April 8th, 2014


London and Ireland Trip, September 29: Dublin, Trinity College, National Museum of Archaeology

Lori very kindly wrote up this day. What follows is from her except for the occasional comment from me.

We woke to another beautiful day. We were spoiled by all the great weather we had on this trip. It was generally sunny and mild, and it didn’t rain nearly as much as we’d expected.

We got up and dressed pretty quickly, as the first stop of the day would be to attend Mass. We ended up ordering the same two-course breakfast: porridge with honey (and cinnamon) followed by smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Kilronan House’s breakfast food was fine each morning, but it wasn’t especially memorable. I remember more that the dining area was always a bit crowded, and service wasn’t bad, but it was a bit indifferent.

We went to St. Andrew’s for Mass. I blush to admit we chose it mostly because it wasn’t far from us and had a convenient Mass time for us. We really were fortunate, though. St. Andrew’s was a beautiful church built in 1834. There were many gorgeous statues and the whole church was simply lovely.
St. Andrew's Church St. Andrew's Church
St. Andrew's Church

After Mass, there was some fellowship time over coffee, tea and scones. We enjoyed this, too and were glad to talk with the priest about some tourist details afterward.
St. Andrew's Church

He explained that the rings at the edge of each pew were for holding banners and pointed out the umbrella stands in each pew.
Umbrella stands and banner rings, St. Andrew's Church

“Those were all hand-carved from Irish oak;” he said, “they’re 160 years old and don’t have a single creak among them.”
Hand-carved pew

We also noticed a separate chapel to the right side of the church. This was a wedding chapel - there was a time when weddings were quiet affairs conducted in this lovely, small chapel. He also told us the last time they had such fine weather in Dublin in late September was in 1979 when Pope John Paul the 23rd visited! We really enjoyed our chat with him. I wish I could remember his name.
Wedding Chapel, St. Andrew's Church

Next, we walked further toward Trinity College to see the College and most importantly the Long Room and the Book of Kells. We visited O’Brien’s, a chain deli/sub shop for lunch. Ralph had a chicken tikka sandwich that he found fairly bland. [Ralph: I think “Tikka” has more or less the same role in British and Irish cuisine that “Cajun” has in the US. Getting Cajun turkey breast in a sandwich shop does not imply any connection at all to the Louisiana bayou, and tikka chicken may have only the flimsiest connection to India.]
Chicken Tikka Masala sandwich

My club sandwich was pretty good, but not anything special.
Club Sandwich

[Ralph: we had no idea about the political situation in Ireland, but it was clear that there was vigorous political debate going on. We learned that there was an upcoming referendum on abolishing the Seanad, one of the two houses of the Irish parliament. This debate was particularly evident in the signs on light poles.
Political Campaigning

I have no informed opinion about whether the Seanad should have been abolished or not; all I really know is that there is no more effective way to get a Dublin cabbie to use the word “gobshites” than to mention the Seanad. But despite the anti-Seanad sentiment among the cabbies, the referendum did not actually pass.

Another sign of political passion: protest marches in the streets.
Political Parade

Trinity College Trinity College

Our tour of Trinity was really entertaining. An engaging almost-graduated student began the tour with an impish grin. He told us his nametag said “Niall,” but his real name was Michael. In a shocking turn of events, Michael was out drinking the night before and had gotten up a bit late and forgot his academic robe and badge. He did say that if we didn’t enjoy ourselves, “Niall” was the name to be reported for being a bum guide. There was no need of this, though - Michael was funny and knowledgeable. [Ralph: it was interesting in itself that the tour guides wear academic gowns as part of their daily wear. (All students had to wear academic gowns until the 1970s or so.) I’ve only seen academic gowns worn for special occasions, so I had never seen an academic gown as worn and faded as Michael’s.]

He did a good job of giving the historical information, peppered with remarks on the various dorms. According to Michael, the Rubrics are disfavored residences; you have to go outside to get to the shower. He pointed out that from his own residence, he could enjoy a cup of tea in the morning while admiring the view of shivering underclassmen in line outside for the showers. We enjoyed his tour, and contributed to his next night of revelry as a thank you.
Old Undesirable Residences

[Ralph: I forget the name of this building, but I remember Michael talking about the Italian architecture. He was quite apologetic about the fact that it was forbidden to visitors, and went into careful precise detail about which entrances it was forbidden to enter without probable detection.
Trinity College

Video of a fascinating “Sphere within Sphere” sculpture on the Trinity Campus: https://flic.kr/p/hWXwUg]

After the tour, we went on to the Book of Kells exhibit and the college’s original library, called the Long Room. The exhibit is wonderful, and includes many wall-sized pages from the book as it tells the story of the Book of Kells. You then go into a special viewing room and view two pages (in a glass case, of course) from the Book of Kells and two from another book of the same period. [Ralph: No pictures allowed, unfortunately.]

