represents the sun fertilizing the earth for the return of the new season. I am not convinced that the Neolithic level of anatomy was quite to that level.
After the tour we walked around to some of the more distant sites, through fields with cows, and over stiles. When we return, we definitely have to answer "yes" on the Customs declaration to "Have you visited a ranch or farm?"
Because it was June Bank Holiday Monday, both the County Museum and the Winding Stair Bookshop were closed. (Actually, at least one book claimed the Museum was closed every Monday, though others didn't say so.) The Museum had a Yeats room which I had hoped to see, but so it goes. Given the extra time, we decided (well, I decided) to see Yeats's grave instead, just a few kilometers north in Drumcliff.
"Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by!"
That (from "Under Ben Bulben"), his name, and his dates are all that is on the tombstone.
From here we drove around Lough Gill, which contains the Isle of Innisfree (Inis Fraoigh):
"I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee, And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet's wings. I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart's core." --"The Lake Isle of Innisfree," William Butler Yeats
Of course, now that there are tour boats every half-hour cruising around Innisfree because of the poem, Yeats wouldn't have find much peace there. Ironic, isn't it?
We were listening to a tape of the soundtrack of The Quiet Man and they seem to have two songs to the tune of "Galway Bay": the traditional words, and another set of words, with a slightly different arrangement, about the Isle of Innisfree. How appropriate!
The boats leave from the dock by Parke's Castle, a popular tour coach stop. (There is probably a feedback effect between the castle, run by the Heritage folks, and the boats, which are private. It makes this a very convenient site to add to a coach tour.) We took some pictures of the outside of the castle, but it was more the type that had "settee written all over it" (to use Mark's phrase) than one with historic significance. And we didn't take the boat either--in better weather perhaps, but it was overcast and not conducive to a boat cruise.
We finished circling the lough and headed toward Strokestown (Béal na mBuillí), stopping for the night in Boyle (Mainistir na Búille) at the Abbey House B&B (£20 each). Dinner was at Chung's: Roast Duck in Plum Sauce and Vegetarian Singapore Vermicelli. And very good they were too. The owner and some of the staff were Chinese, but there were non-Chinese staff as well, something one rarely sees in the United States. They had chopsticks, although they were the plastic ones that are a bit hard to use (too slippery).
June 6, 2000: We drove to Strokestown and the Irish Famine Museum. It normally doesn't open until 11:00, but there was a bus coming at 10:30 for the mansion house (a separate museum--the Famine Museum is in the stables!), so they let us in early.
The Famine Museum has a definite political agenda, or rather a couple of them. One seems to be to castigate the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as well as a lot of governmental famine relief efforts. Another seems to be to blame upper levels of English society, while avoiding casting blame on the local Anglo-Irish gentry.
It starts by noting that there have been many famines in Ireland. The first it mentioned was in 1491, which was known as "The Dismal Year." There were also famines in 1601, 1650-1651, 1727-1729 (when Jonathan Swift wrote his "Modest Proposal"), 1740, and 1822, as well as the Great Famine in 1845-1849.
In 1840 Ireland was the most densely populated country in Europe (with 8,000,000 people), but the population was starting to level off. However, the population was heavily dependent on the potato (solanum tuberosum) which produces enough per acre to feed three adults for a year (six tonnes). (That works out to about fourteen pounds of potatoes a day.) Cereal grains take twice as much land to feed the same number of people, plus as much again to allow the land to lie fallow. (Potatoes don't require land to lie fallow.)
Even before the Great Famine, mechanical progress was displacing poor farmers and farm workers. The display made the point that this is still going on, giving the example of a World Bank (?) program that lent farmers in Pakistan money to buy tractors. The result was that the richer farmers could automate, driving the poor farmers and those previously employed by the rich farmers into deeper poverty.
In 1845, potatoes in America and Europe were attacked by phytophtora infestans and almost the entire crop destroyed. This was a bigger problem in Ireland than elsewhere, because nowhere else was the potato the only diet for a substantial number of people.
