Iveagh Gardens, Dublin
This picture reminds me a little of The Secret Garden
May 20, 2010: 6:05 GMT|DST
I wish I had brought a pedometer with me because today I walked almost the entire length of the Dublin Visitors’ Map, starting at Connolly Station and ending up at Iveagh Gardens. I felt my first blister pop a little after 4 p.m. as I was headed to Pearse Station to catch the DART back to Dún Laoghaire. Tonight, I will definitely be soaking my feet in that lovely bathtub.
The day started out leisurely enough. Although I had my clock set for 8 a.m., the sunlight started streaming into my room around six this morning. I took my time getting ready, watching the news on the BBC. The world’s a mess: the continued problem with the BP oil spill, violence in Thailand, financial issues in Greece. Unlike my trips to Mexico and Peru where I could ignore the news because I don’t speak Spanish, I didn’t really have an excuse to “drop out” of the world while here in Ireland – although I will admit that the only reason I turned on the news was to see if the Icelandic volcano had flared up again. I also took a nice long bubble bath (TMI, I know, but I love taking baths and The Coach broke our tub more than a year ago) before fixing some tea and heading out to the DART station. Unfortunately, I hit the commuter rush, so I had to stand all the way into the city.
As usual, my negative sense of direction got me lost when I got off the train at Connolly Station. I knew I didn’t want to walk towards the spire, so I wandered off in the opposite direction. When that didn’t work, I aimed for the Custom House because I knew from studying the map that the famine memorial was nearby. When I finally found the memorial, I was moved beyond words – and practically to tears. Flowers at the feet of the statues. Palm Sunday leaves inserted into the hands of the figures. A bow tied to the dog. All of this – as well as a famine ship further down the river – ironically located in the shadow of the financial district.
The statues seem so small, but the message is so big. I am fairly certain that the famine is why my ancestors came to America. After all, both of my grandmothers had Irish maiden names  – confirmed by a quick computer search during my visit to the National Museum.
Bicycle Stand in the Docklands
An excellent form of mass transit!
After spending a while thinking deep thoughts about potential genocide and the evils of monoculture, I made my way down the river towards the Sean O’Casey Bridge. Walking across this pedestrian footbridge – called the “Quiver on the River” by my tour book – is supposed to be a big deal. Uh, yeah. It sure didn’t shake while I was walking across it, but I’m glad I went that way because I ran into the cool bike stand shown above. Apparently, there are 40 of these dublinbike stations scattered throughout the city. What an environmentally correct form of mass transit, although I’d hate to be riding one of these in a downpour !
Once I crossed the bridge, I headed towards the Royal Canal, looking for – but never finding – the Lineman statue. I turned around somewhere near the Samuel Beckett Bridge, backtracking towards Windmill Lane – home of U2’s recording studio in the 1980s. It took me a while to find it because it wasn’t on the map and because the street names were not posted on the buildings near the river. Eventually, I decided just to turn down a bunch of side streets until I found one that had a series of apartment houses with “windmill” in their names. At first, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place because the houses were rather sterile looking, but after I turned the corner I hit the motherload of graffiti.
So, here I was, taking pictures of the graffiti, with people staring at me. Now, surely I cannot be the only U2 fan who has been down there before – I mean, the graffiti had exploded! It was up and down both sides of the street and around another bend in the road. Since I couldn’t find the sign for 4 Windmill Lane, I shot a lot of pictures on both sides of the street, thinking that I could just look up the building when I got home . I did think about wandering back down to the Hanover Quay to see the new U2 studios, but the tour book indicated that the construction wouldn’t be done until 2011, so I didn’t bother. Besides, I prefer the U2 music of my youth to their newer stuff so it just seemed appropriate to focus on the old studio.
Graffiti on Windmill Lane
Where U2 recorded in the 1980s
After that short trip down memory, err, Windmill Lane, I wandered back to the City Quay so I could take a picture of the Seamen’s Memorial before heading to the National Museum. Along the way, I found a great “Pick up your dog shit” sign in Irish (Gaeilge). Apparently, however, people do not read the signs because three blocks later I nearly stepped in a pile. Luckily, I was warned off by a guy with a great accent who called out to me as I walked past – “Mind the dog shit, ma’am.”
I also passed Nichol’s Undertakers as I walked down Lombard Street. Don’t ask me why it’s relevant, but it was marked on my tourist map with a JJ designation. Apparently, I need to read Ulysses or Dubliners or something because I sure didn’t catch on to many of the James Joyce references .
It took me a while, but I eventually found Kildare Street, passed up the opportunity to see a Yeats exhibition at the National Library, and turned into the National Museum. My friend and neighbor, P., an author and Irish expert, told me I had to go the museum to see the gold – and how could I turn down her advice?
