#DatesWithDublin #7 – Croke Park

As previously indicated, this post, number 7 in the Dates with Dublin series is a piece of pure self-indulgence, being as it is a sort of homage to one of my favourite places in the world, let alone Dublin, to visit. It’s a slight deviation also from the purpose of this project, which was to uncover a few lesser-known gems.

But it’s my blog, so I’m allowed to make the odd executive decision; and to be fair, if you’re a tourist to the fair city, it’s well worth a visit, even you’re not gaga for the GAA like I am. I’ll try to keep it professional, and give you some information about the place, as well as spilling my own emotions and guts all over the floor in as dignified a manner as possible. No, I’m not actually talking about the crisp aisle in Tesco. Rather, that Theatre of Hope, that Mecca of Magic, that Field of Dreams (okay, that’s enough….) that is Dublin 3’s finest, Croke Park.

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Croke Park from the Hogan Stand; Artane Band in situ. Mayo won the match

 

For those of you who may not be familiar with Croke Park, it is the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland, housing a stadium with a capacity of 82,300 (making it the fourth largest in Europe), a museum, a ‘skyline’ tour, and a conference centre among other things. For those of you who may not be not familiar with the Gaelic Athletic Association, it is an Irish – and international – amateur sporting and cultural organisation, focused primarily on promoting Gaelic games – hurling, camogie, Gaelic football, handball and rounders. For those of you who may not be familiar with any of the aforementioned sports, frankly, you’re missing out.

Croke Park, or Croker, as it is often affectionately referred to by GAA fans, dates from the late 1800s, although it has undergone significant development within the last 30 years, and has been used primarily by the GAA to host the above games, with the highlight of the sporting year occurring in September with the annual All-Ireland finals in hurling and football. All games are amateur, meaning that players, who represent their local clubs and their counties, do not get paid for their participation.

Within the confines of this post I can only offer a narrow glimpse into the world of GAA and indeed all that Croke Park has to offer. For those of you on the tourist trail, who might be interested in finding out a bit more about Gaelic Games, the Croke Park Museum is open daily all year round, and traces the history of the games and the biggest amateur sporting organisation and its roots in Irish identity from the very beginning to present day. The exhibition is highly interactive and all-round good fun, and if you’re interested in the history of your own county, there’s plenty of information to chew on. You can even get busy with a hurl or football and try your hand at it yourself, if you didn’t grow up with a sliotar in your hand or football at your feet. It’s just as easy as it looks…. Ahem.

You can combine your visit to the museum with a stroll on the Etihad Skyline tour – a walk around the roof of Croke Park. Despite all the steps you need to climb to get there, the walk is really well executed, feels safe and secure, even for those who are a bit wobbly at a height. (You’re effectively tied to the barrier, so you really can’t do anything silly like fall off, no matter how clumsy you are, Take it from me, I tested this in full.)  The tour guides and fun and engaging and the walk offers a pretty impressive view over the stadium. Being honest, the view over North Dublin is a little less impressive, but that said, you’ll have some fun picking out local landmarks. Sadly, there is no access to the Skyline on match days, for those of you who are hunting for those elusive all-Ireland final tickets and thinking of pulling a fast one. If you’re going up there, do what I didn’t and bring a warm jacket – it’s bloody baltic.

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Taken from the Skywalk as Croke Park was preparing to host the Eucharistic Congress in 2012. On the screen is a notice warning the gluten intolerant to take the wine instead of bread at Holy Communion. Thanks Mark @yearoffestivals for the photo – and the jacket!

Some interesting facts and figures about Croke Park:

There are seven levels within the stadium, and it covers 16 acres of ground. Within its confines there are over 3km of seating, and 10 km of piping has been used in the plumbing (Importantly, the toilets are consistently probably the cleanest and most well-stocked of any sporting or music venue I’ve ever been to. But then, I usually frequent mucky festivals and Junior B games, so that’s hardly surprising). The environmentalists among you may be interested to know that Croke Park claims to be a carbon neutral venue. There are over 400 beer taps in the Davin Bar, the largest bar in Ireland. The big screen on the Hill 16 side of the stadium is the biggest outdoor screen of its kind in Europe and there are 463 floodlights around the stadium, each emitting light equivalent to 2,000 candles.

Outside the museum- and I like this a lot –  stands a wall featuring the crest of every single GAA club, both in Ireland and overseas – symbolising the fact that local clubs lie at the very heart of the organisation.

The real draw of Croke Park however, is the action on the field. While the stadium is a busy hub of activity all year round, with events and activities constantly happening, for sports fans it’s from July and August onwards that activity reaches fever pitch when county teams exit the provincial championships – either by winning or losing their provincial final – and move to the next level of the competition, where all games are played in Croke Park. The GAA is not perfect, nor are the traditional competition structures equitable or entirely fair, but they are deeply rooted in a convention that spans over a century, and as such, they are what they are. Once you reach the last eight, it’s then you allow yourself to dream.

And once you reach those stages, nothing beats waking up on the morning of a match, bedecking yourself in your county colours and embarking on that trip to Dublin (or in my case, the spin across to the Northside on the 16), and meeting similarly bedecked friends and family along Dorset Street for the pre-match analysis.

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Camaraderie on All-Ireland Final day, 2012. Remarkably, we are still friends

Nothing beats the pre-match beer, and the hurried flick through the papers to see who the pundits are tipping, and their instant dismissal (“sure what would that eejit know?” Applicable to most pundits if they plump for the opposition). The walk down long Clonliffe Road, the majesty of the stadium looming in front of you… Very little beats that first breathtaking glimpse of the beautifully manicured ground, bathed in late summer sun; nothing beats the warmth and camaraderie among supporters, even if they’re on the opposite side.

