Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Train, a Museum, a Sunny Day

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I went to Dublin for the second time on a mission (from God, naturally): I wanted to go to the archaeological museum and see the exhibit on the bog bodies of Ireland. And I wanted to do it in a day. Mission impossible? Of course not! I had a train day, a la Sheldon of the Big Bang Theory.

The day started out fairly early, with a walk to the train station and about three hours spent looking out the window at the countryside out the window. Then I was in Dublin:

It was one of those magical sunny days that just did not happen so often while I was in Ireland, right at the time of year when the country became blanketed in a bright vibrant green. It was pure magic to walk along the quay and make my way into the center of the city, bathed in light.

Finally – after a couple of wrong turns – I got to the National Museum of Ireland:

I sped directly to the exhibit on the bog bodies. Well, almost directly. This museum is just the kind of place that makes you forget what you came there to do and to see, because even without all the fabulous exhibits, the building itself makes you lose yourself. Eventually, I wound my way to my destination:

This gentleman was found in 1953, but wasn’t very well preserved. So he’s an excuse to talk about other things. These bodies were human sacrifices to the gods and were often associated with rituals of kingship. Humans weren’t the only ones deposited in bogs: anything that could have been valuable to these people were candidates for burial in the bogs. Weapons, tools, ritualistic objects could be placed in the bogs for the deities to enjoy.

In fact, there was also a huge wooden boat in the museum, something that would have disintegrated if left open to the elements under normal circumstances. Leaving something in the bog is like leaving it in a state of stasis – you never know what you might find, but it’s much more likely to be intact.

This man is fascinating, though unfortunately chopped in half by a peat cutting machine when he was discovered in 2003. When he was discovered, he had a moustache and a goatee, as well as an elaborate hairstyle held in place with gel. It has been estimated that he was about five feet nine inches tall, that he was over 25 years old, and that when he had died he had been living on a plant based diet. This issue of the diet he had been eating doesn’t necessarily say too much about status in this case: people would eat a plant based diet during the summer and autumn months and a meat based diet during the winter. He was naked when he was interred into the bog (most bodies had, at the very least, a cape) and had been hit over the head with an axe and disemboweled.

What would have set this man apart from his peers would have predominantly been his height – six feet three inches. In my opinion, it would have been very unlikely to have had a person of this height normally: it would have either been the product of superior genes and nutrition or a genetic disorder called gigantism. (Disclaimer: I am not an expert. Quote at our own risk.) This man would also have been over 25 years in age but would have died early in the year, meaning that a meat-based diet was more evident. However, when the contents of his stomach were examined (yes, the stomach was preserved after thousands of years…wow) it was found that his last meal consisted of cereals and buttermilk, suggesting that something was a bit awry. His death was also not completely congruent with a sacrifice – the fatal wound that we can find is a stab wound on his chest and evidence that this was an attack. If more of his body was present, we might have found head wounds or wounds to his legs (leg wounds would have been going after the femoral artery, a common target). He would have been someone of high status; we know this because of how remarkably well his hands are preserved – there are even still fingerprints – his hands bore evidence of a manicure and very marginal physical labor.

This is the earliest-discovered body of the four: it was found in 1821. That means that he was not cared for in the best way possible, as those means had not been invented yet. He has desiccated and his hair has fallen out, so he does not have very much to say.

If you’re wondering why these bodies don’t look exactly as you thought they would, there are some reasons for this. First of all, bogs are not all created alike: they can contain different amounts of different chemicals which can alter preservation or color. Second, these bodies have been treated so that they are coated in a substance that stalls further decay; that treatment changes the color somewhat. Other bog bodies have been found in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Britain; all are different but somehow tied together by a common practice.

The rest of the museum is filled with medieval religious artifacts, Neolithic jewelry, an intriguing Egyptian section (which had a Roman-Egyptian mummy I had seen in textbooks, very cool), and an extensive if a bit monotonous section on the Greeks and Romans. I rather liked the section on jewelry, as it was the most beautiful by far:

They also had small models of a Viking town and a cutaway view of a Viking house I found to be fascinating:

There would typically be about 15-20 people living in each Viking house, though considering a Scandinavian winter, it would likely still have been rather cold.

I was just about done with the museum when I went to go find the café, so that I could eat my packed lunch when I ran into Fabio – Fabio was someone from Sweden I met on the bus back from Dublin, met up with again in Cork (on purpose), and then finally I saw him serendipitously there in the museum in Dublin. I figure if you get around enough in the world, strange things start to happen to you – I’ve chronicled most of mine for you – and that a weird kind of luck accumulates. So I wasn’t so very surprised to find Fabio there, nipping into the museum to take advantage of free public bathrooms. We sat and had lunch together and parted ways for the last time…though perhaps just for now.

My favorite thing about the museum had to have been their floors, so I’ll close down the subject with that. They were carpeted with mind-blowing mosaics, especially where the Neolithic jewelry was located:

After the museum, I realized exactly how much time I had left before I wanted to leave the city, so I went to St. Stephen’s Green again, which was not even three minutes away. By that time the park had lost some of its early-spring airbrushed quality and burst into lushness:

Did I mention that it was a photographer’s paradise?

