Putting the “in” in Dublin

Yesterday, I could honestly say that I’d never been in Ireland. It therefore follows incontrovertibly that yesterday I could also honestly say that I’d never been in Dublin, Ireland. I can’t honestly say either of those things anymore. Because here I am. In Dublin.

A picture of a building in Dublin, taken for no particular reason.
A picture of a building in Dublin, taken for no particular reason.

I’ll reserve judgment on the city until I explore it a little more. However, because I arrived at my hotel by 11:00 a.m. (checking my bags because my room wasn’t ready yet), I had some time today to poke around town a bit.

From what I saw, there are some pretty sections of Dublin and some gritty sections. I haven’t seen any leprechauns yet, but maybe I just didn’t look hard enough. However, I did repeatedly see a very tired-looking, curmudgeonly, old man trudging around. Strangely, I saw him only reflected in shop windows.

My stay in Dublin is for six nights. I will then travel around Ireland before spending one more night here before flying back home. Six nights is usually the longest I stay in any city in a single visit. And Dublin doesn’t seem to be a huge city or chock full of sights to see. The point is, each day’s journal entry here might not be as activity-packed as is often the case in … (*Joel waves his hand in the general direction of this online journal*)

The hopefully more leisurely pace is intentional. The rest of my itinerary is, however, somewhat more cram-packed. We’ll see how it goes.

Today, I took a tour of Trinity College, walked along Grafton Street, and spent some time in St. Stephen’s Green Park.

Trinity College of Dublin

Trinity College offers tours of its campus. I took one.

A Trinity College building
A Trinity College building

The tour guide was engaging and told many interesting and sometimes humorous stories and facts about the university and its history. As I write this, I remember enjoying the patter at the time, but I haven’t slept since the couple of hours of unrestful sleep I got on my overnight flight. My memory of facts and stories is sketchy at best. And as tired as I am, it’s not at its best.

Nevertheless, I think I remember more than a man my age has any right to remember, particularly a man who never had a good memory for anecdotes that didn’t originate as part of his lived experiences. Then again, maybe I totally misremembered the stories the guide told and I consequently misrepresented them here. In which case, my memory is at exactly the level I remember it to be, if memory serves.

The guide reeled off names of some of the famous people who studied and/or taught there. Names I recall her saying include Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Bram Stoker, and Irwin Schrödinger. I imagine that when walking around the campus alone, Schrödinger was simultaneously dead and alive until somebody observed him.

Another name the guide mentioned, primarily because the person coincidentally died the day before, was the singer Sinéad O’Connor. O’Connor was neither a student nor a professor there, but she once gave a talk in the debating societies’ building. (There are two debating societies at Trinity College, History, referred to as HIS, and Philosophy, referred to as PHIL. They share a building. So, no, I didn’t get the number and apostrophe wrong there.)

I remember one person the guide mentioned by what he did, but not by his name. He studied at Trinity College and later went on to discover how to split an atom, for which he won a Nobel Prize. He made the discovery at Cambridge University, before returning to Trinity as a professor. Due to his accomplishment, he was invited to participate in the Manhattan Project, but he refused because he was a pacifist. Not only did he not participate, but he objected to his discovery being used that way.

I don’t remember his name, but Google does. It’s Ernest Walton. Now that I typed it, I’ll probably forget it again unless I reread this.

Dueling Denominations

Inside the Museum Building at Trinity College
Inside the Museum Building at Trinity College

Trinity College was founded as a Protestant university. (There’s a long story associated with that, which I forget other than that it involved Queen Elizabeth I and King Edward the somethingth). However, at the time of the college’s founding in 1592, Ireland was dominantly Catholic and still is today.

That resulted in a shortfall of students and revenue. So, the college started accepting Catholics. But the Catholic Church didn’t want its flock going to a Protestant university. Consequently, Catholic students required the explicit permission of a priest, a bishop, or the pope before they could enrol. That remained the case until as recently as 1970.

As a result of its dual Christian sect heritage, the college’s chapel serves both Protestants and Catholics. According to the tour guide, it’s the only multi-denominational chapel in Ireland.

As a matter of right, students can get married in the chapel up to three years after graduating. I don’t know if the intent of the time limit is to encourage students to hurry up and get married already. Or maybe it’s a sales pitch for Trinity College graduate school. The guide didn’t say, but I assume the clock starts again if you go to graduate school there.