Although initially there was an attempt at charity, it was often too little, inappropriate, or encumbered with strings. Work projects were not large enough to help most of the people, and landlords saw that those who were least in arrears in their rent got the jobs. Eventually, the English started to rebel against any sort of government al support of charity: "We help all who help themselves, but we do not like throwing money in a ditch." The Times, 9 February 1848
The display compared this to the food sent to famine areas today, which is often whatever food the government has a surplus of, whether or not it is appropriate for the area, or acceeptable to the people (for example, sending canned chickens to a country where the normal diet is millet and milk).
"The great evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of famine but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people." Charles Trevelyan
Why do these quotes sound like someone talking about welfare today?
A poster noted that Article 41, Section 2 of the Irish Constitution says the state will endeavor to make sure mothers do not need to work out of economic necessity.
As another example of the political slant, the museum uses a Peters Projection map.
The local landlord, Mahon, sent a thousand people to Canada, but half died on the journey. The exhibit downplays this somewhat, implying that he didn't know the conditions on the ships, etc. Many of these died at the Grosse Île quarantine station. (This was the subject of an alternate history by Nancy Kilpatrick, "Gross Island--The Movie" in Arrowdreams. Actually, I'm sure there are a lot of alternate Irish histories, but this one I remember, along with James White's The Silent Stars Go By, which assumes a Hibernian discovery of America.)
The Emigration section was sponsored by The Wild Geese, Greenwich, Connecticut. The Museum itself is twinned with another in Grosse Île, Quebec.
In the museum shop, they had a magnet which said "Been there, Done that, Loved it!" and then below it in a separate block, "Irish Famine Museum." Clearly these were made up in bulk and then the name of the site added after, but this was an unfortunate choice for this museum. Other people must have agreed, because they were in the clearance bin.
We got more petrol, 25.72 liters at 73.9 pence per liter, or £19 total.
We drove to Westport (Cathair na Mairt) and then around part of the Connemarra (Conamara) Peninsula. This is known for its scenery, but the overcast and rain made it hard to enjoy as much as we might have.
We passed a pub called "The Quiet Man," which had a drawing of John Wayne from the film on the side. The film is supposed to take place in this area, but I don't know if it was actually filmed here.
We drove through Galway (Galway City) (Gaillimh), but it was almost 17:00 so it hardly seemed worth stopping--too late for shopping or tourist sites, too early for dinner, etc. Instead we drove on to Kinvara (Cinn Mhara), a small town on the southern edge of Galway Bay. This was extremely picturesque, with fishing boats in its harbor, a castle, and so on. By now the sun had come out--weather really makes a difference.
We stayed at the Cois Cuain B&B (£19 each) and had dinner at the Pier Head: seafood chowder, steamed mussels, and a seafood bake (with not a lot of seafood, I have to say). The castle, it turned out, has medieval banquets, which are attended mostly by tour groups. According to the woman at the B&B, they do give you utensils to eat with. (The one we went to in California twenty-five years ago gave you only a knife.) A young woman traveling around researching for "Let's Go" went, but we decided £30 each was more than we wanted to spend for a mediocre dinner with fake medieval entertainment.
June 7, 2000: After breakfast we drove through The Burren (Boirreann), a very strange landscape. It is basically a limestone sheet that has cracked through and plants grow in the cracks. In the middle of this is Poulnabrone Dolmen, a large Neolithic dolmen. What is even stranger is the area around Poulnabrone Dolmen is covered with dolmens of all sizes. Some are probably modern, built by tourists in imitation from just two or three small stones. (For one thing, these are small enough that strong winds or wandering sheep could knock them over.) Others are probably older--they are bigger and more complex than a tourist could throw together in a few minutes. But none of the books has anything to say about this phenomenon.
There is also a wedge tomb nearby, but I didn't see it or a sign for it.
