St. Patrick’s Cathedral & Temple Bar

Two very different locations in one day, funnily enough.

On Friday, still tired from being out so late the night before, Mr. Shifflett and I gave ourselves an easy day. In the early afternoon, we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the most famous church in Dublin, named after St. Patrick, who came to Ireland and baptized so many people. It’s a beautiful building, and it’s huge – almost 100 meters long throughout – and has a number of historic stones with Celtic crosses on them, in addition to statues of famous deans and other historical figures, and memorials to Irish soldiers.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The cathedral’s best exhibit is about the life of Jonathan Swift, its  dean during the late 16th/early 17th century, who is best known for his writing – he’s the author of “A Modest Proposal” and Gulliver’s Travels. What I learned about Jonathan Swift here was that he was also a statesman and actually sacrificed some opportunities for advancement in the church in order to speak out for Irish rights. For example, he stopped an English plan to flood Irish currency with useless copper coins… and he did it peacefully, through a written campaign. He also left much of his fortune to found a mental hospital with revolutionary humane standards upon his death. It’s hard not to like Swift.

Later in the day, we went to Temple Bar, which is a district unto itself (not just a single building) and is known as Dublin’s “cultural center,” with a vivid (and noisy) nightlife. This is where all the tourists come, and we saw them all, including about a dozen hen parties and stag nights (bachelorette and bachelor parties, respectively). Although all the locations out here advertise “live Irish music,” that music frequently turned out to be American party hits that the tourists could sing along to. While Mr. Shifflett and I liked it okay, it wasn’t really our favorite part of Dublin – we felt like this catered more to clubbers and tourists, and that’s not really what we wanted to see. Still, I’m glad we saw it; we probably couldn’t say we’d been to Dublin properly if we hadn’t walked through the Temple Bar crowds at least once.

Temple Bar

We made it an early night, because we knew we’d be very busy the following day for Bloomsday… and busy we were.


A right dirty oul’ day!

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.

Dublin Writers Museum

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.

Mrs. Shifflett Went to Gaol

But they let me out again.

Sorry for missing yesterday’s update! The internet here was a bit dodgy, as they say here, so I just packed up the laptop and decided to head out for our adventures. This post is all about what we did on Wednesday, June 13 – which was a lot!

We started the day with a long trek out to Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison turned historical museum commemorating Dublin’s rebellions and civil wars, the men who fought and were imprisoned or executed in those conflicts, and the horrors of prison life during dark days. It was grim, but it was a fantastic exhibit. There’s a little bit of information about the gaol here and here, but the tour we went on was excellent and really helped put history in context for us. Basically, as we walked around, we learned about a few main events:

1. The skyrocketing number of prisoners during the Irish Potato Famine, where Ireland’s potato crops were destroyed and many peasants and farmers, whose main dietary staple was potato, starved to death or emigrated. If your choice was between taking a “coffin ship” to another country (so called because so many people died en route, the ships arrived at port loaded with coffins), starving to death, or going to prison where you got two square meals a day, you’d choose prison too, right? A prison built for about 200 inmates saw 9,000 incoming prisoners throughout a single year during this famine.

The center of Kilmainham Gaol

2. Many famous Irish rebels were held here during the series of conflicts against England for independence. The leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held and executed here – in this yard, in fact.

The Stonebreakers’ Yard, site of the execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising

Interestingly, while the Rising was initially unpopular with the general public, the people turned and supported the rebels after hearing about their sad stories – the brothers who were executed without being able to say goodbye, the man who was too ill with gangrene from a wound and was tied to a chair to be shot, the couple who were married in the prison chapel mere hours before the husband’s execution. Kilmainham actually played a huge role in garnering popular support for resistance and rebellion.

3. My favorite part of the trip was in the condemned man’s room, where men awaited execution, and here’s why: Robert Emmet, who led a failed rebellion against the English in 1803, awaited death there for treason against the crown. At his sentencing, he gave a famous speech that has been quoted again and again, eloquently conveying his passionate belief in his country’s freedom:

“When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written.”

An elderly priest, white-haired, leaning on a cane, was on the tour with us. He hadn’t said a word; he’d struggled up and down the crumbling stairs. He had to sit in this room, as he was too tired to stand any longer; he even closed his eyes. But as our tour guide quoted Emmet’s final words, the priest proudly said them along with her. He knew the words by heart. The passion for history and pride in the Irish who have sacrificed themselves for freedom is so strong here; it’s the lifeblood of the country, and it’s humbling to see.

The Irish Flag: green for the Nationalist Catholics, orange for the Unionist Protestants, and white for the peace for which they still strive.

We did a few other things this day, but this was the most profound and most striking experience. What a day.