Exploring the City – Dublin, Ireland Part 3

Let’s go back in time, shall we? The first “documented” history of Dublin begins with the Viking Raids during the 8th and 9th century. This term was coined by Dudo of Saint Quentin and refers to a time period where activities, such as war battles, began. Like many parts of Europe, the first documented history of Dublin is disputed. While many think the Viking settlement of 841AD, known as Dyflin, was the first, others say it was predated by a Christian ecclesiastical settlement known as “Duiblinn.” Skipping a ton of history and three centuries’ worth of Viking rules, by the time the 18th century rolled around, the English had taken control and inflicted the harsh Penal Laws on the Catholic majority of Ireland’s population. To be frank, it has never been easy to be an Irishman in Ireland. You may be asking yourself, “of all places, why Ireland?” I asked myself the same question. Despite the fact that it’s a big island with many positive characteristics nowadays, back then, Ireland’s cultural status wasn’t quite developed. In other words, it wasn’t known for anything in particular. The Vikings were good at sailing and ransacking, and traveling to Ireland was easy. Once they arrived, they took advantage of how small the country was and collected vital information in a brisk manner. Throughout time, Ireland was a country that was always able to bounce back and recover quickly. It brings me peace of mind to learn this. Ireland has certainly moved mountains within me, and after only visiting the country once, I can confidently say that this is my new favorite travel destination thus far. Hope you enjoyed the little history lesson. 

Speaking of Ireland’s history, after my visit with Fionnuala, I decide to scope out Dublin’s oldest Pub, “The Brazen Head.” This pub is located on Lower Bridge Street and sits between a beautiful church and River Liffey. The structure was built in the year 1754. I walk in and am immediately taken by the interior design – natural, yet quaint. I run my fingers along the dense, brick wall and feel its rough surface. The fact that I’m touching a wall that has remained in its place since the 1700s is quite amazing and sends a chill down my spine. The Brazen Head has a few different rooms, the largest and main room being half outside. However, I was automatically drawn to the smaller and darker room. With romantic candles scattered about and beautiful photos laminated on the walls, I couldn’t help but think of the wildly cinematic show “Game of Thrones.” I notice how different this bar is from other bars that I’ve been to in the past, and note that hidden gems like this are unlikely to exist in the United States. It was here that the Irishmen planned their revolution and Robert Emmet used this pub to plan “The Rising of 1798,” an uprising against British rulers in Ireland. Its proximity to the quay, the churches, and the law courts also made it a hub for gossip and a place for strangers to pass on their secrets. When Emmet was on the premises, he stayed close to the front door to see which enemies would approach. Unfortunately, his method to keep the enemies away failed, and on September 20th, 1803, he was hung and killed. In contrary to the states, the locals in Europe seem to be okay with drinking at a bar alone — it is more acceptable. I latch onto this information, and with this knowledge now in the back of my mind, I sit down with confidence. The bartender approaches me right away.

Bartender: “What can I get for you, my dear?”

Me: “A Guinness, please.”

Bartender: “I don’t think so. I know you’re a tourist who has been drinking Guinness far too much since you arrived in this country. Don’t think I didn’t see you prancing around my bar like Curious George. Sorry, I just know a tourist when I see one. Perhaps a cider?”

Me: “No, I still want a Guinness. Thank you.”

The amount of arrogance I just witnessed is certainly not what I expected from a mixologist in Ireland. Well, to each their own. As soon as the bartender walks away from his station, I take a deep breath and rest my hands on the edge of the bar. The next thing I know, a young lady who looks to be around the same age as me, sits beside me. I continue to drink my beverage in silence and allow my thoughts to wander off, mainly reflecting on how the meeting with Fionnuala went. After about ten minutes or so, the young lady and I happen look at each other simultaneously, without warning. She introduces herself as Abbey and tells me that she is originally from Nashville Tennessee. Abbey exuded a warm and bubbly personality. I, on the other hand, confused her Tennessee accent for an Irish one. Ha, only me! I quickly learn that Abbey recently moved to Nashville and already doesn’t like it. She says she’s a real estate agent and feels as though she could be doing her line of work elsewhere. She simply wants to choose a different location to start off her career path. I nod. Abbey and I talk about what we’ve done since being in Ireland. She mentions that she’s been here for two weeks already, and has driven herself from Galway to Dublin. “Holy hell girl. You’ve got guts!” I say. Abbey gives off a vibe that says, “if I were to die tomorrow, I would be okay with it because I know I’ve lived my life to the fullest.” Encouraging indeed. I told her I was too nervous to drive on the opposite side of the road, especially by myself. She inspired me nonetheless, saying that if I ever change my mind, it’s relatively easy. I conclude that if I can drive in Los Angeles, one of the busiest cities in the world, I can certainly drive in Ireland. So next time, expect to see me speeding down an Irish highway in a 1950s Crosley Station Wagon, (wishful thinking). Abbey and I continue to chat about our career paths and where we’d like to end up in twenty years time. Our time together will always carry on in my memory. 