At the end of the Burren we went to Kilfenora (Cill Fhionnúrach), known for its four High Crosses. A "High Cross" is a cross on a truncated pyramid, the four arms connected and supported by a wheel. Well, actually, early ones may not have the wheel and be "crutched," having a frame around the whole cross, rather than a circle around the arms. (One guide claimed the circle was supposed to represent the sun god of pagan Ireland and so attempt to convert people by adopting familiar symbols.) Early High Crosses also frequently have figures only on the base, with the cross itself having non-representation decoration.
The best preserved High Cross in Kilfenora is not in the churchyard but rather in a field across the street. (That is, if it is the original. It turns out that many High Crosses outside now are replicas, the originals having been brought into museums or elsewhere to protect them from such dangers as theft and acid rain.)
We continued west to the Cliffs of Moher (Aillte an Mothair), a very dramatic section of coastline every bit as stunning as Giant's Causeway. One wonders why the latter is a World Heritage Site and not the former. It was windy here, but not extraordinarily so, and the rain held off long enough for us to have a chance to appreciate the cliffs. We didn't walk up the path along them though--it was a bit more of a climb from the Visitors Centre than we wanted to do. There were people climbing over the stone fence along the outside edge of the trail, not really a wise thing to do as apparently several people a year slip and fall to their deaths. (The cliff edge itself is unstable and pieces fall off quite frequently.)
In the Visitors Centre were a busload of tourists at their last stop before leaving doing the "endgame" thing with their coins--trying to see if they had enough for a sandwich, or just for a cup of tea, or if they could pay with US dollars, and so on. The tour guide was busy trying to make sure everyone had enough money in the right currency. All we wanted was a cup of tea and it seemed to take forever for the line to move.
We drove to Limerick (Limerick City--I guess this is like New York being called New York City) (Luimneach) and King John's Castle. Since Limerick City surrendered to Cromwell's forces, the castle was left relatively intact and is considered one of the best preserved in Ireland. I have to agree with Lonely Planet, though, that it is marred by a hideous Visitors Centre planted in the courtyard. Inside the Visitors Centre, the presentation is not bad, though the audiotape repeats about eight times during a person's walk-through.
(Note: Though many people know that Oliver Cromwell was exhumed after the Restoration and his head displayed on a pike, most people don't know that the same fate befell Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw. The three of them jointly share the blame for the massacres in Ireland during the Protectorate.)
We got more petrol, 20.24 liters at 67.2 pence per liter, or £13.60 total.
We arrived in Cashel (Caiseal Mumhan) and got a double at the Rockville B&B (£19 each), practically at the base of the Rock of Cashel. We had dinner at Pasta Milano, a garishly painted restaurant that really sticks out like a sore thumb in the otherwise fairly subdued-looking town. The food wasn't bad, though.
June 8, 2000: We left our car in the B&B car park and walked up the Rock. The Rock of Cashel (£3.50 each) is a huge limestone outcropping, topped by churches and other buildings. In 1647, between 800 and 3000 people were massacred here by Inchiquin under Cromwell.
The original of the Cashel High Cross, St. Patrick's Cross, is in the museum (housed in the Vicar's Choral). Because it has Jesus garbed in Byzantine style, it can be dated to the twelfth century or later. It is of the "crutched" style, and the base stone has carving on its underside as well. Legend is that it is coronation stone, but it is more likely an inverted druids' altar. The cross itself shows several examples of Christianity triumphing over paganism: Jesus standing on or over pagan symbols (an altar in one case, an ox's head in another).
Cormac's Chapel is the oldest building, having been consecrated in 1134 C.E., done in the Romanesque style with touches of Norman and Germanic. What makes this particularly interesting, according to William F. Wakeman in Handbook of Irish Antiquities, is that the Normans didn't invade Ireland until 1171 C.E., well after the consecration of the Chapel--so where did the Norman influences come from? The Cathedral (Wakeman claims circa 1152 C.E., but that was the original cathedral, which was actually replaced in the thirteenth century) is Gothic, and was built in such a way that the exteriors of it and Cormac's Chapel form an interior courtyard. Cormac's Chapel has a lot of interesting features, but our guide had difficulty pointing them out, as an Israeli group was in the chapel when we arrived and it is too small for more than one group. (They had been there for a half hour and were still going when we left.)
