Sunday, September 20, 2015

Dublin (or: "Ha! I Beat You to Ireland")

Another reason I want to move to Europe: Flights within the continent tend to be very, very cheap.

For instance: My round-trip tickets from Birmingham, UK to Dublin, Ireland cost me a whopping grand total of $33.01. Of course, those two places are quite close to each other, geographically speaking - but you can get similarly cheap rates flying between just about any two major European cities. (At the time of this writing, I could fly round-trip between London and Warsaw, Poland for $58. Or between Berlin and Madrid for $81. And so on.)

Just think of the amazing weekend trips you could take... (As you leave your office in Munich on Friday: "Hey, I'm just going to be flying out to Istanbul for the weekend. See you on Monday.")

For instance: Three days in Ireland.

I started out in Dublin. One of the things that fascinates me about Europe is how all the cities have such a long history behind them - and how they've all been home to more famous people than you can count. Places where, even though you've never been there, many of the street names and buildings and rivers and parks seem familiar because they've become a part of our cultural consciousness - and because they've appeared in so many novels and films and history books. (One of the very few places in America that compares is NYC - and, of course, Salt Lake City.)

So I walked down the streets that James Joyce and Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde once trod.

I wandered away from my hostel, across the River Liffey, and ended up in the lovely St. George's Square.

Then, on a whim, I decided to visit the Little Museum of Dublin, which turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the trip.

The Museum, which is located in an old Georgian house, is chockfull of stuff - from fine antiques to ephemera and bric-a-brac - all of it donated by native Dubliners.

You get everything from a poster for a 1980s U2 concert to a political banner from the 1910s calling for Irish independence to a 1st edition of Joyce's (occasionally banned) Ulysses. Though the objects are interesting enough in their own right, the tour is absolutely essential. The tour guide could only talk about a tiny portion of the hundreds of objects on display, his enthusiastic narration helped give the objects context - and poignancy. From the tragic to the funny, these are bits and pieces from people's lives over the last century, and he helped explain why they mattered.


On my second day in the city, I took one of those ubiquitous double decker tour buses that seem to exist in every major city around the world. During the full circuit, I was able to get a better overview of the layout of the city. I also quickly learned that live narrators are much, much, MUCH better than the lifeless pre-recorded narrators that they have on the multi-lingual buses.

Also: I was amused by how the bus went from being half full to completely empty (except for me) as soon as we got to the Guinness Storehouse (where they apparently have a great tour and let you sample some fresh beer.)

I rode on to the Kilmainham Gaol, where I learned about a rather sad slice of Dublin's history.

Though it held a lot of prisoners over its 100+ years of history, Kilmainham is most famous for being the holding place for important Irish revolutionaries leading up to Ireland's independence in 1922.

If you want to be really depressed, read the life story of Joseph Plunkett, a revolutionary who was allowed to marry his wife in the prison chapel - just seven hours before being executed.

In spite of its tragic history, the prison is actually quite architecturally impressive - though unfortunately the most aesthetically distinctive part of the prison was being renovated, so we weren't able to visit it.

I was eventually released from prison and went on to visit the Chester Beatty Library.

Chester Beatty was a wealthy mining millionaire who collected antiques from around the world - then bequeathed that collection to his beloved Dublin upon his death. Beatty had a particular interest in Middle and Far Eastern Art, and over his lifetime he amassed an enormous amount of stuff (which he then spent enormous amounts of effort evaluating and cataloging.)

Anyways, his passion is our gain, because the museum has a ton of beautiful and rare objects spanning the millennia. You've got some of the earliest known fragments of the gospels that would later be compiled into the New Testament (I particularly remember a tiny little sliver of a fragment from a 3rd century copy of the Gospel of Luke.) You also have beautifully decorated Korans (dating all the way back to the 8th century) and lovely Japanese screens and illuminated medieval manuscripts and so on and so forth.

In other words: It's definitely worth a visit.

There were a lot of other places I wanted to visit during my time in Dublin: Trinity University (where the Book of Kells is kept), Dublin Castle, the National Museum, etc. etc. Alas, it was growing dark and I had to catch an early morning flight.

The 400 foot "Spire of Dublin" - also known as... Well, let's just say that Dubliners have given this giant metal phall... I mean pole some crude nicknames. 
However: On my way to the bus stop that morning, I happened to notice a theater just around the corner from my hostel - and they were putting on a show I had read just a few months earlier. So, to finish off my time in Dublin, I caught Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the Abbey Theatre, one of Ireland's "national theaters." The (almost front row) ticket was cheap, and, well, I just couldn't resist. (I was sort of having theater withdrawals.)

As the lights dimmed, they gave their pre-show announcement in Gaelic - and I briefly worried that I was about to watch a 3-hour show in another language (Gaelic is, after all, the official language of Ireland.) Fortunately, the actors came out speaking English, and I was able to enjoy a wonderful production of a deeply depressing show.

In spite of the tragic and distressing nature of the show, it was quite refreshing to be sitting in a theater - in Dublin, Ireland - and watching one of the classics of the stage. To be honest, it made me feel quite cosmopolitan and sophisticated. And when I get a chance, I'm going to go back to Dublin and see another show. Maybe The Lion King. 


  1. Love the Pictures especially the one through the archway looking at the Little Museum of Dublin
    (maybe.) The prison looks forbidding and dark. And you got to see a play there too, sad and
    depressing thought it might have been. AND you beat us to Ireland.

  2. Ahhh, how I envy your opportunity to travel to wee olde Ireland and watch Hedda Gabler on stage. You have become a master at scheduling so much history and culture into a few days. I so want to get over to lovely Eire and then on up to Belfast. On my bucket list. Thanks for sharing with us. Dad