A note on this last picture: whenever I saw trash bags on the curb of a European street, I always would wonder how many sliced up American tourists might be contained within them. Gross, yes. Macabre, yes. But also highly entertaining. (And now I’ve ruined you! Ha.)

Finally, I walked back along the river to get back to Heuston Station. I cast several looks back, trying to burn the image of this wonderful city into my brain:

I boarded the train and left the city.

In the Clink

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Around about March I had to go to the jail here to liberate my new boyfriend, Spike. He plays the fiddle in his all-star metal band, The Screaming Opossums, and has sleeve tattoos on both of his arms. He’s really nice, and surprisingly huggy for a guy with that level of body piercings.

Unfortunately, I went to the wrong jail, so I think Spike may still sitting there, eating freeze-dried reconstituted prison food. I really should get onto that…

This is the view of the gaol you get first, when you’re still a little irritated about having to climb a rather impressive hill in order to get there. This is just the gatehouse – it’s castle-esque, and designed to be so. This jail was built to replace another one that had gotten woefully outdated, so the city decided to go all out; they hired Sir Thomas Deane as architect, and the rest is history.

Beautiful, right? This guy Deane certainly knew what he was about.

Changed your mind yet? Well, get a load of THIS:

This is our buddy Georgie; he’s seeing a therapist, and it’s really changed him, mellowed him down. He’s a great guy. (He can also smell fear.)

I solemnly swear that I will show you no more creepy dummies – though this museum was overflowing with them. They stand over you, watch your every move; some are prisoners, some guards, and some are the miscellaneous other personnel a prison would have required. So perhaps not a place to go at night unless you’re rather desperate…

Creepy fake people aside (and yes, they are hard to get out of your shots), this place is rather beautiful for an incarceration center:

This is actually the ‘newer’ part of the prison, added onto the original when the old section was getting a bit stuffy and overcrowded. It’s also referred to as the women’s prison, as this was where the women were placed after 1878 (for scale, the jail was opened in 1824 and closed in 1923). You might be able to see on the far end of the first photograph that there is a stage of the chamber. This was generally used only on Sundays for services and for other religious purposes – unfortunately, there was not much in the way of diversion for prisoners except for the labor they were forced to do.

That labor was different depending on the gender of the prisoner and on the time period; after a while, there was a distinction made between punitive labor and what was termed ‘industrial’ labor, which was made to be more productive than to punish. Industrial labor for men tended to focus on trades (if the prisoner in question knew any), such as shoemaking, tailoring, weaving, tin working, mat making. If a man didn’t have any skills (unlikely), he would likely be assigned “prison duties.” Industrial labor for women tended more towards sewing, needlework, carding, spinning, washing, and cleaning.

Punitive labor for men was pretty backbreaking stuff – such as stonebreaking (which in the Nazi concentration camps meant that you were doomed to an even lower life expectancy than the usual low number) and the ‘treadwheel,’ an enormous 40-foot long hamster wheel-type creation that was used to bring up water from the gaol’s well and to grind flour. It was initially used as a regular part of the prisoner’s day – groups of five were assigned about 20 minutes at a time – but then was phased out to replace solitary confinement. For women, punitive labor involved yet more cleaning – an easy break by comparison!

This is a pretty typical cell. The beds are wooden pallets topped with mattresses filled with straw or oakum, a kind of fiber; the pillows are pretty much more of the same. Now, some of you may have heard me rant about my freshman year roommate, but even I can’t imaging being cooped up with another person – someone likely to be grumpy (it is a prison, after all) and with questionable hygiene. I don’t know about you, but for me that takes the cake.

There was also the unhappy fact that for some time after 1840, the Cork City Gaol would have been a singularly silent place. It was believed that silence coupled with religion was the best cure for criminality, as it forbade the ‘exchange of innovative ideas’ among the throng and encouraged contemplation of one’s transgressions. This policy was so enthusiastically adopted that a typical uniform – even for guards – incorporated thick felt overshoes to muffle the sounds of footfalls on the floor. As you can imagine, on the whole this scheme had the opposite effect of what was intended: people went crazy. There were people that made noise so that some of the silence would be filled up – though they were unquestionably subsequently beaten to a righteous degree. Some went so far as to kill themselves; some were simply and brutally unhinged.

Fortunately, there was labor in between every meal (including breakfast), meals (rather heavy on bread, milk, and ‘Indian meal’), as well as something called ‘exercise,’ which involved trooping outside (five meters apart) and going for a silent, staid walk. How valuable birdsong must have been to the prisoners.

These two photos represent another period of the jail’s lifetime – as well as that of Ireland. The gaol was used to incarcerate revolutionaries of the Irish War of Independence during 1919-1921 (the successful one), so many of them that the cells were stuffed to capacity, with about five people in each cell. If you look back at the cell with the pallets, there really isn’t loads of room. That meant that disease was rampant and that conditions as a whole stank (literally).