Brazen Head Interior

After a satisfying visit to “The Brazen Head,” I drag my tired legs up a steep hill and head west. I’ve been happily gallivanting the city for hours now, and if I continue in the direction I’m going, I would eventually be outside the city. Unlike many cities that I’ve been to in the past, Dublin is a much smaller city that is very straightforward. There are alleyways that lead you from one part of the city to another, with hidden, remote cafes that rest delicately in-between the brick walls (a photographer’s dream location). I begin to notice that the businesses I am walking towards start to turn into townhouses, and it appeared that I was entering through residential neighborhoods. I inspect each townhouse and compare them to the townhouses in Rockville Maryland, my hometown. I’m not exactly sure why I chose to compare the homes in Ireland to the ones I grew up near, as they’re not even remotely similar to each other. Perhaps I was taking note of their differences? Regardless, I revert back to Abbey, as she mentioned she’s a real estate agent and thought maybe she’d like to move here. I wouldn’t blame her! I start to make my way towards townhouses that remind me of Harry Potter’s house (4 Privet Drive). In real life, Harry Potter’s house does not exist at the aforementioned address, but rather, is located about forty miles west of London. The actual address of the house you see in Harry Potter is, “12 Picket Post Close, Bracknell, Berkshire.” While I want to believe I’m meandering my way through Harry Potter’s neighborhood, I can’t imagine doing that right now, simply because I’m more concerned that I’m lost…

By fortunate happenstance, I stumble across Phoenix Park. This is an urban park situated just Northwest of River Liffey and lies on the city’s border, but still remains within Dublin’s walls. If you look up Phoenix Park on Google Images, the first photo that pops up is the statue for which this park is famous – The Wellington Monument. This monument was designed to pay tribute to the Duke of Wellington’s victory at the battle of Waterloo. The battle was fought in Belgium on June 18th, 1815, and sought to end France’s dominance in Europe. Although it didn’t take place in Ireland, it still had a significant effect on the country. Namely, there were Irish warriors such as Arthur Wellesley, who fought in the battle and lived to tell the tale. Arthur was a famous military and political figure in the 19th century and defeated Napoleon Bonaparte as a result of the attack. Beating Napoleon was a remarkable achievement given that he previously conquered most of Europe throughout the century. For all you Washington DC folks, the Wellington Monument will most likely remind you of a scaled-down version of the Washington Monument. They’re similar in the name – note the difference. Viewing the monument up close brought me back to DC. In fact, as I was strolling through Phoenix Park on this glorious afternoon, I was brought back to Maryland, metaphorically speaking that is. The freshly mowed grass, the crisp air, and the chirping of the birds, all reminded me of the suburban areas of Maryland that encompass D.C. As I lay on a grassy patch near the monument, I see other people lounging about in close proximity. Some are lying on blankets while others are sitting upright, eating sandwiches and chatting amongst themselves. It’s almost eight o’clock, and from where I rest on the grass, it’s clear that golden hour has officially made its way into the city. As the sun begins to set, the smell of grass is becoming more pungent and the chill in the air, more prominent. I overhear talking in the distance, so I put on my headphones and blast “Color of Anyhow” by Beverly Glenn-Copeland, hoping to drown out any noise derived from the outside world. Grateful indeed.


