Monday, January 15

dublin city

While Glynn was at work for a couple of days I headed into Dublin on the DART (train) from Wicklow to explore the city. It takes about an hour on the train, including the stops, and offers great coastal views.

I bought a ticket for the Dublin City Tour Bus which is a hop on, hop off ride taking in over 20 historic sites. Dublin was much bigger than I thought. The River Liffey, which divides the city, was my point of reference and I was armed with a basic knowledge of landmarks on the 'nort' side and the 'sout' side, as Dubliners would say. At one time the Ha'penny Bridge was the only river crossing, but it is now the oldest of at least 14 bridges that connect both sides of the central city.

O'Connell Street is the main street of Dublin on the 'nort' side and a spire built in 2003 is its newest and most controversial feature, otherwise known as the 'stiletto in the ghetto' and various other names I wont mention.

The street's most famous landmark is certainly the General Post Office which was seized during the 1916 Easter Rising, by the Irish Citizens Army and the Irish Volunteers opposing the British occupation. Padraig Pearse one of the rebel leaders read out a Proclamation on the front steps of the building declaring Ireland an independent republic. In response English forces bombed the building to a shell and eventually the young republicans surrendered. You can still see bullet holes in the columns of the GPO today.

Other stops on the bus tour included Collins Barracks and Kilmainham Jail, both providing interesting overviews of the political and social history of Ireland.

The Jail particularly has a great museum, guided tour and a history presentation given in the prison chapel. Those who took part in the Easter Rising were held at Kilmainham Jail and many were executed there. James Connelly, one of the main instigators of the uprising, was too injured to stand - so was seated before the firing squad. To ease the minds of members of the firing squad a blank bullet was always mixed in with the ammunition provided so that every man in the squad could believe with a clear conscience that perhaps they weren't responsible for the death of the person before them.

The presentation explained how those seeking a republic and freedom from British rule in 1916, did not initially enjoy the support of the majority of irish people at the time. Public animosity was understandable because of the violence associated with the rebellions, and the number of civilians caught in the cross fire. Many sons of Ireland were also fighting alongside the British in the Great War at the time. However, following the execution of the 1916 leaders and the inhumane nature of Connelly's death, new support for the republican cause was generated within Ireland.

As portrayed in the famous movie, these events also led to the rise of two important figures in irish politics - Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera.

Michael Collins, a young republican corporal during the 1916 Easter Rising, rose to become a nationalist leader following the Irish War for Independence, and had the thankless task of making the journey to London to negotiate the Treaty with England in 1922. Many irish folk have great respect for Collins. His speech to the people of Ireland to support the peace agreement he had negotiated (despite the fact Northern Ireland would remain in British hands as part of the deal) is very reasoned. He must have had courage to stand up in such an environment and argue for peace with Britain, especially when he knew the sort of price he could pay for doing so.

"When you have sweated, toiled, had mad dreams, hopeless nightmares, you find yourself in London's streets, cold and dank in the night air. Think - what have I got for Ireland? Something which she has wanted these past seven hundred years. Will anyone be satisfied at the bargain? Will anyone? I tell you this; early this morning I signed my death warrant. I thought at the time how odd, how ridiculous — a bullet may just as well have done the job five years ago"

Quote from Michael Collins the day the treaty was signed

His one time republican friend and campaigner, Eamon de Valera, refused to support the Treaty despite the majority of Irish people voting in favour of it and an end to violence. De Valera continued to campaign for a full republic and led further rebellions against the new Irish Free State Army now led by Collins from the Barracks at Arbour Hill. Churchill threatened to re-occupy Ireland if Collins was unable to silence the remaining rebels supported by de Valera. Under pressure Collins was forced to attack some of his former republican collegues, several of whom were executed at Kilmainham by the Irish Free State Army. That same year Michael Collins' convoy was ambushed and Collins was the only one in the party killed. The difficult task of trying to build an independent Irish state was left to de Valera and others. De Valera continued to play a lead role in Irish politics and was President for many years. At eighty five years of age, he was quoted as saying:

"It's my considered opinion that in the fullness of time, history will record the greatness of Collins and it will be recorded at my expense".

Out of all the places I visited, the presentation at the Jail, gave the best description of the complex social scene and competing political views at the time. The famous irish poet W B Yeats also captured the complex mood of the people after the executions in his famous poem Easter, 1916

An excerpt from Easter, 1916

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

-- William Butler Yeats

On the 'sout' side of the River Liffey Trinity College dominates the landscape and that university feel spreads to the Temple Bar area which is filled with pubs and restaurants and is a well known haunt of students. The university was founded by Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1592 and holds the Book of Kells one of the oldest and most beautiful books in the world. Caroline and I visited the famous medieval book, which is written in Latin and divided into four books, one for each gospel.

Trinity was also where Glynn studied and so I got a guided tour through the campus, to see the maths department, the dining hall, and the notorious campenile which stands in the main square - a student folk tale has it that if you stand underneath when its bell tolls you fail your exams.

A trip to the Guinness Factory was saved till last when Glynn was free from work. Well over the worst of the glandular fever, Foster was keen to claim his free Guinness at the top of the Gravity Bar.

As you enter the tourist attraction you get a souvenir paperweight with a detachable ring on it. On the self guided tour you can have a small sample of the brew and see how its made. You can watch old black and white film footage of the barrel makers putting a barrel together, and every 80mins someone from the tour gets to launch an actual brew that carries their name for the two week production process. Finally at the top of factory is the Gravity Bar where you use your paperweight and ring to claim a free pint of guinness. It's also a chance to see Dublin from one of the highest vantage points in the city.

I have now discovered from meeting the Foster family, Guinness has played an important role in the lives of many of Glynn's relatives. His great grandfather was responsible for making sure the barrels of guinness came down the Liffey on barges from the factory and were loaded onto the ships for export. His great uncles drove the custom-built train around the factory, his uncle has just retired from being a brewer there, and his father played rugby for the guinness rugby team. Glynn continues in the footsteps of other family members by mainly just drinking the stuff. But what a great brew it is!

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