Right here at the start, I’ll say that if you want a good look at Dublin, a really good look, then you have to do some homework. Go out and buy a copy of James Joyce’s’ Ulysses, pick up a Cliff Notes while you’re at it, and read away. This zillion page novel takes the reader all over that amazing city in just one day, June 16, 1904. If you can read it in only one day, you’re a far better man or woman than I am. But, it is a must read book. If you call yourself a “reader” and you haven’t read Ulysses, then you are a mere browser of light, obtainable fiction. Go ahead, challenge yourself. The reward will come in several forms: 1) You can now honestly tell people that you’ve read it. 2) You won’t have to carry it around to Starbucks (the book is a chick-magnet). 3) You can now call yourself a “reader”, look someone straight in the eye…and hold your head up. Note: Don’t get it for your Kindle because no body will know you’re reading it, will they?
But I digress.
It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day. When people of any ethnic background wear goofy green top hats and wear buttons that read KISS ME, I’M IRISH. The button is a waste of money…I never got many takers.
I’ve been to the Old Country several times now. And as I was preparing for this years celebration of my saints namesake, I pulled out my Clancy Brothers CD, Wolftones and The Irish Tenors and found myself sitting in front of the TV watching “The Quiet Man”. I began to reflect on some of the interesting aspects of Dublin, a city that many have said is the “best kept secret” in Europe. I know it’s not in Europe, per se, but I don’t feeling like arguing the point here.
The city is the oldest town in Ireland, dating back to the 10th century. Dublin straddles the River Liffey. One of the many crossings of the river is the O’Connell Street Bridge. According to legend, if you stand on the Bridge, you will always see a white horse. Well, I stood for nearly an hour looking for the horse. At the end of the hour, I would have settled for a brown, or even a grey horse. I began to take most notice of the fair-skinned Irish lassies that crossed the busy bridge. Some of these women had the classic red hair of your “typical” Irish person. Whatever color their hair, they looked as fetching and adorable as any female in RiverDance. The males in the dancing line weren’t bad either.
So, no white horse. How could I possibly fill out the rest of the day? Should I visit the General Post Office, the exterior walls of which still bear the bullet holes fired from English gunboats on the Liffey during the 1916 Rising? Should I wander over to the Abbey Theater and check on tickets for a production that night? The Abbey Theater, training ground for generations of the greatest actors of the English and Irish stage. Without that theater as a proving area for extraordinary talent, where would Masterpiece Theater have found most of its cast members?. Perhaps I should stroll over to St. Stevens Green and Trinity College. There, in guarded glass cases is perhaps the most beautifully illustrated book in the world, the Book of Kells. In the Dark Ages, while they were busy burning witches over in England, the monks were copying the illustrations for the Book. It’s no wonder that England is reluctant to give all of Ireland back to the Irish.
I had choices to make to fill a day that provided no white horses. That’s when the idea of two great Irish traditions came to mind: mummies and Guinness.
First I decided to deal with the dead. Now, there’s dead and there’s dead. I wanted to see the really dead, the poor souls who were, maybe, 800 years dead. So I took myself along the Liffey and across Half-Penney Bridge to St. Michan’s Church. This little known church had some very strange and curious chambers beneath the pews. For a few pence, an old caretaker took us through two heavy slanting doors that led to the crypts. The passage way down there was about as eerie as any dimly lit passage that had numerous crypts could possibly be. It didn’t help that the caretaker’s flashlight kept blinking out. Then there were the mummies. Forget Boris Karloff and Egypt…these mummies were thought to be the result of the limestone walls that protected against the Dublin rain. The caskets were open. One individual was said to be a Crusader because his legs were crossed and had his hands crossed over his chest. His forefinger was slightly raised and had a polished patina. The caretaker told us that it was good luck to rub the finger. I looked down at his hands. His skin, as most of the other mummies, was thin, tight and desiccated. His empty eye sockets stared back. The small slit that was once a mouth, seemed to whisper to me: “Go ahead and rub my finger, I’ll give you good luck”.
“What good luck could that be?”, I asked. (I was whispering to a guy that had been dead 800 years!)
“Like a pot of gold, and it’s only a short walk from here,” it replied. Only I could hear our conversation.
We continued along the passage way, looking into the crypts.
“That coffin over there is Bram Stokers’ father,” the caretaker said.
After an hour, I longed to be among the living again, so we climbed the small steps and emerged, like Zombies, through the heavy metal doors.
I’m thirsty, I thought. Pulling out my Dublin I located my next stop, St. James Gate.
This was the home of the Liquid of the Gods, the Elixir of Youth. If you’re with me on this, you’ll know I’m talking about Guinness Stout. I went through the gate and took the free tour. Brewed here first in 1759, it is now a worldwide symbol of Irish pub fare. At the end of the tour, the guide graciously led us to a tasting room. All the adults were given a pint of stout to finish out visit. I savored mine, knowing that having a Guinness in Dublin was like sipping a fine French wine in a fine French bistro. As the servers were making way for the next group, I noticed that a woman at the next table had taken only a small sip of her glass. She rose, put her jacket on and left. I thought I detected an American accent. I finished my pint and as I was getting up to leave, I noticed the waiter staring a the almost full glass. As he stared, and I can only assume he was wondering why the glass was not empty, I thought I saw a small Irish tear roll down his cheek. Some people love what they make and make what they love.
As I walked out onto the street, I looked back at the Brewery. The sun was peaking out after the typical Irish shower. I thought I caught a portion of a rainbow.
Well, there you go, I thought. The Crusader’s finger had delivered some good luck to me.
Good luck that came in a pint glass.
The O’Connell Street Bridge A White Horse?
The Half-Penney Bridge
The door to the crypt of St. Michan’s Church
The passage way in the crypts