Not much beats the deafening, spine-tingling roar that welcomes your team as they enter the field of play; nothing beats the ecstasy of a sweetly placed goal at a crucial moment, and nothing, but nothing, beats being on the winning side at the final whistle.

I’m from Mayo. Those of you who are familiar with Gaelic Games will understand instantly what that means. For those of you who are not, allow me to briefly explain. Mayo has a fine, proud tradition in Gaelic football. Despite this fine tradition, we have won the ultimate prize – the Sam Maguire trophy, awarded to the All-Ireland senior football champions – just three times, and not since 1951 (before my parents were even born, though of course Mammy and Daddy Flynn were both blessed with youthful good looks). Compare that to the likes of Kerry, for example, who have won it no fewer than 36 times. Greedy feckers.

Since 1989, we have appeared in seven senior all-Ireland finals in Croke Park, and we have failed to win any of them. You may wonder why anyone from Mayo holds the place in any sort of affection at all. We are, quite simply, suckers for punishment loyal and optimistic to the last.

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What Croke Park looks like when Mayo don’t win a final. #7.

This year, on September 22nd, 2013 we will enter our eighth all-Ireland final 24 years, facing Dublin, the mighty Boys in Blue, once again dreaming of bringing Sam west over the Shannon. Despite all that’s happening in the harsh reality that is Ireland at the minute, I can assure you that many with Mayo roots are thinking of little else this fortnight. As I write, the dream is very much alive. It remains to be seen whether this time, it can become a reality.

But one thing is for sure. Nothing beats being there.

Update: We lost.

#DatesWithDublin #6 – St. Audoen’s Church

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Religion and Rowan Trees

In a rather alarming development, I’ve noticed a bit of a religious theme emerging in the Dates with Dublin adventure. While I’ve always been a bit of a nerd when it comes to history and old things, religion and the church tend to make my hackles rise. I’ve found of late, however that I’m being oddly drawn to cathedrals, chapels and cemeteries, even when going about my regular business. Despite the variety of stuff to see on my list, my head now turns when I pass a particularly interesting-looking church, and I sometimes have to forcibly stop myself from sneaking off into graveyards while nipping out to fetch a litre of milk. To date, I’ve managed to refrain from spontaneously breaking into hymns (bar a very devout and heartfelt rendition of ‘The Green and Red of Mayo’ in Another sacred ground at 5pm last Sunday – more about that later), but this unexpected religious draw certainly got me wondering.

Last Thursday afternoon I cracked it, as I parked up the bike and tiptoed into John’s Lane Church on Thomas Street for a quick nosey. (Incidentally, The nerd in me was fascinated to learn on my way in that Padraig Pearse’s dad James was responsible for the sculpting of the statues on the bell tower.) As I sat gazing around at the ornate altars, the stunning stained glass windows and the marvellous mosaics, with only one other for company, the noise of the traffic chaos outside melted into the background and I started to relax and feel a welcome sense of quiet and calm. It struck me that in our everyday lives, we rarely take time out to do nothing; to have a quiet moment of peace and reflection – to just be with ourselves for a few minutes. An old friend of mine, though not particularly religious or indeed at all saintly, is a regular mass attendee. I asked him why. “It’s like this,” he said. “I don’t give a monkeys about the prayers or the preaching, but it’s the one hour in a week where I’m forced to sit down away from the phone and the laptop and the TV and all the distractions I have around me. If nothing else, it gives me time to think and have a good daydream.” Food for thought indeed and maybe it’s something worth making a bit of time for.

Anyway, enough of the deep stuff. Before I got sidetracked by John’s Lane (which, incidentally is the proud owner of the tallest non-stainless steel spire in Dublin), I set my sights on St. Audoen’s Church on High Street. St. Audoen’s is a curious place. It’s actually two churches – there’s the original building, which is the oldest Anglican parish church in Dublin, dating from 1190, and the new Roman Catholic church of the same name, built a mere 10 inches away in the 1840s after the Catholic Emancipation. (The latter is now home to the Polish Chaplaincy in Ireland.) I visited the newer church first, and while it’s very nice as churches go and has its own story to tell, the real star is the old church. (Please excuse the particularly rubbish photography – this time I only had the iPhone for pics and while not even a decent camera can save me, it usually at least makes the usual shooting shambles look half presentable.)

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Wonderfully weedy

I wandered down the path, which is beautifully surrounded by weeds (I’m not being sarcastic here, honestly) to the door, and arrived just as the guided tour was beginning. Nice one. Entry to the church is free. Even nicer. I was welcomed by a cheery chap dressed in full Norman-style chain mail regalia who was clearly getting into the spirit of Heritage Week. I hope he has no metal allergies.

St. Audoen’s is the only remaining medieval parish church in the entire city, and is named after St. Ouen (or Audoen) of Rouen in Normandy, a bishop the Anglo-Normans must have been fond of, I suppose. The church, remarkably is still in use for parish services today. Though built in 1190, it was reportedly built on the site of an older church dedicted to St. Colmcille, dating from the seventh century, which really is a rather long time ago. And when I walked into the building it felt, unsurprisingly … old. Very old indeed.

