We caught a plane to Dublin from London. Here we had our toughest passage through Customs yet. Admittedly Heathrow is difficult; it’s being renovated and we had to catch several buses to reach our terminal. Also, the Customs woman seemed to think I was on a false passport and fired questions at me: “Do you know anyone in Dublin?” “Yes, my girlfriend is studying writing there at the moment.” “Are you staying with her?” “No, at the Fleet Street Hotel.” “When’s your birthday?” “19th November.” “How old are you?” “69” (Looking at my terrible passport photo) “You don’t look that old”. I felt like being rude, but I’ve made it a rule never to argue with a Customs officer. And I was too tired by this stage: really feeling my age after the long queues and exhaustive bag searches.
To make things worse, an American woman with her hen-pecked husband was saying in a loud voice; “It’s all the Muzzlems’ fault, you know!” Once allowed to pass through, we muttered something quickly and hurried in order to put distance between us and the Americans. Luckily, the plane trip was not very long, highlighting the closeness between this tiny country and its one-time nemesis, Great Britain. It’s even smaller than Tasmania.
Kay, my friend from Australia, was there waiting for us. We three hugged and kissed, then caught a taxi to our hotel. Fleet Street Hotel is very central, a block away from the Liffey River and surrounded by pubs with patrons flowing out onto the city streets. Our hotel room was small and plain, with a view onto an eighteen century looking roof area that looked like works had been called off due to lack of funds. We found a pub restaurant with expensive food that was not very good: bacon is on all the menus, but it’s more like bully beef or boiled meat.
Kay invited us for dinner the next evening at her spacious apartment in a Georgian building near St Stephens’ Green area. This is the most attractive area of Dublin with vines spreading out over the facades of the buildings and beautiful gardens and open spaces. Many of the other Anglo type buildings were torn down after the republic was born.
One of the highlights of our visit was being able to see the Book of Kells, which was on show at Trinity College, opposite our Hotel. We were very lucky not to have to line up, since one of Mark’s colleague acquaintances works at the university there. We felt priviliged to be able to see these amazing ancient texts. Also, we were able to visit the medieval library with its fascinating articles hearking back to classical times and before. Mark’s friend told him that all public servants, lecturers and teachers included, have to take a thirty percent pay cut because of the bail-out by Germany. I also noticed more beggars in Ireland than in any other European country we visited. The anti-abortion laws are medieval, and women often have large families. And yet, the country is open to gay marriage, according to my friend: just one of the many contradictions in Ireland.
A must when you’re in Dublin is visit Kilmainham Gaol. It’s where the Easter Rising rebels were executed in 1916, which led to Ireland becoming a republic. I felt terribly depressed afterwards. Like all gaols, even though it’s a museum, it’s depressing, but this one more so because of the executions that took place here. The pretty blond guide dramatised the events,and brought home to us the magnitude of what happened here, but it’s the only way to really understand the “Irishness” of the country’s people. The British leaders at the time, stupidly started to execute the leaders of the Rising. By the time they’d got to twenty, the dye was cast, and the people rose up: the Republic of Ireland was born.
A real pleasure was walking around the city looking at the gardens and streets, often coming across statues and plaques devoted to famous writers and icons. Writers are revered in Dublin. Another must is to hop on a green bus and do the tour of the city, which includes a visit to the huge Guinness factory and various museums, including the Writers Centre.