Trinity College/The Book of Kells

Trinity College, located in the heart of Dublin’s City Centre, is Ireland’s oldest university. Its renowned campus is a big tourist attraction to visitors from all over the world and its fame reaches back to the 1500s. Trinity College was created by Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1592 and is one of the most elite academic institutions in Europe, not to mention the most prestigious in Ireland. The college is particularly eulogized in the fields of law, art, and business, but is perhaps even better known for its open-door policy — meaning students are encouraged to get further assistance with their academic classes should it be necessary. The college was established outside the city of Dublin in buildings that originally housed the outlawed Catholic Augustinian Priory of “All Hallows.” In other words, the city of Dublin didn’t exist way back when. Trinity’s foundation came at a time when many universities were still being established across Western Europe in the belief that their graduates would go on to become significant citizens and represent their country. This is a noble idea that I can applaud and agree with. What I don’t agree with, however, is that women were not admitted as full-time students until 1904. Although this is not uncommon throughout the “civilized world,” that is still three hundred and twelve years of educational discrimination against women. Luckily, in today’s society, it seems the school is inclined to get students from other cultures involved in their academic programs, and are motivating students, originally from Ireland, to collaborate with those from other countries. With kindness and generosity being Ireland’s most celebrated trademark, I can only assume the locals would treat those with diverse backgrounds with the utmost respect. I can’t imagine otherwise.  

Before I came to Dublin, I read an article that showcased Trinity College. From an outside perspective, I have always known Trinity College to be a university with class. The fact that it’s a multicultural school in Europe undoubtedly paints a lovely picture. From what I’ve picked up on, the students who attend this university are passionate about learning and are grateful for generations before them that have afforded them this experience. This suggests a school run by educators willing to jumpstart their students to self-awareness. In other words, they create a space where students aren’t intimidated by those who have different opinions from their own. They express what they feel and argue fervidly, but with respect. They’re open to discussing the counterarguments from their peers and even to those who do not attend the school. If I had to compare Trinity College to any university in America, it would be Brown University. Located in Providence Rhode Island, Brown is an ivy league school where students can achieve academic success while expressing their individual needs in a manner where they won’t feel judged. Although there are many wonderful schools in America that take on a similar approach, Brown is a school whose reputation for excellence is second to none. While I was able to study a semester abroad, I wonder how different of a person I’d be had I attended a European school for four years versus my American College experience. Food for thought.

Once I enter the Trinity College gates, I walk the campus for a bit and take in the beautiful architecture that surrounds me on all four sides. To my left, I see a group of approximately fifteen students milling about on the campuses’ lawn, most likely heading to their next class. To my right, there is a long building with a line backed up with at least forty people. Curious, I approach someone and ask them what the line is for. “The Book of Kells,” he says. I jump in line. Due to this visitation being such a popular tourist attraction, security only lets in a few people at a time. I quickly advance my way to the front of the line, and as I step foot through large doors that take me into the first room of the library, I immediately get the sense that I’ve been taken back in time. Once inside, I get a strong whiff of wood – the aroma can’t be mistaken around these parts. The Book of Kells, dating all the way back to 800AD, is a manuscript of the four gospels of the new Christian Testament. The illuminated manuscript is predominantly famous for its intricate detail and majestic images. The leaves or folios of the Book of Kells, meaning the pages constituting the volumes of the book itself, were made from calf vellum. The use of this high-quality parchment has largely contributed to the longevity of the manuscript. There are smaller rooms I must go through before entering The Long Room, (the last section to the self-guided tour). Each room has laminated pages and glass shields, covering everything in one’s reach. In other words, there is no way for you to pick up a book and start reading it. Sorry folks. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, I had to enter through two security checkpoints just to get into the main area. I meander my way through each room slowly, nourishing myself with as much knowledge as I can grasp. There are squeaky wooden steps that lead us to the Grand Corridor. Once inside, I stare at the aligned shelves dumbfounded, as their sight is accompanied by ancient text that dates all the way back to the AD era. Although it only cost thirteen euros to get in, I would’ve easily paid thirty euros. For goodness sake, if you can’t afford to pay this low of a price for an educational experience, then you probably can’t afford to travel. This attraction was inarguably worth the money and I highly recommend it to any newcomer to the city.

There is so much more that I did during my days in Dublin, such as visit The Guinness Factory and The Dublin Zoo, as well as many of the shops and pubs. After seeing a good portion of the city in just a few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that the citizens of Ireland are very down-to-earth, kind individuals who are willing to welcome you to their homeland. They will likely smile at you as you pass them on the street, or chat over tea at a local coffee shop while they talk about their heritage. The people here seem to have a deeper sense of pride about their homeland and all that they’ve endured. Prior to visiting, I had the false assumption that Ireland didn’t have any issues and that it fit the criteria of perfection. Well, I was completely ignorant of the true facts, but am very grateful to have learned this necessary information. If you’re ever fortunate enough to talk to a native, I highly recommend giving them your full attention when they speak about a topic of their choice. You’ll be surprised at what you learn. Slainte! ♥   

“The world spins. We stumble on. It’s enough.” – Colum McCann


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