We walked a little ways to get a view of Hore Abbey (a 1272 Cistercian abbey now in ruins).
We were still well ahead of our initial schedule (in fact, everything from Connemarra to now had been added after we started), so we drove down to Cahir (pronounced "kare") Castle (£2 each) in Cahir (An Cathair). Excalibur was filmed here, though the foliage has covered the angle that was used. There was an audiovisual presentation of the Christian sites of the area which included information on the Rock of Cashel.
The castle looked rather exposed in the center of town, but the small river flowing by around the island was much wider in Norman days, and provided a fair amount of protection in itself. The castle was owned by the Butlers of Ormonde, whose shield was above the gate. The guide explained the various quadrants: a crucifix indicates they remained Catholic, a zigzag pattern indicates a relationship to the DeVerminghams (sp?), three small crucifixes probably indicate that a Butler went on a Crusade, and three goblets indicates their position in court as the presenters of the first glass of wine to the King. (As part of this, they also got a 10% cut of all wine sales.) Across the bottom was their motto, "God be my guide," and to top it all off there was a statue of a bald eagle over the entrance.
The castle was attacked three times, in 1599, 1602, and 1650. It repulsed the first two attacks but ultimately surrendered to Cromwell's forces.
At one of the doorways, the machicolation ("murder hole") was not directly over the doorway so as to take advantage of the prevailing southwesterly winds, which would blow whatever was poured down it directly over the doorway. The portcullis still works, and the portcullis sound in Braveheart was recorded here. (Braveheart itself was filmed at Trim Castle.)
In the 1840s, there was some restoration. The banqueting hall was converted to a church but never used as such.
After this was a long drive to Shannonbridge. We stopped in Turles (which had really bad traffic in the center of town), and dropped in to a bookshop there, but the selection wasn't all that good. I did find one book I wanted: The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen.
We stayed at the Kajon B&B in Shannonbridge (£19 each). The owners were very friendly and indeed some of the guests had stayed there previously. We had dinner there (lamb cutlets) rather than drive back into town--we had done about three hours from Cahir to Shannonbridge already.
The sun finally came out and we saw a sunset, though low-lying clouds on the horizon meant the last bit was obscured.
June 9, 2000: We decided to do the Bord na Móna Bog Rail Tour (a.k.a. Clonmacnoise & West Offaly Bog Railway) first, because another couple said that not all the tours are in English (depending on when tour buses arrive) and that later the tours sometimes get backed up, because the train can carry only about eight people in addition to a full tour bus load. As it stood, we got the first tour, at 10:00.
The tour was around a bog where they mill peat; it is ground into powder, then burned in the power station to produce electricity. The railway is a three-foot narrow-gauge railway with no automatic switches, but it is a working railway. The working trains have fifteen carriages each and carry a hundred tonnes of peat per load. (I'm assuming she said "tonnes" and not "tons.")
This is part of the Bog of Allen, which is 20,000 acres of bog in 400 square miles. County Offaly is 34% bog, and Ireland is 17% bog. The Bord na Móna owns 7% of the bogs. (This seems an attempt to make the fact that they are destroying this part sound less important.)
This is a "raised bog," with an average depth of 7.5 meters, but up to 12 to 15 meters deep in spots. The other type of bog is a blanket bog, found on the coasts; these are about two meters deep.
There was an "island farm" in middle of this bog--a plot of non-bog land surrounded by bog which was a private dairy farm. (I tried to take a photo, but the train lurched just as I snapped, so it probably won't come out.)
As the bog is being destroyed, the land is being turned into wetlands and a wildlife refuge. The wetlands are created by natural drainage from mined area. "[Born na Móna] don't want to leave a big hole in the middle of Ireland." There are also clusters of trees planted thirty years ago as an experiment; they discovered that citrus trees and evergreens grow well, so the plan is part forest, part wetlands. In twenty years more, the bog will be gone, and then the plant will shut down or convert to coal, oil, or gas.
