Archive for the ‘ Europe ’ Category


Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise  distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.


 abstract: To understand Dublin is to learn a lot about Ireland. Dublin is the country’s Center City. It is the cultural and economic, as well as the political capital of the Republic of Ireland. With twenty-five percent of all Irish citizens living here in a uniquely urban concentration, Dublin is where the action is. It is also the stage where the drama of the country’s past took shape, and where its future will unfold. No wonder then that Dubliners can appear self-absorbed. A line from “Eveline,” a story about them by James Joyce, aptly reflects the Dubliners’ manner of reference to the rest of Ireland:  “Down somewhere in the country.” It connotes indifference to life outside Capital. Yet, in exploring the life in Dublin I have found it inextricably rooted in the story of Ireland as a whole.

Joyce’s City

The bus from the airport took me directly to the heart of Dublin. From my window I could see crowds of tourists on this mid-July afternoon, mingling with shoppers and students where the pedestrianized Grafton Street reached the campus of Trinity College. I got off at St. Stephen’s Green, the large public park lined on one side with elegant Georgian houses. This was south of the Liffey, the river which cuts through Dublin.  On the other side of the Green I entered the venerable Shelbourne Hotel. All these names sounded familiar even though I was visiting the capital of Ireland for the first time. On the plane, I had just re-read parts of James Joyce’s Dubliners, and accompanied the character Lenehan of the short story “Two Gallants” in his idle wandering through central Dublin. That was the city in 1906. I also wanted to find out what Dublin had been before and since.

The oldest building in Dublin is Christ Church Cathedral (also called the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity). It was founded in 1028 by Sitric III, King of Dublin. Sitric was a Hiberno-Norse King, whose father was a Norse-Gael king who married the daughter of the Irish King of the Province of Leinster. Sitric is one of the rulers of the Viking Age in Ireland which began with the first recorded Viking raid in 795 and ended in 1170 when the Anglo-Normans captured Dublin. Vikings were pagans who worshiped the Norse gods. Christianity gradually replaced the Norsemen’s religion in Ireland, just as the existing local Celtic (Hibernian) population absorbed the new Viking settlers through intermarriage. A mixed-marriage offspring, the Christian King Sitric even made a pilgrimage to Rome. In that sense, the Viking Age in Ireland faded away even before its “ending”.  It has, however, left its impact on Dublin, although not in bricks and mortar. The original Christ Church Cathedral of the Vikings was rebuilt in stone in the 1180s after the Anglo-Normans arrived. They were lead by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, better known as Strongbow. He was buried in the Cathedral, but his tomb later collapsed. What is today called “Strongbow’s Tomb,” in fact, contains the remains of an unknown crusader from the 14th century.

King Sitric’s religious legacy has been more enduring than buildings: he is credited with originating the establishment of territorial bishoprics in Ireland by founding a bishopric at Dublin in Christ Church Cathedral. That was an important development in the Irish Church which hitherto had existed in numerous monasteries scattered throughout the country. Today Christ Church is the cathedral of the Ecclesiastical province of the United Provinces of Dublin and Cashel in the Church of Ireland. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Dublin. It calls itself “the spiritual heart of the city,” and offers services as an institution of the three Irish Protestant Christian Churches:  “Church of Ireland. Anglican. Episcopalian.”

For a time, however, Christ Church shared the role of cathedral of Dublin with another church, the larger Saint Patrick’s Cathedral which had been founded in 1191. That ambiguity was resolved in 1930 by an agreement which gave Christ Church precedence. The larger Saint Patrick’s Cathedral became “The National Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Patrick, Dublin”. As the National Cathedral for the whole island, it has chapter members from all of the twelve dioceses of the Church of Ireland.  Instead of an Archbishop, this Cathedral has a Dean as its head.

Both of these two cathedrals in Dublin belong to one Church, the Church of Ireland, the religion of the minority of the population in Dublin, but also of the establishment that ruled in Ireland until 1871. The presiding bishops in Ireland followed their King, Henry VIII’s split from Rome in 1531. Subsequently, the Church of Ireland came to control the existing Church property, including the two medieval Cathedrals. In retaliation against the murder of Dublin’s archbishop in 1534, King Henry VIII’s appointed replacement cleric ordered the destruction of all sacred relics in the shrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Those belonging to Christ Church Cathedral were burned in 1538, while the jewels that adorned its statues were confiscated.