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A view of St Audoen’s from the altar. In reality, it’s not leaning to the right

The building is home to a few items of note. Firstly, when you enter beside the simple altar, you’re faced with the large, ornate 17th century monument to the Sparke and Duff families, two wealthy Dublin merchant families, who lost their fortunes in the Dublin Gunpowder disaster of 1597. Unusually for its time, it is made from plaster, not stone, and features symbols of the families’ wealth (like pineapples) and images of death (skulls).

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Surprisingly, this is not my photo, but that of a very good photographer named Andreas F. Borchert.

Continuing down the church towards the main entrance, on the left sits an impressive church organ, which is also used to this day. It’s unusual you see one up so close and personal and as always when I spot an organ, I had to drag myself away lest I be tempted to sit down and bang out a tune – Chopsticks probably wouldn’t have been quite appropriate. The hard wooden pews are lined with soft coverings which I’m sure are infinitely more comfortable than the stone floors the medieval pilgrims had to endure. I’m told they got straw mats for special occasions, but unlike today, the religious ceremonies of the time were cold and draughty experiences with no hot air at all. Ahem.

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Tempting … and oddly orange-tinted. Not the organ. My photo.

Near the back of the church sits a 12th century baptismal font, which, hidden from Cromwell and his mates in the 1600s and forgotten, was unearthed during restoration work in the 19th century. The font dates from the 12th century and bears the shell or scallop symbol of the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James, a journey undertaken by many medieval pilgrims ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Having walked a 250km section of the Camino a couple of years back, I was intrigued to learn that poorer pilgrims received their initial blessing at the start of the journey at St. Audoen’s (which is based near James’ Gate, a traditional Camino starting point) before travelling via Bristol by Sea to France, where they walked the full 800+km. Meanwhile the rich folks just paid other people to do the pilgrimage for them. Lazy sods. The font was locked in the olden days, as it contained two items of great value at the time – a lead lining and holy water. Tragically, the two treasures mixed a little too well and it’s said that contamination of the holy water with the lead resulted in the untimely deaths of more than one unfortunate child after baptism.

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Lead-lined and lethal. One of the day’s better photos. (Yeah, I know.)

Out in the porch, there’s a “lucky stone”; probably a gravestone that may have originated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral nearby – there are similar stones there. Merchants and traders used to rub it for luck, after it was erected in the 1300s beside a marble water cistern in Cornmarket, so that all who drank of the waters may have luck. It is said that the reverend who placed the stone in St. Audoen’s centuries ago still pops back now and again, probably to give it the odd rub. You can never have too much luck, even when you’ve been dead for a few centuries. The stone has been stolen on a number of occasions, but mysteriously, has always found its way back. Spooky!

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Lucky stone.
Whaddya mean, he’s behind me?

The bell tower in the main entrance area houses three of the oldest bells in Dublin city, dating from 1423, and they are still rung every Sunday. The bell tower stone staircase is gated off but is tantalisingly tempting – I really wanted to sneak back in when everyone had and make a break for the bells. As part of Heritage week St. Audoen’s opened the bell tower to the public, a rare event indeed and I was sorry to have missed it, being as I was on a pilgrimage elsewhere – again, more about that later.

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More temptation … the gated bell tower

The main entrance area also hosts a 15th century effigial tomb to Lord Portlester and his wife Marguerite. Lord Portlester had an impressive CV, firstly holding the position of Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, then Lord Chancellor of Ireland and finally Lord High Treasurer of Ireland. Overachiever. The effigy shows Lord Portlester lying with his feet resting on a dog. The dog’s mouth is closed, meaning in the symbolism of the time that its owner died a peaceful death. Lord Portlester was clearly an optimist and possibly a psychic, given that he built the tomb 14 years before his death. Of course, “effigial” means that they’re not buried there at all, so technically it’s not a tomb. But I suppose it’s the next best thing. Anyway, there are lots of dead folk lying around underfoot which, as regular readers will know, always makes me happy.

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Pretendy tomb. I went for a close-up view to capture the detail… oh.

There’s a wealth of medieval history associated with the building, and the mix of Gothic and Romanesque architecture tells stories of its own, particularly when you go outside to the private chapel, which was built to accommodate swelling congregation numbers in the 1400s. What I really liked about St Audoen’s is that the story of the church and the guilds that frequented it is told really well, both by the guides and the visuals in the exhibition area. For me, it was clear, interesting and engaging, and in this, it stood in contrast with other museums. For instance last week I also visited the Story of the Capital in City Hall, and for a museum in such a stunning location, and with such a fascinating story to tell, the visuals left me confused, cold and if I’m honest, a bit bored. St. Audoen’s on the other hand, managed to draw me in and transport me to a world of medieval merchantry and religious ruaille buaille, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. If you haven’t been, I’d recommend popping in if you’re wandering past – it’s like a little trip into the Dublin of old and I doubt you’ll regret it. You might even take better photos than I did, though it’s probably unlikely.

Speaking of religion, the next post on Dates with Dublin will be an entirely self-indulgent and emotional account of my most recent glorious pilgrimage to the ultimate temple of worship – Croke Park, where the highlight of my summer to date saw the Green and Red of Mayo overcome the Farney Boys of Monaghan and the Red Hand of Tyrone to see us into not one, but two All-Ireland finals on September 22nd. To keep it on topic, I’ll also tell you a bit about the other stuff you can do in Croker, even if you never looked sideways at a sliotar or football in your life. Stay tuned!

