Yesterday (Thursday), it was absolutely tipping it down outside. That means it was raining cats and dogs. People will tell you that Oscar Wilde once said there was “no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” That’s not really true; I mean, the statement about needing appropriate clothing is true, but Wilde didn’t actually say it; apparently British adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes (not to be confused with Ralph Fiennes, Lord Voldemort) said that. At any rate, the weather yesterday was awful, and by the early afternoon we were soaked to the bone. But we ventured forth anyway, with plenty of tales to tell for it!
Our first visit was to the Dublin Writers Museum. Here we saw a broader view of the history of Irish literature from the Book of Kells to contemporary Irish authors. Their exhibit on Yeats, Synge, the Abbey Theater, and the Irish Literary Revival was particularly fascinating. A huge part of claiming an identity separate from British rule was reclaiming the Gaelic language and creating a national body of art. It’s always interesting to me how the Irish sort of have to write in English, a borrowed language (or Gaelic, also called Irish, which very few people here actually speak); however, the museum posited that English was the Irish’s greatest weapon against the English, in that they used the language to act and argue for independence, freedom, and autonomy.
I also learned a lot about contemporary writers I’d like to study further, like Flann O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh, and Brendan Behan. Heads up, students: you may be seeing some of these poets and authors this year. You’ll like them. In addition to their writing, O’Brien and Kavanagh are apparently responsible for stealing the door of No. 7 Eccles Street, featured in Ulysses (yes… literally stealing the door off a house, because they liked its book so much), and Brendan Behan spent years in prison for being an IRA rebel before starting an illustrious career of public drunkenness and authorship. (The story goes that he got off the plane in Canada and saw an advertisement that said “Drink Canada Dry!”… which is exactly what he tried to do.)
After this we did another walking tour with the James Joyce Centre, but while this one was focused on Dubliners, we really didn’t go anywhere we hadn’t been before. That was a little disappointing, especially because by this point it was raining hard and my shoes were starting to hold some water (yuck), but the good part was the people we met on the tour. We met a professor of zoology from the University of Oklahoma who’d been a Joycean since encountering Finnegan’s Wake her freshman year of college. She’d just finished a cruise around the Mediterranean focusing on locations from Homer’s Odyssey (which, of course, is the basis for Ulysses), and came to Dublin for Bloomsday after that. She was very friendly, and we spent some time chatting about what Greece was like and how the Odyssey and Ulysses differ. The other person we met was a retired surfer dude from California (seriously, he kept saying, “Far out, man!” – and this guy was easily 65) who had read Ulysses 30 times and said he learned something new every time. He said that he’d tried to age like Leopold Bloom, taking life as it came and enjoying the world around him. We’ll see them again at the Bloomsday breakfast on Saturday, so I’ll let you know if how many more times he says, “Far out, man.”
Our evening was spent at the Abbey Theatre watching The House, but the coolest part of the day was after that. It was still raining hard when we got out of the play, and in walking back to our hotel, we ducked into a hotel lobby restaurant to dry off. As we sat there, we overheard an American and two Brits talking about Ulysses, and added a little bit to that conversation; then the guy next to us, an Irishman named Finn, jumped in. We talked for probably an hour about the state of education in America and Ireland, about children today, politics, and families. It was wonderful and warm, and Finn really had the gift of the gab, like many Irish.
Then a group of about 8 Irish men and women strolled in after watching Ireland lose to Spain in the Euro Cup, but still in good spirits, and that’s when the craic really started flowing.
The craic is good spirit, happiness, conversation, fun in a public meeting place. When everyone’s having a good time and people are making friends, the craic is flowing. The craic flowed nonstop last night. We made friends with a trade union organizer, with a Unionist Protestant, with a man who described himself as an “unrepentant Republican,” with a poet, with everyone in the lobby. And, because the craic doesn’t flow without music, the Republican taught us some classic Irish songs, like “The Dying Rebel” and “The Galway Shawl,” and we sang along. If this happened in an American hotel, you’d imagine the restaurant staff and concierge would be horrified, right? But here, they joined in too. It’s all part and parcel of making friends, having fun, and enjoying the craic.