Dublin wears its soul on its sleeve. Joy and sorrow are close to the surface, past and present mingled. I have no doubt this is why the city captivates me the way it does.
Surely this must explain, too, how Dublin has managed to influence such a large number of the most highly regarded writers and poets of the last few hundred years: W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney, just to name the Nobel Prize winners. Adding Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, and Jonathan Swift is almost like showing off, and this is only an iota of a very long tradition that continues to present day, writers with the gift of both wry wit and rare insight on life.
Unlike these literary greats, I have no epic poem or novel that the city will set free from my pen. Instead, I do my best with my camera to try to catch fleeting glimpses of the details of Dublin: the nooks, crannies and small spaces that seem to me to hold something of the essence of the place.
“I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original center.” — Seamus Heaney
I freely admit my fascination with the city’s bridges and my obsession with the ghostly, ethereal air that seems to hang between the arches and the water.
“People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.” — W.B.Yeats
I also must admit my fascination with cemeteries. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Irish, much like my Southern relatives, treat cemeteries like living spaces where past and present are dynamically linked, places to be communed in like a park, where we include departed loved ones and ancestors as a continuing presence in daily life.
At Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin’s history comes to full, technicolor life through the stories of the 1.5 million people buried there, from ordinary citizens to the most revered heroes of the country, side by side with one another. (If you’re intrigued to know more, a moving documentary called “One Million Dubliners” tells many of the stories of the cemetery.)
The largest monument in the cemetery is a tower that holds the tomb of Daniel O’Connell. Often called The Liberator, O’Connell succeeded in achieving Catholic emancipation in the 1800’s and did so, amazingly, through peaceful means. He befriended and inspired a young Frederick Douglas and is said to have influenced the peaceful resistance movements of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Touching O’Connell’s coffin for luck is not just allowed, but strongly encouraged. I left the cemetery feeling as though I had met the man, not simply visited his grave.
“Poetry is what we do to break bread with the dead.”— Seamus Heaney
“If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.” — George Bernard Shaw
The 5,000 year old Neolithic tomb at Newgrange, an hour outside the city, is older than both the pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in England, but not nearly as famous. Yet, if you are lucky enough to get a spot on the tour that takes you inside the tomb, you will be ushered into a space that looks exactly as it did in 3,200 B.C. You’ll be asked politely to remove backpacks and hold purses low in front of you so that you can slip through the narrowest part of the passageway, which is a mere 15.5 inches wide and four and a half feet tall at its smallest. It seemed to me an astounding amount of trust to place in visitors to comply so that the ancient interior isn’t harmed by our modern presence. Standing under the perfectly preserved ceiling in the dampened silence of the inner chamber was eerily peaceful. Nearby, the Hill of Tara, home of Ireland’s High Kings of the Iron Age, gives a sweeping panorama from which you can see 23 of Ireland’s 32 counties on a clear day.
The stone breakers yard at Kilmainahm Gaol (jail) is a heartbreakingly sad space. Serving as Dublin’s penal institution from 1796 until 1924, Kilmainham was the site of the execution of the leaders of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising. Memorial crosses at each end of the yard mark the two locations where rebel leaders were shot by firing squad. The Kilmainham curators have astutely preserved the jail just as it was when last in use. The place literally feels like the last prisoner just walked out the door before you got there.
“The tears of the world are a constant quality. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.” — Samuel Beckett
City scenes: the cobblestones of Temple Bar, hub of the Dublin’s nightlife; Trinity College, founded in 1592, which houses one of the ten oldest books in the word (The Book of Kells) and the most breathtaking library I have ever seen (The Long Room); modern architecture that pops up periodically amidst the old; antiques and artifacts in shops and museums; and a favorite café perch.
“Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.” — W.B. Yeats
For recommendations on restaurants, pubs, wine and historic sites in Dublin, visit “More Than 36 Hours in Dublin” at my other blogging home, The Thirsty Kitten wine blog.