Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Day in Dublin

Dublin, Ireland, is quite cosmopolitan. At breakfast this morning, we heard French, German, and what we think was Italian, with a mix of strong Slavic English, as well. If you think America is a "melting pot" of diversity, you haven't been to Dublin. It's Ireland's capitol city and has more ways to get around than you can shake the proverbial stick at. You can't throw a rock in this town without hitting a public transit bus.

Our ride the last couple of days.
Yesterday afternoon, after taking a short respite from that long travel day, we took a bus tour of Dublin, courtesy of one of the "Hop-On, Hop-Off" tour buses. Saw more than two dozen attractions in the city, and learned a tremendous amount of history and trivia and bus driver personal opinions of other drivers.

You could easily come to Ireland and spend your entire visit here in Dublin, and still probably not see it all. From Phoenix Park in the northwest (you can fit two of New York's Central Parks into here) to the Guiness Storehouse (see below) to St. Stephen's Green in the southeast to the Kilmainham Gaol in the west, there is just so much to feast your eyes and ears upon, well, our two brief days cannot begin to do it justice.
Couple o'cool cats on top of a double decker bus.

But having been all around the tour bus perimeter of the city, we fixed our eyes upon three locations to visit today: The Book of Kells at Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse (can't go to Dublin without that on your itinerary) and the Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced Kill-main-em Jail), where we had read you can get a nice history of Dublin through the eyes of the people held prisoner there (many of them political arrests in the Irish fight for independence). 

Three years ago Dad and I drove around Dublin. We drove through Dublin. We pulled our hair out and nearly threw out the GPS in Dublin ... but the only stop we managed to make was the Guinness Storehouse and then we didn't see much due to restricted wheelchair access at some points, and Dad's fatigue level. And we never spent the night here. So almost all of this was new to both Bonnie and myself and, in so many respects, absolutely delightful. More on that in a moment.
"The Long Room" at Trinity College.
In 1801, "The Copyright Act" designated Trinity College as the legal deposit library and a copy of every book published in England and Ireland and Scotland was to be kept on file here. The storage problem this caused, coupled with a collapsing roof, caused this room to be built, finally completed in 1861. It is over 200 feet long and houses more than 200,000 books. Each alcove has books filed not by title, or author, or subject, but by size. But each alcove and each shelf is designated with a letter of the alphabet, A-to-Z. A huge reference is located at one end that will, much like a map, tell you the letter coordinate to find the title you want. They can get it down to which shelf it's on, anyway. 

When you first walk in, you are overwhelmed by the smell of old books. I loved it! There are also - lining both sides of the room - 38 plaster busts of teachers, philosophers, scientists, and local influential persons who have had some great impact upon education or Irish society. I suppose they serve as role models for the students. Trinity College - also called the University of Dublin - is still very much a working academic institution. 

But the main event here is the Book of Kells. It is an illustrated manuscript, produced with colored ink on goatskin pages by Irish monks in the late 700s and early 800s. When Vikings began to conquer much of Ireland, the book was sent to a monastery in Dublin for safekeeping. It is an unrivaled exhibition of calligraphy and sacred drawings. In the early 1950s, the Library separated the four gospels into individual books, and two of them are always on display. We saw the books of John and Luke. They are kept in climate controlled displays and you can look, but never touch. A digital copy of the complete work of the Book of Kells - considered Ireland's most precious national treasure - can be found on the library's website here.

Selfie's a little blurry, but we're happy.
From here it was over to Arthur Guinness' Storehouse. He made ale early in his career, but after tasting a dark porter in England, decided to brew his own here in Ireland. His first version was called a "porter stout" and eventually he dropped the word "porter." At the height of its production, Guinness employed 5,000 people here in Dublin. (Now, mostly due to automation, they are down to about 800.)

One mind-blowing fact: Guiness - for 300 pounds and 45 pounds annually (remember, this was before the euro) - leased 64 acres from the city of Dublin for ... are you sitting down? 9,000 years! The company built housing for its employees that had the city's first running water in the bathrooms, and also included healthcare and a creche (preschool and nursery) for the workers' children.

This storehouse was started in 1902, finished in 1904, and the first fermented stout was produced in 1906. Guinness quickly outgrew this place and it sat idle for many years before being turned into a tourist attraction. From here, they built Storehouse #2. They are now on Storehouse #4, with Guinness being sold in more than 150 countries.

Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
Bonnie and I saw things that my Dad and I had missed, and we also found a little out-of-the way place called the Guinness Archives. It was so far off the tour route we were the only ones there. And, of course, we also visited the Gravity Bar on the top floor and took in a gorgeous 360 degree view of Dublin.

From there it was back on the bus and over to the Kilmainham Gaol. Only to discover that all the tours for the remainder of the day were sold out. Should have believed the comments on Trip Advisor, I guess. The photo to the right shows one of the last tour groups kicking off at the entrance to the Gaol (note the serpent logo above the door), and you'll also note that we are not in that group. It was a major bummer. But we toured the attached courthouse and the museum and you can see lots more photos of our day at my Facebook page. Look for the photo album "Ireland 2017."
Note the windows get smaller as they go up.
Couple more notes about the city of Dublin. In the 17 and 1800s, England passed something commonly called a "Glass Tax," that assessed homeowners fees based on the number of windows and how much glass they had. You could often tell how well off a family was by how much glass was in their windows. What many architects took to doing was to make the windows smaller and smaller on each floor. See the photo above.
This move ultimately backfired.
When the Bank of Ireland bought the old Parliament building in Dublin, they got around the Glass Tax niftily - see the photo above - by simply bricking up all of the windows! This move ultimately backfired, however, as it became a popular saying among the people of Dublin, "If you put your money in the Bank of Ireland, it'll never see the light of day again!"

Finally, as Americans visiting, my wife and I would like to officially thank whomever thought up this idea (see photo at right). It's a reminder at every intersection (the Irish call them junctions) that traffic moves differently here. 

More tomorrow.


Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. And the road goes ever on.

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