#DatesWithDublin #5 – Casino Marino

Last Tuesday, while out on de Nortsoide on a little excursion, I decided to swing by Marino to visit the Casino, a place on my Dates with Dublin list that no fewer than 43 people have recommended I visit. 43! With enthusiastic endorsement like that, who am I to argue? So on my way back to town I pulled off to the right down the Malahide Road before Fairview, and there, practically in the middle of a housing estate, lies the entrance to Casino Marino.

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Casino

On my way in the gate, I met an elderly but very sprightly gentleman who’d just been in for a tour of the building. “Isn’t this something else?” he beamed, his eyes shining with delight. “50 years I’ve been in Marino, and I only discovered this place five years ago. Can you believe that?” Dublin’s best-kept secret? Could well be. Or perhaps he was just rather unobservant in his younger days.

Still, though, the Casino doesn’t exactly stand out – until you go through the gates and get your first glimpse. First impressions of the building? It’s tiny, but imposing. Or imposing, but tiny. If that makes sense. It’s small, but perfectly formed. And it’s probably the most unusual building of its time in Dublin.

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Little Big House ….

Some history: The Casino (from the Italian ‘casa’ meaning house, so “little house”, not house of gambling) was built in the late 1700’s, by Scottish architect Sir William Chambers in the grounds of the now-disappeared Marino House. The building, apparently one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture in Europe, was commissioned by the filthy rich first Earl of Charlemont, James Caulfield after he returned from a nine-year jaunt around the world with his pals. (Nine years of partying. The Celtic Tiger had nothing on these guys.)  It was basically designed as a “pleasure house” – a garden temple of sorts – with no practical purpose, apart from giving Jimmy and his moneyed mates somewhere to play. Designed  to remind the Earl of the good times he enjoyed while hanging out in Italy, it takes its inspiration from Greek and Roman architecture. Quite the souvenir! As playhouses go, this is pretty impressive, and once I learned about the clever design concealed within, I was even more impressed.

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Hear me roar … or just watch me smile

Guarded by some of the friendliest lions you’ll ever see, from the exterior the house looks like one large room, with four very large windows, and one very large door, with two giant urns on the roof. Inside, however, the pint-sized building cleverly conceals no fewer than sixteen smaller chambers, spread over three floors. In keeping with the style of the day, everything is balanced and symmetrical, and if false walls were needed to maintain the symmetry, they were added in.

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All about the symmetry

Despite the scarcity of space such measures, as well as the clever use of light combined with curved walls and vaulted ceilings manage to make the rooms look bigger than they are. To streamline the building, Chambers cleverly concealed such tiresome practicalities as drainpipes inside the building, within hollow columns with water chains inside.

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Fancy drainage

The two giant urns on the roof are actually chimneys. See that large window on the outside? The subtly curved panes of glass conceal the fact that inside, it traverses a number of walls to provide light to more than one room. There are many other clever design quirks in the Casino, but you’ll have to go and seem them for yourself. Unlike Chambers, who remarkably never got to travel to Ireland to see the beautiful building he had designed.

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Clever windowing

Intriguingly, there are eight tunnels leading off in four directions from the Casino. None have been excavated to date. One, now filled in, is said to have led to the main house on the estate. Another leads to an underground spring, probably used to supply the house with fresh water. The others are a bit of a mystery, but were in all likelihood used for storage. That’s not the most exciting explanation however, and everyone knows rumours are far more fun. There are suggestions of secret Masonic meetings taking place underground (indeed the pointed star laid into the ornate wooden floor in the main hall would lend some credence to this theory; however there is no documented evidence of Freemasonry in the house, so they are probably just that – rumours).

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A ceiling of symbols

Indeed, symbolism is evident everywhere you look in the Casino, particularly in the walls and ceilings and anyone with a fertile imagination could come up with a few far-fetched tales. It’s even been suggested that Michael Collins took shelter from the British in one of the tunnels, but again, this has never been verified.

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Authentic 18th century Apple TV

What is known is that the poet Lord Byron was a regular visitor the Casino – in the years after James Caulfield’s death when his son Francis had inherited the house, Bryon befriended his wife, Anne Bermingham, a lady rumoured to be one of the most beautiful in the land (with the added bonus of wealth – she brought a large dowry to the family). On one of Byron’s visits, Anne’s beloved pet hound Neptune passed away. Byron, perhaps in an effort to console the lady of the house, wrote a touching poem, devoted not to Anne, but to the deceased dog. The ode is visible on what’s said to be Nep’s gravestone, seen outside the Casino to this day.

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Alas poor Nep

The view from the Marino and the big house originally gave Lord Caulfield an unfettered and undoubtedly stunning view across Dublin Bay, however in the late 18th century, he became engaged in a war of words with a man called Ffolliot from Aungier Street.  We don’t know the particulars, but Ffolliot must have been pretty peeved (and pretty loaded), as he promptly proceeded to acquire all the land in front of Marino House and build a huge crescent-shaped row of houses to block Jimmy’s view of the Bay. (They didn’t do revenge by halves in those days). No. 15 Marino Crescent went on to become the birthplace of one Bram Stoker, so the outcome wasn’t all bad.

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Fireplace in the master bedroom

Caulfield spent a small fortune on the house while he was alive, and unfortunately, many of the baubles and treasures he collected during his lifetime had to be sold after his death. The building gradually fell into disrepair over the 19th century, and was on the verge of collapse until the passing of the National Monuments Act of 1930, lobbied for by architect Dr. Harold Leask, and the casino was taken into state care and painstakingly restored by the Office of Public Works.

