Celebrated connections

On the drive back to Dublin we stopped at Clonmacnoise, a monastic settlement that used to be the most famous destination in County Offaly until somebody discovered that Barack Obama’s great-great-grand-something-or-other came from Moneygall.

The complex beside the Shannon felt less remarkable than some of the other medieval sites we’d visited, but we enjoyed the high crosses in the museum. Some of the reliefs looked like stony versions of marginalia from the Book of Kells.

Nearby is one of the most thoroughly ruined castles I’ve ever seen.

Farther east we made a minor detour to Mullingar, where my great-grandmother grew up (the family pub is pictured in the header image up top). It seems unlikely that the Texas Department Store was around in the nineteen-aughts; otherwise, judging by family stories, the town today is probably about as glamorous as it was back then.

We saw a couple of buildings that looked like they might conceivably at one time have been Gaynor’s, but the pub itself is long gone. We did not visit the Ulysses Pub, which pays tribute to Joyce with photos of footballers.

Is “celebrated” exactly the word?

We celebrated getting back to Dublin with dinner at the Winding Stair, a restaurant that wins points for also being a bookshop, and for a bread-and-butter pudding that might contain more warm butter than bread. Then we took the bus back to the airport and got ready to go home, which, eventually, we did.

Some things had happened here while we were away. Not all of them were bad.


And yes, we also ate food

It’s a little misleading that I’ve gone on this long without mentioning food, since the subject is pretty much always first in my mind, on vacation or at any other time.

Our very first meal in Ireland was at Govinda’s, a vegetarian Indian minichain with an outlet near where we were staying. The Hare Krishna Muzak drifting over the steam table was disconcerting but the potatoes were abundant.

Thereafter we had a few good restaurant experiences — at the Winding Stair (as R mentioned) in Dublin, Cafe Sol in Kilkenny, Ard Bia in Galway, and especially Out of the Blue in Dingle — but in my opinion our best eating overall consisted of various configurations of CHEESE. Durrus, Gubbeen, Ardrahan, many others enjoyed and their names forgotten. The happily ubiquitous brown bread is a perfect delivery system for these delights (when it’s not busy with large amounts of butter).

In Dublin our room had a wee kitchenette and a tiny table on which to spread things procured from Sheridan’s and Fallon & Byrne, but in Kenmare we had a real kitchen. This meant we could do laundry and spend days wondering whether it would ever dry; it (and the local SuperValu and the bakery and Truffle Pig and the Jam takeaway case) also allowed for happy scenes such as this:

Preparing cheesy meals meant there were dishes to do, but guess what? There really are fairies in Ireland, and they help with the washing up.

Kilmainham Gaol and Tea Rooms

On our last day in Dublin before heading south, R decided to go for a stroll in the park rather than join me on a tour of Kilmainham Gaol. Why anyone would choose to spend a mild afternoon outdoors instead of in a dank prison is beyond me. The entrance looked so welcoming!

Inside the portal, further hospitality is offered:

Fancy a cup of tea? I know the most charming, cozy place! I could stay there all day, or until I am executed.

I guess it’s appropriate that visits to the jail are strictly scheduled and controlled. As guided tours go, this one wasn’t bad, although I could have done without the running theme of jailhouse romance: a disproportionate amount of time was spent discussing the marriage of Joseph Plunkett to Grace Gifford and the ten minutes they had together between the wedding and Plunkett’s execution. While we milled around the chapel where the Plunketts were wed, a filthy pigeon miraculous dove flew in the window and landed by the altar.

The oldest parts of the building are predictably grim, but showing my crass disregard for historical suffering and martyrdom I will admit I found the panopticon wing very pretty.

There are various bits of graffiti scattered around and the tour guide kept referring to them as “original,” although I’m not sure exactly what the word means in this context, and I’m sure there has been some selective retouching during the museumification of the building. Some messages are as expected:

Others are a bit more sardonic.

The wedding tea will be held at the Carndonagh Hotel, with cakes and sandwichs.


Naturally while walking around Dublin we were thinking about Joyce. I expect R will report his thoughts, which will be more interesting than mine since he has much more extensive background knowledge to think with. I, however, have a camera, so here is my contribution.

The lion over the Newman House door looks like it has been left out in the rain for too long:

The Martello tower in quiet Sandycove is now a small museum devoted to Joyce. Inside is an empty pot of Plumtree’s:

Incomplete. With it an abode of bliss.

Joyce’s inherited hideous hunting waistcoat is displayed along with his guitar,  ashplant, cigar case, and very flat wallet. At bottom right is a tie he gave to Beckett, which B. eventually turned over to the museum with a sweet note suggesting that the tie and waistcoat may have been worn together in an ensemble that would have been truly painful to behold.

A speculative reconstruction of the living space:

You can see Howth Head from the top:

Here I will break our simulated/retrospective blog chronology to note that later in the trip, in Galway, we attempted to visit the Nora Barnacle House but found it “closed for the season,” according to a sign that looked several years old. There is also a footbridge by the Corrib dedicated to Miss Barnacle:

The gate was locked, we didn’t cross it.