The religion of the majority of Dubliners, Roman Catholicism, still has no cathedral here.  It continues to consider Christ Church as the Dublin cathedral until the Pope either formally revokes its 12th century original designation or grants cathedral status to another church. For now, the main Roman Catholic church in Dublin is a “Pro-Cathedral” or acting cathedral, called St Mary’s Church.

Even after Christ Church was taken over by the Protestants, the mostly Catholic locals used it as a gathering spot and marketplace until a rector expelled them because their rowdiness interrupted church services. On the day of my visit, however, the front yard of the Cathedral was again being used as a place for a street  fair.

Viking Era

Attached to Christ Church is a modern building which houses Dublinia where the ancient history of Dublin is presented in audio-visual displays. Together with the exhibits at the National Museum of Ireland-Archeology across town, Dublinia provided me with a general idea of what Dublin today thinks about much of its past.

Ireland did not have any town before the Vikings. In 841 the Vikings established a camp in the Dublin area.  Their first King in Ireland was Olaf the White from Norway. The word Viking may have come from the old Norse word oik meaning a bay, inlet, or creek. At the end of the 8th century some Vikings began to leave their Scandinavian homeland on boats in search of raw materials such as iron and soapstone. This brought Viking traders into contact with opportunities for wealth in other lands, especially in unprotected monasteries full of treasures -as people often entrusted their valuables to such religious centers for safekeeping.  In 806, the Vikings attacked the monastery in the Island of Iona, in the Inner Hebrides west of Ireland, which had been a center of Irish monasticism for four centuries. They killed 68 of the monks. The others were forced to flee to the Abbey of Kells, north of Dublin, carrying with them the illuminated gospel manuscripts they had been making which would be called the Book of Kells. The Vikings’ raids on the Dublin area began later, in the 820s and 830s.  Raids on monasteries for easy fortunes were not a practice unique to the Vikings, and the Vikings continued the practice in the rest of Ireland. Even King Sitric, in 1002, would plunder Inch Abbey, in today’s Northern Ireland. Like other invaders, the Vikings also took people away to sell in markets, some in Europe, but also in Dublin which soon became an important slave market.

The Vikings’ domain in Ireland varied as they established new encampments from the north to the south of the west coasts of island, but Dublin remained their principal center. The Vikings had an alphabet, named futhark, consisting of letters, called runes. They left their scripted words as carvings on wood, stone, metal and bone. They commemorated the places where they landed by erecting a tall monument called Long Stone. Some of these Long Stones were shown still standing in the maps from the 18th century. The runic alphabet, however, was suited only for inscribing place-markers and gravestones and, therefore, Vikings did not really leave a written record of themselves.

A reference from the 841 in Annals of Ulster is the earliest written mention of the Vikings in Ireland. In Latin script, that Irish language source covered the lives of the early Viking rulers of Dublin. For a more comprehensive contemporary description of the Vikings, Dublinia refers you to Ahmad ibn Fadhlan “an Arab trader”. Ibn Fadhlan, a Muslim chronicler, indeed, gives a rich account of his encounter with the Vikings around the Caspian Sea in his 9th century Risala (Letter). Before him, the Persian geographer ibn Khordadbeh in 844 wrote about these saqalibah, an Islamic term which referred to people with fair complexion and light hair from Europe. Ibn Fadhlan, on the other hand, called them Rus, a corruption of a Norse term for “the men who row.” They were, in fact, Swedes who came down the VolgaRiver. The details Ibn Fadhlan provided about these Scandinavians, including their funeral customs, have helped in interpreting archeological finds from the Viking tombs of Ireland.

Most of the information on the Vikings in Dublin, indeed, seems to have come from forensic anthropology based on tomb archeology.  Much is known about Viking weapons because many were buried with their owners. Excavations west of Dublinia produced skeletons of Viking males with their swords, shields and knives. The females discovered here were buried with items such as brooches and jewelry. Based on such finds the National Museum exhibited scale models of the Viking Dublin and a typical house of the period. St. Andrews Church in central Dublin is located on the site where the Vikings assembled to pass laws and settle disputes. The Dublin Pub Brazen Head claims that it is on the site of a tavern from the Vikings’ time.

