Crossing The Liffey: Our First And Last Full Day In Dublin’s Fair City

I was sitting opposite my wife in the restaurant of the Arlington Hotel where we are staying.  It’s just steps away from the O’Connell Street Bridge.  I was making strange, odd and contorted…some would say ugly faces in her direction.

She simply stared back at me.

My eyes watered and I continued to wiggle my face into creepy shapes.  She must have been thinking I was making faces at her, but she simply stared back at me.  I managed to make a comment.

“Funny what air-borne pepper can do to the inside of one’s nose,” I said.  I had just peppered my Irish Stew and the mashed potatoes that sat on the plate begging for a hit of pepper.

The sneeze, when it finally came, is something I’d rather not talk about since I had a small bit of stew at the back of my throat in the last stage of a swallow.

Like I said, I’d rather not talk about it.

I’d rather tell you how we had spent most of our one and only full day in this most unusual city.  The weather was cool, enough so to give me an excuse to buy an Irish tweed cap that I wore proudly the rest of the day.  I would have walked among the crowds as a local, a native, a true Dubliner, a real Irishman if it wasn’t for the Nikon D3200 DSL (red) around my neck.

We were exploring the section of the city called Temple Bar.  It’s across the Liffey from our hotel and it’s a very hip place indeed.  The focal point of Temple Bar is Trinity College where the famous Book of Kells is on display.  I’ll get back to that.

We were passing a theater and there was a small queue at the door.  I saw a young woman sitting on a step so I asked what she was waiting for.  She gave the name of a band that I had never heard about.  I was fixated on her forehead (for a change) and pushed the conversation a bit.

My wife waited patiently across the street.

“Do you know the area well?” I asked.

“No, I don’t actually live here.  What are you looking for?”

I had been thinking of the great poem “Raglan Road” by Patrick Kavanagh.  I know it best as one of my favorite Van Morrison songs from the Irish Heartbeat album that Morrison recorded with the Chieftains sometime in the mid 1980’s.

The poem is a tragic and heartbreaking lament of a man falling in love with a stranger.  A dark-haired woman.  The narrator knew somehow that “her dark hair would weave a snare that one day he would rue.”

He meets her on Grafton Street in November.  And, as in most Irish poems and songs, the love is unrequited.  At the end of the poem he sees her:

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now

Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow…

I told the young woman I was looking for Grafton Street.  She knew where it was.

“Just go straight on until you see Trinity College and it’s just there.”

I thanked her.  Her name is Jessica.  She is beautiful and her forehead is quite fabulous.

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We continued on toward Trinity College.  We were intent on seeing the Book of Kells.  A woman in our hotel lobby told me earlier that the lines are crazy and to “book online”.  But, we were at the admission desk of the Library and there were no lines.  We paid our fees and before we could say “calligraphy”, we were looking into the glass case containing, arguably, one of the most famous books in Western Civilization.  When they were burning women as witches in England, the scribes and artists of Ireland were copying this most impressive Illuminated Manuscript I’ve ever gazed upon.  I couldn’t even sneak a photo on my iPhone so you’ll have to Google it to get a sense of the fierce beauty of the page.

We then went into the Long Room of the Library.  Now, I love books…anyone who knows me is aware of that, so when I entered the main room, I nearly wept at the sheer number of volumes that are neatly stacked at least three stories high.

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[This is only one of more than forty book stacks]

We stopped into one of the many pubs near the college for a bit of a rest.  When we emerged, we were only steps from a small intersection where the statue of Molly Malone was erected in 1988..

I looked at her sad face and her fish-monger wares and then leaned against a wall and thought of the few lines of the song that I could remember:

In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty

I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone

As she wheeled her wheel barrow

Through streets broad and narrow

Crying ‘cockles and mussels alive a-live O!

Many tourists were crowded around to get the best angle.  She is cast in bronze and her plunging neckline reveals an ample bosom with cleavage to spare.  An Italian man climbed on the pedestal, and, in full view of the crowds, proceeded to put his hands on her bosom.  After he climbed down, I looked at the breasts of Molly Malone.  They were quite polished by the touch of many hands.

