Cities / Towns Visited: 72
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 19,211
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,469,968
We awoke, ready for another day of exploration, and were soon on our way into the city once more. It was Monday and so, like in the majority of Europe, many attractions were closed, but we weaved our way in until we reached one we knew would be open; Dublin Castle. We arrived bright and early, ready to join the very first tour for the day, and thus we did. The castle was originally opened in 1204, however the majority of the building dates from much later, due to extensive damage from a fire in 1684; and it stood as the official seat of British rule in Ireland until 1922 when they gained independence. It is now where every new Irish president is sworn in, but is otherwise mostly just used as a tourist attraction.
We began our tour in the castle’s chapel, which is both stunningly beautiful and deeply fascinating. Although designed to look like stone, the majority of the interior is actually wood, painted to give the illusion of masonry, due to the boggy nature of the ground below making it unsuitable for extensive load bearing. The wooden balconies are fronted with dark wood panelling, which are inlaid with the crests all of the previous viceroys, who were the royally appointed representatives of Ireland under British rule for centuries. In an amusing twist of fate, the last space in the panelling was filled with the crest of the last viceroy before the independence. Sometimes things just fit perfectly into place.
From here, we were shown around the interior of the castle, and our friendly guide explained how this was the residence of the viceroys and their families. They lived almost like royalty, with lavish furnishings, a large handful of ornate chandeliers, and a smattering of portraits for good measure. In short, they lived a privileged life full of entertaining and generally swanning round. The most impressive room is Saint Patrick’s hall, which is one of the oldest rooms in the castle, but was damaged by fire in 1941, hence its somewhat fresh look. It’s most striking feature is its stunning painted ceiling which consists of three panels, one depicting the crowning of King George III; one depicting St Patrick introducing Christianity to the country; and the last depicting Henry II receiving the surrender of the Irish Chieftains. Along the tops of the walls hangs the flags of the members of the Order of Saint Patrick; an old royal order from when Britain ruled the country. In modern days the room is the site of the presidential inauguration, and a number of important events. The entire castle isn’t all glitz and glamour though, and there is a small memorial in the room where the injured James Connolly was treated during the Easter Rising, before his execution.
The last, and possibly most amusing, addition we were directed to were the two large stone statues which sit atop the stone arches at the entrance to the castle. For the purpose of this remember that these were installed before the independence of the nation. One depicts Mars, God of war, standing triumphant in Roman armour, wielding a spear, with a cowering lion at his feet. It is made more amusing by the fact that the lion is the symbolic animal of England, from whom they gained independence. The second statue is of Lady Justice, who, somewhat uncharacteristically, is shown not blindfolded. Her sword is also held aloft, and she is smiling almost too serenely at it. Lastly we were told that the scales actually move, and are tilted ever so slightly towards the revenue office, a fact which is more obvious when it rains and they catch the weight of the falling water; meaning her justice is seemingly often not blind, nor fair. The last comical factor to these two statues is that, unlike most castle statues, they are facing inwards, instead of out towards the people, and unceremoniously, and many agree deliberately, facing their rears to Britain. There is even a saying in Dublin about this statue of Justice; “The Statue of Justice, mark well her station, her face to the castle and her arse to the nation!”, and that’s about as Irish of a saying as you can imagine.
With all seen and admired we moved onto our next stop; St Patrick’s Cathedral. It seemed only apt that we should visit the church dedicated to the country’s patron saint. This stunning gothic building was founded in 1191, and with its skyscraping spire is it the country’s tallest and largest church. We were surprised to learn that it is actually owned by the Church of Ireland, and is not a catholic church, as we had assumed; however in hindsight it isn’t too far-fetched considering how thorough the reformation to Protestantism was throughout Britain and Ireland. Another surprise was the fact that this church does not have a crypt, for the simple fact that the water table sits much to high below the building , and thus digging down another level was not an option, instead only under floor graves could be added.