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Our tour guide Michael in the big oak doorway

It’s a gorgeous little building, well worth a visit and there always appears to be something happening there – check out their Facebook page for details. This week, being Heritage Week, the Casino is hosting a number of events for adults and children alike including talks, workshops and costume tours. You can follow Casino Marino on twitter too (they’re super-friendly, helpful and engaging) and visit it from 10.00-18.00 daily (access by guided tour only).  A lovely little gem to lose yourself in for an hour – go see.

#DatesWithDublin #4 – Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum

As part of my ever more enjoyable Dates With Dublin series, I’d planned to take a trip out to Glasnevin Cemetery last Saturday for a wander through the mausoleums and a mooch around the museum. I’d heard that the Glasnevin Trust have been doing some pretty amazing work developing the museum, as well as repairing and maintaining the vast cemetery in Dublin 11 – Ireland’s largest, by far and was looking forward to an afternoon hanging out with a bunch of the least argumentative people you could possibly encounter.

As chance, coincidence and plain old good luck would have it, I received an email from the lovely Darragh Doyle on Friday afternoon, inviting me along on a blogger’s tour of… you’ve guessed it, Glasnevin Cemetery, courtesy of the folks at Slattery Communications. I didn’t need to be asked twice, and at 12pm on Saturday, I found myself ensconced in the boardroom at Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, chowing down on sambos with the crème de la crème of Dublin’s bloggers, tweeters, and PR people learning the story of Glasnevin. From a personal point of view (and I know this is weird), death and funerals fascinate me. I find the traditions and the rituals around death interesting, particularly in Ireland, and I was looking forward to finding out a bit more about them from the experts.

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I know I won’t do justice to the national treasure that is Glasnevin Cemetery in this short blog post. I couldn’t.  You need to go and see it for yourself.  If you haven’t been, organise a trip, or hop on a bus and just go.  But I will tell you that while it’s not your regular tourist attraction, it’s a fascinating way of passing a half a day. Even if you’re not as big a fan of dead people as I am.

Our day started with a bit of background from Tipperary-born Mervyn Colville, who filled us in on the history of the cemetery, and about the work the Trust does. Mervyn was riveting – the story of Glasnevin is fascinating, and his passion for the job shone through with every word. Mervyn was ably assisted by resident historian and mine of information Shane MacThomáis (who later brought us on a tour of the treasures), and social media guru Luke Portess, who’s responsible for creative marketing and communications. Luke is doing excellent job of engaging with the public via contemporary media (you can follow the cemetery and museum on twitter and Instagram) and is one of the team responsible for the cemetery’s quirky new marketing campaign which, in a theme that consistently emerged throughout the day, is all about the people. Watch out for it

Glasnevin Cemetery

What it says on the tin

Some of the more fascinating facts about Glasnevin, in a nutshell:

  • There are 1.5 million people buried in the cemetery. That, my friends, is more people underground in Glasnevin than are over ground in the whole of Dublin City. Impressive, huh? And it’s still filling up rapidly, necessitating the formulation of contingency plans, before the cemetery runs out of space.
  • The first funeral in Glasnevin was that of eleven year-old Michael Carey, on 22 February, 1832. He wasn’t alone for very long.
  • There are approximately 200,000 gravestones in the cemetery. Many, before restoration began, were in a state of disrepair – cracked, sinking etc. About 60% of them have now been restored.
Repaired gravestones in Glasnevin Cemetery

Repaired gravestones in Glasnevin Cemetery

  • Glasnevin was the first cemetery in Ireland to blaze a trail (sorry) and open a crematorium. There are still only four in Ireland, though the number of people opting for cremations is steadily growing year on year. Pacemakers and artificial hips are not suitable for cremation – the former can explode, and the latter, well, nothing happens to them. Just so you know.
  •  Interestingly, there is no regulation governing cremation in Ireland at present. None.
  • There are, however, regulations in place in Glasnevin now regarding the type and size of headstone you can add to a grave, and the message you can write on it. This is to avoid political and overly personal messages. You can, however, use whatever font you like. No-one’s opted for Comic Sans … yet.
  • The cemetery is non-denominational – basically no matter what your religion, you’re welcome here. A cemetery “for all religions and none”.
  • There are watchtowers located around the cemetery, built to deter bodysnatchers. (Rumour has it that back in the day, Prime Minister Robet Peel, upon the subject of the body-snatchers, was heard to proclaim that it was “indeed, a grave matter”.)
  • There are many, many famous people buried in Glasnevin. Writers, politicians, characters from Ulysses – you name it, Glasnevin is home to them. On our short tour we “met” Michael Collins (and Kitty Kiernan, buried within a respectable distance), Eamon de Valera, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jim Larkin, Maude Gonne, Brendan Behan and Sir Roger Casement among others. And of course, Daniel O’Connell.
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Shane Mac Thomáis emulating Big Jim Larkin

  • Daniel O’Connell’s family tomb is located under a huge round tower monument that took 8 years to build, but was bombed by Loyalists in 1972, destroying the staircase and with it a spectacular view of the city. The plan is to rebuild the staircase in time and restore this unique and historic vantage point. O’Connell’s enormous coffin is placed within a tomb, through which you can see it, and reach in and touch it. Wow. In a separate room is the “family stack” where the lead-lined coffins of O’Connell’s family are piled up, almost carelessly, close to the great man himself.

