I woke up at an agriculturally early hour on Monday to head for the bus to Dublin. As it was, after going to the shop to pick up snacks, I was an hour early arriving at Europa. After collecting my ticket for the 08:00 bus, I went for a walk around the city centre in the sunshine, particularly admiring Belfast City Hall. (More on that in a later post.)
If you weren’t actively looking for it, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic isn’t obvious any more. There are road signs denoting that the Republic speed limits are in kilometres-per-hour and that’s about it. Plus there are more shops on the NI side selling fireworks (which are illegal in the Republic). Like in Belfast, though, many of the communities in NI fly flags on lampposts just to remind everyone of their allegiances. Much of the way south was marked by Union flags and the Ulster Banner (the one with the Red Hand of Ulster on it) while Newry is more Republican and had more Irish tricolours about the place. Where I was staying in Belfast was quite neutral and there were more rainbow flags than anything, due to Belfast Pride being on over the weekend. Randomly, Belfast had Pride the same time as Glasgow had an Orange walk, which is at least a sign of progress on one side.
After the EU referendum result, there have been a fair few concerns about whether border controls will reemerge between NI and the Republic. I was thinking about that going through Newry, which is only a couple of miles from the border. Theresa May, the new Prime Minister, has promised that there won’t be a return to a hard border but it is hard to see how they will avoid it if the Brexiteers’ promises to restrict immigration can be met. Northern Ireland, like Scotland, voted by a majority to Remain though the prospect of them joining the Republic is remote, to say the least. When I left Dublin, though, I wondered what my own citizenship will be when I visit next, whether as a citizen of an independent Scotland within the EU or of Britain outside the EU. We will have to wait and see.
Anyway, enough of the politics. Dublin is one of my favourite cities, the first place I ever went to on holiday myself and a place with excellent museums and galleries. For once, I didn’t have a big action plan for where to go. I had thought about going to Marsh’s Library and Kilmainham but I wasn’t sure how it would quite slot all together. I left Busaras and walked along to O’Connell Street, pausing for a moment by the statue of trade union leader Jim Larkin, who was involved in the 1913 Lockout. The statue features Big Jim with arms aloft as if inciting the people to rise up. When I was in Dublin a couple of years ago, the SIPTU trade union offices on Eden Quay were done up with comic strips all up the building about the events of 1913. On Monday, there were panels about the Irish Citizen Army, a group set up to protect locked-out workers from police brutality. I am a fan of using the media of drawings and comics to get messages across. The Ulster Museum had an exhibition about the First World War which did just that and the SIPTU building is always worth looking at. I am not sure how many Dublin commuters look up at it but it’s worthwhile all the same.
I walked to Merrion Square, not far from the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) and the Natural History Museum, to pay my respects at the memorial to Dermot Morgan, who played Father Ted. There were two different people sitting under trees nearby, with one woman playing on a guitar when I walked by at first then reading the second time. The Dermot Morgan monument always makes me think of the immense power of humour to brighten the world up, even just a wee bit. Another thing that brightened my mood as I left was a floral tribute left by Irish members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
Not so far away was the National Gallery of Ireland, which was mostly shut for refurbishment. The bit that was open featured some Irish and European art from the 19th century, including some Impressionists. My two favourite paintings were ‘Sunshade’ by William Leech, which features a woman in side profile holding up a green parasol, and ‘Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat, 1874’ by Claude Monet, which features a sailboat on a body of water with some autumn trees. I love Monet because of how he renders water and clouds with simple but effective brushstrokes. I liked these two so much that I bought a card of one and a print of another, which sit beside me as I type this. The National Gallery of Ireland is in a modern building rather reminiscent of the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh with lots of levels and white-washed walls. It’s always worth a look.
Before heading to the Chester Beatty Library for lunch, I stopped into the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street. In the foyer was an exhibition about the leaders of the 1916 rising, including James Connelly born in the Cowgate in Edinburgh, as well as an interesting panel about the NLI staff who were involved in the rising, some of whom were executed for their part. As a library worker myself, I have to say you have to watch the quiet ones. What I was actually there to see was the permanent display about WB Yeats, which I’ve seen before, and sat a while in the opening display listening to some of his poems read by famous people, including my favourite poem, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, read by the man himself. ‘Peace dropping slow’ always feels far away from a bustling city but hearing the words takes me a lot closer in spirit.
This might need to be a two-part post. It was an incredibly rich full day so I will finish this account at lunchtime. One of my favourite places in Dublin is the Chester Beatty Library, which has an incredible collection of manuscripts and objects relating to religion, including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity. I didn’t take that in this time but the priority was visiting possibly the best museum cafe in the land, which serves Middle Eastern cuisine. So, I had a chicken curry, which was absolutely marvellous, and thought about how to spend the rest of the day and how to get there.
Stay tuned for part two of the Dublin adventure.