A side effect of this was that the minute the Irish got independence, closing down the Cork City Gaol was on their hit list – the reason why operations were shut down in 1923. Another effect of the incarceration of rebels was the quantity of graffiti that made its way onto the walls. It’s very “give me liberty or give me death,” or perhaps, “eat my shorts, English dog.”

There were many famous revolutionaries that made their way into the gaol, including Countess Constance Markievicz, a spitfire if there ever was one. Now that I think of it, she makes it on my top five list of people to meet throughout history – up there with Teddy Roosevelt and Sappho.

This is where the guards would hang out; outside of the shot there is a cot, but that’s basically it.

So that’s all she wrote for the prison. However, there are perks to coming up to this neighborhood, especially in fine or variable weather (they’re practically the same thing in Ireland):

So what if Spike is still languishing away in another penitentiary somewhere and I neglected to post bail? He shouldn’t be there too long for bond fraud anyway, right? Right?

The Year 1916 and Felafel

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Our next stop was Dublin – and strap yourselves in, because this is another long one: this is a city with an immense history (it also doesn’t help that I went there twice!).

Dublin’s name actually originates from Gaelic, even though it was the Vikings that founded the city. The name can be separated into two parts, ‘dubh’ and ‘linn’: When you smack those together, you get ‘black pool,’ probably because of the fact that the River Liffey ends in Dubin, into a harbor. Now, this isn’t complicated enough for the Irish (naturally!): Dubh linn was really the name that the English gave to this city, so the Irish had to have another one: Baile Átha Cliath (pronounced something like bailee aatha clath), which means ‘town of the hurdled ford.’

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll be using the name we’re all comfortable with.

One of the first things that we did when we got to Dublin was visit a museum about the Viking and Medieval Age called Dublinia. It’s joined to Christchrch Cathedral by a bridge over a road:

The bridge is there because it connected the archbishop’s residence to the cathedral so that the cleric needn’t associate with the seedy types on the street.

Dublin’s history starts with Vikings. Lazy ones. They decided to set up a trading post, as going back and forth from Norway was getting to be a drag, in the year 841. There had been raiding parties that had swept the area a number of times before, so they must have decided that it was a nice place to set up camp. They built a wooden fort on the water surrounded by a fence of pointy wooden spikes; this didn’t really stop the native Irish, who were peeved that marauders were setting up shop in the backyard, and who subsequently decided to attack a number of times. They actually succeeded in rousting the Vikings in 902, but they were back in 917, though both groups were screwed in 1066 when William the Conqueror decided to tame the heathens of the English Isles and end the Viking Age in the area.

Now here’s the point where I’m going to rant about Vikings for a while. If you’re into it, great, but if not, you have no choice! If there’s a great thing about writing a blog, it’s the captive audience of people that love or at least like you who somehow still have the blind faith that you aren’t about to harp on something you’ve already fixated on. Is this an appropriate moment for an evil chuckle?

So back to the fun bits. Vikings set up in Dublin not just for the heck of it – there has been a nasty rumor spread about that they were a race of brawny men with blood in their beards who communicated by grunting and pounding each other. Not true! They did do a fair amount of pillaging, true, but their main focus was farming, back in Scandinavia: that meant that if you were a terrified European peasant, you could breathe easily during planting and harvesting season, as the Vikings would have been too occupied elsewhere. And then after a while, the Vikings realized that trade was much more lucrative than swiping valuables and burning things to the ground, so that became their main focus: it even got to the point were, in Ireland at least, from 800 to 820 there were no documented raids whatsoever. Of course, it didn’t help that it took a while for monasteries to replenish their wealth – and the fun part was that since people tended to store their valuables in monasteries (house of God and all that), the Vikings were really wiping out whole communities’ worth of wealth. It’s sometimes hard to see the Viking trader, but that’s what they were – in it for the money.

The fact that Vikings did any trading or pillaging in the first place was also an interesting part of their culture: given the fact that the first son would get all the land and that the growing Viking community was beginning to cause a number of shortages, the younger sons didn’t have much choice – it’s like how in England it used to be that a young man of wealthy or noble standing, not given the opportunity to inherit any of Daddy’s wealth, could go into the military, join the Church, or go into politics. The Vikings set sail, thousands of non-inheriting sons with way too much time on their hands to kill.

At this point I’m getting twitchy so I’ve got to correct a mistake in the term ‘Viking’ – it’s easy to see the term and assume that they were all part of the same culture. Not so. There were different Viking cultures – and different tiers of power in each – that influenced very different areas of the world. If you were a Norwegian Viking, you were all over the Scottish Islands, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and America; if you were Danish, you sailed to east England and Normandy; if you were a swarthy Swede, you took your two cents from Russia and the Baltic countries.

The conditions on the ships were pretty basic; there was no shelter from the wind and the cold unless you pitched tents on deck. Vikings were the inventors of spooning (they used it everywhere, including in their homes on land); it came into practice on board, as sleeping bags slept two large hairy men per bag. What that means is that they would have gone to sleep every night in groups of people cuddling. How great is that? It’s yet another thing to thank the Vikings for.