The college also confers the right for Trinity College provosts, past and recently present, to have their funerals in the chapel. I imagine that in most cases the provosts don’t enjoy their funerals as much as the betrothed enjoy their weddings. And if any of the couples do enjoy their weddings less, that might be a bad omen for their marriages.

The guide also told a story about the anatomy department being notorious for body snatching until a law against it was passed in the 1800s. But, enough about that.

The Book of Kells and the Old Library

Monks produced The Book of Kells, a decorated, handwritten copy of the New Testament, in the 9th century. The Book of Kells is now a prized possession of Trinity College. The college sells timed tickets to see the Book of Kells and the Old Library, where the book currently resides. It also sells a combo ticket that includes the campus tour. The combo ticket allows you to go into the Old Library and see the Book of Kells immediately after the tour. That’s what I did.

The book of Kells is beautiful and historic. It’s currently displayed in a room under the main hall of Trinity College’s Old Library. I say “currently” because it’s going to move to a new building with a virtual library rather than the somewhat existing (more on that later) physical Old Library. In the new building, the only physical book will be the Book of Kells.

In addition to the Book of Kells, the College mounts an exhibit with panels describing the background, materials, and creation of the book. There’s also free WiFi that I used to download a free audioguide that I listened to on my iPhone.

The college displays The Book of Kells inside a climate-controlled glass cube. The book is still in one piece, so they can display only two facing pages at a time. They flip the page about every eight weeks. So, if you go, or if you’ve already been, the pages you see or saw might not be the same pages I saw.

The college forbids photography of any kind of The Book of Kells. So don’t bother looking for a picture of it here. And even if I did take one against the rules (I didn’t) it would have been through glass, with the ensuing reflections.

About the “somewhat existing” in reference to the Old Library. Before she set us loose from the tour to go inside, the guide warned that we wouldn’t see the Old Library in all its glory. The Library section of the building is a long hall with bays off both sides along the hall’s entire length. Old wooden bookshelves line the bays from floor to ceiling.

The Old Library at Trinity College
The Old Library at Trinity College

Most of the bays are currently empty. Only about six or eight hold books now. The college is removing all of the books to clean and restore them because they accumulated hundreds of years of dirt.

After workers carefully remove the books, they don’t return them to the shelves. Once all the books are sent elsewhere, the college will then begin work to restore the building itself, improving the climate controls and fire protection in it. While they do that, the building will be closed until the work is complete. Only then will they return the books.

I might have misheard the guide, but I don’t think the building will reopen to the general public after that. I think she said that they will allow the public into only the new building with the Book of Kells and the virtual library. If true, that would be a pity because, even stripped of most of its books, the Old Library is beautiful. When the college returns the books after the building work is done it will probably be even more impressive.

I confirmed all of the above information about the restoration of the books and building online. (Except for whether the library will reopen to the general public. I couldn’t find anything about that.) However, the guide also provided one other detail that sounded far-fetched. I think she might have been pulling our legs. (Rhetorically speaking, of course. You can get in trouble if you non-consensually pull someone’s leg. And a whole group? Well, lawyer up if you try that.)

The guide said that as they remove the books from the shelves they are also cataloguing them because the books were never catalogued. According to her, they were just arranged on shelves according to size and shape. I find that hard to believe. They had this collection of rare, old books, but the books weren’t catalogued? And you couldn’t find a book unless you knew its shape and size? I’m not an academic, so maybe I give them too much credit, but that sounds unlikely to me.

The guide didn’t have a laugh in her voice when she told us about the shelf organization and lack of cataloguing, nor did she later say “Just kidding,” but I’m not believing it. An admittedly very cursory search online didn’t turn up any confirmation of it.

That having been said, I did see evidence that the “arranged by size” part might be at least partially true. The shelves in the library are not of a uniform height. They steadily decrease in height from the floor to the ceiling. The top shelves didn’t look like they could hold a normal-height book. Although, the ceiling is a fair distance from the floor so, while I’m certain the shelves decrease in height the closer to the ceiling they are, I might have misjudged the shortness of the top shelf.

