Angelina and I arrived in Dublin on a rainy Sunday morning in early May on our recent trip to Ireland. This first leg had a number of historical locations on our ambitious itinerary the first of which was Trinity College where the Book of Kells is housed in the Old Library. Trinity College was an easy walk from the hotel and we entered the library after waiting in a queue for a short time chatting with other American visitors.
The Book of Kells is the remarkable work of medieval monks who created a lavishly illuminated gospel book containing the four gospels in Latin. The complex illustration and ornamentation is amazing and exceeded my already high expectations. The library displays two pages at a time in a climate-controlled display case – a page of illumination and a page of text – turning the pages every few months. While the exhibit was crowded, we were able to get a good look at this great manuscript. Since no photography was allowed in the Kells exhibit area, we waited until we went into the Old Library itself where photography is allowed and we found a colorful exhibit celebrating
Brian Boru’s victory over the Vikings at the battle of Clontarf in the eleventh century. This was an unexpected bonus and an interesting glimpse into long-ago Irish history. Ireland has endured a long and painful struggle for self-rule and Dublin is full of reminders with one foot in the present and the other firmly planted in Ireland’s bittersweet past.
Kilmainham Gaol, located about 2 miles from Dublin Center, is an ancient prison with a tragic history, where leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916 were incarcerated after their failed one-week rebellion against Great Britain. Thirteen of them were executed by firing squad several weeks later in a grim prison yard which is preserved today as it was then with a solitary cross indicating where the prisoners stood. The building is now a museum and a tour of the building, especially that cold, forbidding prison yard, is a powerful experience. Kilmainham Gaol is Irish sacred ground.
Another compelling reminder of Ireland’s troubled past is the Garden of Remembrance located in Parnell Square at the top of O’Connell Street in Dublin City Center. This tranquil garden, dedicated to Ireland’s freedom fighters, opened in 1966 with a sunken crossed-shaped water feature. An impressive bronze statue titled Children of Lir symbolizing Irish freedoms was added in 1971. We sat for a bit in this cool and serene garden and enjoyed a quiet moment away from the noisy hubbub of O’Connell Street just a few yards away.
In Dublin we soon discovered a culinary fact of life in Ireland – lamb. Roast lamb, lamb chops, lamb stew, fall-off-the-bone lamb. Lamb was on the menu in some form everywhere we ate for 12 days…good thing we like lamb. (Corned beef and cabbage must be an American thing as we never saw it, not once, anywhere in Ireland.) Later in the trip we would see great flocks of sheep everywhere. We even saw a ewe with her lambs kept like pets in back yards of homes in suburban areas.
Much to my delight, good quality gluten-free food was widely available in all eateries due to the high incidence of celiac disease in Ireland. I had terrific GF meals with great GF breads, rolls, beer, soups, chowders, pizza, stews, pastries, fish and chips, plus lamb in all its forms.
Dublin City is very walkable and walk we did – to Dublin’s boisterous Temple Bar entertainment district along the River Liffey, over the famous Ha’penny Bridge and up historic O’Connell Street in the center of the city to the General Post Office where the Easter Rising standoff took place in 1916, bullet holes still evident in the marble columns.
Stylish window boxes best seen on foot were on display throughout the city. Since Dublin has no subway, we used their excellent bus system when we had to travel beyond walking distance. No autos necessary.
After three days we left Dublin and started the second leg of the trip, the part where I drive, which began at the Hertz Car Hire. Angelina and I packed our suitcases into a mid-sized Chevrolet sedan, set the GPS, and headed to Powerscourt and later on to Kilkenny. Little did I realize that morning, as I swung out onto a busy Dublin avenue and followed traffic for the first time on the left side of the road, what an adventure driving in Ireland was going to be. More on that later.