I have no Irish blood in me. Well, maybe a few drops – about the proportion of insect legs the FDA allows in chocolate.
But for some reason I’ve long felt drawn to the place. Maybe it started with that old Disney movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, with the pretty Irish girl. A few years later, Fiona Ritchie’s voice enchanted me on Thistle and Shamrock on Public Radio and I began collecting music by De Dannan, The Chieftains, Planxty, The Dubliners, James Galway, Mary Black, and Maura O’Connell. In a Jackson Hole bookstore I found a cassette tape of Irish Reels, Jigs, Hornpipes & Airs played on the acoustic guitar by Dave Evans, Duck Baker, and others. In high school I discovered Van Morrison and The Pogues, and tried unsuccessfully to convince my band director that we should learn Fiesta for pep band.
Ireland by Frank Delaney burned itself into my mind as I listened to the audiobook on my walk to and from work. How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill was another fascinating read (listen).
Last week I finally had the chance to visit the country that has intrigued me for years. I had about a day and a half of free time surrounding a business trip to Dublin. I picked up Rick Steves’ Ireland travel book, downloaded a few apps and podcasts, and came up with my tourist agenda on the plane.
At checkin, the Delta agent asked if I knew why baked beans in Ireland have only 239 beans. “Because one more would be 240”. (Try pronouncing it with an Irish accent.) I normally lack appreciation for scatalogical humor, but that one got a laugh.
My hotel room was 533, which I loved to hear pronounced as “Five-Turty-Tree”.
The highlight of the trip was Newgrange, a large tomb built over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.) by neolithic people. It’s older than Stonehenge and The Pyramids. There are a series of mounds in the Brú na Bóinne area, many of them designed around the sun. The morning of Winter Solstice, a beam of sunlight illuminates the passageway inside the tomb for 17 minutes. Other tombs are designed for other solstices and/or sunsets instead of sunrises. It was a strange and spiritual experience, more emotional than I expected.
The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells was also amazing. It’s an illuminated manuscript of the four New Testament Gospels, created in about 800 A.D. The monks had a good time with it, decorating letters and paragraphs and margins. They made a few mistakes, accidentally repeating at least one full page, running out of space at the end of some lines (and finishing them off in space above), and making the most beautiful spelling errors ever. The attention to detail and artistry that went into it is incredible.
Musical Pub Crawl
I finished the trip with a Musical Pub Crawl on Friday night with about 50 other tourists. Two musicians took us to 3 pubs and played music and told stories for a couple of hours.
If you’re looking to cram a lot into a short stay in Dublin, here’s what I did –
Day 1 (about 8 hours)
Landed at 9:30am, left luggage at the hotel, and got into the city before noon.
– Dublin Castle tour
– Chester Beatty library with very old Bible manuscripts from Egypt
– Trinity College tour, which includes the Book of Kells. The “Turning Darkness Into Light” exhibit is excellent and I recommend taking the time to watch the short videos that show bookbinding and calligraphy methods.
– St. Stephen’s Green – fun people watching here.
– Grafton Street – it was really entertaining the first time I walked it, full of street performers. When I revisited (twice), it was a disappointment, full of only tourists and shoppers
Day 2 (about 3 hours in the evening)
– O’Connell Street – I followed the Rick Steves guided walk and saw historical monuments and buildings, including the General Post Office where Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence and kicked off the Easter Uprising.
– St. Patrick’s Cathedral – I didn’t pay (6 Euros) to go inside, but the park is nice. Jonathan Swift’s burial place
– Christ Church Cathedral – This was another 6 Euros, and I was out of cash, so I walked around outside. The cathedral choir was the first to perform Handel’s Messiah in 1742.
Day 3 (about 12 hours)
– Newgrange and Hill of Tara tour (10:20am – 4:30pm)
– Quick visit of the Garden of Remembrance while waiting for the bus
– Merrion Square – The Selfish Giant and Oscar Wilde monuments. There was a college group here doing a photo scavenger hunt, which entertained me.
– Wandering, eating
– Temple Bar – very touristy pub area with lots of street musicians
– Musical Pub Crawl, meets at the Oliver St. John Gogarty pub in the Temple Bar area
There were two additional things I wish I could have fit in:
– National Museum: Archeology. It closed at 5pm and I made it there just after.
– Kilmainham Gaol, the jail where the British held and executed Irish Rebels.