Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Dublin Walkabout

It's hard to believe most of the houses on the road were put up in the late 1930s, nearly seventy years ago. My mother grew up in a corner house with five brothers and her younger sister. Now K has the place to herself. The interior has been redone several times over in the intervening years but there's been little change to the look of the house from the outside: I remember it well from school holidays when I used to play football with Frank and Aidan and Tony and the pals in the cul-de-sac round the corner and the peelers would come tearing in on motorbikes to chase us over the garden walls.

It was a Tuesday when we arrived (July 23rd)and we were met at the airport. Went over to the Goose that evening for the first real pint: the price has gone up (again!), but they still go down with a click. Ahhhh . . . lovely!

Into town the next morning on the same old 24 bus. The route through Marino down to Fairview is the same but then it swings up to Summerhill before coming down past Aldborough House to the Five Lamps. Then it's straight into town along the Strand past Amiens Street(Connolly) Station, Busaras and across the Liffey on the new bridge by the Customs House, followed by a right onto the quays and so down to O'Connell Bridge. Dear old dirty Dublin: expensive, battered and none-too-clean. Magic all the same.

Just before Trinity College you'll see a traffic island on the left with a statue of the poet Tom Moore. The hand at the end of his outflung arm usually clutches a bottle of Guinness (courtesy of some late-night reveller)and on either side of him there are steps leading down to large (now closed)underground public toilets. Moore, very popular with the genteel classes of London for all his lovely ballads and sad Irish airs, might sense a sly Dublin backhander in the way he's been positioned for posterity. But he did write "The Meeting of the Waters".

Facing Trinity is the Bank of Ireland, the old Parliament Building until January 1, 1801 when Ireland was dragged kicking and screaming into Union with Britain.Inside the bank the Lords' chamber is still preserved with the great mace from the Commons under glass. To one side there is a glass cabinet with documents signed by Flood, Curran, Grattan and other notable figures of the period; on the walls are two large tapestries representing the Siege of Derry and William III at the Battle of the Boyne. The tapestries were hung in 1735 when the events they depicted were still within living memory.

Of all the eccentric characters who belonged to "Grattan's Parliament", Sir Boyle Roche and Buck Whaley deserve some passing mention. Boyle Roche was a buffoon but was renowned in his day for his sudden outbursts of incongruous language. He is best remembered for demanding "What has posterity ever done for us?" and for his claim that "no man could be in two places at once unless he was a bird". He warned Parliament on the occasion of a threatened French invasion that the French would "break in, cut us to mincemeat and throw our bleeding heads upon that table to stare us in the face". At a time (according to a contemporary) when "the great end and aim of life in the upper classes seemed to be convivial indulgence to excess" Buck Whaley was the most flamboyant gambler, rake and dandy in Dublin. He was a regular at the card tables in Daly's on College Green and was observed accepting bribes to vote both for the Union and against it. Described as a layabout, that hardly does justice to a man who once walked all the way from Dublin to Jerusalem to win a bet.

Outside is a statue of Grattan, and behind it, a newer more
controversial statue of the Young Irelander and poet, Thomas Davis.It stands on about the spot of an earlier statue of William III, which was
constantly being defaced and was blown up in 1836, restored, and then blown up conclusively in 1929. We'll see more of him in Belfast.

After parting from the girls (who were off to Grafton St. and the shops)I walked along Dame Street towards Dublin Castle, with a left wheel down a narrow passage for a pint at the "Stag's Head", a fine old nineteenth century pub. The Castle is just a few steps further. The Bermingham Tower is the oldest part of the Castle which was built on the orders of King John between 1204-24. Red Hugh O'Donnell made two dramatic escapes from this tower in the early 1590s, and would have been away the first time if the O'Toole's of Wicklow hadn't turned him in for the reward. Mercenary bastards. The last attack on the Castle was during the 1916 Rising when some volunteers and members of the Citizen Army got into the Upper Yard and occupied the roof of City Hall. Dublin Castle was the headquarters of English rule in Ireland. The buildings around the courtyard are mostly 18th century with a statue of Justice adorning one of the gateway arches that has her back turned on the city. The symbolism was not lost on the people of the time, nor the fact that her scales were uneven. On 16 January 1922, the last in a line of viceroys that extended back to the year 1172, Lord Fitzalan, handed over the keys to representatives of the provisional government. The IRA leader Michael Collins was delayed in arriving for the exchange of British and Irish garrisons and faced a chilly reprimand from the English commanding officer. "General Collins," he said,"you are seven minutes late." "After seven hundred years" said Collins "we'll give you the seven minutes."

These buildings today contain the State Apartments for visiting dignitaries and also St. Patrick's Hall, where the Presidents of Ireland are sworn into office. This was where Mary Robinson became the country's first woman president in 1990.

Christ Church Cathedral. The church, although extensively renovated,dates from 1038 when most of the surrounding area was a Viking settlement. Richard de Clare ("Strongbow") led the Norman invaders of the 1170s and is buried here, his grave marked by a polished black limestone statue. In 1487,the boy pretender, Lambert Simnel, was crowned King of England at the high altar with a crown borrowed from a statue of the Blessed Virgin. When the poet Spenser visited the cathedral in 1582 the nave had become a place of business, and there were taverns in the crypt. The underground vaults of the crypt are dusty and eerie today. There is a gruesome story told of an English officer becoming separated from a funeral party and being inadvertently locked into one of these passages. Months later when the passage was finally reopened for another funeral his skeleton and sword were discovered surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of tiny skeletal remains --rats.

