I had such a great time in Ireland and was thrilled at the chance to relax after finishing all my work. I think the motherland was kind of calling to me, as I suddenly started feeling that leaving without a visit to Ireland would be wrong. I got to Dublin late on Monday afternoon and immediately felt welcome. The guy that checked me in at the hostel starting joking and teasing me and most of the other people I met did the same. This way of teasing without being mean-spirited is something I associate with the Irish and Irish-Americans. It’s basically how my family communicates and it’s a change I welcome after the awkward politeness (that often seems insincere) that I have come to associate with the English.
Most things were closed by the time I got the chance to explore, so I just walked around and got a feel for the city. I was happy to find this statue of Molly Malone that I remembered from my visit to Dublin in high school. Molly Malone wasn’t an important political or religious figure but a most likely fictional fish-monger from the 17th century. Nonetheless, there is a famous song about her that is considered the unofficial anthem of Dublin. It goes like this:
In Dublin’s fair city, Where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone, As she wheeled her wheel-barrow, Through streets broad and narrow, Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!” “Alive, alive, oh,Alive, alive, oh,” Crying “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”.
She was a fishmonger, But sure ‘twas no wonder, For so were her father and mother before, And they wheeled their barrows, Through the streets broad and narrow, Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!” (chorus)
She died of a fever, And no one could save her, And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone, But her ghost wheels her barrow, Through streets broad and narrow, Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!” (chorus)x2
Little songs like this are all over and it’s not strange to hear someone at a pub randomly start singing them or recite another little poem.
Dublin has got monuments to historical figures though too. This is O’Connell Street, the main street on Dublin’s north side. That first big monument is the O’Connell Monument and it’s full of bullet holes from various IRA uprisings. Way behind it, past several other statues, is he Spire, a giant stainless steel stick built to commemorate the millennium and costing over 4.5 million euros. Dubliners don’t really like it and the north side is the seedier side of town, so they have given it a lot of nicknames. My favorite is the Stiletto in the Ghetto but others are the Pin in the Bin and the Pole in the Hole. Of course Irish wit lends itself to bawdiness and there’s also the Stiffy by the Liffey (Dublin’s river) and the Erection at the Intersection.
I eventually stopped at a pub to get some lamb stew for dinner and I ended up sitting next to two couples from South Carolina. They were very nice and we got to chatting. When I went to pay, I discovered that they had already paid for my dinner. When I thanked them, they said they had gotten such great Irish hospitality and wanted to pass it on. How sweet :)
I started the next morning bright and early at Trinity College, the school that gave the world Johnathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett. (Dublin is a literary city and I left thinking I need to read more Irish literature, just no James Joyce, I hate James Joyce.)
The main reason I went was to see the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscripts of the Four Gospels made by monks in the 800s. It is considered the most valuable book in the world. The page it was opened to is the one above, showing the symbols of the four evangelists. A man for Matthew, lion for Mark, ox for Luke, and eagle for John. The artists painted them all with wings and used intricate designs of intertwined animals and foliage characteristic of the celtic style. I could stare at books like this for hours.
I could not believe how beautiful the library at Trinity College is. The one at Oxford was historic but this place is stunning, a book nerd’s heaven. Also, to make the rounded ceiling, they employed Guinness barrel makers for assistance. Randomly, this is the library in one of the Star Wars movies but George Lucas recreated it all using cgi because he knew Trinity College would never let him film there.
Of course I went visited some museums while there. This piece at the National Gallery of Ireland cracked me up. It’s kind of an inside joke in terms of art history. Joshua Reynolds, who later led the Royal Academy in England, painted this but in his later years absolutely decried caricature as a waste of paint. I’m sure he would have burned this if possible to eradicate all evidence that he used to make them himself. Here he shows a group of English aristocrats looking foolish while on their Grand Tour of Italy. They would go to see classical monuments and Renaissance art but also because they could meet other rich, snooty people and feel important. The composition is a direct reference to Raphael’s the School of Athens, which many scholars consider to be a perfect painting.
My next stop was the Chester Beatty Library, home to an amazing collection of manuscripts and sacred objects from around the world. I went on the recommendation of my friend Oat and I am so glad he mentioned it because I don’t think I would have found it on my own. Arthur Chester Beatty made a fortune in the US as a mining engineer and then adopted Ireland as his home later in life. He is Ireland’s only honorary citizen and left his vast collections to the nation. They include everything from Japanese scroll paintings to an Egyptian love letter written in hieroglyphs. I also loved their interpretation of the religions, which focused on the objects as a way to learn about others’ beliefs.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on a great walking tour led by Lisa of Sandeman’s New Dublin and heard a lot about contemporary Dublin. That night, I went on a pub crawl and had a great time listening to Irish music and soaking up the atmosphere. On my way there I found what I decided is my favorite bridge in Dublin.
Ha’Penny Bridge is the oldest bridge in Dublin and I really like the lights over it and the white color. Apparently it used to cost a ha’penny to cross it.
The next morning I got up very early to meet a 7:15 am bus for a trip to Northern Ireland. Ireland is known for its countryside, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t spend the entire time in the city and on my first trip I saw lots of different places but I didn’t see Northern Ireland or the west coast, which I had heard was beautiful so I decided to check it out and boy was it worth it.
