Irish History, Dublin
You are never very far from a bronze in Dublin, and unusually the monuments themselves become part of the history of the nation.
For example the new spire in O'Connell street is on the site of Nelson's column which was blown up by the IRA in the 1960's. Others in Pheonix park and elsewhere were also attacked back in the 1920's & 30's. Queen Victoria escaped such a fate - but was sold to Australia!
Fondest memory: The Dublin sense of humour really come through in the nicknaming of the various monuments. Here are a couple of my favourites:
1) Molly Malone in Grafton street - known as the 'Tart with the cart'.
2) The shoppers in Batcherlors walk (near Ha'penny bridge) - known the 'Hags with the bags'.
- unfortunately the 'Floozie in the Jacuzzi' is currently without a home - which somehow seems appropriate. It also had the nickname of the "whore in the sewar" which only rhymes in a Dublin accent (As in the 'haw-arr' in the 'Saw-arr'.)
As the big pointy thing is in the site now perhaps I could suggest a nickname for the pointy thing:
"The spike through the dyke" - What do you think ?
Favorite thing: Ireland was one of those locations that I had heard so much about that it was almost familiar to me on my first visit. Over the years, I've seen many photos of the Cliffs of Moher, Dublin's Georgian doors, incredibly green grass, and believe it or not, stone walls. It seems like every rural photo that I see shows a stone wall curving through a green rolling hill and leading to a stone hut or farm. Even in Dublin, I noticed many of these old, stone walls. This one is along the path between the Modern Art Museum and Kilmainham Gaol.
The growth that Dublin saw during the reign of the first three English kings called George was unparallelled until the late 20th century - but with one crucial difference. The Georgian expansion was done with two elements sadly lacking in the later version - style and vision. The cruel irony was that the splendour of Dublin's Georgian architecture remained largely intact, if a little on the shabby side, throughout the lean century and a half following the Act Of Union, which saw a haemhorrage of money and enterprise from the old city on a scale that almost brought it to its knees. However, it was the 20th century property developers, in the name of progress, who mercilessly, and with a brutal finality, ultimately vandalised Dublin's grand and cherished Georgian character, to the extent that a lot of the buildings you can still see owe their survival more to dumb luck than any great plan to preserve the city's unique heritage.
An example of such luck is the expanse of Merrion Square, a public amenity slap bang in front of the Irish parliament buildings. This square was earmarked by the Catholic church as the site of a grand cathedral in the 1950s and 60s, but dodgy accounting on their part and some opposition from an increasingly aware citizenship stalled their plans long enough for the square to be redesignated a public park - and a beautiful one at that. It's ancient gates bear a legend (see photo) which harks back to the days when the square was for exclusive use of the residents in the stately Georgian houses that surround it on three sides and who did not want their lie-ins of a morning interrupted by the clanging of closing ironmongery. Later wags would appropriate the legend as a motto for Dublin itself - prefaced with the words "Would the last person out ..."
Fondest memory: More modern and affluent times have seen a concerted effort by the authorities to preserve the Georgian heritage which has fortuitously survived, and the visitor today can visit many buildings restored to their original glory. One such - Number 29 Fitzwilliam Street - I have included in some detail in my "Must See Activities". Even people with only half an interest in architecture or history would be hard hearted indeed, should they take the time to make such a visit, not to leave the city with redolent memories of such a tangible glimpse into Dublin's rich architectural and social heritage.
The river Liffey divides Dublin between north and south, and to many it also acts as a divide between two quite separate societies. This has a basis in historical fact as well as current economic realities - the great expansion of Dublin in the 18th century sprawled in both directions but it was the southern expansion that managed to best survive the trauma of the town's political emasculation when the Act of Union in 1800 dissolved the Irish parliament (due in no small part to the fact that the lifeline between England and Ireland was the ferry terminal at Dun Laoghaire).
Through all these upheavals the Liffey continued serving the city as it had always done. Although the port had long since been moved downstream, the presence of a large industrial sector right in the city's heartland meant that the river served as a goods highway, its most obvious customer being the giant Guinness Brewery on its banks. A visionary Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Ormonde, had ensured that the river be lined by wide quays when it was walled, so even as Dublin collapsed into enforced dilapidation throughout the 19th century, visiting Londoners cast envious eyes at the gracefulness and majesty of its main artery compared to their own pre-embankment Thames.
To an extent exceeding any other main city of the then British Empire, Dubliners retained an affectionate regard for, and pride in, this beautified open sewer - and even personified her as Anna Livia Plurabelle, unofficial water goddess of the city, with a slight hygiene problem but beloved nonetheless.
Fondest memory: Exploring the river can make for a pretty interesting day's ambling through the city. Along its banks stand some of Dublin's most important buildings and each bridge has its own story too. A pleasant boardwalk will facilitate you for some of the way these days but remember to wrap up warm - its West-East alignment means it is prone to act as a chilly wind tunnel, even on relatively fine days!