Below Christ Church and neighbouring St. Audoen's are the remains of the City Wall on Cook Street. These were inner defenses and St. Audoen's Gatedates from the 1240s. Nearby on Bridge Street is The Brazen Head, Ireland's oldest pub and still a going concern after 800 years. It was a meeting place for the United Irishmen and some were arrested there in 1797. Wolfe Tone,Daniel O'Connell and Robert Emmet were frequent patrons and Emmet's writing table can still be seen in an upper room.

The bridge across the Liffey at this spot marks the site of the original Ford of the Hurdles (Ath Cliath) from which the Irish name of the city --Baile Atha Cliath -- is derived. It formed part of the Sligh Cualann, one of the five great roads of ancient Ireland, and ran from Tara to Glendalough.Gandon's Four Courts dominate the northern quays and the pillars are still marked by the bullets and shells of the Civil War when it was occupied by anti-Treaty forces. Further along is a foot-bridge over the river that once had a crossing-toll and is still known today as the Ha'penny Bridge.

The O'Connell Statue dominates the foot of Sackville Street where it meets Carlisle Bridge. Both street and bridge have had their names changed to honour "The Liberator". O'Connell became the voice of the Irish people in their time of distress and under his leadership a great national reawakening took place that prepared the ground for Parnell and the Home Rule movement.But Irish independence was to come about as the result of a more narrowly-based and Anglophobic strand of nationalism which traced its roots to Wolfe Tone and the Fenians and was to lead to the IRA, past and present.If you look closely at the elbow and breast of two of the female figures at the base of O'Connell's statue you'll see bullet holes from the 1916 Rebellion. In the North Sinn Fein once spoke of defeating Britain with the ballot box in one hand and an Armalite in the other. This statue seems to commemorate both traditions.

The statue of the fiery Jim Larkin is posed from a famous photograph taken during the Transport Strike of 1913. Along with James Connolly he organized a labour union to confront the bosses, standing up for an impoverished Dublin working class that suffered the worst living conditions in Europe. Sean O'Casey used to adore this man, and with good reason.

Ahead on the left is the GPO where Padraic Pearse read the Proclamation of the Republic on Easter Monday, 1916. The rebellion was doomed before it began and fifteen of the captured leaders, including Pearse and his brother Willy, were executed in twos and threes in early May. ("Like watching blood flowing from behind a locked door.") Pearse wrote this poem for his mother as he was awaiting execution in Kilmainham Jail. Rose Kennedy, mother to John and Robert, kept a copy.

I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing,
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, though art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow - And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.

The futility of static warfare against a superior force was not lost on the young Michael Collins, who had taken part in the defence of the GPO. The IRA he led in 1919-21 was a clandestine force indistinguishable from the civilian population. His success depended largely on mobility and surprise. He was able to anticipate the moves of the forces sent over to put down the rebellion (notably the irregular police known as the Black and Tans) through the infiltration of agents into all levels of the British command. When one of his female cousins told him that she had been asked by Dublin Castle to help with the decoding of military cyphers Collins burst out laughing, remarking that "a people so thick didn't deserve to keep an Empire". He went on to fight the British to a standstill. A truce was called for negotiations and Collins signed a controversial Treaty in 1921 that fell short of the IRA demand for a 32-county Irish republic. Collins felt(rightly) that public opinion would not countenance a resumption of the fighting; in addition, many of his IRA men had been exposed during the truce period and stocks of ammunition were low. He said at the time he was signing his own death warrant and so it proved. He was to die tragically at the hands of anti-Treaty forces in the bitter Civil War that followed. He was 32 years of age. Had he lived we might have seen a very different Ireland --"It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time," wrote de Valera,who bitterly opposed Collins for his signing of the Treaty, "history will record the greatness of Collins and it will be recorded at my expense."

At the top of North Earl Street is a new (1990) statue of a Dubliner who left the place in disgust -- and then spent the rest of his life writing about it. Joyce's books were banned here until the 1960s but you'd never know from the fuss made over him now. The city turned its back on him while he was alive; Joyce had done the same to Dublin, of course, or at least toward the many enemies he had made in the place (philistines all!), and his revenge -- in his books -- will last as long as the English language.

O Ireland my first and only love
Where Christ and Caesar are hand in glove!
O lovely land where the shamrock grows!
(Allow me, ladies, to blow my nose.)

Moore Street market. Here's a bit of old Dublin and some of the real oul' Dublin wans . . . (C'mere til I tell yeh) . . . LUVALLY PEEEEEE--CHEZ, FOYEV FER A PEOWND !! . . . (Lookut, young wan, amn't I kilt tellin yeh not to be pokin dem temAH-has?) . . . T-SHORTS! GET YER T-SHORTS!!!

Pearse surrendered to General Lowe at the top of Moore Street. And it was here also that the O'Rahilly had been cut down while leading a last futile charge. He had been kept in the dark about the Rising along with Eoin MacNeill and the other Volunteer leaders but he showed up on the day:

"Am I such a craven that
I should not get the word
But for what some travelling man
Had heard I had not heard?"
Then on Pearse and Connolly
He fixed a bitter look:
"Because I helped to wind the clock
I come to hear it strike."

( Yeats: "The O'Rahilly")

For photos of Dublin look here and here and here
or you can learn to speak widda Dubbelin Accident