The Vikings’ legacy in Dublin also includes the original of many words in use today: fish, ice, skip, sky, wicker, rock, boat and rope. The common Irish name McAuliffe means “son of Olaf,” while the name Doyle means grandson of a “dark foreigner,” or a Danish Viking- in contrast to the “fair foreigners” who were Norwegian Vikings.   On the other hand, the Vikings’ name for Dublin was Dyflin, from the Irish Celtic Duiblinn, meaning Black Pool which referred to the pool where the River Poddle entered the River Liffey. Duiblinn is still occasionally used as the name for Dublin. Before the Vikings, there had been a Christian ecclesiastical settlement on this site by that name.

Before the Vikings

Celtic was the language spoken by the Gaels who came to Ireland from Western Europe around 6000 BC and gradually subdued previous inhabitants. By 400 AD they had organized into seven independent kingdoms which often united to raid the neighboring Roman Britain and the European Continent.  Among those they lost in one of these raids was a young man who was then sold into slavery by he enemy. He turned to religion during his captivity and when he was able to return to Ireland, in 432, he began a mission to convert the Irish to Christianity. This man was Saint Patrick, as I was told by the Dublin tour guides in their brief history of Ireland before the Vikings.

I did not see any remnants of Duiblinn or other settlements of the pre-Viking era in Dublin. The National Museum had relevant artifacts from that long period of Irish history, although they were not specific to Dublin. For me they shed some light on the ancient background of the country which has become central in the exploration of Irish identity. That exploration is, in turn, fundamental in Dublin’s modern “Irish Literary Revival.”

The items on display in the Museum were discovered in tombs but also in bogs. As the signs explained, in the Bronze Age (2000-400 BC) the Irish followed the practice of burying objects in bogs which was common in many parts of Europe. The Museum launched a Research Project after two Iron Age bodies, dated around 400-200 BC, were found in bogs in 2003. They were in a remarkably good state of preservation.  The Museum’s Altartate Cauldron, found in a bog, dates to the 2nd century BC in the Iron Age. A sign described the significance of the Cauldron:

“Cauldrons… may have been used for boiling liquids and food by adding hot stones. It is possible that they were used for beer-making. The meals may have been consumed as rituals, echoes of which may be found in a number of early Irish tales which relate to magical cauldrons.”

Boats played a major role in transportation for the ancient Irish who lived in an island, itself with many bodies of internal waters. On display in the Museum was the oldest boat found in Ireland, a longboat (dugout canoe) from 2500 BC. Longboats were made by hollowing out a straight tree trunk -normally of oak . Later, the Irish adopted wheeled transport, capable of bearing carts. A wooden block-wheel from 400 BC, found in a bog , was from such a cart.

The Museum had a collection of pottery and shells from the New Stone Age (3700-2500 BC).  From the same period it had stones decorated with abstract patterns which lined the passages of tombs as religious symbols. Stone working had reached a remarkably high standard. The Bronze Age in Ireland saw the introduction of metalworking. The Museum had collections of Bronze Age gold objects, many of which were found in bogs. Also found are weapons cast in large quantities, including swords, shields, axes, and spear heads of various forms. In the midst of all these instruments of violence in the Museum exhibit was a different type of object: horns.The sign describing them indicated their significance in the musical history of Ireland and, equally, their importance as proof of connections with other cultures:

“The horns are oldest known musical instruments from Ireland and both side-blown and end-blown examples were made … they may have been played in pairs, perhaps the same techniques as used by the Australian didjeridu…. (and) may have been used in the rites of a fertility cult associated with the bull. Traces of this cult, which appears to have its origins in the Mediterranean, may be detected in the early medieval tale … Cattle Raid of Cooley which features magical bulls.”

The increasing skill of Celtic metalworkers led to the Golden Age of Irish art in the Early Middle Ages. The Museum’s Ardagh Chalice from the 8th Century AD is a good example.  The bowl is made of silver, the stem is gilt-copper alloy, and the decoration is gold filigree.  The Vikings trade with the silver and gold-rich markets of Byzantine and Muslim Central and Western Asia brought in bullion largely in the form of coins. Gold was scarce, but the large amount of Viking Age silver in Ireland was converted into a variety of brooches and arm-rings. In early medieval Ireland, both sexes wore brooches to fasten their cloaks. During the 8th and 9th centuries elaborate silver brooches appeared, decorated with gold filigree, enamel, glass and amber. A finest example of these highly decorated brooches is the 8th century Tara Brooch, on display in the Museum. A small 8th century brooch in the same case was a rare example made of solid gold.