Local color

It’s easy to see how Dublin could seem drab sometimes, especially on wet days — gray buildings, gray skies, pale people in dark suits and school uniforms. As R’s native colleague S. put it, on fine days Dublin is glorious, but when it rains it sucks. This might be one reason why the city parks seemed so pleasing to us — they inject some color into the environment. We stayed just off the edge of St. Stephen’s Green, and every day joined the commuters walking past the beds of bright flowers.

Even lovelier and less trafficked is Merrion Square, where birds are numerous and vocal, and the shrubbery mercifully obscures the awful polychrome caricature of Oscar Wilde.

What we saw of public art in Dublin was generally distressing. Whose idea was that Wilde monument, or the Molly Malone statue, appropriately known as the Tart with the Cart? Then there are the Hags with the Bags — an official monument to shopping. We didn’t cross paths with the Prick with the Stick but couldn’t escape the Stiffy on the Liffey. At least that last one is abstract.

The coats of saturated color on top of the random architectural aggregation that is Dublin Castle also seem ill advised, but they do catch the eye.

Of course part of the pleasure of visiting older cities is seeing the layered residue of period styles. I think my favorite thing about the National Museum of Archaeology and History was the way prehistoric artifacts are displayed in front of leftover Victorian mantelpieces. (My least favorite thing: the bog bodies.)

Then at the National Gallery I came to understand that my lack of appreciation for Jack Yeats has a lot to do with color: his preferred palette and the way he applies it make me uncomfortable in a visceral way, and the discomfort doesn’t seem particularly interesting. Fortunately the NGI also has a Vermeer that you could stand in front of for an hour with no competition from other visitors, because like so many museums, the NGI seems to have almost no audience. (To be fair, this might be because most of the galleries are closed for renovation.) And it introduced us to Mainie Jellett, Ireland’s first serious abstractionist, whose works on view were happily not serious at all.

Also to be fair, I’ll admit that not everyone we saw in Dublin was wearing a dark suit or a school uniform. For instance, a group of schoolgirls boarding a bus on Leeson St. all had on screaming yellow T-shirts printed with the words I AM HIP HOP. Which reminded me of the time my Norwegian-American coworker bolted out of his chair and yelled “I AM Blaxploitation!” But I digress.

Saints and scholars, not necessarily in that order

The first couple of Dublin days were filled with libraries and churches. Fresh off the plane, we staggered through the Yeats display in the basement of the National Library. My favorite of the many artifacts was a silk embroidered rendering of Innisfree; it seemed to vibrate, although I don’t know if this was an insomniac hallucination or the response of a delicate display case to the rowdy Scandinavian school group passing through.

Upstairs in the lofty exclusive Reading Room — silence please — somebody farted and was enthusiastically mimicked by a couple of strays from the school group, who had been grudgingly let in by the security guard. I presume that will be the last time any students are allowed in the Reading Room.

Later we got lost in Trinity and came upon the Berkeley Library with a Pomodoro sculpture outside, a strangely familiar scene:

This Pomodoro is in better polish than the one that used to sit in front of the Berkeley Art Museum. The museum building next to it is grander too:

Next day brought us to the Marsh Library, silence not required — one of the staff, first day on the job, was a retired Dublin cop with much to say. This is the place where scholars were once locked in cages to protect the books; now, if the employees want something to read, they bring their own newspapers. The exhibition was of medical literature, including an engraving of the most gorgeously flayed arm ever seen. The little garden held its own appeal:

Then there was the Chester Beatty Library with its second-century papyri and its Persian miniatures of heroic horses and C-sections performed by magic birds; and of course, back at Trinity, the Book of Kells (a page of it, featuring catlike and birdlike things) and the Long Room, at the moment full of seventeenth-century propaganda about Catholic atrocities against English innocents.

Not particularly saintly either, but unexpectedly interesting, was Patrick’s cathedral.

I somehow failed to photograph the enormous statues commemorating the conquests of India, Burma, and South Africa, but here is a good cobweb before the Boyle Monument:

And a touching memorial:

And Dr. Swift himself:

And an interesting use for a Guinness keg; would the organ for which funds are needed be a new liver?

Meanwhile, at Christ Church:

The rocky road to Dublin

What I learned on the way to Dublin:

1. It is possible not to have a bad time in the Atlanta airport, provided you consume enough cocktails at the fancy restaurant in Terminal E, a strange amalgam of sushi bar and Southern-upscale-down-home kitchen run by some guy from Top Chef.

2. There is something even worse than sitting in front of a screaming thrashing toddler on a transatlantic flight, and that is listening to the toddler’s mother sing the Barney “I Love You” theme in a futile attempt to suppress the screaming and thrashing.

3. My ability to sleep in a non-horizontal position continues to decline. I might need to skip the dozing-off-in-a-recliner phase of late middle age and go straight to the never-getting-out-of-bed phase.

Despite the banal difficulties of transport, we did eventually arrive in Dublin! It looked like this:

You can tell it’s Ireland because the bottom half of the mist is tinted green.