We then entered the breathtaking Long Room. It is simply one long, high-ceilinged room with balcony upon balcony of bookshelves and an amazing collection of books. Our guide for this room explained that the books are arranged by size, and a librarian finds and fetches any book you want to peruse.
Long Room

In the center of the room, they have a great exhibit on the art and science of book preservation.
11th Century book being preserved

You also see the Harp of Brian Boru in a glass case in the middle of the library. Trinity College, The Book of Kells, and The Long Room really are worth seeing if you’re in Dublin.
Untitled Brian Boru Harp

We still had some time, so we made our way to National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology.
National Museum, Dublin

This museum has great exhibits of archeological finds in Ireland over the years. Two bog bodies are on display: Oldcroghan Man and Clonycavan Man. Both have well-detailed exhibits that help you to understand what you’re seeing and the time period the body was from. Fascinating, though the tiniest bit creepy. We also visited the stunning Hall of Treasures, where we saw famous pieces like the Tara Broach and the Chalice of Armagh, and many other dazzling examples of Celtic craftsmanship and art. [Ralph: I expected the Tara Broach to be beautiful, but I was surprised by how big and deadly it is. It would be totally reasonable to prohibit bringing this on a plane.]
Cross, National Museum
Tara Broach, National Museum

Prehistoric gold pieces, National Museum

The tiny, intricate panels of knotwork on the Chalice of Armagh really fascinated me. I just marveled imagining the work and art it took to create them.
Ardagh Chalice, National Museum

We wished we had more time for this and other museums, but our time in Dublin was short (maybe too short), and we arrived about 45 minutes before their closing time.

We had some time on our hands between the museum’s closing and our evening event, so we went shopping in the Kilkenny shop. The Kilkenny shops pride themselves on offering high-end Irish crafts and artwork, along with some higher-end tourist merchandise. As we were looking around, we suddenly heard a woman screaming “you’re hurting me!” She was being subdued by security. She had been stealing things, and when confronted by security she pulled a pair of scissors out of her bag and got violent. Store security and the Garda (police) handled it, and no people were hurt, though she did smash some china and/or glassware. It was an unsettling experience for shoppers and staff alike. We did buy some crystal there, and enjoyed looking at the many beautiful things they sold.

For the evening’s entertainment, we went to Food, Folk, and Fairies at the Brazen Head, which is one of the oldest pubs in Ireland, dating back to the Middle Ages. We had high hopes for this event, which would feature a storyteller, live music, and dinner. [Ralph: I really wanted to experience some Irish storytelling on this trip, but the only storytelling we found was this very tourist-oriented one.]
The Brazen Head

Our storyteller was wonderful. In the “first act,” she talked about the food history of Ireland, mostly about the potato. [Ralph: I particularly remember the detail that farmers would leave one thumbnail very long for peeling potatoes.] The “second act” featured fairy lore and a few stories of the fair folk. She was engaging, warm and humorous, and she had a lovely soprano singing voice. All in all, she was excellent, and our only complaint about her is we wanted to hear more!

[Ralph: a snippet of video from her storytelling: https://flic.kr/p/hWXaW5]

Unfortunately, the food was not that great. It definitely had the feel of food prepared en masse for a banquet. Also, it is a large event (there were at least two tour busses helping to fill the sixty-some chairs in the room), and service was a bit quick and indifferent. I had fish cakes for an appetizer, bacon and cabbage for a main dish, and apple pie for dessert. Ralph had the same appetizer and dessert, but tried the beef and Guinness for his main dish. None of our food was bad, it just wasn’t very good, and it felt a little mass-produced.
Fish Cakes Irish Stew
Bacon and Cabbage Apple tart

There was a pair of musicians to play during our dinner. They did an assortment of pub standards that are Irish, but probably have more of a life with American tourists these days. They were fine, but we got the impression they were a bit bored with this gig (understandable) and not giving it their all. In fact, we were pretty sure one of them was singing “blah, blah, blah” instead of the lyrics on “I’ll Tell My Ma.” Honestly, since the storytelling is pretty authentic, I think they should have traditional Irish music instead of the ballads. But, that’s just my opinion. The ballads are probably what a lot of their audience wants to hear.

After the event was done, we were wiped out. We hailed a cab and went back to our hotel. Another couple was chatting with the concierge and he was about to make them some Irish coffee, so he offered us some too. This probably killed two birds with one stone for him - he suggested we go into the sitting room, appeared shortly after with a tray of drinks for us, and then went back to his post at the desk. So, he made us happy with boozy coffees, and he handed the chatty couple off to us. We enjoyed talking with them while we sipped our coffees, then went up to bed.