Medieval Dublin

While Dublin’s National Museum provides valuable information about this city’s roots in Ireland’s past, it is elsewhere in Dublin that one finds the best collection of a distinctly Irish old art form: the illuminated religious manuscripts produced before the Viking Age. The Trinity College Library is the depository of the big four of these manuscripts, although all were made elsewhere in Ireland.  The 7th century Book of Durrow is the oldest one, followed by the Book of Dimma and the Book of Mulling which are both pocket Gospel books produced in the 8th century. The Book of Armagh is a manuscript from the 9th century as is the Book of Kells. When these Books were written, Ireland had fewer than 500,000 people. The Irish Christian Church of the time was largely monastic in organization. Its message about Christ was spread primarily through gospel books produced by monks who were the scribes and the artists.

Among those manuscripts, the Book of Kells is special because its lavishly decorated pages of the four Christian gospels in Latin are deemed the best in illustration. The Book of Kells is associated with St Colum Cille (521-597 AD) who founded the monastery on the island of Iona where some three centuries later the monks produced the Book. That manuscript was taken to Kells when the Vikings attacked, and then to Dublin in 1563, because of the threat from Cromwellian England. The Book of Kells is now protected in a Treasury, especially built for it at the Trinity College Library. Although other Irish medieval gospel manuscripts are also kept here, the Book of Kells is clearly the major attraction. On the day of my visit, crowds had lined up from early morning to see this Book at the Library. Only two pages, one each selected from two of the four gospels in the Book of Kells were on display -in a special room of the Treasury. The two pages of the display are changed periodically. What I saw were one page from the Gospel of Mathew and another page from the Gospel of Mark (6 3-15) which (in Latin) said:  “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country.”  How apt, I thought, for an Irish book that exalts a prophet crucified in his homeland far away!

After we left the display room and its obligatory hush-hush, my guide said that when Queen Elizabeth the First and Prince Albert visited the Book of Kells, they affixed their royal signatures to the Book “but no other person has signed it since.” Independent Ireland is understandably protective of its treasured Book, as it tolerates the defacing indignity that was conferred in its colonial days as a gauche Royal gesture of noblesse oblige.  The pride in the Book of Kells is in large part due its exquisite illuminations. The ornate illustrations of the manuscript are extravagantly complex. Celtic interlacing patterns of different colors combine with figures of mythical beasts and real animals and humans to bring the Book’s script alive. Some of those patterns, perhaps originating from the Aran Islands close to Iona in the Inner Hebrides, resemble the stitch designs of the Aran sweaters so popular as a souvenir from Dublin. On that basis, shopkeepers would tell you that the sweaters’ design patterns are “steeped in symbolism.”

Illumination, of course, was not an art unique to Ireland. In fact, in the Long Room of the same Trinity College Library, among the prized collection of the items conserved by the Library on display is a “beautifully decorated” Persian manuscript, “Shahnama (Book of Kings).” The miniatures in its illumination date from the 17th century, when Persian miniature art, enriched by the influence of Chinese painting, reached its highest point, becoming the model for such other illustrious Islamic traditions as the Ottoman miniature and the Mughal miniature. If the Persian miniature dated from the 13th century, the Arab miniatures as book illustrations, for art and also for scientific explanations, dated to centuries before the Book of Kells.

Dublin is fortunate in having the Beatty Library to provide this illuminating perspective and thus avoid “Western” provincialism in favor of the universality of arts. Sir Chester Beatty was an American who donated to the public upon his death, in 1968, an exceptionally fine collection of Islamic manuscripts. They are kept in a special building near the DublinCastle. The illumination in many of these medieval manuscripts include figural imagery, anathema to many orthodox believers, but acceptable to Shiite Persians. Especially noteworthy are pages from the Persian Rawdat al-safa (The Garden of Purity), 1595, Athar al-muzaffar (The Exploits of the Victorious), 1567 , Falnama (Book of Divination), 1550-60, Khamsa (Five Poems), 1463 , and Tarikh-i Jahanara (The Chronicle of the World-Adorning One), 1683.

