Next on the itinerary was a four-day stop in Dublin. Four days was not nearly enough time, but we did get a chance to get beyond the cluster of pubs in the Temple Bar district.
Our first stop was to the Guinness Storehouse: a complex of warehouses for the Guinness brewery, with one large building set aside as a museum of the history, craft and culture of Guinness. They even offer a lesson in the technique of pouring a pint of Guinness stout – you learn a new skill, get a certificate and you get to drink the pint after class; a useful education if you ask me. A cynic might dismiss the whole thing as a way to get people to pay for a two-hour Guinness commercial, but hey, nobody’s forcing anybody to go. Maggie and I had fun, we learned some things about the brewing process, and as part of the admission price, we each got a pint of Guinness, poured for us in the rooftop bar. We shared our table with a couple of beautiful 20-something American nurses, on a day’s layover in Dublin on their way to Croatia. All in all, I’d have to say it checked off all my boxes for a great way to spend an afternoon.
The Chester Beatty Library is a shrine to books. It’s divided into two parts: there’s a research library, where experts can come to examine the old and rare volumes that make up the collection; then there’s a museum of books that’s open to the public. The age and breadth of the collection is astounding.
On the first floor, there are love poems from 1160 BCE; Egyptian Books of the Dead on papyrus; European, Japanese and Chinese prints; a display of book bindings with leather carved into intricate patterns.I got caught up in some woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer, which I had seen in books but never realized how tiny they are. Maggie was captivated by a Japanese love story, presented as a graphic novel in page after page of beautiful illustrations and calligraphy, with English translations presented alongside.
The second floor of the public display is devoted to religious books: mostly Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu works, with a small display on Manichean writings. Chester Beatty had one of the world’s most complete collections of ancient Korans. Maggie and I had already been introduced to the beauty of Arabic script, which covers the walls of the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain. What was amazing about these was the level of detail: pages and pages of script written in gold ink, each character outlined in a delicate line of black, so thin it was almost invisible. Some were miniatures from the early Mughal Empire, predating restrictions on images of people and animals. They were a tiny window on a different version of Islam, before the rise of fundamentalism.
We spent some time in the Archaeology wing of the National Museum of Ireland, which covers the history of prehistoric Ireland. It turns out that the peat bogs that cover so much of Ireland are a perfect environment for preserving artifacts: when something falls in the bog, the peat slowly grows over it; once it’s covered, the mixture of mud and water keeps out the air, so artifacts, animals, and people who wound up in the bog are found intact centuries later. We saw iron spear points, perfect except for a thin layer of rust; gold crescent-shape necklaces with their fine details easily visible; a wooden wheel from 400 BCE. The big attraction is the “bog bodies:” remains of four ancient kings, executed and buried in the bog. Archaeologists can tell they were kings because their remains show that their diet and health were far above average for their time. Their hands and bones don’t show the signs of the hard manual labor most people endured back then. The most telling evidence is that their nipples had been cut off: back then subjects showed their fealty to the king by sucking on his nipples – a demonstration that the king was the source of everything. With no nipples, he couldn’t claim kingship in this world or the next.
On this whole trip, our only regret has been not spending enough time in each place – we have yet to get bored, or stay in one place longer than we wanted. Our visit to Dublin was definitely in this category. We’d like to say that we saved something for next trip, but it’s a big world and our time on it isn’t endless, so I don’t know if that will happen. Our hope is that people will read this blog and share their stories, so we’ll all get to see a little more of the world.