I recently returned from a tour of Ireland, Scotland, England, and France. This was my first trip to Ireland, and, as travel does, I once again realized how much I have yet to learn about the world. My travels (and this helping of reflection) began in Dublin, where my education began. One of the biggest misconceptions I had about the Irish people is that they are not simply stereotypical pint-slugging party people adorned in shamrock hats. These are people with true convictions for what they believe, people who are willing to defend those convictions at all costs.
I learned that the harp, and not the shamrock, is the national emblem of the country. Apparently, harp music has been popular in Ireland since the 10th century, when minstrels traveled the country entertaining with melodies and stories read to music. In the 16th century, however, the English royalty got some sort of bee in their bonnets and declared that all harps were a threat to the monarchy. Harps. The most peaceful, serene sound irked the royals. They were so profoundly annoyed that they ordered all harps to be burned and all harpists to be put to death. Harp music, such an integral part of Irish history, disappeared for almost 200 years.
So, it should come as no surprise to realize that the Irish desire to separate from the Brits really began to seep into the souls of the Irish people. Their resentment grew over time, and has become part of their grit. From my understanding, it seems the Irish don’t like to take orders and they are masters of passive aggressiveness.
A really good example of this sense of protest is captured by the multi-colored doors found all over Dublin. When Queen Victoria died, the British government demanded that everyone in Dublin paint their doors black in mourning her death. The Irish people were said to have given a silent “middle finger” to that request, and, instead, painted doors of every color. Never make demands of the Irish!
As far as sights to see in Dublin- WOW! What a fun city to explore! We had a great lunch at the Kilkenny buffet, which was stocked with fresh, healthy salads and sandwiches. I had a delicious turkey panini with a green salad adorned with a parmesan vinaigrette dressing. While the desserts looked amazing, my diabetic blood opted out. Sadly.
After lunch, we embarked on a drizzly walking tour. We saw the Mayor’s House, more commonly known as “the Mansion House”, which is over 300 years old.
This house was built on the famous Dawson Street after Joshua Dawson, who was a developer in the early 1700s in Dublin. He built the house, but never ended up living in it. He ended up selling it to the city to be the home of Dublin mayors.
We wandered through a lovely park where we saw St. Stephen’s Green, which might be the most famous park in Dublin. Once a private park for the wealthy, it was made public by Dublin’s superhero- Mr. Guinness- who has done so much for Dubliners he’s perceived as a demigod! There are some great things to see in this green space, and literary folks would likely be most intrigued by the Yeats memorial garden and the bust of the author James Joyce. The Fusilier’s Arch, sometimes coined the “traitor’s gate”, is at the entrance to the park and was put up to commemorate those who died in the Second Boer War. Their names are inscribed under the arch, and there are still bullet holes from where the arch was pummeled back in 1916!
Perhaps the most interesting of all I experienced in this park was the story behind the green, which houses the famous Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa Monument. Each year, someone is awarded the “Freedom of the City” award, for their contributions to Dublin. Recipients of this award have ranged from writers like George Bernard Shaw to politicians like Mikhael Gorbachev. In 2000, Bono, from the band U2, won it. Bono took full advantage of the ancient privileges that originally came with this honor, including the fact that the winner was allowed to bring their own flock of sheep to graze in the park. Bono decided to go back in time and brought a flock of sheep to the space the year he won.
Speaking of U2, tour guides are certainly quick to point out all sorts of hotspots that relate to this iconic rock band. The area along the Liffey River was run down and in dire need of renovation. In the early 1990’s, Bono and guitarist The Edge bought the ramshackle Clarence Hotel (pictured with the green roof). They completely renovated it, which, in turn, inspired an upheaval of the whole area.
My favorite statue of the trip was in Dublin: the statue of Molly Malone.
She is known, by locals, as the “tart with the cart”. She is the subject of the Irish Folksong “cockles and Mussels”: “In Dublin’s fair city/ Where girls are so pretty/ I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone./ As she wheeled her wheel-barrow/ Through streets broad and narrow/ Crying “Cockles & Mussels”, alive, alive, oh!”
Molly Malone was apparently a fishmonger by day and prostitute by night, although there are many who refute her wanton ways. She supposedly died of a fever. Visitors to Dublin love to be photographed next to this voluptuous character. Some even believe that if you rub her bosom, it will bring good fortune. Perhaps that is why the statue has such bright bronze in that area??
On top of formal music shows, there is great street music all over Dublin. The Grafton Street area had performers that sang traditional Irish folk music, and I wish I had more time to enjoy them!
We wandered through the world-renowned Temple Bar district, and I definitely plan to return here to linger a bit longer! We had a relaxing dinner at the Black Lion pub. We feasted on beef stew and potatoes. (I gave my potatoes away, as I am the president of the “I hate potatoes” club!
After dinner, we loaded the bus and headed for our hotel, the Killashee, which was about 45 minutes from Dublin. The hotel was breathtaking! It was sprawled across a beautiful green space, and the inside made me feel as though I were there to attend the most elegant countryside affair. The restaurant inside was a classy establishment, where I was schooled about why Guinness in Ireland is so much better than anywhere else in the world. Apparently, research has been done and this is not just the local opinion. The kegs are much fresher in Dublin, and frequently “changed out”, which is part of why it is so delectable. The beer taps in Dublin are also cleaned out to provide the best flavor. (Not sure how often the pubs in the US clean out their tap lines, but I doubt it is done daily?)
As the sun set on the first day in Dublin, I can’t help but be most impressed by the culture and music, which all weave a beautiful tapestry of the Irish heritage. Shame on the British for trying to squelch the voices of these people. I have a much more cohesive understanding of the Bono that came on the Grammy stage years ago- when he told the world to “F*&$ the establishment!” It is that Irish spirit that doesn’t want to be kept in chains. They want to be free, and they want the freedom to maintain their own traditions!
Coming soon: Ireland Part 2: Irish Dance, St. Patrick’s & the Book of Kells