They also packed pretty light: each sailor got one chest, with the barest of necessities: a change of clothes, a bowl, drinking horn, leather helmet, and axe. Not a whole lot. Thinking back to what I took abroad with me, I have it set; the Vikings would have stolen me blind and/or sold me into slavery (more on that later), all the while giggling about the sheer number of things I consider necessary. Hmm. Did Vikings giggle?

Despite their very basic navigation, the Vikings did loads better than everyone else at the time, who hadn’t even figured out the essentials yet. They also did pretty well due to the design of their ships – if you look back at my post for Oslo, you can see the curvature of the ships, something pretty distinctive to that time period. They were light, fast, and maneuverable. If you wanted, you could also beach the thing, sack a village, and be back in the wide open sea before anyone had a chance to blink twice. There were oars in case of still water conditions, and you could even portage the ships from one place to another without too much discomfort, a big bonus when going from river to river. This basically equals the fact that Vikings kicked everybody’s butts for a reason (that and the fact that it was the Dark Ages, but let’s overlook that one).

On a fun sidenote, those dragon heads we associate with Viking ships were actually removable: heads have been found with holes to attach them to their respective boats, meaning that if you weren’t feeling the need to bash people’s heads together, you needn’t make them run in terror (taking all their goods with them), and if a bigger badder not-necessarily-friendly ship came along, you could get Skinny Olaf to go and take the head down and avoid the whole subject of a showdown.

And now I’ve got to stop you: you’re wondering where the breastplates and horns are. Well, I’m sorry but I simply cannot accommodate you. They might have worn a kind of cloth padding over their torso in battle, but that was it. And horned helmets, like in the opera? Excuse me, but that is total crap. It’s a great aesthetic, but it was only the Vikings in the Swedish region that used helmets like those, and that was before the Official Viking Age, likely only for ceremonial purposes.

The Vikings did occasionally wear some pretty interesting things to battle – there were some guys who wore bearskin clothes into battle in honor of the god Tyr: they were famous for going into battle and being absolutely ferocious and basically scaring the tar out of their opponents. Turns out the word ‘berserk’ comes from these fellows: The Linguists say that the words ‘bear shirt’ were condensed in the correct context to eventually become the word we know and love.

Being a warrior was a very important thing to the Vikings, even though there were never standing armies (and even though in pitched battles they regularly got their butts handed to them). The cool side effect of this was that they gave their swords great names like ‘Viper’ or ‘Leg Biter’; these would be passed down due to the superstition that when a blade was ‘blood hardened’ in battle, it had magic powers. They used other weapons, too, like spears, axes (my personal favorite, for some reason), and the occasional bow.

When a warrior died, his weapons were buried with him (it was jewelry and household tools for women), and if he was very important or very wealthy, he would be buried with a ship (though note that women also got this honor when warranted). If the poor chump died in battle, he got to go to Valhalla in the afterlife, a place where he could feast with Odin, king of the gods – most of us know this, but what I didn’t know was that you were taken there by the Vakyries, which doesn’t seem the thing I would want when newly arrived in the afterworld. Of course, dying a peaceful death stunk in some ways, as you would have to go to Niflheim, apparently a pretty gloomy spot to spend eternity.

The other possibility was that your side lost the battle and you weren’t lucky enough to get sliced up by the enemies, you were likely to be ransomed, or more likely, sold into slavery. I don’t consider this as ‘pushing it’ because the concept of slavery in the Medieval period was much different than our deep-south concept: don’t get me wrong, it still sucked, but just about every culture did it, and slavery didn’t necessarily mean that it was for life. More fun word facts – the word ‘slave’ actually comes from ‘Slavic,’ as in the ethnicity: most slaves came form that region and so eventually the sound of ‘Slavic’ was changed into the word ‘slave.’

So that’s it for Vikings, though my infatuation continues. One last parting shot:

“Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal:

But I know the one thing that never dies,

the glory of the great dead.” – Old Norse Poem

So after that the museum continued on to talk about the Middle Ages after the Vikings cleared out; it wasn’t half as interesting, except for the part about….THE BLACK DEATH!! I love when museums talk about this because it gets all dramatic, which somehow automatically makes me melodramatic, which cracks me up. So I’m the creepy one smirking while jotting down facts about death rates in the black sections of these museums. For example: did you know that before THE BLACK DEATH struck Europe, 15 percent of women died in childbirth, men lived about 30 years, and a third of children died before the age of ten? Fun times. They looked a little like this:

After the museum, we waltzed directly over to the cathedral using the awesome bridge. Fun fact one: the archbishop built the bridge because Christchurch was sitting inside a slum affectionately called ‘Hell;’ once the bridge was built, it was dubbed ‘Hellsgate.’ Fun fact two: did you know that Handel’s Messiah was first heard in Christchurch? Two choirs joined forces – that of Christchurch and of Saint Patrick’s – and sang their little hearts out…in Hell.