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The great man’s great big coffin

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The O’Connell Family Stack

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Tantalising view of the top

There are at least a million more things to tell you about Glasnevin (probably 1.5 million, given that every body has its own story). You might say death is a great equaliser, but from the mass pauper graves homing the thousands of people who could not afford decent burials or died during epidemics, to the Angels plot, to the extravagant, ornate carvings which adorn the resting places of Dublin’s wealthy, all human life is here. The museum in particular is a poignant, yet powerful monument to the people within Glasnevin (who at all times remain the focus), telling as it does the stories of many who lie within the plots. The glass wall displaying symbols of the lives of a select few serve as a striking reminder of the purpose this place serves.

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Just one of the many stories of Glasnevin Cemetery

What struck me throughout our day with the team was the respect and sensitivity with which they spoke and with which they treat their surroundings – all are evidently keenly aware that the position they hold is one that brings with it great responsibility in terms of  maintaining, repairing, developing and marketing the cemetery, particularly given the need for greater commercialisation in order to generate funds for maintenance. I got the sense that every decision is debated, dissected and considered carefully, which is reassuring given the amount of stakeholders – dead and alive – who are potentially affected. Shane, in particular, you feel, has walked every inch of this ground hundreds of times and knows it intimately, and this very charismatic, warm and witty man’s affection for the place shone through in every word.  In what is becoming one of Ireland’s busiest tourist attractions, there is, oddly, a wonderful sense of calm and beauty, particularly in the older, green areas among the cemetery’s oldest residents.

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Tranquility for Taphophiles

The Glasnevin Trust has many more plans for the future. As well as restoring the O’Connell monument, there are still thousands of graves to be repaired and a memorial wall containing the names of all the dead from 1914-22 is being mooted. The cemetery lies a little bit away from the tourist trail, on the northside but is very easily accessible via public transport or you can drive and park. Hop on a bus or your bike and go! There’s a shop, café, all the information you can possibly consume, a genealogy centre and a myriad of guided tours and events in the pipeline. I really can’t encourage you enough to go see this piece of our history.

And go visit the Gravediggers afterwards. The hype is indeed true, and the pint I had there afterwards with my new blogging buddies was indeed one of the finest I have tasted above ground in Dublin. A fine end to a fine day.

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Thirsty tourists

Thanks to all at Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum, and the good people at Slattery Communications for the invitation – it was a pleasure to partake.

Dates with Dublin #3 – The Irish Blood Transfusion Clinic

It’s probably a bit of a stretch including this in the Dates With Dublin series, but in keeping with the current theme of “doing things I’ve always meant to do but never quite got around to”, last week in a fit of impulse I booked an appointment to donate blood. Over on The Twitter, the bould @FintanToolbox had tweeted about paying  the nice folks in the clinic one of his regular visits, and as, reassuringly, he doesn’t appear to have suffered any visible ill-effects down the years, it served as a timely reminder to get the finger out. So into D’Olier Street I toddled today, and while this doesn’t particularly fall under the categories of exploration, or tourism, it’s something you can do all over Ireland. Bloody marvellous!

First up, a few blood-related facts.

  • 3,000 blood donors are needed each week in Ireland
  • Only 3% of the Irish population give blood
  • 1 in 4 Irish people will need a blood transfusion at some point in their lives – be that as the result of an accident, illness, giving birth etc, In fact 1,000 people receive transfusions every week.
  • One car accident victim may require up to 30 units of blood, a bleeding ulcer could require anything between 3-30 units of blood, and a coronary artery bypass may use between 1-5 units of blood. That’s a lot of blood.
  • Get this: human blood travels 60,000 miles per day on its journey through the arteries, arterioles and capillaries and back through the venules and veins. How awesome is that?

Now the science bit is over, what’s the first-timer experience like?

The offices on D’Olier Street are bright, reassuringly clean, modern and lively. Everyone’s very friendly. There’s music playing in the background, so it doesn’t feel like a clinical environment. There is FREE CHOCOLATE. And FREE CRISPS. The positives were quickly racking up before I even got down to business.

When you arrive, you’re asked some questions, and given a questionnaire to fill out. You’re then given some information to read in your own time. (If you wish, you can have some free chocolate and crisps while you’re doing so.) As a first-timer, I was brought to the interview room to go through the questionnaire in a little more detail, and to be sure I understood everything. You’re told all about the process, and you’re asked whether you’ve eaten and consumed plenty of liquids, all of which help prevent potential fainting. Any questions? Just ask. It’s a thorough process, and it’s reassuring to see the attention to detail.

Then, there’s a fingertip test, to make sure that your haemoglobin levels are sufficiently high. Last night’s spinach gorge-fest did the job, obviously, so I was declared good to go. Iron-heavy fist-pump!

I was pretty damn nervous before being brought into the donation area. It’s been a while since I had any shots and I’m as yet untattooed, so needles and I are not close acquaintances (which is probably not a bad complaint to have), and I’m squeamish at the best of times. But like the brave little soldier I am, I sat down and pretended I was Kool and the Gang as the doc with the big needle approached.  You’re given a little squeezy bone to hold, a tourniquet is applied and the inside of your elbow is cleaned. While you’re wondering what on earth possessed you to spend an afternoon being punctured like a roast chicken, the lovely warm staff deploy revolutionary diversionary tactics to distract you, such as talking to you, and asking you questions, and suddenly, before you know it, you’re plugged in.  Then you just lie back and relax, and deploy the odd fist clench to keep things moving along.  The blood bag is out of sight, so unless you want to have a look, you can’t see it.  If you’re feeling brave, you can take a peek at the needle (it’s bigger than you think, but hurts not even slightly as much as you’d expect). I promise, you’ll feel like a hero, especially when you learn that the average body has 10-12 pints of blood, and you typically donate a pint at a time. That’s up to a tenth of your blood. Huzzah!

