Friday, July 28, 2017

Dublin - Day 10

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Our last day on our trip and we had a perfect day planned -- two great sights, lunch at a unique restaurant and dinner at an Irish dance show. 

I know my posting dates don't correspond with my travel dates. For some reason I had very sketchy WiFi with my AT&T and could not post regularly. Also, blogger is no longer supported by Apple, so I had to use a new app that allows me to use my It is not a perfect system and there are some glitches, but it is better than nothing (or learning a new program).

We started off with our tickets from Thursday to see The Book of Kells. Fortunately, the line was not long. The book is a 1200-year-old version of the gospels of the Bible, elaborately inked and meticulously illustrated by the monks of Iona off the coast of Scotland. They fled to Kells in 806 AD after a Viking raid, presumably finishing the 680-page manuscript there. The book, which was moved to Trinity College in the 17th century, contains the 4 gospels in Latin. 

The self-guided tour has 3 stages: making the book, the book itself and The Old Library. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the first 2 stages. Ed and I were quite fascinated by the information on making the book. To create the vellum for the pages, the monks used calves' skin soaked in lime. Then they scraped off the hair, dried the skins and cut them into imperfect pages. They had an interesting video on bookbinding and a display of raw materials used to make over 100 colors for the illustrations. Many of the inks are made from scraping fine minerals from rocks because these have the most permanence, but some inks are plant based. This introductory display also had poster-sized reproductions of the pages of the book. This turned out to be the best way to appreciate the book's detail, because in the second stage, the book is under glass in a darkened room and open to one folio. Also, there is always a dense crowd around it, making it hard to see.

The third stage was the Trinity College Library, with over 3 million manuscripts and books. 

Since 1801, it has had the right to claim a free copy of all British and Irish books published. We visited the Long Room, which is about 200 ft. in length and contains 200,000 of the library's oldest books. A highlight in the room is the harp, the oldest to survive in Ireland (15th century) and the symbol of the country.

Now it was lunch time and we headed to "The Bank on College Green" for lunch. Built as the Belfast Bank in grand Victorian style the 1890s, it has been exquisitely preserved and restored. It was a real treat to eat on the balcony looking over the main floor while musicians performed for brunch.

Our final tour for the day was the Kilmainham Gaol (Jail). Thanks to a tip from a friend (thanks again, Maggie) I had purchased timed tickets on line from home, because they sell out daily. Only 6 euros for a senior. The jail opened in 1796 and was considered a model in its day.  It was only supposed to hold 100 prisoners in individual cells, but that changed over time with up to 5 in a cell. It was frequently used by the British as a political prison. Many of the leaders of the 5 rebellions (from 1798-1916) were imprisoned here.

Sadly, during the famine of 1845-1850, there were 1000 people here. People committed petty crimes in order to go to jail because the British government (which had plenty of food), by law, was required to feed prisoners. These are the cells from that era and many people just lived in this hallway which was open to the elements.

This area was built in 1861 during the Victorian era to provide natural light and better visibility for the guards. 

The execution of the leaders of the 1916 rebellion were held in this jail and executed in the courtyard, our last stop on the tour. This galvanized the Irish to continue to fight for independence, which occurred in 1922. Two years later the prison closed, releasing its last prisoner Eamon de Valera, who later became the president of Ireland. A wonderful exhibit in the attached museum gives insight to the rebellions.

After its closure, the prison was vacant for 40 years and in danger of being torn down. However, in the 1960s, the public, including many who had been imprisoned there, worked to have it preserved due to its important role in Irish history.

Tonight we went back to the Arlington Hotel for "Celtic Nights," a 3-course traditional Irish dinner with Irish music and dancing. It was well attended but we had great seats at the end of a long table close to the stage. A great way to end our stay in Ireland.

P. S. - A couple of post scripts about Ireland - some things we never knew, found interesting and were repeated by different guides:

1) A nation the size of Indiana with 4.7 million people produces enough food to feed 30 million people.