Christchurch is the burial place of a hero called Strongbow (who was not known for his knitting, to say the least); he was a Norman warrior that kicked the Vikings out of Ireland in 1066. The people of Ireland were pretty grateful – to the point where they offered Strongbow kingship, once the current one kicked the bucket. He decided the going was good, accepted, married the king’s daughter, and presumably lived as happily ever after as the Middle Ages would allow.

The basement of the church was pretty cool, too – what you might call crypts except there weren’t any obvious signs of dead people. In fact, the only visible internment for dead beings was this:

One day some poor schlup was tuning the organ in the church proper, and there was one note that for the life of him he just couldn’t get in tune with the others. So he went and looked at the pipe. There was something lodged up there. He stuck his hand in, and pulled out the cat, all mummified and gross. Shaken, he put the putty tat aside and went to see if the organ was working properly again. Nope. In my version of the story he puts on a pair of gloves before sticking his hand back in there, but regardless, out comes the rat. In other words, what must have happened was that the cat chased the rat up the pipe of the organ and then each got stuck and were mummified in eternal pursuit. Gnarly.

Christchurch is pretty interesting history-wise – the was first a wooden church on the site, built by a Viking named Sitric Silkenbeard in 1028 (no, I do not make these things up), then it was souped up by Normans, souped up by the English and others, and then it wasn’t much of a church, especially considering the fact that it contained a market, brothel, and whiskey distillery. Yup, you heard right. They were brewing whiskey in a church! (Viking-inspired giggle.) Fortunately, in 1871, a man with heaps of money named Henry Rowe decided to pour the equivalent of 26 million euros – about 34 million dollars, today’s money – into the restoration of Christchurch, and since then it’s basically been the magnet of attention that it merits.

Of course, some of the attention that has been merited has been somewhat negative, especially in light of the Wood Quay incident of 1975; Christchurch is directly behind Wood Quay (a review: ‘quay’ is pronounced as ‘key’ and indicated the space by a river, in this case the Liffey), and so was front and center for the drama that followed. Dublin Corporation slowly bought up the land on Wood Quay over a span of about 25 years, submitted a plan for building, and let the archaeologists have at it, to make sure it was okay to build on, just as a formality. My issue is, um, what? You thought that prime real estate in the center of historic Dublin, directly on the river, is going to be anthropologically void? Well, excuse me. I have two neurons to rub together. So the archaeologists find something. They find a HUGE something: the largest Viking settlement ever discovered outside of Scandinavia, which included several buildings and a longboat. Yes, a longboat. And then the courts rule a ridiculously short amount of time to excavate, one year. And then the little dweebs of the Dublin Corporation decide to build over untold treasures, thereby destroying everything no one had even had the chance to uncover, which was estimated to be about 60% of what was on the site. It was an abomination and caused a huge hoo-hah, but for no avail. And you know what? The building is puke ugly.

The next morning, we visited the museum where the Book of Kells is housed, at Trinity College. Trinity was the university of such people as Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, W.B. Yeats, and Braham Stoker. It’s a famously Protestant college – at one point it was perfectly okay to hunt down Catholics with a bow and arrow.

On the subject of Braham Stoker, there’s a popular hypothesis that the word ‘Dracula’ is derived from the Gaelic for ‘bad blood,’ ‘droc fhola’ (pronounced ‘druh-uhlla’). That was a lot of apostrophes. My apologies.

I wasn’t impressed as much by the book itself, mostly due to crowding in the museum and the fact that in order to produce the pages of the book the lives of 185 calves were forfeited (essentially, the monks tattooed ink on cured leather). However, it is still a landmark – though not free, as other people have advertised to me (yes, I am a college student) – and worth going to, even if you’re going to pay through the nose for it, especially as there isn’t just the Book of Kells: there’s also a few other (slightly younger or less ornate) books on display, and then there’s always the library. Oh, boy. The library.

This is where I would show you a photo of the Long Room that would blow your socks off. Book lovers, eat your hearts out! Unfortunately, no photography allowed. You can check online for killer photos…or you can check out the CGI efforts of one Mr. George Lucas, who used the library in the newer Star Wars movies. He simply replaced the busts of the renowned thinkers of our history with dead Jedi heroes. Trinity College actually sued him for stealing their library and putting it into his movie – this was after they decided that they didn’t want smutty film crews gallivanting through their institution. I don’t know what the outcome of the whole deal was, but we still have those movies, now don’t we?

Following after this, we took a free tour of the city (Sandeman’s Free Tours), which was, of course, fabulous.

One of the first things we visited was Dublin castle. Like most major European cities, Dublin is in possession of fortification – however, most castles in major European cities, this one looks a bit different:

Would you believe me if I told you that it was built in 1204? No, really. 1204. Well, fine. How about now?

This is one of four towers, the only one that stuck it out through the ages. What happened was that in 1673, there was a massive explosion of gunpowder in one of the towers and a subsequent fire. Dubliners looked at the ruins and were all like “Well, that sucks. Let’s build a Georgian palace and still call it a castle!,” and have confused millions thereafter.