After driving through lots of green hills and valleys, like these:
We arrived here:
I saw this and was able to take a deep breath and just chill, exactly what I needed after this year. That didn’t last long because then it was time to cross this:
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge gave me a rush because it was swinging while I crossed it to a small island and back. It was setup by salmon fisherman over a century ago so they could check their nets. They caught so many fish that now their are very few left so no more fishing but they left the bridge for crazy tourists.
Our next stop was here:
This is Giant’s Causeway. It looks like a rocky coastline from afar but as you get closer it looks like this:
I have never seen anything like this before. Columns of volcanic rock formed over 60 million years ago. Erosion from being hit constantly by the lapping Irish Sea makes them all different heights and good for climbing. The views are stunning.
I climbed as close to the water as I could and even dipped my feet in. I just wished we’d had more time but I really enjoyed it. I think this place should be on everybody’s bucket list.
Part of what I loved was the folklore surrounding this place that they told right along with the science because storytelling is part of Irish culture as it is part of many cultures. They say a giant named Finn McCool used to live in the area and he started yelling back and forth with a giant on the Scottish coast across the water. After throwing insults and threats, McCool decided to go over and fight the Scottish giant, so he built a bridge of stone columns. He snuck over and saw that the Scotsman was three times his size and ran away in a panic. What does any proper Irishman do in a panic? No, not drink. He asks his wife what to do because women always know. She thinks for a few minutes and then tell him to dress up as a baby and get in bed. When the Scottish giant comes to the door, she invites him in, saying McCool isn’t home. When McCool cries and Mrs. McCool says that the baby is their son. The Scottish giant fears the size of McCool if the baby is that large, quickly makes an excuse and runs away, pushing the bridge underwater as he goes, so that McCool can never follow. I like the story and the way they tell it there is much more entertaining. It also neatly explains why similar formations exist on the Scottish coast. There are other formations on the site in different shapes that they explain as evidence of McCool too, like his boot.
As if that wasn’t enough we had a very short stop here:
Its the ruins of Dunluce Castle and apparently one of the most romantic places in Ireland.
After an hour’s drive heading back south, we got 90 minutes to explore Belfast. I mainly walked around and checked out the architecture. Belfast is a city that has been torn apart for many years with warring Catholic and Protestant factions but for the last 15 years there has been relative peace there. Also apparently the Titanic was built here and they have stuff about it all over. After the long drive back to Dublin I headed to a pub on the recommendation of a friend back in London. It was called the Stags Head and it was great. I met a few locals at the bar and it was good to just relax and not feel self-conscious.
Oh how I have missed bar stools, which allow you to go to a pub alone and not feel ostracized and bartenders that talk to you and strangers that will strike up a conversation. Seriously, this does not happen at English pubs. It happens at American bars but after being away from it for so long it feels especially welcoming.
The next day was my last. I started with a visit to Christ Church Cathedral. I already posted about their Tom and Jerry. It is also where much of the Tudors was filmed and they had some of the costumes on display. It mostly looks like other churches on the inside.
Despite it being early in the day, my next stop was the Old Jameson Distillery. The distillery moved out to a much bigger campus in Cork but they still give tours here. Naill was my group’s guide and he had a great sense of humor, including apologizing for his cheesy jokes.
I was one of a lucky few who got picked for a tasting. Jameson brags that it is triple distilled making it the smoothest whiskey anywhere. They also use a smokeless fuel so that it doesn’t change the flavor and instead flavor the whiskey using the barrels it matures in which are sherry, port, and bourbon barrels that have soaked up some of the flavors. In the tasting they gave us Johnny Walker Black a twice distilled scotch made with a peat fire, giving it a burnt, earthy taste that I really don’t like. The other was Jack Daniels, which is my go to drink. It’s American bourbon, which means it’s made from corn instead of barley and is distilled only once. I still like both Jack and Jameson but having one after the other helped me see just how different they taste. The one I chose would depend on my mood.
I went to the Irish Museum of Modern Art next and enjoyed their exhibitions. I especially liked Isabel Nolan’s work which played with the space and juxtaposed different textures like metal and plaster.
My last stop was a definite must see: The Guinness Storehouse. Guinness has long been one of my favorite beers, partly because it is so unique. It’s also not just a tourist attraction, several locals told this was worth the trip and it is what most people drink. They call it black pints of gold and joke that Arthur Guinness was able to do what alchemists couldn’t. They have kind of a ridiculous mythology built up around the company but they have paid for a lot of the major landmarks in Dublin so it makes sense for the city to love the company so much.
They had a section where you got to pour your own pint. Pouring stout takes patience cause you have to let it settle and then top it off. I hate when some bartenders in the states just let it overflow rather than wait cause they’re in a rush; no one wants to drink too much foam.
The whole experience ends in the Gravity Bar, which gives views of Dublin and it’s surroundings for four miles. They don’t come out well in pictures but it was great. Behind me is the brewery itself.
After all that, I headed back to the hostel to pick up my suitcase and go to the airport. I wasn’t in Ireland long but I made the most of my time there. I kind of wish my program existed in Dublin because I felt like I fit in a lot better there than in London. I had a lot of fun but it was all low key, which is what I like. I didn’t encounter much Gaelic but the Gaelic word for fun is Craic and they say that quite a lot.