Sam and I returned last night from a quick trip to Dublin with his parents; our last stop on our whirlwind trip with them. We traveled all day yesterday and even though it was already past my bedtime, I sat down at my laptop, still basking in the glow of the trip, eager to tell you all about Dublin.
You can only see so much of a city in 2.5 days, but I saw enough to confirm that I want to go back and explore the beautiful, diverse country of Ireland. As soon as possible, please. Here’s what won me over…
Our time there was short, but it was marked with two of my favorite things: conversation and music (and a little bit of Guinness thrown in the mix).
We had the privilege of meeting and staying with a friend of Mike and Terry’s in Dublin. Mary is a retired American missionary living in Dublin, a joyful, gracious host, and an excellent tour guide! Upon arriving in Dublin we met up with Mary at a parking garage and immediately set out into the city! As soon as we left the parking garage I was met by the sweet sounds of a guitar and banjo streaming from a corner pub in the Temple Bar area. Sam and I were drawn in by the music and stayed for our first Irish pint of Guinness. It did not disappoint.
The Temple Bar area is vibrant and lively. Famous for its pubs, it also offers markets, record stores, coffee shops, and even a fish & tackle shop. Every demographic was present and they seemed to be enjoying themselves! Young and old, tourist and local, many different people groups and styles. It was a visual feast if you’re a people watcher like me. We stopped in the market and I picked up some potato cakes for breakfast the next day. My MeMe used to make them all the time and they are delish. The ones we got at the market were superb!
We moved on to the Chester Beatty Library. I had never heard of him or his library, so I was not sure what to expect. I pictured an actual library in a beautiful old, building. What I found was a massive and incredibly impressive display of one man’s collection of books, manuscripts, bindings, papyrus, and more. The first level displayed the history of book making and binding with elaborate leather bindings and colorful hand-illustrated stories from many centuries and countries. The second floor held important historical texts from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, as well as beautiful and intricate copies of their major religious texts. It was powerful to see papyrus copies of Paul’s letters and the Gospel of John dating back to AD 100-250. There was one copy of 1 Corinthians 13 (you can see it here) dating from around AD 200 where the Greek was still as plain as if it had just been written; Mike pointed out a few of the several mentions of the word ‘agape’ in the text. That specific copy dated only a hundred years or so after Paul himself was killed. It was powerful to see these ancient texts that were key in spreading of the word of God!
Next up we walked through Christchurch Cathedral. Parts of the cathedral date back to 1200! It was beautiful inside and had some interesting quirks. For example, when staring down the knave of the cathedral, the wall to the right visibly leans (9 degrees, if I remember correctly). The funny thing is, it was built that way, though probably not on purpose.
Below the cathedral are the dark, mysterious crypts full of artifacts and sculptures. My favorite were these guys:
Apparently in the 1800s the cat chased the rat into the church’s organ pipes, and they both regretted it for the rest of their lives. The mummified remains were found years later. Though admittedly creepy, it was interesting (and funny!) as well… you could even still see whiskers! These are the critters James Joyce alludes to in Finnegan’s Wake: “…As stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ…”
After a delicious dinner of Guinness Beef Stew we headed out to a local cultural center to hear some traditional Irish music. As she described the casual gathering of local musicians that we might get to see, I pictured Glen Hansard bringing Marketa Irglova to the musician’s party in Once; singing “Gold” and other heartfelt traditional choruses. My dream, basically. (If you haven’t seen that movie please please go watch it). We arrived at the cultural center only to find four musicians and two audience members. It seemed more like a practice or private lesson than a jam session. The bodhran (a type of Irish drum) player looked quite disinterested. They weren’t always in time. It wasn’t the scene from Once that I had dreamed. But I still enjoyed it. These were local Irish people who were spending their Friday night at the cultural center playing music that had been passed down to them. Things picked up a bit after a children’s concert at the center let out (that we had just missed) so there were more people popping in to play and listen. Several older ladies and gentlemen joined us in the audience, clapping and humming along. One of them Irish step danced even as she sat. Though it wasn’t what Mary had expected, nor did it match the image in my head, I felt like I got a peek into the lives of these local men and women. Just to top off the picture of Irish heritage present in modern Dublin, as we were leaving a man put down his flute and began to belt out the refrain, “Oh Danny boy…” as the old man to his right solemnly played his violin. Not a bad evening at all.