The remaining portion of the old building is called the Records Tower. Its walls are 4.3 meters thick (as wide as a car is long) and was – understandably – a prison for a stretch of time. In fact, only one person ever managed to escape, a lad named Red Hugh O’Donnell (again, I do not make these names up), who was imprisoned in 1587 at the age of fifteen. He was the son of a powerful chieftain, as well as one that was known to aid in vending bootleg booze to the Irish off the Irish coastline, so you could say that the English were out to get him. He was caught after getting thoroughly inebriated with an English soldier: the soldier conked him on the head and he woke up en route to Dublin Castle. Five years later, Hugh’s friends finally formulated a plan to break Hugh out (took them long enough…): they tunneled through the sewage system, escaped the city, and headed south through the Wicklow mountains; over the course of this process, Hugh lost both big toes. Hugh headed back north to meet with his clan, who kinged him for his bravery. After this, Hugh helped out in a nine year long war against the English; after seven and a half years, the Irish made a final push with the help of the Spanish. 4,000 Spanish soldiers landed at Kinsale (somehow losing 2,000 of their number en route), the English surrounded them and looked down their noses (read: cannons), the Spanish decided that they were late for tea, and head out. The Irish were forced to scatter, something now called the ‘Flight of the Earls.’ Red Hugh scrams to Spain, where he ended up dying of stupidity. How is this accomplished, you ask? Well, how did he end up in jail in the first place? Right. Well, this time around, he drank poisoned sangria some English guy had given him. Told you.

This is the statue that depicts Justice, and she’s atypical for your usual depiction of the entity. Firstly, her sword is unsheathed, she’s not blindfolded, and there are holes in her scales. Holes in her scales? Well, that’s because pre-holes when it rained (and I don’t know if you know this but it rains occasionally on the Emerald Isle), the water would distribute itself unevenly on each of the scales. So they would tip. Imagine being taken for processing to the castle and seeing an aggressive Justice staring at you with tipped scales? Not encouraging. There was a huge hoo hah over what to do about the scales; finally they got some guy with a drill to take care of the problem.

A while back the castle was renovated; the architect in charge of the redesign process decided to paint these parts of the structure in bright colors. When asked why, he said that he ‘liked the colors.’


Nope, these aren’t snakes on the ground – they’re eels. And why would there be snakes? St. Paddy got rid of them ages ago (I won’t sully this moment with science.) But wait! I can mimic annoying commercials on television! They aren’t just eels, this whole area is a helicopter pad! (There are lights all over, to that effect.)

Off to the right is the Chester Beatty Library, a place that is pure magic and inspiration. It’s not a library in the classic sense – it’s a series of museum exhibits to show off a private collection of rare books so large barely a fraction of it can go on exhibition at a time. Chester Beatty was one of the last Colorado gold miners to strike it rich, so with his hands sullied with serious amounts of cash, good old Chester did what everyone should do: he bought books, heaps of books, from every genre that fascinated him. At the end of is life, he had a collection mainly comprised of books but also of other things (furniture, cool nick knacks, and clothing, such as an ornate Chinese emperor’s robe) that could be used to describe the cultures of the world through the ages. In 1950, Mr. Beatty donated his trove to Dublin; the library was opened later, to spellbind, amaze, and dumbfound its visitors.

Let’s be totally clear here. I love books. I don’t just mean the words and ideas, but also the pages, bindings, the very smell. This museum hit all the right notes and then some. Their collection of Qur’ans would just stagger you with their intricate scrollwork; Japanese scrolls that stretch 20 feet and then some; texts from the South Pacific that use a dizzying system of binding the book so that it is more unfolded than anything else.

I spent about twenty minutes to half an hour looking at their scrolls from ancient Egypt – there was a section of the Book of the Dead and a series of love poems (coughcougheroticacoughcough), as well as a drawer system with yet more papyrus hidden inside (unfortunately, it was all locked up in a secure case, so no dice). What fascinated me was a small clear plastic box that contained fragments of papyrus. I was looking at it when one of the very helpful museum attendants sidled up to me and started telling me its history: the man that Beatty entrusted with separating the pages of papyrus and preserving them got an itch in his nose one day and sneezed. The page of papyrus he was working on blew apart. He later wrote a letter to Beatty, apologizing for his bodily function. Imagine having to apologize for a sneeze.

Another exhibit that pressed my buttons was the exhibit showing pages out of the Gospels of the Bible. I’m not talking about the Gideon Bible here, I’m talking about the originals. The earlier examples were from 150 A.D. up until 400 A.D. I stood there, surrounded by these ideas, overwhelmed by the sheer power these words have had on us. These words have hurt and healed so many people we cannot even begin to count them: I was staring at perhaps the biggest agent of change this world has ever seen and was dumbfounded. They’re so delicate and fragile, but the characters are still visible and decipherable to someone who knows how to read them, still powerful in some latent way, waiting.

We ended going to the Beatty Museum twice at my insistence. Having physical books was tremendously important to me while I was abroad, and the lover of books in me was filled with awe and wonder but at the same time immensely comforted. It is so wonderful to know that repositories of wisdom are still valued and accessible to those people willing to look for them.

