Cities / Towns Visited: 72
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 20,555
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,429,167
We arose somewhat more refreshed today, and headed out after breakfast with a full day of sightseeing on the books. A brisk walk into the city saw as arrive at our first destination before too long; Marsh’s Library. Now, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I am somewhat of a bibliophile and a lover of any form of old library. There is something soothing and intriguing about floor to ceiling wooden shelves, stacked neatly with row after row of leather bound books, and the familiar smell of ancient literature lingering gently in the air. There is such potential in libraries; potential for knowledge and education, potential for empathy and compassion, potential for imagination and aspiration. There is a special magic in the fact we can make simple ink marks on paper and in doing so we can inspire, we can teach, we can entertain.
Walking up the tree lined staircase, we passed inside and ascended the steps up to the first floor, where the historic rooms reside. Entering, we bought our tickets and were informed that they were also displaying a special exhibition of the only remaining copy of a number of important texts; and also that photography was forbidden. Looking down the library hall, there was something soothing about the symmetry of the place. Perfectly aligned shelves, with books stacked neatly upon them; smallest at the top, only reachable by ladders; and huge heavy volumes on the bottom, which looked very much like you’d have to bend at the knees to lift them without injury. Down the centre, on either side of the walkway sat glass cases, book after book of rare works with no replacement anywhere. From old bibles, to a letter from the 1800’s from an upper class woman to her harasser at the theatre in the form of an opinion piece; and from a man advertising his services, to old schoolbooks, which are rare simply because they are often overused and ruined until they are thrown away. This library is named after Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, who was the man to order the construction of the library in 1703, and I can’t thank him enough for his contribution to the preservation of knowledge for future generations. There is power in this knowledge, and his actions, and the actions of all those who have started and kept libraries, have empowered us all.
Of course one library wasn’t going to be enough for the day, and we were not going to be able to fit it in on any other day, thus we scurried off to our second stop; The Chester Beatty Library. This varies greatly from the last, in that it is not set up as a collection of book decked shelves, but is instead laid out in a format closer to a museum. Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was a mining magnate, who was fascinated by Eastern cultures, and thus collected and kept a large selection of old works and manuscripts, mainly from Japan and the Far East. Upon his death he bequeathed the entire collection to the state. There is some wonderfully intricate traditional calligraphy works from up to 500 years ago, along with many intricate hand painted illustrations depicting scenes of traditional lives from centuries past in Japan. There is also some old samurai armour and weapons on display. Another part of the museum holds a large exhibit of old religious texts, not just Christian but also a number of other religions including Islam. It was a perfect example of how important storytelling and story keeping is the world over. Our histories and ancient beliefs are marked on these pages, and we must protect them.
Time came and went, and eventually it was our turn to rush off in order to reach our last destination, which happened to be a rather lengthy walk out of town; Glasnevin Cemetery. Eventually we arrived, and with a little time to spare we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the cafe before our pre-booked tour began. Right on schedule we were met by a smiling older Irish gentleman named, almost predictably, Paddy.
The next hour was spent sharing in the stories of the many interesting but obscure souls who are buried in this huge sweeping graveyard, like Father Francis Browne, the priest who had been hugely interested in photography in his youth, and had been on the Titanic on its trip from Southampton Dock in England, to Cork in Ireland, and had taken the only remaining photos of the interior during its voyage, during the ships short life. He had been offered a ticket to take the ship all of the way to America by a rich family who enjoyed his company, but when he asked permission from his superiors they told his to ‘Get off that boat!’. Some would call that luck, but I imagine he later saw it as divine intervention.
There was the amusing grave of Francis Edward De Groot, an Australian far right activist who was loyal to his British homeland, who interrupted the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, in order to stop the New South Wales Premier Jack Lang from cutting the ribbon, and instead cut it himself with his ceremonial sword while dressed in full military uniform and on horseback. Also the tragic family grave erected by a husband who’s wife and four daughters all died from severe food poisoning from eating tainted shellfish. Near the front of the cemetery sits a highly ornate and over the top tomb of Cardinal MacCabe who had apparently asked for a meagre and understated burial, but to whom seemingly no one had listened. In stark contrast there is the grave of Charles Stewart Parnell, a prominent parliament member who asked to be buried with little fuss, and amongst the common folk; and as such his grave is a boulder with simply his surname on it, sitting atop a grassy mound. His body rests atop an old cholera pit in which thirteen thousand people were buried to try and contain the disease in the 1830’s. This didn’t really work though as groundwater which runs beneath the cemetery picked up and spread the sickness.
It is also fascinating to hear the amusing stories, like the guard who accidentally shot a rich families pet parrot who had escaped, as he thought the flash of colour up a tree was a graverobber; or the lady who faked her own death so that they could cash in on an inheritance, so was figuratively ‘buried’ in the cemetery twice. You can also see the very clear line where the Celtic cross began being widely used as a grave marker after there was a Celtic revival in the 1850's.
