Monday, July 30, 2012

Celts, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and the Irish

It's going to be a great day when the bus driver sings "Molly Malone", Dublin's unofficial anthem:

In Dublin's fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"
"Alive, alive, oh,
Alive, alive, oh",
Crying "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh".
After singing, he went on to tell us that Molly is fondly known as "the tart with the cart," "the dish with the fish", or the "trollop with the scallop" alluding to her daytime profession selling fish and her nighttime profession as a prostitute. We're learning that the Irish love a good joke and have a great sense of humor.

Trinity College

We walked to Trinity College, founded in 1592 and home to the Book of Kells in the beautiful Old Library. Neither Mike or I like to wait in line, but we made an exception today.

The Old Library's Long Room is home to over 200,000 of its oldest books, with several on display in glass cases and the rest housed in stacks on two different floors. The bookshelves reach so high narrow ladders are necessary to access the tallestest shelves.

The main event in the Library is the Book of Kells, an ornately illustrated book containing the four New Testament Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - handwritten on vellum in Latin by Celtic monks in the 9th century. Before we could view the actual book, we walked through an informative exhibit that explained how the monks painstakingly wrote the book using quill and ink and illustrated  it with vivid, beautiful colors that make up intricate designs. Photos of the book can't compare to the intensity of the colors in real-life, but they give an idea of the detail and time that went into this book.

We walked out of the quiet, dark Old Library into bright sunshine - something of a surprise in Dublin, where rain and showers are more common than sunshine, but welcome nonetheless. We took the CitySightseeing Dublin yellow line tour today, which included the Molly Malone song and other interesting tidbits:  the Natural History Museum is known locally as "The Dead Zoo", the statue of local politician and proponent of Irish sovreignty Daniel O'Connell is filled with dozens of holes from gunfire during the 1916 uprising, the 398' tall Spire installed for the 1988 Dublin Millenium is known as "the stiffy on the Liffey" and the ships filled with Irish emigrants to America in the 1800's were called "coffin ships" because of the horrible conditions on board.

the Spire on O'Connell Street

Dublin is home to two famous churches, and we spent time in each. Christ Church Cathedral was originally built in 1030, but has been rebuilt several times into a combination of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture.

We descended into the Crypt below the Cathedral, the oldest surviving structure in Dublin. It feels like a cave lined with rough stones that also make up the curved celing and the heavy pillars that carry the weight of the entire Cathedral above. The Irish sense of humor continues with a giftshop aptly named "The Foxy Friars" and a cafe called simply "The Crypt".

As we came back up the winding stone staircase from the Crypt into the Cathedral, we saw a crowd of children and young teens gathering near the altar. We sat down as they started to sing, and were treated to a lovely acapella concert by the Voices of Eve 'N Angels choir from northern California. We learned that the Cathedral has a centuries-old tradition of high-quality music, and that tradition continued as the children's voices echoed through the building.

After a quick lunch we visited the Dublinia exhibit next to the Christ Church Cathedral to learn about the Celts, Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons who shaped the early history of Dublin.

early Celtic figure

Vikings first visited Dublin around 820, and built a permanent settlement in 824.  Olaf the White of Norway was the first king of Dublin, and the surname "McAuliffe", which means 'son of Olaf' stems from his rule. More Irish humor:  a realistic-looking Dublin resident from the 900's sitting in his outhouse, audibly moaning, grunting, and farting was part of the exhibit.

The Anglo-Saxons invaded Ireland and transformed Dublin into an important medieval city. I learned that merchants and their families ate their meal using a pewter plate, their apprentice used a square wooden trench that gave rise to the phrase 'a good square meal', and their servants used a large slice of brown bread as a plate for the rest of their meal. The servants then gave the used piece of bread to the poor - nothing went to waste.

Our last stop for the day was St. Patrick's Cathedral, built on the site where St. Patrick supposedly baptized the first Christians in Ireland in the early 400's. A small, wooden church was first built here, and the present cathedral was built in the 13th century.

Jonathon Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels which was published in 1726 and holder of the post of Dean of the Cathedral, is one of the many famous and important people buried here.

We had a rare, sunny day with no rain and we enjoyed every bit of it. Tomorrow we pick up the motorcycle and head northwest to Donegal for the start of a 4-day motorcycle trip with Celtic Rider. We're ready to get on the road and explore Ireland!

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