Sidebar: The good news about Dublin is that there is a lot of free stuff to do. The National Museums are all free, plus there are wonderful green spaces. Of course, some things cost money – going to see the Book of Kells is going to cost you €9 – but the only money I spent on this particular day was on food, postcards, and a book of Irish folk tales .
Enter The Traveling Ph.D., the inadvertent rule breaker. I walked into the joint, picked up the brochure, and flipped through it to see if I could take pictures in the Museum. No provisos, no cautions, no clip art of a camera with a big red cross through it. Thinking it was safe, I whipped out my camera and squeezed off seven pictures including one of the reconstructed passage tomb and one of the huge longboat found in County Galway before I saw the “No Photography” sign hidden in a corner. No wonder people were giving me dirty looks. Now, I was never officially busted, although I later witnessed a guard tell some Japanese tourists to put away their camera after he caught them taking pictures of the zodiac mosaic on the floor of the gift shop.
Things I saw that were rather cool:
A gold torc found on an eroding beach in 2001;
The Loughnashade Trumpet and the Tara Broach;
Ear spools that looked like little snuff boxes that were filled with gold pellets that would jangle lightly when the wearer shook his (her?) head; and
Bone skates from the Viking era.
Ancient Ireland was dominated by a culture of warrior kings. I found this out when I entered the “kingship and sacrifice room” which held the remains of four bodies – or parts of bodies – in various states of disrepair. These are the bog bodies which, according to the National Museum of Ireland, “offer the public an opportunity to come ‘face-to-face’ with their ancient ancestors.” In some cases, that’s really just face-to-hand, such as the poor fellow who was decapitated. Display signs told me that human sacrifices were made to the god Crom Dubh; that they were often made during the harvest festival of Lughnasa as a way of securing fertility for kings and fields; and that bogs are really good at preserving dead bodies .
I’m just going to come right out and say it: Ick!
I suspect I will dream about leather-like hands reaching out for me in the night. However, it wasn’t creepy enough to keep me from eating my lunch right after viewing the bodies. Well, the café was right next to the sacrifice room, my feet were sore, and I was hungry .
After lunch, I did spend some time looking around the Viking exhibit before moving on to greener pastures – St. Stephen’s Green, that is. It was a beautiful day outside even though it was slightly muggy and the park was crowded with children playing, businessmen out for an afternoon march (not a stroll, mind you, a march), and couples on benches and blankets, completely caught up in each other. I walked the perimeter of the park, taking a few pictures of the Fusiller’s Arch. I wasn’t close enough to see the bullet holes from the 1916 uprising although the tour book swears that they exist. I also got a few shots of the James Joyce statue, which turned out to be a rather disappointing bust on a short pillar.
I wanted to get away from the crowds, so I thought I’d go over to Iveagh Gardens. Now, the map made it look like the gardens were easy to find; after all, they are located just across the street from St. Stephen’s Green. My tour book also touted the gardens as the place to go, saying that they were not very crowded. Well, I know why people don’t go to Iveagh Gardens: It’s extremely hard to find a way in! I had to walk around the National Concert Hall and head down another street until I found a little gate in that let me into the back of the park.
I will say it was worth the struggle. Ivy and moss, trees and headless statues, a waterfall and a maze – it all reminded me of a secret garden. I took my time, taking pictures and just sitting on a bench watching a little kid chase pigeons (Exasperated Mom: “Felix! One day those pigeons are going to gang up and attack you!). It was peaceful and I only wished that I had thought to bring along a bottle of water and a book.
You can only watch misbehaving kids for so long before it gets a little boring, so I snapped a couple pictures of the fountain (i.e., giant bird bath for seagulls) before finding a gate that let me out into the Concert Hall’s parking lot. I headed back into St. Stephen’s Green so I could say that I walked around the entire park and I’m so glad I did. At the northeast corner was another powerful statue, succinctly named “Famine.” I have to say it was probably the most compelling figure on the entire green.
As you can guess, I was pretty tired, fairly sticky (and stinky), and definitely footsore by this point, so I headed back to Pearce Station, walking past the heavily guarded offices of the Taoiseach  to get back to the station. As usual, my sense of direction (and, apparently, my ability to read) failed me and I ended up getting on the DART going the wrong way. D’oh! I changed to the right train at Connolly Station and soon found myself watching a crazed soccer team celebrating their victory. After I popped off the train, I stopped for a cup of coffee and sat outside of Insomnia watching little girls in tutus dance around the patio while their mothers chatted.
The rest of my evening was fairly uneventful – eating salmon in an excellent dill sauce, drinking Guinness, watching yachts race through the Dublin Bay, reading Irish folk tales, and messing up the window in my hotel room (but that’s a story for another day).