A Bronze Age village was found in the bog nearby. After studying it, they reburied it in order to preserve it, keeping only a doorstep. 84 bodies have been found in bogs preserved by the acid and lack of oxygen. There is also bog butter, butter wrapped in linen stored in a large wooden barrel, which has been found still good after two hundred years. (The guide admitted that the machine milling probably destroys some archaeological finds as well.)
It used to take two men three weeks to cut a winter's worth of peat by hand, but now a machine can do it in a day. The bog is 95% water. The milling machine cuts one centimeter from the top of the bog. It is then turned with a harrow to dry, then gathered into rows by a ridger, then collected and stockpiled. The peat is stored on the bog and taken to power station every day. All work is done during the summer (dry season). (I should have asked where they store the peat during the winter. Maybe they just cover it or something.) This power station provides 4% of Ireland's electricity, and there are four other peat-burning power stations, supplying 12% of Ireland's electricity in all. In addition to coal, oil, and gas, windmills provide some electricity in County Mayo. Another product is peat briquettes which are milled peat that is then pressed and dried. (We bought one as a tchotchke.)
On the bog grows bog cotton, sun-dew, spagnum moss, and gorse (a.k.a. furze), although so far as I can tell, gorse grows everywhere in Ireland.
The tour was supposed to be 45 minutes, but it was a bit shorter, because a tour bus was waiting. It does seem as though some sites cater to group tours more than individual travelers (e.g., here, and at Cormac's Chapel at the Rock of Cashel).
Then we drove to Clonmacnoise (Cluain Mhic Nóis), one of the major ancient monastic sites of Ireland. It was founded by St. Ciarán (pronounced "key-rone") in 548 C.E. at the crossroads of the Shannon River and the Eiscir Riada. (It is from this that we get the English word "esker." If you didn't know this was an English word, you're not alone.) An esker is a gravel ridge; the Eiscir Riada is the series of such ridges running from east to west through Ireland used as a road.
Ciarán studied with St. Finian at Clonard, and was granted the land for the monastery after predicting (accurately) for Diarmuid, "Thou shalt be king tomorrow."
Coming into the Visitors Centre, there are quotes from the annals of the site:
942 C.E.: "Contention at Clonmacnoise between the fowl of the seas and the fowl of the land, where there was a great slaughter of crows"
1070 C.E.: "The head of Conchobar Ua Maeil-Shechlainn forcibly carried from Clonmacnoise by Toirdelbhach", who was compelled to return it, "for he was smitten by a miraculous disease, imparted to him by a mouse that issued from the head, and ran under his garment."
And in 1130 C.E., a vision of St. Ciarán with his crozier apparently stopped a thief's escape.
There are seventy High Crosses in Ireland; there are three here, including the Cross of the Scriptures. This is decorated with many Biblical and secular scenes, but not everyone agrees what they are. The guide said that the west side portrayed the Crucifixion; the arrest of Jesus; the betrayal of Jesus by Judas; Jesus in the tomb with a dove (representing the Holy Spirit), two soldiers, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene; and seven followers of St. Ciarán. (Inside the Visitors Centre the scene the guide described as the arrest was described as the soldiers gambling for the robe.) On the east side was the Last Judgement with God, St. Michael, and the Devil; two Irish foot soldiers; Ciarán and King Diarmid; and three horses and two chariots representing something unknown. (Inside the two foot soldiers were thought to be two kings signing a peace treaty.)
The real crosses are inside the Visitors Centre, by the way; the ones outside are replicas. This is partially to protect them from theft, but also to protect them from the effects of acid rain.
Also inside were ancient grave markers, with simple inscriptions such as "Or do Odran hua eolais" ("A prayer for Odran who had knowledge"). It is hard to date these accurately, since the custom of including birth and death dates didn't begin until much later (the sixteenth century seems about right, based on what I can recall), and there was often more than one person with a given name. They have a large collection of grave stones locked up, and are planning a building to display them in.