Our next and last day in Ireland completely exceeded my expectations. The morning began at Mary’s church. Once again, music enriched our time together. I’ve had the opportunity of worshiping our great Creator in many countries with many different nationalities and it is always a moving experience. As we gathered with Irish and non-Irish alike in the gymnasium where Mary’s church meets and we sang the line “Lord of all creation…” I was reminded of how big our God is and how Jesus’ love spans the nations and his grace is for everyone who will have it. What a big and GOOD God we serve.
After lunch we gathered at the nearby pub for a carvery. Corned beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, cabbage, peas, carrots and parsnips, gravy, basically a feast.
But the best part of lunch was the conversation. We spoke with several of Mary’s friends from church and learned a bit more about the Irish culture. For example, we experienced first hand the Irish art of ‘slagging off’ a friend (giving them a hard time), we were introduced to the Irish national sport of hurling (think ice hockey and lacrosse combined), and soaked in the Irish accent. I’d say we learned a ‘ting or two. 🙂
But we couldn’t chat for long… we were off to tour the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate, home of the Guinness Brewery.
Some of you might think that this is not for you because you don’t drink… I understand your viewpoint; I’m not going to start a debate here. 🙂 But, just let me say two things:
1) The story of Arthur Guinness and his business model is fascinating and lesson-filled. He was a man of faith who lived out what he believed. If you’ve never read The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield, I highly recommend it!
2) Even if you’ve never had a drop of beer in your life, I think you’ll find the Storehouse interesting and fun!
The experience is very interactive, taking you through the brewing process but also the history of the company and the people who worked there. Guinness is still an important part of Dublin and the Guinness name is still contributing to society in a very positive way.
The exhibits lead you upwards through the storehouse. After several floors of teasing, you finally get your free pint of Guinness at the top (or a soft drink of your choice). The Sky Bar was beautiful and offered 360 degree views of the city. The bartenders estimated that they pour about 2,500 pints of Guinness there a day. That may seem like a lot until you consider that Guinness produces 3 million pints of the black stuff every day.
By the way, if you ever tour the Storehouse, I highly recommend buying and tasting the Guinness Dark Chocolate… it didn’t last long. 🙂
BUT, even though we had truly enjoyed our trip so far, the best part was that evening. Mary took us to Arlington Hotel to see Celtic Nights. We spent the evening listening to the very talented band Púca and were amazed by the speedy footwork of the Irish dancers. I really enjoy Irish music, so I sat with a giddy smile on my face for most of the evening. Here’s a video of one of my favorite songs they performed, Dublin City in the Rare Old Times (originally by the Dubliners):
We were already in heaven, soaking in the truly excellent music and dancing, when they asked for a few volunteers. Sam and I shot our hands up and ran to the stage. Sam was quickly whisked up on stage to dance with one of the women. He spun very very quickly. I got a quick 10-second lesson before I was spun around on stage myself. While we were reeling the dancer asked me, “Are you dizzy?” Clearly “no” was the wrong answer, because he spun me faster. I took a dizzy bow and he had to walk me down the stairs, my head still spinning from the dance and my mind buzzing with excitement! Seriously, what an experience! Not only did we get to hear an amazing Celtic band and see talented step dancers up close, but we got to DANCE WITH THEM. It was seriously one of the most fun evenings of my life. When can I go back?!
Oh, and on our walk back to the car we passed Pentatonix on the sidewalk. Some of us were a little starstruck. 😉
As I write this post and think back on all of the things we were able to do, I’m amazed we were only there for two days! Our busy, and sometimes tiring, sightseeing times in town were balanced by the calming, cozy hours spent in Mary’s home. Her house is beautiful and welcoming. Books, flowers, comfy couches, tea and coffee, a wonderful host, and a friendly cat. Why did we only stay two nights?? Thank you again, Mary, for having us! I hope our paths cross again. 🙂