21.04.2013 - 21.04.2013 13 °C
Today was all about walking and building a better mental picture of what Dublin looks like and expand our understanding of the story of Irish independence that seems to underlie every road, statue and edifice. We walked the less than two kilometers from our apartment to the edge of St. Stephen’s Green to visit The Little Museum. It is a real gem that Hannah stumbled across in her research on Dublin. It only opened a couple of years ago. At its heart are two rooms decorated with approximately 400 items donated by ordinary Dubliners which chronicle the story of 20th century Dublin. It is a narrative that closely aligns with the struggle for Irish Independence. A docent from the museum walked us through the two rooms and wove the story of the city from 1900 to 2000. It was ironic that our guide who so skillfully explained to us the most pivotal events of Dublin in the last hundred years is a recent polish immigrant. The turbulent history of Dublin and the long-suffering nature of its citizens is sobering stuff. The recent crash of the Irish economy seems to be an echo of economic calamities that have hit this city repeatedly during the century.
In addition to documents and items of significant historical significance, The Little Museum also housing much more common place objects that also speak volumes about life in Dublin. There was a long leather bingo card. It was noted in the 1930s that the bingo cards were regularly going missing from bingo halls. It was discovered that people were stealing them to resole their shoes. To stop the theft, bingo halls punched a number of holes into each card rendering them useless for shoe repair. There were many pictures of poverty and hardship on display which continued into the 1980s. Overcrowding has been a longstanding problem. In the 1920s it was discovered that 850 people were living in 15 homes in one Dublin neighbourhood. In the 1980s there were still families of 8 sharing two double beds.
All that being said the quote our docent left us with really summed up the story told in this museum:
This has never been a rich or powerful country, and yet, since earliest times, its influence on the world has been rich and powerful. No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and Western culture alive in their darkest centuries. No larger nation did more to spark the cause of independence.
The quote is from Bernard Shaw and was part of the speech John F. Kennedy gave to the Irish parliament. To see the full text click here.
After this very pleasant journey through recent history we strolled over to Trinity College to go even further back in time. Establish in 1592, Trinity College is one of the oldest universities in Western Europe. For the majority of its history it has been a protestant island in the midst of a Catholic sea. It was not until the late 1800s that Catholics could hold teaching positions and it was not until 1970 that a practicing Catholic could attend the College without first seeking written permission from his or her bishop, otherwise they would be committing a mortal sin. The College is home to a number of important Christian manuscripts, the most famous of which is the Book of Kells which dates back to the 800s. It is a book that is written on vellum which is calf skin scraped clean of all its hair. The Book of Kells which is an illustrated four volume work of the Gospels is estimated to have taken more than 180 calf hides to create. The detail and craftsmanship is awe inspiring. It was a privilege to be able to see this book and several others like it first hand.
The Book of Kells exhibit is on the bottom floor of the historic Trinity library. The Longroom on the floor above it houses a collection of 200,000 of the University’s oldest books. As people may already know, I have a soft spot for libraries. I have been taken with quite a few in our travels these past 5 months. This one rates as one of my favourites. It may not be as ornate as some other great libraries but the sheer size of this old library and the richness of the volumes it contains is enough to take your breath away.
As hard as it is to believe, we had not yet quenched our appetite for history for the day. A short jaunt from the Trinity College is the National Museum which houses all archeological objects found in Ireland; which to date is 2 million objects and counting. We came specifically to see the Ireland Gold exhibition which showcases prehistoric gold work from 2200 to 500 BC and the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibition of Iron Age bog bodies and related finds. The collection of gold objects and their large size was impressive and the preserved bronze age bodies that have been found in Ireland’s many bogs were quite eerie.
The museum, along with the National library is situated in a beautiful building that was first a mansion and then became Irish parliament for several decades before being turned into a museum. Like the British Museum, the National Museum charges no admission. This fact is what prevented us damaging our minds through information overload. We spent an hour browsing the two exhibitions and then left to take a walk along Europe’s widest street, O’ Connell Street. This street, named for a key figure in the struggle for independence in the 1800s, was the backdrop for the 1916 Irish uprising which was instrumental in pushing forward the cause for Irish independence. Many of the building on this street were destroyed and the outrage regarding such destruction and behaviour while many Irishman were overseas fighting in World War I led to much outrage at first. The execution of 14 of these combatants quickly shifted public opinion and saved the life of Valera who was due to be the 15th executed. Within a few years Valera would become Ireland’s first prime minster. At the far end of the street is a monument to Parnell another giant in the Irish story of independence.
In the 1960s, the IRA blew up the Admiral Nelson Pillar which was located at the midpoint of O’Connel Street. In its place is a large chrome pilon that stretches to the sky. It is officially called the Monument of Light and the Irish feel it doesn'trepresent anything in particular and seems to be quite at odds with its surroundings. The locals refer to the monument as The Spike, The Stiletto in the Ghetto and The Nail in the Pale. Standing at its base and staring upwards does give the illusion that the monument reaches into space itself.
Exhausted but satisfied by our day’s exploration we returned home to rest and eat. We headed out in the evening to take in a performance that is aspiring to be the modern day successor of River Dance. The most talented Irish dancers of this generation have formed a dance company called Prodiji. They have combined traditional Irish dance with ballet and modern dance. Their new show, Footstorm, which premiered just a few days ago is an amazing display of talent. I have to admit the post apocalyptic science fiction storyline of the show, left a lot to be desired (a lot of laser effects, fog and tribal costumes) but the dancing was truly world class. After the main performance was complete, the troop came out again in casual dance garb and performed a couple of pieces in the style that earned this group its initial fame. It was an awesome display of physical skill and grace that brought the entire theatre to its feet. It was worth the cost of the ticket just to see these two numbers. It will be interesting to see if the public will forgive the somewhat confusing and quirky storyline of Footstorm and adopt it as the new Irish dancing spectacle that River Dance became.
If there was ever a full day, this was it. We went to sleep tired and our appetite for all things Irish sated until least tomorrow.