At its height, there were 2500 people living at Clonmacnoise, but although Vikings attacked Clonmacnoise eighteen times, the Normans twenty-seven, and the Irish six, it was not until 1552 that it was completely destroyed by the English garrison from Athlone.
The major ruins at Clonmacnoise include two round towers, three high crosses, and seven churches. There is (Fergel) O'Rourke's Tower, dating from the tenth century. Eight high windows, providing a complete view, indicate that this was probably a tower used for look-out and defense. It lost its cap when it was stuck by lightning in the twelfth century--twice.
The largest building, the cathedral (also called MacDermot's Church), dates from the tenth century. The last High Kings of Tara, Turlough Mór O'Connor (died 1156) and Ruairí (Rory) O'Connor (died 1198), are buried here, but it is mostly known for the Whispering Arch with St. Dominic, St. Patrick, and St. Francis above it. If a person whispers into one side of the doorway, the sound is carried around the top to the other side. The guides said it was used for confessions, and one added that this was because of a fear of contagious diseases. (We took a tour with a group that was mostly schoolchildren, then joined an adult group partway through when the first one ended.)
O'Connor's Church (not to be confused with the cathedral where Rory O'Connor is buried), dates from the eleventh century and is still in use. There is also the North Cross, missing its top, Finian's Church, and McCarthy's Tower, which they claim is a bell tower rather than a defensive tower. There is also the modern Catholic Oratory where the Pope held a "private prayer service" in 1979 for 30,000 people.
A bullon (bowl) stone was claimed to have been used as a pestle, and the building next to it said to be the infirmary. But Wakeman disputes this claim for bullon stones, noting that many have a conical rather than a spherical depression unsuitable for a pestle, and others are found on the sides of boulders, or sidewise in walls, or otherwise unsuited to use as pestles.
St. Ciarán's Church is the smallest but the most important church. It was built in the tenth century of wood and replaced in the twelfth century by a stone church. St. Ciarán is buried here. Unfortunately, there is a belief that if you took soil from inside the church and put in the four corners of your field you would have a good crop. So the sides of the church are caving in because farmers took so much soil from the inside of the church. The Heritage service has paved over the floor in an attempt to stop this, but now people are taking soil from around the outside of the foundation.
And finally, there is the South Cross from 800 C.E., sixty years before the Cross of the Scriptures, which has on its east side the Tree of Life and various bosses and Celtic interlacing, and on its west the Crucifixion.
One of the churches had an archway above the arched doorway, but not directly above it. The guide said that it was not because the Irish were drunk when they built it, but that it was supposed to represents Jesus's tilted head on the cross, as usually seen in Crucifixion scenes.
Teampall Rí (or King's Church) was built because there was a belief that burial in a church guaranteed a person would go to Heaven, and so kings wanted a church to be buried in. It has what the guide called Western transitional windows (between Romanesque and Gothic).
The Book of the Dun Cow, the oldest book in Irish, originated here.
As more proof that people are honest here, a basin with donations in it in one of the smaller churches was not covered with any grating to prevent people from removing money.
Now came another long drive, even more than yesterday's, over four hours, through rain, traffic jams, and the Wicklow Mountains. Rain I've talked about, the traffic jams were like traffic jams everywhere, only with worse signage and narrower streets, but the mountains deserve some description.
There are basically two roads to Glendalough (Gleann dá Loch), the easy road through down the N11 and through Bray down the R755, which takes about an hour, and the scenic road down the R115 (also called the Old Military Road), which takes about two hours. My advice is to drive the latter to Glendalough, when you're likely to have more time, and in the daytime (no problem this time of year), and in good weather, and with at least a half tank of petrol, because there are long stretches of absolutely nothing.
Once you pass "the highest pub in Ireland," you drive through scenery and nothing else--no houses, no road signs, no anything. The scenery is magnificent, reminiscent of some of the high country of the American Southwest, but the road is very twisty and very narrow. (The consolation is that even though it twists and turns, for most of it you can see any car coming for a kilometer or more.)