Amongst these stranger stories sits many other more solemn deaths, including many war graves and a few memorials. Within the walls of the cemetery also lies the graves of many of the most important names from Ireland’s push for independence from the yolk of English rule, including the ringleaders of the infamous 1916 Easter Rising, which resulted in bloody but short lived fighting across Dublin, and a number of other major towns in the country, over the Easter period of that year. At the time many Irish saw this failed rebellion as a negative endeavour, especially considering the fact that there were many Irish men off fighting alongside the English in World War I, and believed it would be better to use diplomatic measures, which were happening, albeit glacially slowly. However when these young rebel leaders were mercilessly executed for their inciting of violence against the English military, in the name of freedom for Ireland, public opinion began to change, and they slowly became seen as freedom fighting heroes. Although their bodies still lie unidentifiably in the unmarked mass grave on Arbor Hill, there are now memorials for them here.
The major push for revolution was actually started in this very cemetery, with a speech by Patrick Pearse at the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, a member of the Fenians (a Nationalist group who had been fighting for a free Ireland for quite some time already), calling the men of Ireland to stand up for the freedom the Fenians had laid down their lives for. It is considered to be one of the most important Irish speeches of all time. To make it even more poignant they even have an actor dressed as Pearse stand up and give the speech with great emotion and gusto. Listening to the heartfelt plea, it’s easy to see why so many were inspired to take up arms for their independence. If you’ve never seen or heard it, I encourage you to search for it.
With the tour at an end, we took a little time to visit the small museum at the visitor centre. The upper section has a rather detailed display about the Rising, which really helped us to get our heads around the events which were to come up time and time again at many of the sights we were yet to see. The basement floor holds some interesting models explaining how the graves used to be dug when it was all by hand, as well as the horrifying practise of grave robbing. The most fascinating part of the exhibit though, was a wall showing all of the religions and their beliefs and practices when it comes to death. It did not just cover the major religions either, with ancient traditions, and smaller religions like Taoism, Wiccan, Humanism and Paganism being represented equally. Its always interesting to see how we deal with death as a species.
With the cemetery thoroughly explored, and a little afternoon tea eaten, we had one last stop to make. Our Airbnb host, and our tour guide, had recommended a special pub; the John Kavanagh, more lovingly known as The Gravedigger’s. This pub has been here since 1833, just one year after the opening of the cemetery, where it used to have a hole through the wall from which to serve pints to the hard-working gravediggers. The tiny pub itself hasn’t changed since that time either, and as you walk in you are met with the faces of the seventh generation of Kavanaghs to run it, and the same wooden bartop that has served diggers and post-funeral mourners for almost 200 years. It’s all cash still, and aside from the electric lighting, it’s basically like stepping through a porthole to the past. They don’t have a television or a phone, and there’s strictly no singing or dancing allowed.
With out minds racing with all the stories we had heard today, we made our way home for another quiet night of resting, despite our hosts daily question of whether or not we were heading to the pub. As I reviewed all I had heard today, it was hard not to think, once more, about all of the stories of those who had passed; and how their stories are often all we have left. For almost all of human history, the written word was the only remnant of a life lived. Without it, all of the stories which fill the shelves of those libraries, all the emotion put forth by Patrick Pearse’s speech, would fade away out of the collective memory of the world. The impact of important historical figures, people who made this world a better or worse place by virtue of their words, or their actions, would be lost; all record of our past would blur until it was all but mist. With that said, we are now in a strange junction in history where we are constantly writing down every skerig of our lives into the seemingly immortal void of the internet, and filming every monumental and every menial occurrence in our lives in equal measure. The important and world changing actions are being buried by the enormous weight of meaningless text. Everyday we have to scroll a little further; past the filtered photos of the Sunday brunch of someone you knew for a blip in primary school; past three more cute cat videos; past another ill-informed political opinions of someone who knows very little other than what the media spoon feeds them; before we reach anything of true value.
For most of us, our written story, and our photos, will be all that remains when we are gone, and yet we seem to put very little thought into that legacy. When we pass, our actions will be remembered by those who knew us, but they will most likely die with them. What is left behind in writing will be all that remains for the generations who knew only of us by name. Perhaps these stories will be all that is left of me, perhaps someone will find them in the abyss of the internet one day when I’m gone and simply chortle at how ridiculous things were ‘back then’. But what have I learnt from it all? Write your successes and your failures with equal gusto, write honestly if even to a fault, write consciously and thoughtfully (and take time to reflect on what you’ve learnt as you do so), write the parts of your history that your proud to call your own, but most of all, write only stories worth reading. Idle and inane chatter offers little to the pages of history, and only serve to make it a heavier and harder to navigate book.