Farewell, Dublin

I’m actually writing this back in the States – it took me a few days, between Bloomsday, jet lag, traveling home, and getting settled back in the house. But here’s what happened our last day in Dublin.

We started with a visit to Trinity College, which was really beautiful and had some gorgeous old architecture. Campus was really noisy because they were taking down a huge set from their Shakespeare festival (they performed an Indian-inspired version of The Tempest, which I heard was fantastic). However, it was still lovely.

Trinity College

It’s lovely inside!

Trinity College

The line for the Book of Kells was so long!

We toured the grounds and then saw the Book of Kells, which was beautiful. The library had a great exhibit on how illuminated manuscripts are made, right down to the vellum pages and the pigments for the paint. The pages they had on display were beautifully illustrated. Read a little more about it here, and then look for some of the pages online!

Later that evening, we met with author Claire Hennessy for dinner. We had a lovely time with her, talking about young adult literature (she recommends you all read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, among other things), schooling in America and Ireland, a young person’s perspective on all this Irish history I’ve been talking about, and the role of writing in public education. Claire gets to do these really cool workshops in schools where she comes in, sometimes for a day and sometimes for several weeks, and encourages students to write creatively. In addition to producing some awesome first drafts, she says the benefit is that writing creatively in the classroom can actually help students write better formally. Basically, the more you write, the better you’ll be – and the more you enjoy the act of writing, the better you’ll be as well. Think on it! We may be doing a little creative writing ourselves in the coming year.

Me and Claire Hennessy

It was a great way to say goodbye to Dublin – dinner and tea with a good friend, talking about education and young adult literature and all kinds of good things. I’m bringing a set of Claire’s books back to the high school library, so you can read them for yourselves and see some of the awesomeness I’m talking about.

We were sorry to leave Dublin on Monday, but all good things must come to an end. Plus now it’s time to share this with the school!

Keep looking here for more thoughts on many things Irish, and maybe some more pictures and book recommendations.  Cheers!


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.

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.

In the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom

Yesterday, on Day 2 of Dublin, Mr. Shifflett and I took two walking tours with the James Joyce Centre. The first was the Joyce Circular, which covered some highlights of Joyce’s life and a few locations from several of his works; the second was In the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom, which covered Bloom’s journey through the city in a single chapter of Ulysses.

Before I tell you about the walking tours, though, I should tell you that we did all of this with full bellies: we dined on the majesty of the Full Irish before leaving for our day’s journey. If you’ve never heard of or enjoyed a Full Irish, here’s what it is: it’s a Full Irish Breakfast. Eggs (fried or scrambled), bacon, sausage patties, a sausage link the size of a hot dog, baked beans, and a baked tomato. And several slices of toast. The idea is that when you eat a Full Irish, you feel full – for the rest of the day. Baked beans may sound weird for breakfast, but they are delicious. Beans on toast, beans on egg, beans on sausage, beans on everything. All of this should be enjoyed with several cups of tea. (Yes, for those of you who know what a coffee fiend I am, I have been drinking tea, and plenty of it.)

With the Full Irish under our belts, we took walking tour #1, which took us around some lovely Georgian streets (if you look at Dublin Mapped, we started at N Great George’s Street, walked north-ish to see Joyce’s school Belvedere College, around back to pass St. George’s Church (which figures in the first Bloom chapter of Ulysses), over to Eccles Street where Leopold Bloom lived, past playwright Sean O’Casey’s birthplace, down to the building where “The Boarding House” took place in Dubliners, and down O’Connell Street (which is like the grand boulevard of Dublin) to the statue of Joyce. I have a few pictures for you:

First, the types of buildings we were seeing everywhere on our walk: lovely restored/maintained Georgian buildings.

Georgian Dublin Buildings

Next, the James Joyce statue:

James Joyce Statue, Dublin

Finally, St. George’s Church:

St. George’s Church, Dublin

Now, we noticed something funny about the church. It has four clocks on the tower, and they’re all stopped at different times, seemingly randomly. One is at 2:43, or something like that. But the clock on the front is stopped at 8 o’clock… and when Leopold Bloom hears the bells of this church in his first chapter in Ulysses, guess what hour they’re tolling? If you guessed 8 o’clock, you’re right, and hopefully you’re as mystified/excited as we were. THE SPIRIT OF JAMES JOYCE LIVES IN DUBLIN AND WANTED TO JOIN US ON OUR TOUR!