The space is quite breathtaking, with its soaring vaulted ceilings, glowing rainbow of stained glass windows, and many solemn memorials lining the walls. In a niche to one side is a poignant memorial to those brave men who lost their lives at war, and hanging high above sit the flags of the Irish regiments which have since been disbanded. The flags are traditionally left to decay over time. It is meant not to be disrespectful, but as a metaphor to show that the soldiers do not truly die, but rather fade away, and is a touching reminder of their sacrifice. Just by this memorial also stands the door of reconciliation. In 1492 two noble Irish families, the Butlers and the FitzGeralds, were in a bitter feud for the position of Lord Deputy. Their feud broke out into a skirmish and the Butlers, seeing the fight was getting out of hand, hid in the chapter house of the Cathedral. The FitzGeralds wanted to call a truce, but the Butlers were understandably wary and refused. So the head of the FitzGeralds demanded a hole be cut in the door, and he thrust him arm through to make peace. Considering the fact he risked having his arm cut off, they realised his intentions were honest and came out to make peace. This, for anyone wondering, is where the phrase ‘to chance your arm’ comes from.
Another noteworthy addition to this beautiful church, is the grave of Jonathan Swift, the famous writer for whom we can thank for the masterpiece that is Gulliver’s travels. His grave lies beneath the floor, and beside him lies Esther Johnson, fondly know to him as Stella. Swift never married, but he was seemingly very close to Stella, hence her burial position. It was nice to take a moment of quiet reflection beside the grave of a man who’s most famous work I adore so much. Outside of the church also sits a statue of Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, (yes, of the famous Irish brewery), who personally helped pay for the restoration of the decaying house of God in the 1800's
With another church crossed off of our list, we scurried onwards to our last destination in Dublin; St. Stephen’s Green. This peaceful park, in the centre of the city, is a perfectly calm place to wander nowadays, but during the Easter Rising is was the centre of some of the fiercest fighting, which led to the rebels, who were in trenches here, having to retreat to the nearby post office to escape British soldiers fire. Dotted around the park are a number of statues, from a bust of the famous Irish novelist James Joyce, to some more abstract works in remembrance of the fighting. With bright flowers and a duck filled pond, it was a soothing way to end our whirlwind visit.
By this time we were peckish and found a small pub to settle down into for a good hearty meal. With a Dublin Coddle (a hodge podge of a stew with sausage, bacon, and vegetables), a cottage pie, and a couple of pints of cider, we happily reminisced on our time in Ireland thus far. In a jovial and comfortable mood we even bothered to stay for dessert, and at the suggestion of our friendly waiter, we ordered the bread and butter pudding with a shot of Powers Irish whisky to pour over the top. It was pretty damn good if I was to be honest, and I don’t even like whisky.
Fat and happy we made our way home for one last quiet night in; the next day would begin our road trip of this beautiful green land, and we needed rest. With Dublin done and dusted, I reflected on our crash course on a culture from which part of my ancestry originates. A culture of freedom fighters; of strong willed and proud men and women. I have always been a fiercely independent person, taking pride in being able to stand on my own two feet, with no need for hand outs, and a distaste for overbearing people endeavouring to control me. Perhaps it was nurture, but then again, perhaps it’s in my blood. I’m the kind of person who would shoot myself in the foot to make my point; someone who will call out and chase up those who have erred or wronged me, not with the express desire to be compensated, but simply because of the principle of the thing.
My moral compass is strong, and when coupled with my stubbornness, which I will admit can at times be toxic, I find it nigh on impossible to let go of past grudges. My intensely acute emotional memory, along with my photographic memory, makes me able to picture myself in situations which occurred decades ago, and yet feel the emotions they triggered with the same intensity; as though the wound were cut afresh. I acknowledge that forgiveness is an important skill, and the fact that the circle of people I am willing to forgive is small is a noteworthy flaw in my personality, but it is a trait I am doing my best to work on. I will try to take the high road, accept the apologies that never came and move on, but in doing so I also acknowledge that moving on without those people in my life is a perfectly acceptable option. In growing up I have come to learn that it’s okay to realise that your life can be made better without certain people in it, even if those people are blood relations. I learnt long ago that family is not blood, but rather those who stand bravely beside you, without judgement, through the fire and the storms; those who accept you as you are with no desire to change you. Where you come from is important, but you must not let it dictate where you are going, and loyalty to country or family are only of value if that loyalty is returned. In this country I have seen loyalty, I have seen independence, I have seen bravery; in this country I have felt a kinship to its people and a connection to the Irish blood that flows through my veins; in this country I have found another home.