On another note:

This is the Temple Bar, known for being a hub of bars, cheap and fattening food, and drunk people. This area is called the Temple Bar not because there was a temple and a bar next to each other (remember: Ireland = confusing), but because this part of the city used to be on the water and owned by a dude named Sir William Temple.

The Temple Bar is also the birthplace of U2: they won the Battle of the Bands and then went to celebrate in the area. The went to the Clarence Hotel to imbibe the primary wheat product of Ireland, but were turned away for not being good enough. They attained global fame, as well as the funds for Bono to buy the bar and to host his own exclusive parties. Rule: never shut Bono out of a party. It’ll just make you look silly.

This is Miss Molly Malone, the subject of Ireland’s most popular song…for tourists. My hypothesis is that her bosom is constrained in her dress through the use of adhesives.

Do you know the expression ‘daylight robbery?’ This is the origin of the phrase. At one point the English were stumped on what to tax next, when some bright young fellow piped up and suggested that they tax the very light. This was considered a grand idea, so windows were incorporated into the tax scheme. The Irish weren’t having it and so blocked up windows in some buildings in the city in order to avoid shelling out even more money to their overlords.

These next few photos are of St. Stephen’s Green, a large garden/park complex in the city that fills up in a big way on sunny/warm days.

And this one is the most pointless structure I have ever seen, bar none:

It’s a 420 meter tall needle, Europe’s tallest freestanding structure, and entitled “Monument of Light.” It’s also situated in the heroin hotspot of the city. As such, it has garnered itself some truly brilliant nicknames: ‘The Stiffie Near the Liffy,’ ‘The Erection at the Intersection,’ and ‘The Stiletto in the Ghetto.’ Keep in mind that these were only the names clean enough for the guide to tell his groups, and that smuttier names do exist. It was asking for it!

The needle is on the site where a monument to Admiral Lord Nelson, who was an important leader during the Napoleonic Wars. Unfortunately for him, he was English, so his pillar became a target of the IRA in 1966, when they attempted to blow the thing up. They did an okay job, apparently enough to merit the intervention of the Irish armed services, who used enough explosive power to create a crater and a flotilla of shattered windows. So who would the terrorists be in this instance? (Maybe we shouldn’t answer that…)

Now for the grand finale:

Dublin’s post office! (Also known as the GPO, or the General Post Office.)

Those among us that know our Irish history know the significance of this little governmental service, but fear not if you don’t. Like all the best villains, I will now fall into a monologue.

The trail to the GPO starts with hundreds of years of suppression by the English, starting with the English invasion in May of 1169 (remember Strongbow?). Then – eventually – there was Henry VIII – yes, the some one with eight wives – who decided to make Ireland part of the Church of England; after that, Ireland was hounded. The Irish were second class citizens, not really worthy of respect or good governance. A pattern emerged over the next 500 years: every 30 years, Irish would rise up in violent protest.

After this were the penal laws forbidding Catholicism – the severed heads of priests were exchanged for money and secret churches were everywhere – as well as the corn laws, which dictated that since the land of Ireland belonged to England, all the crops should end up there as well. If you want a round estimate, 90% of the food grown in Ireland ended up on English soil.

Which is where Theobald Wolfe Tone kicked in: he was a revolutionary in the latter 1700s who came up with the idea of a free Irish republic, inspired by the American and French revolutions. He was different from the revolutionaries that had come before him because he was rich and of the upper class, one of the first people of such status to speak out in that way. The English ended up capturing him and were planning to execute him, but he committed suicide, almost a la Van Gogh. It took him six whole days to die.

We all know what happens next: as many as half of the Irish population grew to depend on potatoes and milk as their sole sources of food and nutrients, which does in fact hit the major nutritional groups. And then a potato blight came in from north America, transforming the insides of the potatoes to a charred black mess. Potatoes could be fouled while they were still in the ground or when they were picked; for six years there were almost no potatoes. People starved. People left.

There were three major famines in 100 years, but the one we know best is the one the Irish call the Great Famine, roughly from 1845 to 1851. Over that period of time, the population of Ireland dropped from about eight and a half million people to about six million. It’s estimated that about a million of these people died and that about 1.5 million emigrated, mostly to America. It was this emigration that softened the blow of the third potato famine, as family members sent back what money they could to those they had left behind. Emigration continued long after the famine ended – by 1921, eight million people that were born in Ireland had moved elsewhere.

Enter World War One. The Irish were again getting restless and even proposed the Home Rule Bill to Parliament, but were put off: the English told them that the war would be over by Christmas, and they would deal with it then. The war wasn’t over by Christmas, not nearly so.

A large group of revolutionaries organized the Easter Rising of 1916, hoping that this would be the last uprising necessary. Unfortunately, we know that Ireland got its independence in 1921, so that was not the case. However, it’s a point of pride for the Irish, a crucial step in their history. Our guide spent at least a half an hour talking about the Rising and about five minutes on the revolution itself. You do the math.

The Easter Rising is also just a great story with all the right elements: heroism, tragedy, laughs, patriotism, and love. Since it failed, you can assume the laughs are attributed to the earlier stages.

