A couple of weekends ago, I was lucky enough to travel to Dublin to take a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) classroom course. I had already taken 120 hours of online instruction, and thought that maybe some practical experience in a classroom would be beneficial, and lucky for me, husband agreed! There were many places close to home that I could have taken it (though none right in France), so I chose a place that husband had been before for my solo weekend away, Dublin! Because the course ran all day on both Saturday and Sunday, I went a day early to check out the sights around the city.
I left Paris on a 6:30am flight, and landed at 7:30 am Dublin time. I grabbed a bus right outside the airport and 45 minutes and a short walk later, I was at my AirBnb room in a really cute neighbourhood with really nice people (and a cat). After meeting my host and dropping off my bag, I headed towards Trinity College.
Trinity College (est 1592) is a must see in Dublin, if not for it’s beautiful campus, then for the Book of Kells exhibit and the tour of the Old Library. I walked around the campus for half an hour or so before finding the library for my tour of the Book of Kells and the Old Library. It is the largest research library in Ireland, and is legally entitled to a copy of every book published in Great Britain and Ireland! That’s a lot of books, and it’s acquiring over 100,000 new books each year. The Library contains about six million books, and three million more are held in the book depository.
There were no photos allowed in the Book of Kells exhibit, but it was really cool. The Book of Kells is is an illuminated manuscript in Latin, containing the four gospels of the New Testament. It was created around 800 AD in a monastery in Ireland, and was housed in the Abbey of Kells for centuries before making it’s wat to Trinity College. I have always been fascinated with medieval illuminated manuscripts, as I find them stunningly beautiful. And I’m one of those historical nutjobs who loves to imagine who the person was who wrote and illustrated such things, or lived in a castle I’m visiting, or touched the pillar I’m touching, etc. The Book of Kells is a beautiful example of an illuminated manuscript- gorgeous caligraphy and flourishes, vivid illustrations in red, blues, greens and gold, and all on what would have been high quality calf vellum. The purpose was definitely not utilitarian, but ceremonial, and the book would have sat on the high alter of the church and used for the reading of the gospel. The exhibit included two of the gospels from the Book of Kells (it is in 4 pieces), one open to a page that is all illustration, and the other to a page that is mostly text. Around the exhibit on the walls were reproductions of important or especially attractive pages, with an explanation of them. There was also an exhibit showing the different dyes that would have been used in 800 AD to colour the vellum, and where they would have came from, which I found interesting. Photos of the Book of Kells can be found on it’s official website here.
After the Book of Kells exhibit you are funneled right through the “Long Room” of the Old Library. It was built in the early 1700s and houses 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books. It was originally only a lower level, but the roof was raised and an upper gallery built in 1860. It is lined with the marble busts of great philosophers and writers. The room also houses the Brian Boru (aka the Trinity College) Harp, the oldest harp of it’s kind in Ireland, made from oak and willow with brass strings, dating to the 15th century. This harp is the national symbol of Ireland, and is depicted on national heraldry, Euro coins and Irish currency. Interestingly, the government had to obtain permission from a large corporation to have the harp as their national symbol in the 1900’s, as it was already being used by said corporation as their own symbol. Who was the corporation? Guinness, of course! They reached an agreement whereby the government would use a left-facing harp, and Guinness would continue on with their right-facing logo. More information about the Old Library and Book of Kells can be found here.
After my tour through the Old Library, i walked a few blocks away to see the Molly Malone statue on Suffolk Street. Molly Malone is a song (also called “Cockles and Mussels”) that is sort of the unofficial anthem of Dublin, about a fishmonger-by-day, prostitute-by-night who lived in Dublin and died young of a tragic fever. There isn’t a whole lot of evidence for the existence of a real Molly Malone, but as the song is so engrained in Dublin lore, a statue was erected to pay homage, portraying Molly as a busty 17th century woman. The statue is also known as “The Tart with the Cart” or “The Trollop with the Scallop.” Listen to Molly Malone, I bet you have heard it before.
Another area of Dublin that is really beautiful is the Temple Bar area. It is promoted as the cultural quarter of Dublin, full of pubs, bars and restaurants, and has a lively nightlife. The downside is that it has become very touristy, similar to the Latin Quarter in Paris. I was walking through in the morning though, so it was very quiet, calm, and pretty.
I walked through Temple Bar to get to the Ha’penny Bridge. This pedestrian bridge was built in the early 1800’s, of cast iron. Before the bridge was built, there were ferry boats that operated, ferrying people across the river Liffey. Eventually, the ferries were in such disrepair that the decision was made to just build a bridge. As the cost to cross the river by ferry had been a half-penny, so was the toll to cross the bridge, leading it to be called Ha’penny Bridge. The toll lasted for 100 years.
My next tour was booked for 10:30 at Dublin Castle, so on I went. Dublin Castle was built in the early 1200s, though very little of that original building remains, only the Record Tower and the underground remains of the Powder tower, as well as a couple of sections of wall. The rest of the castle is more of an 18th Century Georgian mansion. I booked a guided tour, as it was the only way to see the archaeological area which included the powder tower, as well as a viking era wall that predates the building of the original castle, and the cathedral before going into the mansion to see the state rooms, etc. The tour was great, lasted about an hour, and definitely fulfilled my desire to see some Viking and some more medieval ruins.
