In 3 days we whirled through churches, libraries, castles, gardens, distilleries, museums + pubs – oh my.
In the latter part of August we met up with family in Ireland and the three of us whirling dervishes ‘did’ Dublin. We generally travel much slower, aiming for 30 days in one location with a couple of days trips tossed in. However we picked up our pace on this all too brief visit.
Daily temperatures ranged from a comfortable 65-72°F (20-22°C) and we ran into a couple of light rain showers on the first 2 days. We soon learned the best place to wait until the rain stops is to pop into any one of the 751 cozy pubs in the city. The environment inside Irish pubs are friendly, clean, cozy, (dry+warm) places to socialize meeting old and new friends and enjoy a meal, a coffee, a cup of tea or a stronger beverage. The outside of nearly every pub is also inviting. Each pub has large pots and baskets overflowing with flowers all along the roofline, lining the sidewalk around the pub, and vines covered in blooms climb the exterior walls.
A History of Dublin
In 841 CE, the Vikings/Danes founded ‘Dubh Linn’. In the wars between Irishmen and Vikings, Dublin was destroyed and recovered several times and for much of the Middle Ages, Ireland was ruled by both the Normans and the English.
Fresh water was routed into Dublin by 1224 and the main streets were paved in the 14th century. When Henry VIII declared himself head of the church in 1534, Dubliners supported him. Henry closed monasteries and nunneries, abolished the cult of relics but in general many Irish ignored the reforms and continued to practice the Catholic religion. In the 16th century, Dublin prospered and for the first time, many of the middle class had chimneys and glass windows. Despite improved conditions however, cities in Ireland and throughout Europe remained dirty and unsanitary. The devastating effects of multiple plaques would take thousands of lives.
By early in the 17th century, Dublin had a version of street lighting – every 5th house had to hang a lantern or candle outside. By 1670 it was forbidden to use thatch on roofs because of their fire hazard. The first newspaper in Dublin was produced in 1685. After the arrival of the Huguenots in the late 17th century, (Protestants who were fleeing from religious persecution in France) Ireland’s wool and linen trade with England began to rapidly increase.
By 1700 Dublin had grown to around 60,000 residents. Conditions continued to improve into the 18th century, at least for the middle and upper classes, however, there was still a great deal of poverty.
4 hospitals were built in the 18th century as well as a pharmacy that provided free medicines to the poor.
In 1759, the Guinness brewery was founded; and would eventually grow to become the largest brewery in the world and the largest employer in Dublin. We saw the most amusing Guinness posters.
Stagecoaches began running between Dublin and other Irish cities around the mid 18th century and by 1786 Dublin had its first police force. The infamous Kilmainham prison was built 10 years later.
By 1800 the population of Dublin had risen to around 180,000. In 1825 gas was used to light the streets and the first electric lights were available by 1881 although rarely used until early in the 20th century. By the early 19th century sewers began to be built and for the most of that century they would be extended throughout the city. The railway arrived in 1834 and horse drawn buses began running in 1840 and horse drawn trams in 1872.
During the devastating potato famine between 1845-49, referred to as the Great Irish Famine, dozens of workhouses and soup kitchens were set up trying to feed the thousands of starving people arriving from the countryside. Between 1.0-1.5 million Irish citizens died and 2 million were forced to emigrate during the Great Famine, although the population of Dublin increased due to the number of starving hordes fleeing to the city. There is a large poignant art installation in Dublin we found that reminds all of the suffering during the Great Irish Famine.
We learned that in May 1941 the Germans even bombed Dublin, killing a couple of dozen people. In the late 20th century traditional industries such as textiles, brewing, and distilling declined and new industries like electronics, chemicals, and engineering appeared. In 1988 Dublin celebrated its millennium. (actually founded in 841 but in 988, an Irish king forced the townspeople to pay taxes to him marking the beginning of Dublin as an Irish town).
In the 21st century Dublin continues to thrive with its current population of ~555,000. The unemployment rate is 4.6%, the lowest in more than a decade. We liked the feel of old and new buildings next to each other in the photo below and perhaps the cranes (there were dozens of cranes in every direction) could represent employment and progress.
Famous people born in Dublin:
- Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Artist
- Colin Farrell 1976- Actor
- James Joyce 1882-1941 Writer
- Sinead O’Connor 1966- Singer/songwriter
- George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950 Writer
- Bram Stoker 1847-1912 Writer
- Jonathan Swift 1667-1745 Writer
- William Butler Yeats 1865-1939 Writer
- and so very many more
There are nearly 400 churches, chapels, centers or places to worship in Dublin. Obviously we couldn’t visit too many in three days, but we did like these ones:
Christ Church Cathedral – after settling in the area the Vikings slowly converted to Catholicism. The first Bishop of Dublin was appointed in 1028 and he in turn had the first Christ Church Cathedral built in 1038. Christ Church is the mother church of Dublin and the seat of the Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough.
