Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ireland: Getting there and Dublin

Last week we packed up for an epic trip to Ireland.  This is everything that we took (plus four car seats, not pictured) for our family of six for a nine day adventure road tripping around the country.  Plus Northern Ireland. We planned to rent a car and stay at 5 different locations. But first we had to get there.

Last time we lived in Germany, we usually took taxis to the airport. This time, we thought we would try to be more German about it and take the train.  We live just under a mile from our closest train station and it was a HOT walk, but Jacob loved being on the train.  Once we got to the airport it was a long haul to our departure gate and we stopped and ate dinner at the airport McDonald's restaurant- which has a huge play area- before boarding our two hour flight to Dublin.

We arrived in Dublin around 11 pm.  (This is not a photo from that moment!) We picked up our rental car and loaded everyone up and drove to the McGovern's lovely home in the suburbs where we arrived around midnight. It was a long night. I booked all of our accommodations through and at this first place we stayed for two nights near Dublin we had two bedrooms in a family home with an older couple. Their own four children are grown and moved out and they enjoy welcoming people into their home. It was like staying with the Irish relatives that we don't have.

The next morning we headed into downtown Dublin. First stop was Dublin Castle. Rob and I both read a historical fiction novel before this trip called 1921 by Morgan Llywelyn which really gave us a better understanding of the people and places involved in the Irish fight for independence as well as the following Civil War. I won't subject you all to a lengthy history lesson on every spot we visited, but will just mention that Dublin Castle was a highly contested position of power.  The history goes way back before then though with a castle structure on this site since the 1200s and most of the current structure dating from the 1700s.

Our Charlotte with Queen Charlotte.

After Dublin Castle, we walked over to Trinity College. Trinity College was founded in 1592. It is a beautiful campus and we took a brief tour around with a post-grad student.  He was very witty and funny.  The vegetarian son of a pig farmer, he is doing post-grad work in book preservation... and he looks like Harry Potter. Anyway, "Harry" shared stories from the University's past and present (including the hijinks of former student Bram Stoker.)

At the end of tour we went inside the beautiful "Old Library" at Trinity and saw the Book of Kells along with the rest of their gorgeous collection. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels created by monks between the 6th and 9th century.  It is an OLD book.  But is also an incredibly detailed, beautifully illustrated book.  The kids were a bit bored, but I liked it.

After that we walked along O'Connell street past the General Post Office. This is not just any post office.  During the Easter Rising of 1916, the GPO served as the headquarters of the rebellion's leaders.  It was badly damaged in the fighting but later repaired by the Irish Free State government. We passed by and ate lunch in a pub around the corner. 

Here we had a memorable conversation with a somewhat drunk, elderly man named Kris Kringle. His speech was a little slurred as he asked us, "Four kids? Don't you have a television?!?" We smiled and laughed along with him and then he told us, "We didn't have a television either, so we had ten kids!" We were asked this same television questions a few more times throughout our trip so I finally asked someone about it.  She told me that not only were televisions expensive to buy in Ireland 30-40 years ago, but in Ireland you also have to purchase a license to own a TV. This also costs money and many couples starting out can't afford to have a television.  Ireland has one of the highest birth rates in Europe.

Just strolling through Dublin.
(Looking for ice cream actually.)

We next took a drive out to Phoenix Park and lounged by the World War I monument there.  It was cool but sunny out... much better than the 100 degree day Germany was enjoying at the same time. After this we grabbed a pizza to go and went and found a playground to picnic at for some down time.

The next morning we drove over to Kilmainham Gaol. Built in 1796, this prison was part of a reform movement that included innovations like separating the prisoners (rather than men, women, and children all together,) and providing light to the cells. By modern standards, it was still a very grisly place and the youngest prisoner recorded to be held there (for petty theft) was a seven year old boy.

The real significance of Kilmainham Gaol to the Irish though, is the fact that nearly every leader of the Irish revolution was held here at some point in time.  Their names are written on plaques above their former cells.  Some were put to death by firing squad in the stonebreaker's yard.

One touching story from the revolution is of Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett. Grace was an artist and was engaged to marry Joseph when he was arrested after the 1916 Uprising. When she learned he was to be executed, she bought a ring and requested the prison chaplain to wed them.  Joseph was killed just a few hours later. During the Civil War that followed, Grace aligned with the anti-treaty IRA and was imprisoned at Kilmainham by the Irish Free State government. She painted this Madonna with Child inside her cell.  She was released when the Civil War ended in 1923. She then supported herself as an artist and illustrator until her death in 1955 when she was buried with full military honors. Ireland is a politically complicated place.  

After our visit to the prison, we headed west from Dublin to our next destination.

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