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Honestly, men have only one thing on their mind.  Have they no shame?  I kept looking back at her chest and wondering why men are such crude blokes…when I nearly fell over a trash can.  I moved on to our final crossing of the Liffey.

We arrived at the far side of the O’Connell Bridge.  I didn’t want to go back to our room yet.  I wanted to soak in Dublin “in this fair old time.”  I hesitated beneath a lamp-post.

I looked into the waters of the Liffey and saw the reflections of the lights of our hotel on the far side.  I saw the reflections.  I felt the history.  I smelled the air.  I let the noise of the taxis and buses and chatting couples fill my ears.

When would I come here again?  When would I cross the O’Connell Bridge and look for that elusive white horse of legends?

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Dublin On A Sunday Afternoon

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It was a brief flight.  Heathrow to Dublin airport in a little over an hour.  No time for a movie.  No time for any real food.  I looked across Mariam’s lap and watched the fields of Wales slide under us at several hundred miles per hour.  Still, when we landed and took the taxi to our hotel, we felt the need to take a walk.

I hadn’t been in this curious city in thirty years.  I wonder why it took so long to return.  Was I avoiding something?  Like memories that were so pleasant that I didn’t want to shatter them with fresh images? I wanted to keep thinking of this place as a cracked photo yellowed with time and not a memory made of pixels.  We walked to O’Connell Street and took a left.  A block and a half and we were standing in front of the General Post Office, still showing bullet holes from the Rising of 1916 when the English shelled it from a gunboat on the River Liffey.

We walked to the famous Abbey Theater where the cream of the English thespians trod the boards.

Then we crossed the O’Connell Street Bridge.  In my mind, nearly as famous and important as the Tower Bridge in London.  There is a legend that states that you will always see a white horse when you cross the bridge.  Another legend says you will see an Irish prostitute if there is no horse.

We saw neither (as far as I knew…I know a white horse when I see one).  One wonders what will become of your day if you saw both.  Or, even more ideal, a prostitute riding a white horse.  But I’ll save that story for another day and another blog.

We went a block into the section called Temple Bar.  It’s just opposite our hotel.  There were more pubs that one could easily count.  But the Garda (police), in their yellow vests, vastly out numbered the pubs.  It seemed like there had just been an upgrade in the terrorist rating…but it was more to do with the rowdiness of the drinkers than any bombs.  One Garda was riding a white horse.  I stopped to consider this.

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I found a pub to rest in.  They were playing some traditional Irish music.  We sat for a bit and listened.  I took a photo of a pretty bar maid.  She seemed pleased someone noticed her behind the stack of empty pint glasses she carried.

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The Irish are an attractive people.

Doubling back to the Liffey, we crossed the Ha’penny Bridge.  Small pad locks were beginning to collect on the metal bars of the railings.

Paris just recently dealt with the thousands of locks on the Ponts over the Seine…they simply cut them off.  Would this be the destiny of the Ha’penny locks?  Who placed the very first lock?  I wondered about this and lost myself in thoughts about whether they were still together or had they separated and left only a small chunk of metal or brass to rattle in the winter wind and signify nothing.

After dinner and a show of Irish dancing (think Riverdance with four dancers) we went back to the O’Connell Street bridge.

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One would never guess it was a Sunday night.

I stood on the bridge and read a small plaque about a man whose carriage plunged into the Liffey at that spot.  I thought of ghosts.  Was the bridge haunted?

Was the bridge haunted by this poor drowned soul, or a thousand prostitutes…or a hundred white horses?

 

Mummies in Dublin? or How I Filled a Day Looking For a White Horse

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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.

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The O’Connell Street Bridge  A White Horse?

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The Half-Penney Bridge

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The door to the crypt of St. Michan’s Church

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The passage way in the crypts

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The Mummies of Dublin