The National Museum of Ireland and Dublinia each devotes a section to Medieval Ireland, defined as the period from the Anglo-Norman invasion in the mid 12th century to the religious Reformation imposed by English King Henry the VIII in 1540. In this era which followed the end of the Viking Age, Dublin was turned into a major medieval city.  I saw the small remnants of the 1240 wall built around it which are all that is left of that city.  The Dublinia exhibit depicts the city’s face in such recreated medieval stalls as the one for spices and the other for clothes. In addition to the clergy, rich merchants were powerful members of that medieval society. Dublin continued as the leading port of the country but its international trade was now shifted toward England and European countries. Although the Anglo-Normans had colonized Dublin, the Irish kept their own royal courts, style of dress and language. The English Kings also assumed the title Lord of Ireland, but their repeated attempts to impose their actual rule over all of Ireland met with only limited success. Irish Kings controlled much of the island. Whenever the English Dublin was weakened, as in the aftermath of the calamitous Black Death of 1348, those Irish Kings would try to take advantage.

Anglicized Dublin

The Irish threat to the English rule in Dublin reached a new height in 1487 when its mayor together with Dublin’s archbishop and the Fitzgeralds, rulers of the neighboring Kilder County, supported a 10-year-old boy from Dublin called Lambert Simnel as the King of England, challenging Henry VII’s claim to the throne. The new Tudor King, however, prevailed. Fifty years later his son, Henry VIII, crushed another Irish rebellion led by the new generation of the Fitzgeralds who had ridden into Dublin and besieged its Castle. Henry VIII went further; he titled himself the “King of Ireland” as well as England and as a part of his religious Reformation, by the end of 1540, all of Dublin’s Catholic churches were closed down. In the new regime of the Kingdom of Ireland, the King’s supremacy over the Church was established. This displacement of the Pope, however, was not embraced by most of the population of Dublin that continued to adhere to Roman Catholicism, creating a schism with the emerging establishment of the city.

The seat of the English government of Dublin was the Castle which was built in the early 13th century. It retained that position after the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1800–1922) replaced the Kingdom of Ireland.  After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December of 1921, the Castle was handed over to the newly formed Provisional Government of Ireland. Most of what exists today of the Castle dates from its 18th century renovation. The State Apartments  which are attached to the Castle were built in 1680-1830 and served as the residential and ceremonial quarters of the Viceroy who was the Deputy of the Monarch in Ireland and the Viceregal Court. The Apartments were the center of fashionable social life then, and today they are the most important ceremonial rooms in Ireland. Across their Courtyard is BedfordTower , considered to be “one of the most beautiful architectural composition in Dublin.” The Tower is flanked by the two Gates of Fortitude and Justice  , erected in 1750.

Another English Architectural legacy in Dublin is the National Museum of Ireland-Archeology, established in 1890, with its domed entrance rotunda surrounded with classical columns and decorated with motifs recalling the civilization of Greece and Rome. The Museum’s   “special exhibits” on the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Cyprus are incongruous with “Irish archeology,” but they are explicable as relevant to an Ireland that was part of Great Britain. The same is true about the selection of the luminaries whose  marble busts were placed -beginning in 1793- on either side of  the Long Room, the main chamber of the Old Library in Dublin’s Trinity College.  These are busts of the great philosophers and writers of the Western world: Socrates, Plato , Aristotle , Demosthenes and Cicero. The few Irish so memorialized here are the likes of Edmund Burke  and Jonathan Swift , both “Anglicized” alumni of Trinity College.

Trinity College

Dublin’s Trinity College is itself a symbol of Anglicized Ireland. Founded in 1592, it was a part of the plan to solidify the rule of the Tudor monarchs in Ireland. It has been the university of the Protestant Ascendancy. That was the social, economic, and political domination of Ireland form the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th century by an elite consisting of great landowners, clergy, and professionals who were all members of the Protestant Church of England or Church of Ireland. Those two Churches joined into the United Church of England and Ireland in 1801. The Ascendancy excluded the followers of all other churches, especially the Roman Catholics, and thus the majority of the population in Dublin as well as the rest of Ireland. Trinity College did not admit Catholics until 1793, and even thereafter denied them scholarships and professorships until 1970. The Catholic Church, on its part, prevented its followers from attending Trinity without special permission from their bishops. Dublin prides itself for producing more winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature than any other town in the world. All three of them, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) were born into the establishment Ascendancy. Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was not just an Ascendancy writer (Gulliver’s Travels, etc.); he was a cleric who, in the 18th century, was the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Like Swift and Beckett, other Irish literary luminaries, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and the author of Dracula, Bram Stoker (1847 – 1912), were Ascendancy Dubliners who graduated from Trinity Colleges. Yeats did not go to Trinity but his father, John , was a graduate. Indeed, John Butler was a member of the elite University Philosophical Society, the oldest such student society in the world, with a roster that has included Stoker, Wilde and Beckett.