When we finally arrived at Laragh (the village near Glendalough) we decided to stay at the Dunroamin B&B (£18 each)--it is Bord Fáilte approved and I liked the name. We ate dinner at the Wicklow Heather Restaurant. I had the local trout (which seemed very salmon-like) and Mark had the Chicken Marcus. Their green salad comes with grape halves as well as cherry tomato halves.
June 10, 2000: We got £5 worth of petrol (6.5 liters at 75.9 pence per liter, which is about 50 miles). Dan Dooley Car Rental charges you for a full tank of petrol so you can return it empty. Of course, if you don't, you're making them a gift of the remaining petrol, so the trick is to return the car with as little petrol remaining as possible without running out of petrol on the way. (To be fair, they charged me only £25, and I had paid £19 for about three-quarters of a tank at one point.)
On to Glendalough, where the guide mentioned the "Twelve Apostles of Ireland" who studied under St. Enda. (I kept hearing this as "St. Ender," probably as a result of reading too much Orson Scott Card. Thinking about it, though, it seems unlikely that Card, a Mormon, would choose the name of a Catholic saint for his main character.) According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, "The Twelve Apostles of Erin, who came to study at the feet of St. Finian, at Clonard, on the banks of the Boyne and Kinnegad Rivers, are said to have been St. Ciaran of Saighir (Seir-Kieran) and St. Ciaran of Clonmacnois; St. Brendan of Birr and St. Brendan of Clonfert; St. Columba of Tir-da-glas (Terryglass) and St. Columba of Iona; St. Mobh of Glasnevin; St. Ruadhan of Lorrha; St. Senan of Iniscathay (Scattery Island); St. Ninnidh the Saintly of Loch Erne; St. Lasserian mac Nadfraech, and St. Canice of Aghaboe. Though there were many other holy men educated at Clonard who could claim
Of these, St. Kevin founded Glendalough in the sixth century (one date given was 570 C.E.), after first living as a hermit here. There are a lot of legends surrounding St. Kevin, including one that he threw nettles in the face of a woman who was interested in him, and another that he woke up to discover another woman leaning over him and threw her in the lake and drowned her. And he's supposed to be one of the good guys!
The buildings here are primarily dry stone masonry of mica schist and granite. This is partly because the monks were self-sufficient in everything except for lime, iron, and salt. Lime was needed for cement, so it was used sparingly.
The guide here claimed that the round tower was a bell tower and not used for defense despite the fact that the door was raised several meters off the ground. She claimed this was so that the part below can provide better structural support--a door at the base would have weakened the structure. This may be true, but we did see round towers with doors at ground level.
The majority of the ruins are at the Lower Lake, but there are a few ruins at the Upper Lake, including the Reefert Church (which we saw) and St. Kevin's Bed and St. Kevin's Cell (which we did not). The latter two were a fair climb up the hill/mountain and if this actually were our religion might have been worth it. (As I said, I might have done it for King David's Bed, though when I saw how high the climb was, I wasn't sure.) The walk to Upper Lake itself is very easy--in spite of the designation "Upper," it is basically a level stroll through a nice wooded area.
In the Visitors Centre (£2 each, including tour) there was a display talking about books and the scripts used. The Roman uncial developed into Irish half-uncial or majuscule, and later was modified into the Irish miniscule. Only recently, Irish was converted to a strictly Roman alphabet (well, with accents) in an attempt to modernize it, but while it makes using it on computers and such easier, it does lose some of its charm. (I suppose that German underwent the same sort of thing when it converted from Fraktur script.)
Regarding the weather, I will note that I was wearing a t-shirt, a blouse, a wool vest, a sweatshirt, a photo vest, a scarf, and a rain jacket without feeling overly warm.