St. Audoen’s Church – this may have been our favorite discovery. One of Dublin’s earliest surviving medieval churches, this church definitely had a special feel to it. The church is named after St Ouen (or Audoen) Bishop of Rouen (Normandy), a saint who lived in the 7th century. The church, built in 1190, was dedicated to him by the Anglo-Normans, who arrived in Dublin around 1172. When Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne, 1558-1603, she nominated the Bishop of Kildare to the church and from then on, all Roman Catholic ceremonies in the church ceased. With fewer parishioners the now Protestant church and parish of St Audoen slowly began to decline.
Our greatest and luckiest find may have been ‘The Lucky Stone’. Inside the church is an early Celtic gravestone known as the Lucky Stone which has been kept near the church since before 1309. It was thought to have strange properties, and merchants and traders began to rub it for good luck. The stone was placed in its current place inside St. Audoens in the 1860’s and it is said that the ghosts of clergymen still walk the passageway to protect the stone. We were each invited and encouraged to touch, pat or hug this wonderful old good-luck stone before exiting the church.
St. Kevin’s Church – St. Kevin’s Church opened in 1872 to serve the Roman Catholic parish of St. Kevin. It was named after the nearby St. Kevin’s church which dated back to at least the 12th century, but which had become Protestant after the reformation. We connected with this church as it shares its name with the newest addition to our family. 😁
St. Patrick’s Cathedral – is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland for the whole of Ireland. It was founded in 1191. It is quite rare to have more than one Cathedral in a city and Dublin has two. The Archbishop’s seat at Christ Church Cathedral and St Patrick’s Cathedral – the National Cathedral. There was tension between the two Cathedrals until 1300, when an agreement was signed defining each Cathedral’s role.
After the English Reformation around 1537, St. Patrick’s became an Anglican Church. During these tumultuous times it was amusing to discover that the then Archbishop of Dublin was a follower of Henry VIII’s non-Reformed church in the 1530s, then of Edward VI’s full-blown Protestantism c.1550. Next when Queen Mary took the throne, she was Catholic, and she reverted the church to Roman Catholicism in 1555 and appointed the very same Archbishop as head of the now Catholic St. Patrick’s Church. However when Queen Elizabeth I was crowned, she was determined to make Dublin a Protestant city and ordered that the Catholic St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals be converted to Protestant and the ‘flexible’ Archbishop once again was appointed as the head of the church.
St. Patrick’s most celebrated Dean was the writer, Jonathan Swift, author of the book Gulliver’s Travels, first published in 1726. Many of Swifts famous sermons were given when he was Dean between 1713-1745. He is buried in the cathedral.
The Ha’penny Bridge, built in 1816 was originally called the Wellington Bridge until the name was officially changed to the Liffey Bridge. Today this pedestrian bridge is fondly called the Penny-Ha’penny Bridge or just Ha’penny because the cost of the toll for 100 years after in was built was a ha’penny. The toll was eventually increased to a penny-ha’penny (1½ pence), but the toll was finally eliminated in 1919. The Bridge was built of cast iron, painted bright white and is 140 feet long (43 km) by 12 feet wide (3.66 m).
Leabharlann Choláiste na Tríonóide – Library of Trinity College
In 1591 Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter for a new (Protestant) university. It would be called Trinity College. The first students were admitted within 3 years, in 1594. Catholics were not allowed to attend Trinity College until after 1873 and even then the Catholic Church disapproved. It wouldn’t be for nearly another 100 years, 1970, until the church lifted it’s ban.
Before entering the library we were thrilled to spot our 2nd Sphere Within Sphere, a large bronze sculpture by Italian sculptor, Arnaldo Pomodoro. Dublin’s Sphere Within Sphere is located near the library at Trinity College. The first sculpture we found was in June earlier this year. It was located outside the Vatican and during our Trinity College tour we were told there are more than a dozen Sphere within Sphere sculptures scattered around the world and each is unique.
Leabhar Cheanannais – The Book of Kells
The magnificent musty old-book-smell in the Long Room at Trinity College’s Old Library, built 1712-32, houses 200,000 of the libraries rarest, neatly shelved books by size. The smallest and lightest books are shelved at the top and accessible only by tall ladders with the larger and heavier books lined along the bottom shelves. In total, Trinity College Library has 3,000,000 books spread between 8 buildings.
