Ireland – Day 3

It’s hard to describe how shaken the Irish were about the previous day’s riots. You heard people talk about it everywhere. I bought the newspaper in the morning, and I overheard a college-aged guy talking to the newspaper salesman about “How embarrassing it is to be from Dublin today. It’s not who we are.” 

Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times.

Here is how I understand what happened the day before. Dublin suffered two terrible events in one day; both were so far from their typical life that they were (are) traumatized. These events are: 3 children were stabbed in public. All of the children survived, but the horror of this event was felt everywhere. Then far-right organizers instigated a violent demonstration, blaming the stabbing on an immigrant. Smash-and-grab petty criminals used those demonstrations to cause chaos to grab as much merchandise as possible on the eve of “Black Friday” shopping.

We both woke up early and had breakfast long before any museum opened, so we walked to see the Famine Memorial.    It’s a beautiful set of wraith-like statues to memorialize the Irish victims the British deliberately starved to death from 1845 until 1849.  It’s a story that the British have done an excellent job extricating themselves from the responsibility of killing 1 million people.

Photo Credit: William Murphy

We didn’t use the morning very wisely. We sort of walked and chatted until we toured Trinity College. It’s a small and picturesque university. It was graduation day, so students lined up for the ceremony when we first walked in. Trinity College is lovely, and there is undoubtedly a romantic quality; while enjoying the tour, my mind drifted toward “why am I working? Why not go back to school?” Pragmatic Josh knows the answer, but there is something utterly delightful in indulging those thoughts.

The tour ends at the Library of Trinity College, which has the Book of Kells and the famous Long Room. I didn’t know much about the Book of Kells and recommend folks watch this video. It is undoubtedly a beautiful work of art. The Long Room is something I have wanted to see for many years. You have certainly seen a picture of it. It is a grand library with books, sunlight, and grand shelves. It’s a bibliophilia’s vision of a perfect library. Well, my experience with the Long Room was different than I envisioned. 90% of the books out of the library.

After the destruction of Notre Dame, old wooden institutions worldwide started to think, “What happens if there is a fire?” This library is all wood and full of old books. Nothing would survive if there were a fire, so they painstakingly removed each book and cataloged it off-site. When it is empty, it will be closed for a few years to modernize it and ensure the building and books will survive a catastrophe. At first, I thought I would be disappointed, but I wasn’t at all. The feel and the smell of the library were still very much there, and I can say I was in an empty Long Room. It was a wildly unique experience. 

After our tour, we walked to the Smithfield neighborhood for a wonderful meal. It was not the fanciest meal, but it was my favorite. We went for fish and chips at a place called Fish Shop. It has about ten seats, and I ordered the haddock. It was exceptional: great quality fish with the perfect fry on it and a fantastic wine list. Reservations are hard to get, so book this one early.

While we were there, a little girl, maybe 8 years old, walked into the shop with her scooter to order fish and chips. She handed the euros to the guy; he asked if she wanted condiments on the side, and then she waited 10-15 for it to be prepared. It started a conversation about having kids run errands and our feeling that many kids in the USA no longer do that. There is a fear for their safety, so they are continually monitored and kept from doing business in the adult world. She seemed completely at ease, mature enough to pay, decide about the condiments, and then hang out with her headphones on until it was ready. She took the bag, got on her scooter, and headed down the block. It was adorable and a glimpse of what can happen when you live in a society that rejects violence.

We stopped in to see Christchurch; honestly, I wasn’t impressed. A person can see so many grand cathedrals, and they all blend at some point. Oddly enough, the great cathedrals of Dublin are both protestant and not Catholic. We napped and read in our room before going out for the night.

We intended to see a play called Vulture at The New Theatre that night, but they canceled the performances because of the riots. The town was still on edge; even at lunch, we overheard the waiter talking to people about “where they were last night.”

We returned to the Smithfield neighborhood to a bar called the Cobblestone. It is known for live Irish music, and when we arrived at 8:00, it was already packed. We lucked out and found a space at the bar, where we sat and listened to players for about 2 hours. It was great fun and nice to hear some live music. The bar continued filling up, so it became difficult to hear the musicians at some point. People in the back couldn’t hear them, so by 9:30, the conversation started to eclipse the music.

Afterward, we grabbed food in Temple Bar at Gallagher’s Boxty House. We had heard about this potato pancake the Irish eat called a boxty and wanted to try one. The restaurant is legitimately good but very expensive for what seems to be home cooking. I imagine it’s what it feels like to go to an upscale, touristy, soul-food restaurant. Our waiter was a gay guy named Mike, who was about ten years older than us, and we chatted with him for a while. He told us about the gay scene in Dublin in the 90s, and it was fun just to hear some local history about the scene. I regret not asking him about their Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Leo Varadka. Dublin is a small town, and there must be tales within the queer community about him, but alas, I missed my chance.

Next: Ireland – Day 4

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