Within eight minutes, I was done and the needle was whipped out, I was patched up and escorted to a bed to keep pressure on the wound. I felt oddly fine. No dizziness, lightheadedness or hallucinations (I don’t think the latter is a recognised side-effect). Off I went to the canteen where you’re greeted with the most wonderful view of O’Connell Street and given MORE FREE CRISPS AND CHOCOLATE. Honestly, this is the best place ever. Though it’s not recommended that you do any strenuous exercise afterwards, I cycled home at a leisurely pace and at the time of writing, am none the worse for it.

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O’Connell Street, as seen from the canteen in the Irish Blood Transfusion offices on D’Olier Street

So if like me, you’ve thinking of doing this, I’d highly recommend going for it. The thing that struck me throughout the experience, from once I went in the door to when I left, was that everyone was smiling. Even the people with needles in their arms. I think I even cracked a smile myself. I couldn’t speak highly enough the staff – they were so welcoming, reassuring and there’s a lovely atmosphere in the building. I was thanked more than once for taking the time to go in, which I really appreciated. (And there are free crisps. Did I mention that?) Once you’ve donated, you can do so again with 90 days, and I know I won’t hesitate to return in November.

For more info on blood donation, check out the Irish Blood Transfusion Service website, where they give you all the information you’ll need about the blood donation process.

You can follow the IBTS on Twitter and Facebook where they’ll let you know if supplies are running low. You can even check the current Irish blood supply.

But most of all, if you’ve been thinking of doing it – just go for it.

Dates with Dublin is getting more romantic by the moment, isn’t it? Til next time …

#DatesWithDublin #2 – St. Patrick’s Cathedral

I’m easing myself into this project of mine.

So far, I haven’t gone out of my way to seek out treasures – they’ve just been on my route, but of course, it’s early days.  As I left work today I decided on a whim to park up the bike outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, having spent the past six months cycling past it twice a day and vowing that one day I’d actually go inside. So began Date #2 of Dates with Dublin.

I went for a wander in the adjacent park to take a couple of photos:

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Grabbing a bite

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Steps to Bride Street

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral, from St. Patrick’s Park

Pretty, isn’t it? I should warn you right now; my photography skills are non-existent. A left-handed blind goat would probably do better with a point-and-click.  I really wish I had more of an eye for photos, or even the slightest idea of how to work my camera. Either one of those would be helpful, but you get the picture anyway (ho ho). The park is a little oasis of calm off the busy thoroughfare of Patrick Street, and, hidden at the back, there’s a homage to Dublin’s many esteemed authors on the Literary Parade.

Inside I ventured, to be greeted by two lovely ladies at the desk. Admission is typically €5.50. “Where are you from?” they asked. “Mayo”, said I, and they waved me on in. “It’s a national Cathedral, so it’s yours to visit as you please”, they said. Evern Mayo, eh? Who knew. So far, so nice. I put my money back in my pocket and plodded on in.

Inside, it looks like … well, a typical Cathedral really. The building dates from 1191, so is over 800 years old. There are more monuments and plaques inside than you can shake a stick or camera at, so I busied myself wandering around to see if I recognised anyone from my days of Junior Cert history. My memory’s not very good. I spotted St Patrick (oddly enough), Douglas Hyde and Jonathan Swift, and after that, your guess was as good as mine.

There are some highlights. Firstly, the building itself is really impressive – tall, imposing, elegant. The stained glass windows, while relatively new, dating from the 1800s, are stunning, and while the cathedral is busy with the hum of tourists, it’s a relaxed and welcoming space; almost informal. If you’re looking for solemnity and hushed tones, you won’t find it here, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

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Stained glass window telling St. Patrick’s story

While I’m all for a bit of a history, what intrigues me the most is people and what they got up to back in the day. I wasn’t disappointed with some of the stories from St. Patrick’s. It’s probably best known for its most famous Dean, author Jonathan Swift,  who, despite yearning for a post in England was greatly admired for the passion with which he fought what he felt were unjust impositions on the Irish people. The man himself is buried within the cathedral, alongside his lifelong friend and companion, Stella. Swift met Stella through a former employer when he was a young man and she was just eight years old,  and the two remained close until her death in her mid 40s, though despite much speculation, nobody knows the exact nature of their relationship . And so the mystery and ambiguity remain t this day, and whether or not they ever wed remains the subject of debate. Their secrets remain forever between them in what must be one of Dublin’s more intriguing love stories.  

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Stella’s epitaph

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Swift’s epitaph translated from Latin. Like a proper boy scout, he wrote it himself

Mooching around in the glass cases close to the graves, I discovered a cast made of Swift’s skull. Relishing the macabre as I do, I was intrigued to read that the skulls of Jonathan and Stella had been exhumed some 90 years after their death, so that they could be examined by a team of phrenologists. Phrenology, now long discredited, was a rather fashionable science in the 1830s, and consisted of examining the shape of human skulls to reveal character traits and intelligence levels. If nothing else, it allowed us to see what shape Jonathan Swift’s head was. The inside of Swift’s head was another matter; in his later years he was troubled with dizziness and noises in his ears, and this, combined with a stroke he suffered led many to dismiss him as mad before his death. It was only during his exhumation that the physician Dr. William Wilde (father of that literary rascal, Oscar) went poking around and discovered that Swift had been suffering with a loose bone in his inner ear, and that Meniére’s Disease, not madness, was at the root of his problems. This in itself was ironic, given that Swift had left a substantial sum of money to St. Patrick’s Hospital for the Mentally Ill; which is today still in operation.  There’s lots more information on this incident over at Come Here To Me! which is well worth a read.