2) The population of Ireland in 1840 was around 8 million. By the end of the famine it was less than 5 million and it never recovered.

3) Due to the mass emigration resulting from the famine and Irish criminals being sent to Australia, over 70 million people globally claim Irish heritage.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dublin to Waterford - Day 9

Saturday, July 22, 2017

We're off on a day trip to Waterford! We decided not to do an organized tour and just go to the city on our own. It turned out to be a delightful experience.

We caught a 10:20 train from the Heuston Station (only $40 pp/RT) and arrived at 12:20.  Based on our experiences with "timed tickets" and "sold out," we headed directly to the Waterford Headquarters.

With a 20% off coupon (thanks, Maggie) coupled with our senior discount, our cost for 2 was less than one regular. We scheduled ourselves on a 1:40 tour and chose to eat lunch in the visitors' center cafe, which was perfect. We walked around the exhibits and gift shop while we waited for our tour. Everyone photographs the crystal chandelier above the dining table ladened with Wedgewood pottery and Waterford glass. 

But a real treat was seeing the 2006 Kentucky Derby Trophy beside the 2008 Valhalla Ryder Cup Trophy (we attended both events).

Then we took a factory tour. First, a little history. The original glass factory was founded in 1783 by two brothers who chose Waterford because of its port. (The same reason the Vikings made it their first settlement in the 9th century.) They operated until 1851 when draconian taxes forced them to close. It wasn't until 1947 that a new factory was opened by two Czechs, Charles Bacik, owner, and Miroslav Havel, designer, who brought master craftsmen from Europe to train workers. Today an apprenticeship takes 5 years and many more to be a master craftsman. The factory has 70 of them along with 130 factory workers. There are only 10-12 new apprentices a year and currently the company has its first female apprentice.

We were told that the main difference between normal art glass and crystal is the lead content, which in Waterford's case is 30%. The recession of 2008 hit the company hard and the factory has been sold twice. It is now owned by a Finnish company. Although our guide said most of the work is now done in Waterford, several sources tell me that most of it is done in Eastern Europe. Oh well, it makes it marketable and alive. Our guide said they produce 50,000 to 70,000 pieces a year. Some must be done elsewhere.

Then we took a tour of the factory. As a native of West Virginia where much glass is produced, I have been on many factory tours, but I enjoy them. Making glass is such a team effort. The hot molten viscous material composed of sand, lead and potash, is heated in a furnace at 2,500+ degrees F and then transferred to a mold where an artisan (with incredible lungs) and precision blows it into submission. 

Then it is cut from the pipe, cooled in a special kiln, and proceeds along a line where it is sanded and polished. We didn't see anyone actually doing the difficult cutting, but I'm sure it would be tough to work with precision in such a touristy atmosphere. We did see a robotics machine that cuts the larger pieces. We also saw craftsmen who use the diamond-edged wheels to finish the scallops on these bowls. 

Finally, we saw sculptors who create amazing one-of-a-kind items from slabs of glass (like the one in the foreground.) 

Ending the tour was a commemorative piece for 9/11 -- which showcased the talents of the sculptors and engravers.

The timing of the tour and visit to the gift shop was perfect and we headed back to the train station for a 4 pm departure. We arrived in Dublin at 6 pm and went to the hotel. Tonight we went in search of Irish music and food, north of the Liffey. We found it at the Arlington Hotel on the river. Although it wasn't Irish music, it was 2 guitar soloists who were very entertaining. And the beef pie was delicious. Discovered a show at the hotel for tomorrow night, so we are all set!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dublin - Day 8

Friday, July 21, 2017

The forecast was cool and windy today and Ed was not feeling well. So we cancelled our trip to New Grange to have a more relaxing day. Ed stayed in while I took in some sights I might otherwise miss.

First stop was Dublin Castle, the seat of English rule in Ireland for 700 years and the place where Brits handed over power to Michael Collins and the Irish in 1923. Today it is used for fancy state and charity functions.

