DUBLIN – The weather reports, before I arrived, showed rain, wind and chill, as usual, because this is a soggy place. The longest complete drought ever reported in Ireland was in Limerick, April 3 to May 10, 1938 — 37 days. In Texas, we call that “37 days without rain. What’s your point?” The average annual rainfall in Ireland is about 150 cm. or 59 inches.
So I packed sweaters, a raincoat and was told to buy Clark’s shoes which have rubber soles to keep out the water. It is now sunny and 80 degrees. The locals are out in droves, absorbing the rays, glass of Guinness in hand. Students at Trinity College lie around the campus, just sunning. The few sidewalk cafes in Dublin – too wet to use most of the time – are jammed. The Irish Times even wrote, tongue in cheek; “Here are a few tips to help you navigate the sunny weather.”
To get around town, ask a cabbie because there are no street signs except those in Irish (we’d call it Gaelic). That language, taught in all pubic schools, is absolutely unpronounceable. According to a book on Ireland, in English, the Irish alphabet does not contain the letters J, K,Q, V, W, X, Y or Z. For a long time, this didn’t matter. In 1840 only half of the population could read and write.
The Great Famine of 1845-52 left 1-million dead and another 1-million fled, mostly to Boston. The island’s population fell between 20 and 25 percent. You can still see abandoned stone cabins around the countryside. I feel guilty since the Irish got their first potatoes from America. One thing I can’t figure, if there were no potatoes, this is an island, surrounded by fish – they taste great. So why didn’t the starving peasants turn to fishing?
An interesting point here is how close the Easter Rising is to today’s society. The centuries-long fight against the English for independence and the subsequent civil war only ended in 1923, so there are people still walking around who were alive then. A reminder of the Troubles, as they are called, is here at Kilmainham Gaol (Jail). When the little rebellion was over and the rebels, thought of mostly as the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, surrendered, the leaders were taken here. After a quick trial, they were shot one by one. Bad move by the Brits. The almost daily executions – they killed 15 before being halted — turned the victims into martyrs and the rebellion exploded.
This is the cell which held Joseph Mary Plunkett. Come down this hall to the Catholic chapel. It was here on May 4, 1916, that Plunkett married Grace Gifford. The only people in attendance were the bride and groom, a priest, and several British soldiers with bayonets fixed. After the ceremony the soldiers took Plunkett out to this count yard and, uh, shot him. Upon becoming independent, one of the first actions taken by the Irish was to leave the British Commonwealth.
Here is where a monument to British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson once stood. In 1966 the IRA blew up the 40-meter-high column. Two days later the Irish Army was called into to bring down the remaining stump. Its powerful explosion shattered windows for blocks and caused far more damage than the IRA blast. Recently, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee — her 60th year on the throne. The British went ape over the event. The Irish ignored it. The BBC weather report on TV shows what’s happening all over England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This part of the island isn’t mentioned. The Brits like to quote the Duke of Wellington who, on being noted that he was an Irishman, reportedly said, “Being born in a stable does not make one a horse.”
This is a sidewalk vending machine with three buttons for language: Irish, English and Polish. Since 2004, 150,000 Poles have migrated to Ireland. Some put the unofficial figures at 200,000. Now the economic boom that was called the Celtic Tiger is over, unemployment is 14 percent, and young Irish are leaving. All but two members of the Dingle soccer team went to Australia seeking jobs. But you still run into young Poles as maids, porters and such.
Despite what the rest of the world may think, and despite the green weed being painted on the tail of every Aer Lingus plane, the shamrock is not the official national symbol of Ireland. It’s the harp, making Ireland the only country with a musical instrument as its national symbol. Trinity College (1592) has a wonderful library with thousands of leather–bound books. They won’t let me check out any of them. This Sunday morning I am at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (1220), the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. It’s Protestant. You can visit the Guinness brewery. Don’t bother. Same for the steaks. Tough.
Dublin has a writers’ museum. Why not? It has produced four recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature: William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. Who’s Seamus Heaney? On the other hand, the sister-in-law of another author, Adolf Hitler, was an Irish woman named Bridget Dowling, and Der Fuhrer’s half brother, Alois Hitler, worked in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.
To get to Ireland we went through London’s Heathrow Airport. Do NOT attempt this yourself. The airport is nothing but chaos, construction and needless delays. We had two and a half hours between connecting flights and almost didn’t make it. Twice I had my photo taken, five passport checks, two bus trips, two trams, four escalators (I’m serious) and two metal detectors complete with belts-and-coats in the trays. A visiting member of the International Olympic Committee complained it took him two hours to go through the airport, and pointed out that in a month tens of thousands of athletes, press and spectators will be arriving for the Olympics. The terminal steeplechase may be a major event.
Ashby is jet lagged at email@example.com