In a separate room, Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and one of the world’s most famous manuscripts, is The Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a lavishly decorated Latin manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is believed to have been created by Celtic monks circa 800 CE. The manuscript is written on vellum (prepared calfskin) and a large variety of colorful paints and inks, not all found in the region, were used to create the images. The Book of Armagh and the Book of Durrow are also exhibited here.
- The Book of Armagh, also known as the Canon of Patrick, was written early in the 9th century and includes important text written in the 7th century relating to St. Patrick, some of the oldest samples of writing of Old Irish (Goídelc) and a nearly complete copy of the New Testament.
- The Book of Durrow is a gospel manuscript created 650-700 CE possibly in Durrow Abbey in Ireland. Similar to the Book of Kells, the text is of the same 4 gospels, also made on vellum but predates the Book of Kells by more than a century.
The priceless Book of Kells was protected by glass and each day two pages of the manuscript are on display, with the pages changed daily. Unfortunately far too many visitors are allowed in at a time and the result is an extremely crowded room where lingering and learning is not an option.
While the Book of Kells takes its name from the Abbey of Kells in County Meath, it is generally believed to be originally from Columba or Dove of Church, a monastery built around 561 CE by St. Columba (Colm Cille, in Irish) on Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland. In 806, following a Viking raid on Iona which left 68 monks dead, the remaining Columban monks took refuge in a new monastery at Kells, County Meath. It is unknown if the book was produced at Iona or in Kells.
The Book of Kells was never completed and there are missing pieces and at some point in time, fearing further Viking raids, monks buried it in the ground. During the time of Cromwell, around 1653, the Bishop of Meath gave the book to Trinity College for safekeeping. It has been on display to the public since the mid-19th century.
Cláirseach Choláiste na Tríonóide – Trinity College Harp
The Trinity College harp is also known as Brian Boru’s harp, named for the High King of Ireland who reigned 1002-1014. The harp however, is believed to have been made in the early 15th century from oak and willow and is the oldest to survive from Ireland. The harp was donated to Trinity College in 1782.
A left facing image of the Trinity College harp is the national symbol of Ireland and is used on Ireland’s coat of arms, flags, and coins, so it was amazing to see in person! And in 1862, a right facing image of the same harp was used as a symbol on the first bottle label for Guinness. It was registered as a Guinness company trademark in 1876.
Chester Beatty Library Museum
The Chester Beatty library was incredible and our favorite museum in Dublin. The outstanding collections we were able to view not only included religious manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books and decorative arts from the west but also significant Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Qur’an, Mughal Indian, Chinese and Japanese artefacts and treasures, including a number of priceless objects.
Chester Beatty’s Western (religion) Collection contains colored manuscripts, rare books and biblical texts written in Armenian, Greek, Latin, Syriac and others. Included in the collection are some of the earliest surviving Christian artifacts in the world. This library is used as a source of information, study and research for both the Old and New Testament. The Book of Kells or a copy of it might work very well in this library.
Leabharlann Náisiúnta na hÉireann – National Library of Ireland
The National Library of Ireland was established in Dublin in 1877 and the mission of this reference library is ‘To collect, preserve, promote and make accessible the documentary and intellectual record of the life of Ireland and to contribute to the provision of access to the larger universe of recorded knowledge’.
And per that mission it has a large quantity of Irish and Irish-related material including books, maps, manuscripts, music, newspapers, periodicals and photographs. It also houses collections of papers, personal notes and work books from some of Ireland’s eminent authors. However for us, it was the exhibition of William Butler Yeats that drew our attention.
William Butler (W.B.) Yeats (1865-1939) was not only a famous Irish poet, dramatist, and leading figure of 20th century literature, he also served two terms as a Senator for the Irish Free State. The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to William Butler Yeats in 1923 “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”
Oscar Wilde Memorial Sculpture
Nearly 100 years after the death of another of Ireland’s famous sons, poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, (1854-1900) a commemorative sculpture was unveiled in a park near his childhood home. At first glance the statue with it’s lop-sided grin, lounging on the rock is hard to take seriously, however the variety of stone materials thoughtfully sourced from around the world and the detailed sculpting is impressive. Wilde’s jacket is carved from green nephrite jade from British Columbia, Canada, the collar is pink thulite from Norway, the pant legs are blue pearl granite from Norway and the shoes are black charnockite from India tied with bronze shoelaces. His tie is made from glazed porcelain, his head from white jadeite and the large quartz boulder he is reclining on is from Dublin’s local Wicklow Mountains.
One of our favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde: ‘Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.’
Slàinte from these Dubliners,
Ted and Julia