May 29, 2017:
Yesterday we arrived late afternoon in Dublin, and reunited with our friends literally on Grafton Street here in theTemple Bar area of Dublin, it was really too late to do any sightseeing.
Well, we survived Day One with our intrepid travel group in Dublin, the Terrific Ten! True to form, it was a day of aggressive schedules! We’re staying in the Brooks Hotel, which has a fabulous location, right off Drury Street.
Our first activity of the day was a tour of the Kilmainham Gaol. The Gaol was completed in 1796, and was originally intended to house only 400 inmates, but ultimately came to house over 8,000 inmates. This happened largely as a result of the Potato Famine from 1844-50, because as the crops failed, tenant farmers were thrown off their farms, and winded up in the cities. So many people came to the cities that the Parliament passed so-called “vagrancy” laws, and started throwing people in jail just because they were on the street. However, the most infamous use of the Gaol came after the Easter Rising in April, 1916, when the Irish Republicans rose up and tried to throw off British rule. In all, 14 leaders of the rebellion were housed in Kilmainham Gaol, sentenced to death and shot before a firing squad. While many of those in southern Ireland initially were against the rebellion, the cruelty with which the executions were carried out ultimately turned the tide in favor of the independence movement, and Ireland was granted limited “Home Rule” in the Irish Anglo Treaty of 1921, which partitioned Ireland into the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, which remains a British dependency. Sadly, although the war against the English ended with the treaty, Ireland itself devolved into a civil war between those who supported the treaty with limited independence from England, and those who still wanted complete autonomy.
The last prisoner was released from Kilmainham Gaol in 1924, and the Gaol was allowed to go to ruin as an emblem of English oppression. However, a group of private Dublin citizens pitched in to restore it in the 1960s, and its care was subsequently taken over by the Irish state as an important site of the history of Ireland.
After that uplifting visit, we walked a short distance to take the tour of the Guinness Brewery, established in 1759 by Arthur Guinness. We dutifully propelled ourselves through the self-guided tour, and hopefully, learned something about brewing beer. Then we stopped for lunch in one of the restaurants, and collected our complimentary pints of the good stuff! One other cool thing about the Brewery tour is that the top floor of the main (former) storehouse building has been turned into a bar with a 360 degree view of Dublin.
Dublin, like many cities these days, has its own set of “Hop On, Hop Off” double decker busses with open viewing on top. Not only does the Guinness Storehouse have its own stop on the circuit, but there’s even an express bus that goes there directly. Jim and I have found that these bus tours are an excellent introduction to any city, particularly when you don’t have a lot of time in town (as we didn’t on this trip). We availed ourselves of the red bus system, and were able to ride it directly to another main sight on our hit list: the Trinity College and its Book of Kells exhibit. Trinity College was originally established as an Augustinian monastery in the 1200s. After the purge of the monasteries by Henry VIII, Trinity College was founded by Elizabeth I in 1592. it was originally started as a Protestant university, and the first Catholics were not admitted for over 200 years (in 1793). Still, they fared better than women, who were not admitted until the early 20th century.
We took the brief college tour, and admired the disparate architectural styles while learning about some famous Trinity graduates, including the playwrights, Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde, writers Jonathan Swift and Bram Stoker and politicians Edmund Burke, Conor Cruise O’Brien and and John Redmond. Without a doubt, though, the most outstanding feature of the college is its Book of Kells, an exquisite illustrated manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark Luke, and John, which were written/illustrated by monks about the year 800 A.D. (possibly on a monastery on the island of Iona). Words cannot describe how beautifully written and painted these pages are! However, no pictures were allowed, so you’ll have to use your imaginations (or Google).
We finished up our visit to Trinity College with a tour of the Long Hall, home to \Trinity’s fabulous old library. If you’ve ever imagined a traditional European library, this would be it; complete with a single hall with coves of books reaching up to the ceiling , some thirty feet above. It was magnificent!
Then we jumped back on the double decker bus and toured as much of Dublin as we could until it stopped running at 6:00 p.m.
We finished our day with a fabulous meal at an Italian restaurant in the Temple Bar area called Il Vincoletti! Tomorrow, into the countryside of Ireland.