Afterwards we drove down toward Avoca (Abhóca) and Meeting of the Waters (where the Avonbeg and the Avonmore Rivers join to form the River Avoca):
"There is not in this wide world a valley so sweet As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet; Oh! the last rays of feeling and life must depart, --Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart." --"Meeting of the Waters," Thomas Moore
Glendalough (and the Old Military Road to get there) was beautiful, but Avoca is tourist hell and probably has been since the BBC series "Ballykissangel" was filmed there. Traffic could barely squeeze past the cars parked on both sides of the main street, even though there was a perfectly good (and mostly empty) free car park a block away. According to Lonely Planet, 70,000 tourists come here annually on tour buses. Assuming most come during the summer, that's over 500 a day, more than the population of Avoca itself. Before the series, the big draw was the Avoca Handweavers, who have undoubtedly benefited enormously from the influx.
And Meeting of the Waters is now overshadowed by a cafe/pub and crafts shop.
Driving through Avoca was so bad, in fact, that we returned via a somewhat longer route through Redcross rather than have to turn around and negotiate it again.
The rest of the afternoon was spent resting, reading, and of course writing. Dinner was again at the Wicklow Heather (not much choice in Laragh). I had lamb cutlets and Mark had pasta. While we were eating we had a brief sun shower and then a rainbow ending (apparently) at Glendalough--the perfect end for an Irish holiday.
June 11, 2000: We decided to take the easier road back through Bray, since we had seen the scenery through Sallygap driving out. The maps disagreed about whether the M50 completely circled Dublin. It turned out it didn't, and the N11 dumped us back into the center of Dublin--St. Stephen's Green, to be exact. Except that there were diversions (detours) all around because of a mini-marathon. We ended up just heading southwest and eventually hitting the M50 sort of at random.
We still had lots of extra time, so we just drove up the N1 past Drogheda and back--managing of course to get stuck in some sort of sports traffic. Still, we got back to the airport and managed to find the Dan Dooley rental place. (Even to the end, poor signage caused problems. Without the map on the rental folder it would have been completely hopeless.) When I pointed out the rear-view mirror problem, the woman said that yes, it was just put on with double-stick adhesive. Well, yes, I knew that: that was my complaint! (For some reason when we came in, she seemed to think we had been in some sort of accident, so I settled for just getting that cleared up--she had read the number wrong or something.)
Our flight had ten students who were spending the summer in the United States. Though they were underage, they were served enough drinks to make them very drunk. When they tried to get still more, the stewardess said that they had run out of beer, and later, of wine. Whether this was true or just a polite way of refusing them, I have no idea.
We visited five of the six counties in Northern Ireland: Armagh, Antrim, Tyrone, Londonderry, and Fermanagh. (We missed County Down). And we visited eighteen of the twenty-six in the Republic: Dublin, Meath, Louth, Monaghan, Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway, Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Offaly, Westmeath Kildare, and Wicklow. (We missed Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Carlow, Laois, and Longford.)
Regarding language: In Northern Ireland, it's English, exclusively. In the Republic, it's more complicated. In most parts, the museums and newer signs are in both Gaelic and English. The older road markers have town names only in English (and distances in miles). However, the Famine Museum was entirely in English, and almost all the temporary road construction signs were only in English. In parts of western Ireland, most signs are in Gaelic only, and some of the signs with both Gaelic and English have had the English spray-painted out. Since most road signs are iconic anyway, the only problem is recognizing the Gaelic names of towns.
Ireland is a lot of stop-and-go driving: stop at every intersection and go get the map to make sure you're on the right road. The major roads are moderately well labeled, but anything less often doesn't have any indication of its route number anywhere (even at intersections). Since almost all the road signs list just the next town down the road, not the next large town, one has to know the name of every small town one will be driving through.
Was Ireland what I expected? Yes and no. Not surprisingly, Ireland is not as quaint as many advertisements would have it. The newer movies set in Ireland (The Commitments, The Crying Game, and others) give a reasonable idea of what it's like, but most Americans, I suspect, still think of Ireland in terms of The Quiet Man and Darby O'Gill and the Little People. (And of Guinness--one problem we had in buying souvenirs was that a huge proportion of them has the Guinness logo on them, and we're not all that keen on drinking that we want to advertise it.)
Our cost breakdown was:
Evelyn C. Leeper (firstname.lastname@example.org)