Ireland Part 2: Irish culture unveiled through dance, St. Patrick’s, the Book of Kells, & more

One cannot think of Dublin without thinking of music. The Irish music, once squelched by the Brits, is certainly alive and well. I thoroughly enjoyed a live show at the Ladsdowne Theater put on by “The Irish House Party”. This musical trio boasts a dancer who toured the world with Lord of the Dance. Their traditional folk songs, dance, and Irish music education was simply delightful! I learned, for instance, that there are three main instruments in Ireland: the harp; the uilleann pipes, which are played with the elbow while sitting; and the Bahran drum, which is made of goatskin and played sideways. Perhaps ne of the most fun was when they played “the Ratlin Bog”, which is a favorite at my school’s lacrosse home games!

Here is a link to watch a clip of the Irish dancer:

Here is a link to watch “the Ratlin Bog” performance:

Landsdowne Theater, Dublin, Ireland

I was really excited to visit and tour Dublin’s largest Anglican cathedral: St. Patrick’s. This gothic style cathedral, built in the 13th century, is undoubtedly one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. The inside is truly stunning, with light pouring in through clear and stained glass windows, particularly the west window, which shows the life of St. Patrick.

Some beauty from the inside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

One of the most interesting tidbits I learned about was the “Door of Reconciliation” , which is pictured below.

This door dates back to 1492 when a feud broke out between two families- the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds. Both families wanted their own kin to have the position of Lord Deputy, and the fighting got out of control. When the Butler’s could take no more, they retreated to St. Patrick’s cathedral where they were given sanctuary. The Fitzgerald’s argued with them through the door, trying every tactic to get them to come out, but the Butlers refused to come out. In order to prove that the Fitzgerald’s wanted a truce, the head of the Fitzgerald family had a hole cut in the door at the church. He then put his arm through the hole and yelled that the Butlers should either cut it off or shake it. The Butlers shook and peace ensued. This is where the saying “chance your arm” comes from.

Another beautiful display in the cathedral is the Boyle Monument, which is the largest in the entire cathedral.

The Boyle Monument, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

The monument, erected in 1632, shows the history of the First Earl of Cork, Richard Boyle, and includes four generations of his wife Katherine’s family. The monument was erected behind the high alter, until another Earl, Thomas Wentworth, ordered it to be moved. This order proved fatal, as the Boyle family was enraged and Wentworth ended up executed.

As a veteran British Literature teacher, it is easy to understand why my favorite part of the cathedral tour was learning about Jonathan Swift, who was the cathedral’s dean from 1713-1745. His pulpit was on display, and rumor has it he would preach for three to four hours. He had wheels put on his pulpit so he could move it to be close to people who were falling asleep. (Some even claim that he would throw things at the sleepers!) My morbid curiosity was truly peaked when I discovered the “death mask” of Swift, as well as a plaster cast of his skull. The death mask really grabbed me, as it is literally a 3-D vision of what he looked like when he died! I’ve read and taught his work, both Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal for close to 27 years, and seeing this gave new depth to my author background!

One of the final tourist stops in Dublin was a visit to the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity College. I must admit, I had no idea what the Book of Kells was prior to my visit. What I learned, is that it is a book, dating back to to 800 AD, that contains the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What has truly made these particular pages famous, is the artwork depicting beautiful animals and symbols to glorify the life of Jesus. The text was beautifully decorated as well using a whole range of colors- reds, blues, and yellows. The exhibit has two volumes of the book displayed- one to show the art and one to show the text. The book pages are made of velum, which apparently comes from the skin of a stillborn calf. The book publishers took the skin, stretched it, and brushed it with a scraper before allowing it to dry for a few days. Once the skin was dried, they would cut it into whatever shape they wanted. What an effort, but what a payoff?! The “pages” are over 1,200 years old!

As a high school librarian, I was absolutely stunned by the Long Room at Trinity College. This “room” is called such because it is over 200 feet long! This part of the library has over 200,000 books as well as the Harp- Ireland’s national symbol. There is a law in Ireland that every publisher is required to send a copy of all their books. Considering this, it is no wonder the books go all the way to the ceiling. According to movie buffs, it is the Long Room that inspired Star Wars producers when they designed the Jedi Temple archives!

I really enjoyed the sites of Dublin. A few other spots we visited, which are worth mentioning, were Dublin Castle (see photo in final collage) and the Garden of Remembrance. This Garden, located in Parnell Square, is a memorial put up in 1966 to honor those who fought for Irish freedom. At the far end of the pool is the “Children of Lir” sculpture, which shows children turning into swans. Legend has it that an evil stepmother put a curse on the children and turned them into swans. They had to stay in their swan bodies for 900 years. In the myth, they finally become humans again but they are old and near their death. This represents the fighting Irish. In essence, the statue symbolizes rebirth and resurrection not only of the children, but of the Irish People as well.

The Irish people in Dublin were friendly and spunky. We had an amazing tour guide, Renee, who was the quintessential Irish woman. Her quick wit and zest for life was truly infectious. She told us about the influence of Guinness in Dublin. The company, which currently takes up seven blocks, was founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759. Perhaps he started the company “to support the 21 kids he had with his wife Olivia!” Renee added. Indeed, Renee was full of stories, including the fact that the Queen of the River Liffey, whose statue can be found in Memorial Park, is better known as the “Floosy in the Jacuzzi”.

Renee also told us, as we crossed the river, that the river cuts Dublin in half; the north side and the south side. “And the south,” she said with a grin, “is where all the snots live!”

Our time in Dublin was amazing. I was glad, however, that I wasn’t having to drive. According to tour guide Renee, “Parking here in Dublin is as rare as hen’s teeth!”

I cannot say enough about the great vibe I got from my time in Dublin. While my dinner options on the tour continued to offer an overabundance of potatoes, I, the anti-potato queen, did manage to survive! Heck, I even survived black pudding- an Irish breakfast staple- otherwise known as blood sausage. (Just kidding. I couldn’t bring myself to try this one!) I will most definitely return as long as, in the words of the late Johnny Cash, “the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise!”


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