Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ireland: spirits and the spiritual

Our flights were uneventful; sitting four across for the long jaunt felt cozy. In the wee hours, my teen daughters rested their heads on my shoulders, peacefully snoozing. Wading through Irish customs was a bit of a frenzy, ably handled by a good-natured guard, who kept us moving. “Don’t let that real estate (space in the cue) go to waste,” he’d chatter, nudging us onward. His Irish accent was disarming. Didn’t hurt that he broke open packages of bottled water so the 45 minutes were tolerable. After all, we were exercising body parts frozen with the imprint of airline seats.

The next hurdle was finding transportation. Not just any means, mind you, but the most local: the city bus. It was neither easy nor intuitive. After two attempts, I  located the airport tourism office stuck behind a sprawling, modern bar. Drink before anything, Dublin seemed to cry. The city buses were just as hidden, revealed  by an obliging Dubliner. We found they tend to go out of their way to share their city.

My girls @ Kilronan House
We eventually boarded the comfortable double-decker for 3 euros each. It was priceless to watch my girls drink in the people and scenery; opportunities they would have missed aboard the plusher, more expensive, tourist buses stationed directly outside the baggage claim.

Forty-five interesting minutes later, we disembarked, just a few blocks from our inn, Kilronan House, not quite as pristine as depicted online, but quirky, welcoming and authentic.  After a quick lesson on the virtues of Dublin, we headed out. The city has been designated a Unesco literary site with references everywhere. My goal was to please ALL of us: food first, shopping for the girls, Guinness for my husband and history for me.
New friend Alli from Austrailia in the Duke Pub
We cut through St. Stephan’s Green, which one daughter likened to Central Park and much more encompassing than on the map or Google Earth, on our way to refreshment at the Duke Pub. Highly recommended by a stateside friend, the Duke is just off Grafton Street, Dublin’s main shopping thoroughfare. Bustling with a late-lunch crowd, we plopped ourselves down next to Alli from Australia. She’s touring Europe on a four-month gap trip between discovering that nursing is not for her, but teaching is. She’s an Oscar Wilde fanatic, so I couldn’t wait to tell her that my daughter and I had fought over who was going to buy the thrift-store copy of “The Portrait of Dorian Grey” Tuesday before we left. We’re both mad to read it – especially, after Alli’s endorsement. We bonded over beers and a bit of a delight in the dark side and some conversation about sacred sights. In fact, we unexpectedly met up again just outside the Book of Kells. I had mentioned it and given her my brochure. This was the thing I wanted to do most in Dublin; well beyond sipping a freshly drawn Guinness.

My fresh-salmon sandwich arrived sans the bread as I had requested but smoked. Still, it paired well with a black-and-tan: Guinness and Smithwick’s. The rest of the clan ordered sandwiches, ample, simple and accompanied by hearty sides.

Construction at the Book of Kells
Sean, the efficient Kilronan manager, confirmed the illuminated manuscript at Trinity College was open until 5 pm, so I wanted to head there after filling our tanks. “Due to construction, we’re closing the Book of Kells early today, in five minutes,” the guard taunted me. “I am only in Dublin today,” I pleaded. “You still have time, but you have to pay. It’s up to you.” No decision, I sped up to the ticket desk and quickly texted my family to wait outside. It was not the liesurely visit I had anticipated. I even cleared space to view alone what people unmoved by other religious artifacts declare as deeply spiritual. I missed reading the subtext and accompanying material, instinctively finding the two pages at the heart of the exhibit. In my rush, it took a few minutes to warm up to what I was seeing, becoming present and beginning  to feel its energy. The pages were flipped to John 1:1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
I was stricken. For months, I have been struggling with what this concept of word truly means to me. I understand my visit will be a clue, but only when I have time to silently contemplate its meaning Not on this trip – at least not until Paris when I have planned a one-night pilgrimage to Sacre Coeur. My experience at the Book of Kells reflects what a woman from Wisconsin told Alli yesterday: “Ireland is a place the veil thins.”

Coffe and cheap eats at the Buttery in Trinity College
We scored a coffee in Tinity’s cheap-meal Buttery cafeteria, then watched a snatch of a cricket match.

After covering sacred ground, it was time to hit Temple Bar even though a well-meaning local re-directed us to St. Patrick’s Park. “There’s nothing but bars at Temple Bar,” she noted. For us, that was the point. I can not imagine more pubs per square foot (ok, meter) anywhere else in the world. I have a nose for sniffing out authentic taverns I fondly refer to as dark bars. Not many make the mark, but I walked through four that superbly complied. I flitted through one
thinking this must be where I should have a Guinness, but my family wandered on. Then I found the Oliver St. John Gogarty Bar with live Irish music and wanted to linger, but my family marched on in search of gelato for a hungry 13-year-old. Next I was awed by the actual Temple Bar as we searched for a perch for four, but when the vocalist switched to American tunes, I wasn’t as interested. My oldest and I headed back to Oliver St. John Gogarty’s, purloining a front-row table, ordering a Guinness and a Coke, settling in to listening to the intensely talented guitarist-vocalist and accordianist. They played non-stop for a good 30-40 minutes barely breaking to breathe. I was transformed until I visited the basement bathroom, which smelled of disinfectant and stale beer. Oh, yes, this is also a hopping hostel. Had we been spending more than one night time after an all-night flight, I would have loved to treat ourselves to a novelty: the European hostel. This time, I valued a good bed and quiet.

Great Irish Music at Oliver St. John Gogarty's
Leaving the lively scene, we followed winding side streets to Christ Church Cathedral, where the faithful have worshipped for almost a thousand years. This medieval section of the city was fascinating. We continued on the trail of cathedrals, brushing past St Patrick’s on our way back to the guesthouse to rest. While others snoozed, I grabbed my laptop to recapture the day. Instead, I learned a lot about the Catholic-Protestant conflict and finer points of stag parties from a Canadian father and son on a guys’ drinking-and-golfing holiday. I had encountered the stag-and-hen party phenomena when searching for hotels. While alluring, I opted for a peaceful rest at the Kilronan Inn.  Our receptionist offered me a real Irish coffee and I settled in to start this post.
Christ Church Cathedral

After the others awakened, we journeyed out for a very late dinner. So late that the pubs were not longer serving and we settled on tasty Persian lamb and chicken at a chain, Zaytoon, then picked up a few groceries for our ferry-train trip the following morning across the Irish sea, Welsh and English countryside to London.

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