On the campus of Trinity College, my student guide pointed out the Graduates Memorial Building which now houses The Phil, as the Philosophical Society is commonly known.  The guide was wearing the academic gown which had been obligatory until the 1970s. “Now only some professors wear it,” he said. That was not the only change in Trinity College.  In 1904 it began admitting women. Its conservative incumbent Provost (President) George Salmon  was “famous for opposing the admission of women,” the guide said.  When Salmon signed “the order permitting women students, he said it was ‘not by my heart.’” Now “63% of the students are women.” As we passed by the Campanile  -the version built in 1853 of the original bell tower of the monastery of All Hallows which in 1591 became Trinity College-, our guide related a college tradition: “Students believe that if you pass under the Campanile when its bells toll you will fail the exams; so some never attempt that until they finish college.”  He added, sometimes you hear it said that “the Campanile does not toll unless a virgin walks under it: and it has not in 500 years.” That bad joke is often said after a meal at the school’s Old Dining Hall “where you are always given a free glass of Guinness beer with the food.” He pointed to the Dining Hall building to the north of Campanile.

The Chamber Room of the Graduates Memorial Building which is used for debating by student members of The Phil is an auditorium with a high ceiling and carved balcony. The guide said: “We have had some important world figures speaking there in my time.  Many came to see former President Bill Clinton when he was here, but many more crowded the Chamber Room to hear the American singer Courtney Love who is very popular among the Trinity students!” Trinity has some 12,000 undergraduate and another 5,000 graduate students. “By law, at least 13% of students have to be international, but nowadays they constitute 15% of the student body,” the guide said. International students have to pay tuition but Trinity is free for the Irish. As another measure of ecumenism “In 1963, the school’s Chapel was consecrated so that all four Irish Christian denomination churches can worship there.”

All these Trinity College buildings which we had just seen were in one main quad called the Library Square. The quad’s central landscaping was the grassy College Green which this summer looked quite brown because of the unusually dry year. The Green was dominated by two big Oregon Maple trees from the 18th century.  The main Trinity College library used by students is around the corner. A stunning modernist building reflecting Le Corbusier’s principles in its use of materials, the library is ironically named after Bishop George Berkeley (1687-1753) , a graduate of Trinity who became a lecturer in Greek there. He is remembered as a philosopher of “immaterialism” who posited the theory of “subjective idealism” which argues that objects exist only as ideas in the mind of the perceiver.

Berkeley spent considerable time in the United States and left a great impact there through the teaching of Samuel Johnson -the future first president of Columbia University in New York- who incorporated Berkeley’s ideas in his own philosophy called American Practical Idealism. Johnson dedicated his Elementa Philosophica, the first American philosophy textbook -published by Benjamin Franklin in 1752-, to Berkeley. Johnson’s influence is considered a foundation of the “American Mind” as he was the mentor to many contributors to the American Declaration of Independence. Berkeley’s contribution to Trinity College libraries is not noticeable, but his donation of about 1000 volumes to Yale University in 1731 was considered huge at the time, increasing its library’s holdings by fifty percent. “Your university of Berkeley is named after our Bishop Berkeley which we pronounce Barkeley,” our guide at Trinity said, recalling his connection to yet a third famous American university. The guide was right because, as he directed us to an entry in Wikipedia, the city of Berkeley, California (the namesake of the university), was named after Bishop Berkeley at the suggestion of Frederick Billings. The latter was a trustee of the then College of California who was inspired by this stanza from Berkeley’s Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America: “Westward the course of empire takes its way; The first four Acts already past, A fifth shall close the Drama with the day; Time’s noblest offspring is the last.”