Grafton Street

Grafton Street
Pedestrianized Grafton Street

Grafton Street is a mostly pedestrianized shopping street. I say mostly because, based on personal observations, delivery vans can use the street for their business purposes. But, when I was there, vans were few and far between. And their drivers respected pedestrians, who rule the full width of the street. The vans moved at walking speed until pedestrians voluntarily sauntered out of the way. No horns were honked.

I read that Dublin pedestrianized the street in 1983. Apparently, at the time, the retailers were not happy about the elimination of car traffic by their stores.

Canada Goose on Grafton Street
Canada Goose on Grafton Street

But, according to the account I read, the retailers soon changed their tune because they found that their sales increased significantly when people decided they wanted to come and walk along the pleasant, car-free street. It became a destination street.

However, the problem for retailers then became that, with the increased desirability of the area, rents went up significantly, pushing out many of the original stores. Now, international chains occupy many of the spaces.

I spotted Dior, Victoria’s Secret, Disney, and Ecco, among others. One of the other international brands that caught my attention for geographical reasons was Canada Goose. I don’t own any of its products, but I left Canada less than twelve hours before spotting the store. Canada is following me.

The M&S Rooftop Terrace in Dublin

An M&S store sits unassumingly among the shops on Grafton Street. (Does Marks and Spencer have to economize these days? Can it not afford to spell out its full name on its signs?)

I didn’t go into the store, but based on the sign on the front, it has a rooftop terrace. I didn’t go up there. If you are following along you probably could have guessed that I didn’t go to M&S’s rooftop terrace from the fact that I didn’t go into M&S at all, but never mind that.

So, you may be wondering, if I didn’t go to the rooftop terrace or even into M&S at all, why am I wasting your time mentioning it here? I’m glad you wondered that. The question is the perfect segue into me telling you the reason.

Sign at M&S saying the rooftop terrace is on the top floor
Where, oh where might the rooftop terrace be

I mention it because of the wording on the sign. It said, “The rooftop terrace café is located on the top floor.”

Couldn’t they have just said, “Visit our rooftop terrace café?” I mean, really. I’ve got two university degrees. Alright, neither of them is in orienteering, but I probably could have figured out that a rooftop anything is on the top floor.

Seriously. Do some people go to the basement (if indeed they have a basement; like I said, I didn’t go in) looking for the rooftop terrace? I realize that not everyone is university-educated, but I think a kindergarten student could probably figure it out. So if you go there and you’re uncertain which floor to go to to get to the rooftop terrace, look for a kindergarten student and ask them.

St. Stephen’s Green Park

Grass, flowers and trees at St. Stephen's Green Park
Grass, flowers and trees at St. Stephen’s Green Park

St. Stephen’s Green Park is a verdant park near central Dublin. The park well deserves the “Green” in its name. Everything is so very green. Well, okay, not everything. The paths are asphalt-grey. But other than that, it’s a green park. Oh, some beds of brightly coloured flowers of a variety of non-green hues decorate the park. So, the two non-green things in the park are the paths and flowers. Oh, yeah. Some of the trees sport leaves of a dark burgundy hew. So, the three non-green things are the paths, flowers, and burgundy leaves.

Come to think of it, while a few trees have slightly mossy trunks, most have normal tree-bark-brown trunks. And the park has some statues. And it contains a couple of ponds with ducks, seagulls and swans. So, among the many non-green things in the park are … Sorry about that. I started to channel Monty Python.

Among the statues in the park is one commemorating the Great Famine of 1845 to 1852. I assume that in this case “great” means “of an extent well above normal,” not “excellent.” How sick would one have to be to think that a famine that killed more than a million people and forced a couple of million people to flee the country was excellent?

Pond at St. Stephen's Green Park
Pond at St. Stephen’s Green Park

In the park, I did a lot of walking and sitting, sitting and walking.

As an aside, the reason the park was so verdant when I visited may be that it rained a lot in Dublin before I got here. So, it may not always be so green. Although, before I came to Dublin, I read that the climate here is quite wet, so the park is likely verdant most of the time.

As an aside to the aside, I had a couple of brief periods of very light drizzle today, but no real rain. And there were even a few sunny periods.

I’m no longer in the park. I’m in my hotel finishing up this post. Once I do, it’s time for me to go to sleep to try to lessen my sleep deprivation and get over my jet lag.

Great Famine Commemorative Statue
Great Famine Commemorative Statue

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