As the name implies, you would think that the Rising happened on Easter Sunday in 1916. Unfortunately, that was not the case. In the old Irish game of ‘Who’s My Ally,’ the Irish had cast their eyes over the countries that liked England least. Considering that the English were fighting with the French in the trenches, they were out, as well as the Spanish, who were having their own problems at the time. But wait a minute. The Germans! The Irish managed to convince the Germans to send them a ship filled to bursting with ammunition – not a bad deal for the Germans, as it meant that the English would be fighting a two-front war, perhaps evening things out, as Germany was facing Allies to the left and to the right. Unfortunately, the English sunk their battleship. Understandably, the Irish needed a bit of time to regroup – as well as a way to let everyone know that the show was being postponed. So the day’s newspaper’s headline read “REVOLUTION CANCELLED.” The English thought that this was some kind of weird Irish joke and so had troops on guard on a national holiday. Nope. No revolution.

1.500 people (100 of them women) belonging to a variety of groups stuck to plan, though, and decided to start the revolution the following day; unfortunately for them, the Irish Volunteers decided to nix nationwide involvement, deriving their attack of valuable and comprehensive firepower. They took several different key buildings in the city, among them City Hall, Dublin Castle, a biscuit factory (where the rations were chocolate cake) and, of course, the GPO. Ten men and nine women were sent to conquer Dublin Castle, which proved to be remarkably easy: there were no troops on guard, as they had asked their superiors for the day off, considering that they had not had the opportunity to celebrate Easter. The revolutionary troop got weirded out by how silent and eerie it was and decided to take over city hall instead, which was nearby. They didn’t realize exactly how close they were to holding probably one of the best strongholds in the city – and all because they got creeped out!

Another humorous detail was that while there was fighting on St. Stephen’s Green – where trenches were dug, in an ominous shadowing of what was happening in France – a truce was made with the groundskeeper so that he could feed the ducks as usual every day.

Unfortunately, over the course of six days, one by one, the outposts held by the revolutionaries were taken over until at last the GPO was the only one left standing. It was bombarded ruthlessly: the roof and even the floors collapsed over the course of the firefight. Finally, they had to move to Moore Street, thinking that mixing with innocent people would save them. It did not. The English set fire to the houses and mowed people down as they ran from their burning homes. Finally in the face of this new carnage, the Irish surrendered.

When the dust cleared, over 1,000 prisoners were taken to a jail in West England; the story is that many of them spat on the ground as they left the country, to defile the city that the English were still in ownership of. The death toll ran to about 450 dead: 64 rebels, 132 soldiers, and civilians; 300 buildings were also damaged in some respect.

The popular opinion of the Irish of the rebellion was not that great at first, as there was the misconception that it had been the Irish military forces that had spearheaded the revolt. However, as executions of the leaders of the rebel forces were under way – and publicized, due to the information leaked by a priest – public opinion changed. People realized that the entire force had been comprised of civilians and that these people had some sensational and heartbreaking stories.

James Connoly, for instance, was one of the leaders of the rebellion (there were several) and had been so grievously injured over the course of the fighting in the GPO – namely, infected wounds, a broken ankle, and damages as a result of smoke inhalation – that it was certain that he would die anyway. However, the English would not wait. Because he couldn’t stand, he was tied to a chair and shot.

Joseph Plunkett, who was engaged to be married at the time of his capture, was allowed to marry his intended, spend a short time with her to consummate the match, and then was executed the next morning.

The bodies of Patrick and William Pearse – and most likely others – were not returned to their families as the English were afraid that the graves would only encourage more revolutionary sentiment.

These accounts and others inflamed the population and fed the fire for the revolution that would, for the first time in Irish history, be successful. In January of 1919, the Irish, more united than ever, rebelled. In July of 1921, the British ceded ownership of all but six counties to the Irish people, on the grounds that the six that they did not give back had too many Protestants to merge with the predominantly Catholic republic. This created some considerable friction that in turn fueled the Irish Civil War, as well as the fact that the English still controlled certain aspects of the Republic, such as key ports. The Civil War lasted a year, with the moderate Republican faction winning out over the anti-Treaty forces. The English still controlled the upper six counties, separating northern Ireland from the republic to this day.

But even this period in history produced one lighthearted moment: Michael Collins was the one sent to accept Dublin Castle from the English, a symbolic gesture signifying Britain ceding the rest of the nation; Michael Collins was sent because he was the representative of the IRA (the Irish Republican Army, more on that in Belfast). He got there seven minutes late and the English official sent to do the ceding asked him why. Collins came right back with: “we were waiting 700 years; you can wait seven minutes.” Bazinga!

So this is why a simple post office contains greater implications: history hinged on this one building on O’Connell Street in Dublin, nearly 100 years ago. This event in history is still evident, in the now filled-in craters of the cement walls:

So that’s Dublin…part one. Part two is a day trip, so I promise I won’t drone on. But if what I have done can be called droning, what can reading said droning be called? Perhaps ‘loyal.’ (Thanks anyways.)