Our second tour was Leopold Bloom’s journey through the Laestrygonians chapter of Ulysses, and it was really cool. Seriously. If you remember your Homer, you know the Laestrygonians were giant cannibals who devoured many of Odysseus’s men. This chapter in Ulysses is about Bloom’s hunger and how he stops for lunch, but it’s also about the bodily hunger of Dubliners who were destitute/starving, and the intellectual and spiritual hunger of a city looking for meaning. Beyond that, the physical path Leopold Bloom walks – straight down O’Connell over the Liffey River, around the curves of D’Olier and College Streets past Trinity College, down Grafton Street, and turning on Nassau and then on Kildare to end at the National Library – actually reflects digestion! Look at the map and check out the straight stretches (O’Connell is the esophagus), the curves (D’Olier and College are peristalsis), the end stretches (Grafton, Nassau, and Kildare become the intestines and the end stop).

Okay, that sounds weird, but it’s really cool. James Joyce knew his city so well, even writing from a foreign country – that’s right, he wrote Ulysses while living in Europe – he could remember the streets, their shops, and the monuments, and could map out a perfect route that reflected the symbolic content of his chapter. He’s one smart dude.


The city has installed these plaques in the sidewalk to mark Bloom’s journey in this chapter:

Bloom’s Footsteps Plaques

A view of the city from the south bank of the Liffey, looking over the river to O’Connell Street:

View from the Liffey

The tours were amazing – I felt like I learned a lot, which is saying… well, something. My knowledge of Joyce and Irish history is okay, but it’s not my specialty, so all of the things we’re doing have something to teach me, which is awesome.

Next up: a play review of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, and then I need to get out of here and have some adventures today.

Mrs. Shifflett’s Really In Ireland!

I arrived yesterday morning at 7:45 a.m. Irish time (that’s 2:45 our time), and to try to ward off jet lag, threw myself into a day full of getting to know Dublin.

If you’ve never travelled internationally, jet lag is the phenomenon where you travel to a different time zone, but your body’s still on home time. So when I arrived at 7:45 a.m. Irish time, my body still though I had a few more hours to sleep before I should have to get up and march around a new city. The thing is, though, if you arrive in a new time zone and don’t try to move with that time immediately, you’re likely to end up doing weird things like sleeping all day and staying up all night. So when we arrived at our hotel, we took a short nap, and then got up to walk around the city.

Grafton Street

Grafton Street

We ended up exploring Grafton Street, which is a posh pedestrian shopping avenue; taking a City Sightseeing bus tour around Dublin (one of the big, red, open-top buses; they aren’t just in London!); and doing a brief literary walking tour of the Grafton area. (If you’d like to see a map of the city, click here.)

Here’s what I loved most about day 1: the literature. Dublin has a campaign called One City, One Book, where the whole city reads the same book together. This year’s choice? James Joyce’s Dubliners, of course. (What better to read when you’re in Dublin?) But even more than that, the city is full of literary life. Every pub has pictures and quotes from famous authors who visited or wrote there; every tour guide is full of anecdotes of writers’ lives. Our evening literary tour guide had a great story about Oscar Wilde being a boxing champ in his youth… who knew? Even our taxi driver had read some Joyce! We talked about Ulysses, of all things, as he took us to our hotel in the morning. You’ve got to love a city where the taxi drivers and publicans are fluent in Joyce.

Today, Mr. Shifflett and I are off on two more walking tours, this time specific to James Joyce. The first is a Joyce Circular, to get a feel for important locations in the life of James Joyce. The second is called In the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom, which will make us more familiar with where the events of Ulysses take place. Both of these tours are with the James Joyce Centre, which is organizing all of the really nerdy awesome stuff we’ll be doing for Bloomsday. Tonight, theater buffs, we’ll be seeing David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at the Gate Theatre.

Next post: all about Ulysses, which I finally finished. Tonight (or your afternoon): updates on the walking tours and a play review.