I was doing some writing earlier and while writing about Durham, I ended up thinking about Dublin. They are very different places, I like both very much, though the context that set my brain going, and which links them, was religious books. I was writing a little about the Lindisfarne Gospels and remembered the morning I spent at Trinity College Dublin, looking at pages from the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow before walking up into the Long Library, a glorious space where I spent as much time as I could just absorbing the atmosphere. I would still be there now if there weren’t burly security guards about the place to deter folk from doing just that.
I was last in Dublin in January. I’ve been there three times in all, twice for a few days and once for a day trip by Ryanair. It was the first place I went to on holiday on my own, about three years ago. I wasn’t completely on my own – I met a friend who came up from Cork to meet me one of the days – but it was an incredible experience, to be in another country and an unfamiliar one at that, free just to explore and see what was doing. I felt a similar experience when I was in Cambridge recently, another new place but of course a more familiar country. Dublin is English-speaking (well, just) but has different money, TV, architecture, flags and traffic crossing noises. (They sound like something being sucked up into a vacuum tube. Listen sometime – it’s a brilliant noise.)
My second favourite building in Dublin is the General Post Office (below), on O’Connell Street, possibly the only post office anywhere with actual bullet holes in the walls. It’s very much a post office, though, despite its history. It even has self-issue machines, which tickled me when I first saw them.
Nearby is Eason’s the stationers, a bookshop like what WH Smith used to be. The last time I was there I managed to get a copy of History Scotland magazine, which only the week before I couldn’t source in Glasgow. I also nearly collapsed when I saw the magnificent Irish sheep calendar, showing sheep in various parts of the Irish countryside, including a few dangerously close to the edge of cliffs. One duly came back to Scotland with me and hangs in one of my workplaces to this day. When I leave that particular place soon, my lasting legacy will undoubtedly be the 2016 version right there on the wall, and then the next one after that.
My favourite building is the Chester Beatty Library, a collection of religious manuscripts and objects in the grounds of Dublin Castle. It is fascinating and that is reason enough to love it, even without considering the fabulous cafe in the courtyard, which serves middle eastern cuisine. The last time I went to Dublin I was about as excited about having lunch at the Chester Beatty Library than about going to see anything else.
(Apropos of nothing else, I saw this on a pavement by the Liffey.)
My next trip won’t be until next year or the year after. More than likely, my next foray across the Irish Sea will be to Belfast and the Ulster Museum, a place I only got a fleeting glimpse of on my last visit. That might be in the New Year, all being well. If I am tempted south too, then it’ll be hard to stop myself.