It was built as a castle by King John of England in 1204, on the site of the first Viking fortress. However, it burned down in 1684 and was replaced with a Georgian-style palace, which was in vogue, beginning in the 16th century and beyond. (Royalty were less concerned now with defense and more concerned with showing off.) The palace does correspond with the rectangular footprint of the former castle.

The castle had self-guided or guided tours for 6 or 8 euros. I opted for guided which included more.

The first place was underground to see some remains of the old castle. What we saw was the foundation of the powder tower, where the gunpowder was stored, and some portions of the old moat where the Poddle River runs underground. One of the archways and part of the 15 ft. wide wall still exist today.

Then we walked across an open area where we saw the Record Tower, the sole surviving tower of the Medieval castle dating from 1228, which was used as a prison. To its left is the Gothic Revival style Chapel Royal which was added in the early 19th century to provide a place of worship for the viceroy's household.

Now we entered the State Apartments, which is where the viceroys and their families lived and which are still used today for state functions. First we went up the Grand staircase,  built in 1749, to create an imposing first impression.Next was the drawing room, where, originally, ladies would adjourn after dining (men to billiards). Then the throne room, where the monarchs would hold court.The Portrait Gallery was next, which is basically the dining room for Viceregal banquets. In the 1700s they were quite lavish with up to 36 different dishes that might include puffin, pig, lark, and badger.St. Patrick's Hall is a ballroom, but also a ceremonial room where the Irish President is inaugurated every 7 years.The last room was the James Connolly Room. For the Irish, this is the most important room in the castle. It is dedicated to one of the military commanders of the 1916 Easter Rising. He had been injured and taken to the castle which had been temporarily converted to a hospital. He was court martialed in this room for treason. Later, because of his injuries, he could not stand, so he was tied to a chair for his execution by a firing squad. His treatment and death galvanized the Irish people to continue to fight for independence.I took one more walk around the courtyard before leaving, photographing the iconic clock tower.Then I picked up Ed and we went to lunch at the hotel. He was better, but not entirely, so he stayed in and I decided to spend the afternoon at the National Museum of Archeology. It is a wonderful treasure trove of Ireland's history - from the Stone Age to modern times. The soggy marshes and peat bogs of Ireland have preserved many ancient artifacts, including bog mummies and gold jewelry.

Overall, it is an interesting place to visit, but a little lacking in the modern amenities of museums. The building itself is grand, but old, and the interior reminds me a little bit of the Smithsonian "castle."

There is no visitors' guide (but the museum is free), so you just wander around the various exhibits and rooms. I did see most everything. Highlights include the 4,000 year-old gold jewelry. In particular, are the crescent-moon shaped necklaces also known as a "lunula" or "gorget" from 700 BC, made from the modest gold deposits panned by early settlers. Another accessory I had never seen before were gold belts or "dress fasteners" that you would slip into button holes to secure a cloak. These were included in a special exhibit called "the Treasury" which exhibited many examples of gold and silver from the last 15 centuries. I did see the bog bodies - but no photos. Too creepy.

As always, I am primarily interested in the clothing and textiles of other times. Here are some weaving tools I have never seen before and an illustration of how they are used.

Also a variety of spindles and needles.And the shoes! "Pattens," made with leather tops and high wooden soles to keep feet above mud and water, were popular in the Late Middle Ages. And buckles. I don't think about them much, but they must have been very useful in the 13th century when there were no zippers or Velcro!By now Ed was fine and we proceeded with our plans to see a play at the renown Abbey Theater. However, when we arrived, it turned out that our tickets were for a play in another city that was promoted on their website. They were very apologetic and refunded our money...but now what to do. I had seen that the musical "Once" was playing near our hotel in another old historic theater -- The Olympia. So we quickly walked to the next venue and snagged 2 seats on an end in the middle. We even had time to dash across the street to Chez Max for a delightful dinner of beef bourguignon and make it back in time to socialize with the cast on stage, the play was wonderful and the music delightful. So nice it all worked out!