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Swift’s Skull

Another story I liked was that of the origin of the phrase “Chancing Your Arm”.  In the  late 15th century, two famous Irish families, the Butlers of Ormonde and the FitzGeralds of Kildare, had a bit of a falling out about a high-paying job – Ireland hasn’t changed that much – and the situation escalated into some a kerfuffle and some waving of handbags outside the Dublin city walls. (I may be exercising some artistic licence here.) The Butlers fled and hid out in the Cathedral, with the Fitzgeralds in hot angry pursuit. However, the calming atmosphere of the place clearly had an effect on the latter, and upon arrival, they knocked on the door of the Chapter house where the Butlers were holed up, and asked that the two families make peace. The Butlers were terrified, and assuming it was a trap, refused to exit lest they be butchered on the spot. Gerald Fitzgerald, (with, one would suspect, rapidly evaporating patience), ordered that a hole be cut in the door, and thrust his arm through to offer his hand in peace to the Butlers.  The Butlers, realising that Fitzgerald was willing to “chance his arm”, relented and shook hands (with, one would suspect, no small degree of embarrassment) and the two clans kissed and made up. The “Door of Reconciliation” is still on display in the Cathedral. 

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The Door of Reconciliation

There’s lots more to see in the Cathedral, including the beautiful carved stone staircase, the gorgeous Ladies Chapel and the rather bamboozling looking organ which, I believe is one of the largest in Europe. (They didn’t let me play it.) There are numerous tombs dotted around the place also, as well as many references to our history and colourful relationship history with the British . Our tour guide was at pains to point out that because the building is protected, they weren’t allowed to “get rid” of anything, so the Union Flags and royal seals remain intact. But we’ve moved on, so that’s okay, right? There is a large area in the North Nave dedicated to all our War dead, with laurel and poppy wreaths.

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Spiral Staircase

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I wouldn’t know where to put my fingers first….

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Ladies Chapel … not just for Ladies. The Huguenots hung out here too

There is so much more I could tell you about this place, even after a whistle-stop tour, but this is just a taster. I strongly suggest that if you have time, you pop in and see for yourself, but if you’re curious to learn more, have a look at the Cathedral Tales page here. One thing I did notice on my visit was just how much information is available on the cathedral if you’re thirsty for hard facts. There are QR codes dotted everywhere, leading to video, audio and text content (they even have free wifi).  They have an fantastic website, and maintain an active and responsive social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. There’s also more to see – the Marsh Library, Ireland’s oldest public library is on the grounds, but wasn’t open today. It’s a lovely way to pass a couple of hours – go see.

Finally, I was delighted to spot, among the myriad of stitched kneeling pads that adorned the backs of most of the seats, a small tribute to the homeland:

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Mayo for Sam!

That’ll do nicely for a difficult second date – I left wanting more, and feeling just a little bit more knowledgeable, which was the aim of this whole exercise.

Until the next day out, thanks for reading!

Dates with Dublin #1- Churchtown Bottle Tower

So today, to kick off my Dates With Dublin project,  I went on my first “date”. Not unlike other dates I have previously embarked on, it proved to be shorter than expected and not very interesting, with minimal conversation and a bit of head-scratching. I think this one might have been a record, though, clocking in at about three minutes. But it’s a start, right?

On the way to do the grocery shop (oh, the glamour of a bank holiday weekend!) I swung by the Bottle Tower near Churchtown. It’s a place that’s caught my eye before, but thanks to a suggestion from Julia over on Facebook, today I decided to pull up outside and go in for a nose.

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The Bottle Tower (also known as Hall’s Barn) appears to be located on the grounds of a private residence, but nobody came running out with a pitchfork when I stepped through the gate, so I took that as an open invitation. I had a good nose around, as I’m wont to do, but there’s really not a lot more to see than what you can see above, as you can’t access the back of the structure. But it’s kinda cool, isn’t it? There’s no information at all visible around it, so I came home and turned to my trusty friend, Google. There’s not much information online either, but from what I can glean, the structure was built in the 1740s, when Ireland was in the grip of a famine, under the direction of the wife of William Conolly of Castletown House, Leixlip as a means of giving local people a way to earn a living.

The barn was built on the grounds of the now-disappeared Whitehall House, after which the road it stands on is named. Apparently its purpose was to act as a granary, though there is evidence of a living area inside too, with a couple of fireplaces. The staircase you can see around the side isn’t safe to climb anymore, but leads to a small platform where you could look out over the surrounding areas – this was potentially used for shooting game, back in the day. More than likely, the building is based on the design of the Wonderful Barn in Castletown House, which is in much better nick – these are the only two buildings of their type in Ireland. They’re pretty distinctive. And that’s about as much information as I can lay my hands on for now – if anyone local is reading this, I’d love to know more.

So there you have it – today’s Date was short, but was a nice little sweetener for the adventures ahead. It’s also made me think about just how much we rely on the internet for information, and how, if information about an interesting place is not documented already, is it too late? It also reminds me of my own locality at home where there is an absolute myriad of ruins – castles, abbeys, wells, kilns, cemeteries – with very little information online any of them. A project for another time? Who knows.  Anyway, there are lots more adventures to come, with a little more excitement in store, I hope :_)

Til next time …