I left the castle and started walking towards Christ Church Cathedral. When I got closer, I could smell delicious smoky BBQ, and was happy to find some BBQ vendors set up outside of the cathedral. Perfect timing, as I had been on the go since…4am, and it was now lunch time! After a yummy burger and coke, I ventured into Christ Church. It’s definitely a beautiful building. It was founded around 1030, and rebuilt in both the 16th and 19th centuries. The cathedral has the largest crypt in Britain, and contains a 14th century copy of the Magna Carta. It also showcases some of the costumes worn by characters in the TV show The Tudors, as many scenes have been filmed at Christ Church, as well as in the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle.
Conveniently, my next stop was right across the road from the cathedral, at Dublinia. Dublinia was a lot of fun, and would have been even more so with kids. It is a living history museum focusing on Dublin’s Viking and Medieval history, located in part of the Cathedral called Synod Hall. It is connected to the main body of the cathedral by a beautiful above ground walkway.
Dublinia is laid out chronologically on several floors, starting with the Viking era. Here you will find examples of Viking settlements, and information on the Viking people’s religion, method of governing, social structure, way of life, etc. The exhibition moves up to the second floor, reenacting life in medieval Dublin: the smells, sounds, and sights of a busy port city. Especially interesting is the walk through the medieval fair, complete with games and carts full of interactive displays. The top floor is composed of an exhibit on “History Hunters,” showing how archaeologists discover, date, and piece together historical artifacts, and included many Viking and medieval artifacts, including bones, jewelry and maps. The whole experience was great, and I could see spending several hours there, especially with kids. Visit Dublinia’s website for more information.
From Dublinia, I had about 40 minutes before my entrance time to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so I mosied on over to St Audoen’s Church. Dating to 1190, this is the oldest parish church in Dublin that is still used as such.
It was nearing 3:00, which was my entrance time at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so I made my way over to the largest church in Ireland. It was constructed in 1191, and St. Patrick used to baptise people into Christianity here. It is beautiful and imposing from the outside, and much like a museum on the inside, full of displays and artifacts, notably from the most famous dean of St. Patrick’s, Johnathan Swift. Again, though the cathedral was beautiful, I found the floor tiles to be most interesting… Coming from France, where most of the floors are stone or only have tiled sections, I found that the tilework covering the whole interior floor was just beautiful, and a bit different to the “same old” cathedrals that I’m used to exploring.
By now, I was starting to get tired. Just because you *could* do Dublin all in one day, doesn’t mean you necessarily should! But, c’est la vie, so on I went to my last couple of stops, the first of which was the Guinness Storehouse. I was content to walk by and look at the storehouse from the outside, because I didn’t pre-book tickets. I knew it would be the busiest attraction, and to be honest, I don’t like Guinness that much! Now that I’m not in Dublin, I can admit that. Sorry Irish ancestors! Though I did have a pint at a pub in Dublin, because…well, that just seemed to be something I should do in Dublin. Back to the storehouse- it is 7 floors of beer education, topped by a tasting bar. It is apparently a great experience, and well worth the money. But on this day, I was content to give the horses outside some scratches and be on my way.
From the storehouse it was about a 25 minute walk away from the center of town to what would be my favourite stop (and last) of the day, Kilmainham Gaol. I had booked a guided tour ahead of time, because I knew there would be some interesting history that I otherwise wouldn’t have learned. The gaol was built in 1796, and there was no segregation of prisoners- men, women, and children lived together, 5, 10, or more to a cell that was about 28 square meters. Each cell received one candle for light and heat that was to last for two weeks. Often, adult prisoners were held here before being shipped off to Australia. Conditions for women were often worse than for men, men had beds to sleep on while women slept on straw on the hallway floors. Children as young as 7 are recorded to have spent time here, mostly for petty theft. When the Great Famine hit in 1845, overcrowding became even more widespread and conditions likewise deteriorated.
Kilmainham Gaol played an important role in the struggle for Irish independence, and therefore has cemented itself as one of the more important Irish monuments of the modern period. Nearly every significant Irish nationalist leader was incarcerated here, including the leaders of the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867, 1916, and the Irish War of Independence (1919-21). Most famously, and the part of its history that our guide focused on the most, were the leaders of the Easter Rising (1916). The Rising was launched by Irish republicans to end British rule and establish an independent Irish Republic. It was hoped that the British would be too caught up in WW1 to put up much of a fight. Well, despite stiff resistance from the Irish, fierce street fighting and sniping eventually led to the main rebel positions being surrounded, and the leaders seized. They were held in Kilmainham Gaol, and executed a short time later. One rebel, James Connolly, was actually held in Dublin castle where he was a patient at a first aid station set up there. Upon being sentenced to death by firing squad, he was taken from his deathbed to the gaol, where he was tied to a chair (as he couldn’t even stand on his own) and shot. The executions of these leaders were not well received across the country, and in fact actually raised more public awareness of the republican’s desires and goals and gathered support for their cause, in a way that they did not have before the actual Easter Rising itself. Only a few short years later, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, which ended British rule in most of Ireland.
Anyone who knows me knows that this type of social and military history is right up my alley, so it isn’t surprising that this was my favourite part of my day in Dublin. It was also fasicnating just to see the inside of the gaol, who saw its last prisoners in 1924. Since then, it has been preserved as a museum and movie set. Visit the official website of Kilmainham Gaol for more information.
After the tour of the gaol itself, I briefly perused the gaol museum, which had some pretty interesting artifacts and information about the gaol. Though, to be honest, I was pretty done with being a tourist. I caught a cab back to my AirBnb (it would have been about an hour and a half walk, which my feet were not up to after my 4am start), and ended up treating myself to the new Wonder Woman movie. If I would have had a little extra time in Dublin, I think I would have went to the Leprechaun Museum, but I guess I’ll just have to leave that undiscovered until next time!