A lot of visitors are surprised at the low key way in which Dubliners commemorate their part in the lengthy campaign to wrest control of Ireland from Britain, especially visitors from countries which have undergone a similar experience and where Independence Day is a national holiday at least (very few Irish people would even know that Ireland's official Day of Independence was December 6th 1922). The pivotal event that led to Ireland's extrication from British rule was an armed rebellion in April 1916 that led to the destruction of much of the city centre and in which many of Dublin's most prominent buildings were seized by the rebels as strongholds from which to conduct the battle. The aftermath of that rising was a bitter six year guerilla war during which destruction was again visited on Dublin (and many other Irish towns and cities). The brutal civil war that followed independence also centred on certain Dublin landmarks at times. Given the dearth of recognition of this, one could be forgiven for thinking that the whole struggle for independence took place in the GPO in O'Connell Street!
The bitterness that the civil war caused and the more recent "troubles" in Ulster have caused many southern Irish to turn away from celebrating their republican heritage and therefore Dublin's pivotal role in events has been consequently neglected by all but a minority. This is a shame - Ireland's history, indeed its destiny, was largely shaped by these events. Perhaps it is time that Dubliners can at last acknowledge this fact without prejudice, and that proper recognition be afforded the various sites in the capital where history was made.
Fondest memory: Or more aptly titled "Significant Dublin landmarks" in the struggle for independence -
The GPO: Headquarters of the rebels in 1916 and where the Proclamation of Independence was read out to a bemused Dublin bank holiday crowd on that fateful Easter Monday morning. It was all but destroyed in the ensuing battle, as was much of O'Connell Street.
The Royal College of Surgeons: Seized by rebels under the command of the indomitable Countess Markiewicz. She surrendered only when evidence was brought to her that the GPO had been taken, and even then shot at the British Army messenger - her own brother in law!
Bolands Mills (now an office block) : Seized by the IRA (including Ireland's future statesman Eamon DeValera) this tall factory offered a vantage point at which British troops approaching from the south could be halted in their advance. It was this brigade that inflicted the greatest casualties on the British Army in the rising.
Jacob's Factory, Bishop Street (now an office block): Taken by Thomas McDonagh along with the old Harcourt Street Railway Station (now a restaurant).
Jamesons Distillery, Thomas Street (now the National College of Art and Design): The brigade stationed here, under Conn Colbert, had originally seized Watkin's Brewery. Both buildings offered them a vantage point to slow down or halt British Army troops arriving from the west (the bulk of them as many troops had been attending the Curragh races in Kildare). The fighting here was bloody indeed and the treatment of the IRA prisoners taken brutal in the extreme.
Other key buildings, such as the Mendicity Institute on the quays, and the bakery on Parnell Street outside which Patrick Pearse formally surrendered, have long since disappeared in road widening schemes.
It would seem to me that about half the world claim to be of Irish descent. It's a 'cool' race to be a member of. Never had an empire, never invaded anywhere. Built most of America (and Britain come to that), but is widely thought of as a pastoral idyll.
It's not surprising that vast numbers of tourist are keen on trying to pick up their Irish roots. Some have been known to turn up to tourist information at Dublin Airport demanding to be sent in the right direction for the 'Ryans of Kerry'.
Of slightly more practical use is the resident geneologist who gives a free hours consulatation if you stay at the Shelbourne hotel in Dublin. E-mail her with what you have beforehand and she will get going before you arrive.
If you don't have the money for that five-star service there are plenty of others who will offer their services for a price. Be warned - many will tell you a right load of old rubbish in return for the hefty whack of the tourist dollar on their desk.
If you are interested in Irish history, I recommend two films that deal with the time between the Easter Rising 1916 and the following Anglo-Irish struggles: "Michael Collins" with Liam Neeson and Alan Rickmann and "The wind that shakes the barley" from Ken Loach with Cilian Murphy. Both are masterpieces in their own right. You will certainly recognize some film locations in Dublin.
Edward Rutherfurd has written some interesting historical fiction - I recommend "Dublin" as the book to get in the mood for a Dublin visit.
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See the statue of Molly Malone.
At the foot of Grafton Street, this Dublin statue is referred to by Dubliners as "the tart with the cart."
According to legend, Molly Malone was a poor girl who made her living pedling fish by day , but otherwise occupied (employed?) by night. As a provocatively attired lady of the evening she enjoyed another profession.
She is reported to have fallen dead on a city street in the summer of 1699. Most attributed her death to typhoid fever. It is said that Molly's ghost haunts the streets where she once plied her trades.
The bronze statue was erected during the Dublin millennium in 1988.