Dublin’s our October home. I’ll be here until October 25, Joy until October 14, when she leaves for Ballinglen, a bustling metropolis of approximately 260 resident in Mayo County, NW Ireland (you can’t get there from anywhere), for her second week-long painting class. Once again Mike is going to come to babysit me in her absence. I’m grateful.
Our apartment is mostly adequate. It’s location is perfect (Joy knows how to pick them), just a block from city hall and right next to Dublin’s primary drinking district (which we haven’t explored. Yet.) The bedrooms are so tiny that the queen-sized bed in the guest room leaves only 12 inches on one side for people. And they can’t be in there if the closet doors are open the full 12 inches! (Some man planned this place, a man who had no intention of ever living here.) But it’s clean, has the basics—running hot and cold water, en suite toilet, heat. We’re comfortable.
We started our time here right by attending evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, just a few blocks from here. It is Ireland’s largest cathedral, famous in its own right but of special interest to this English professor because Jonathan Swift was Dean here for 32 years in the 1800s. The sung worship service, led by the men’s and boy’s choir accompanied by a masterful organist, was thrilling. We planned to return for an organ concert at 8:00, but an important phone call prevented. We’ll try again next week.
Monday we once again did the tourist thing, riding Dublin’s Hop On Hop Off bus around town, regaled by the driver/host whose Irish accent forced us to pay attention (how many times have I already mentioned accents in this blog?) We like reconnoitering when we first arrive in a city, to get a feel for the place. We didn’t complete the circuit (saved some stops for later).
One of the joys in this Next Phase has been the discovery that even though we are far from loved ones in America they are so much with us that often something brings them to mind, like the name of this sushi restaurant:
Ted and Judy Yamamori are among our oldest and dearest friends. It was fun to spot this restaurant on one of my first walks. We’ll have to patronize it in their honor–although like Judy we aren’t real raw fish fans.
My big event on Tuesday was a visit to the Irish Writer’s Museum.
Joy had an appointment to repair some fingernails she destroyed in her painting class, so I went on my own. You can see here the results of her beautification program. Pretty funky for a woman of her class and sophistication. (Not to worry; she’ll probably destroy these in her next painting classes.)
That we went our separate ways was a good thing. I can’t expect her or anyone else to share this old teacher’s enthusiasm for these writers. Ireland has contributed hugely to English literature. Let me drop a few names and you’ll see why I said this:
James Joyce (Ulysses, The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners). He was a scandal in America early in the 20th century, his Ulysses being banned as pornographic. Now it’s considered one of the classics in the language. Standards have changed.)
George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion, popularized as My Fair Lady), Man and Superman, Major Barbara, Saint Joan and a host of other plays ).
Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Ballad of Reading Gaol).
C. S. Lewis (Yes, the C. S. Lewis was Irish, born in Belfast)
Frank McCourt (remember Angela’s Ashes?)
Playwright John Millington Synge (The Playboy of the Western World)
Philosopher Iris Murdoch, who gained additional fame in the film Iris featuring her heart-breaking slide into dementia.
And poets Seamus Heaney, William Butler Yeats, Oliver Goldsmith, among others
Towering above them all: that remarkable 18th century figure mentioned above, Jonathan Swift. If you got through public school without reading at least part of Gulliver’s Travels, often considered a children’s book but actually one of the most incisive political satires ever written, your education cheated you. For centuries he has challenged our prejudices and forced us to face our ridiculousness. Of all its writers, Dublin seems most proud of Swift.
The museum itself is rather modest, but I spent a happy morning there. The downside? I now have this long list of Irish works I want to read or reread.
In a post from Paris I might have said a disparaging word or two about modern art. I did not even go inside the Pompidou Museum of Modern Art. Well, I repented of my negativity, so when Joy suggested a visit to Ireland’s Museum of Modern Art I said, “Good idea,” and off we went.
Bad idea. This museum is housed in a former military hospital. The building is worth a look-see. I tried in vain, however to connect with the art inside. Joy, with her artist’s eye, could say some nice things. Not many, I noticed, but some.
Just let me say that the best part of the experience for me was a brief but good visit with a couple and their adult daughter from Seattle. Tillamook meets Seattle, a happy occurrence. He was pushing a walker-with-seat, so I invited him to join me on my bench in the courtyard, cane and walker enjoying each other’s company. He brought his family here to trace his Irish heritage, as I traced my literary heritage this morning in the writer’s museum.
We went to jail this afternoon. Its real name is Kilmainham Gaol and it’s Trip Advisor’s Number One tourist attraction in Dublin. The bus drivers agree with Trip Advisor. So our visit was compulsory.
As it should be. The jail looms large in Irish history. Opened in the late 18th century, expanded in the 19th, and converted into a museum in the 20th, it captures much of Ireland’s oft-violent history, its rebellions and executions and unsteady groping toward a gentler, more humane future. Here is where the primary leaders of the Easter Rebellion of 1916 were hanged, their sad ending serving as motivation for future–and eventually successful–struggles for independence.
We walked through the damp, dark corridors of the west wing, peering into the darker, damper cells as we went. Then came the visit to the more modern east wing. Our guide compared the architecture to that of today’s shopping malls. (I liked that. When Joy drags me into one of them I feel a certain loss of freedom!) You can see the resemblance in Joy’s picture. This design affords the officer on duty a 360-degree view of the prisoners’ movements.
Of particular interest to Joy and me, because of our Australian son-in-law, was learning that this was a transportation center, with many prisoners held here temporarily before being transported to their new home in Australia.
We enjoy reminding Michael that his country was founded on prisoners and not the universally high class persons who settled America. We feel the need to remind Michael of American superiority from time to time. He tends to forget, especially as we often accuse Michael of stealing our daughter and carrying her off down under; he calls it rescuing her. Aussies can be very hard-headed.
Kilmainham Gaol was famous for its hangings; many leaders of the 1916 Easter Rebellion against England, for example, were killed here. We saw the spot where they died. This was considered a reformed jail, enlightened for its day. In truth, it’s but one more reminder that we seem never to have found the way to a genuinely humane penal system in any country. We still lock up too many, very often for the wrong reasons, and keep them there too long.
It was an instructive visit. As close to the inside of a jail as we want to get.