Our guide said “Trinity students can still use the Old Library but they don’t.” The Old Library which was built in 1712-1732 is the oldest surviving building on the Trinity campus. Its Long Room which was once the main college reading room now has a long showcase in the middle where some of Trinity’s prized manuscripts are displayed under glass. Among them, I noticed a small book, En attendant Godot, a copy of the first edition of the Play Waiting for Godot. On the cover in the playwright Samuel Beckett’s handwriting it was marked “Prompt Copy 1953.” This was the copy Beckett used to insert changes in the play during the rehearsal for its original production in Paris on January 5, 1953. Beckett’s additional handwriting, of a later date, said “For John and Bettina with much love and gratitude from Sam. London, 31.12.64.”  John and Bettina Calder were Beckett’s friends in London; John was the publisher of Beckett’s works in Britain after Godot was produced there in 1955. Later, Trinity College honored Beckett by opening the Samuel Beckett Theatre on the campus in 1992 where the works of students as well as Ireland’s leading theater artists are performed.


Beckett’s roots in France were deep. His ancestors, the Becquetts, are buried in Dublin’s small Huguenot Cemetery, near St. Stephen’s Green. The protestant Huguenots had fled persecution in France following the 1693 revocation of the Edict of Nantes which had guaranteed religious freedom. Samuel Beckett (now a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland) studied French at Trinity and later took the position of lecteur d’anglais in the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. In 1931 he published Proust, a critical study of the French writer Marcel Proust. While Beckett taught briefly at Trinity College and also at Campbell College in Belfast, he spent much more time in Paris, London and other parts of Europe. In that Beckett was not alone among Irish writers. In fact, it was in Paris that he first met James Joyce in 1928. Joyce, who had emigrated from Ireland to continental Europe in his early twenties, spent most of his adult life abroad, in Paris, Trieste and Zurich. Earlier, Jonathan Swift had spent 10 years and Bram Stoker had spent 27 years working in London. George Bernard Shaw went to London in 1876 when he was 20 and spent the rest of the 94 years of his life there, becoming active in its politics. Oscar Wilde also settled in London where he became one of its most popular playwrights in the early 1890s.

Of all these illustrious writers from Dublin, only James Joyce devoted himself to portraying the Dubliners. His fictional characters are based mostly on friends and enemies from Dublin. His masterpiece, Ulysses, in 1922 drew a universe parallel to the Odyssey of Homer where figures from Joyce’s earlier Dubliners roam alleyways and streets of Dublin.  Joyce explained this focus: “I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.”

Joyce’s Dubliners are people from his childhood neighborhood of Northside, the rough part of town separated by the Liffey River from the Southside which was considered posh.  Joyce went to Jesuit schools and then to University College Dublin, the Catholic institution founded in 1854 which is Ireland’s largest university. Joyce’s milieu as he grew up was the cultural home of the nationalist movement which gathered momentum in the late 1890s. Nationalists supported Irish home rule and cultural independence from English influence. They stood in contrast to the Anglicization, Unionist politics and Protestantism symbolized by Trinity College.

Yet, it was not Joyce who became active in the Nationalist politics; instead it was William Butler Yeats, a member of the Protestant Ascendancy who, contemporaneously, grew up in these changing times with a crisis of identity. Yeats demonstrated support for the changes in Ireland which directly disadvantaged his privileged heritage and made the Catholics become prominent.  Beginning in 1922, Yeats would serve two terms as a Senator in the Irish Free State. Political developments would profoundly affect Yeats poetry which in exploring Irish identity became a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival.  But as a young poet who came from the establishment class, even Yeats recoiled from engaging in the Easter Rising of 1916.

Easter Rising

On April 24, 1916, a schoolteacher and barrister named Patrick Pearse stood in front of the General Post Office in Dublin and read aloud a proclamation by the “The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland.” It was Easter Monday, and the reading of this Proclamation of the Irish Republic started what has been called the Easter Rising. I saw one of the few remaining copies of the Proclamation on exhibit in Trinity College Library’s Long Room. The Rising was organized by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  Some 1,600 participated in the uprising. They seized several key positions in Dublin. Their rebellion lasted six days. It was the most significant uprising in Ireland against British rule since the rebellion of 1798 -there were other notable ones in 1803, 1848 and 1867. The authorities acted swiftly and ended the Rising violently. Three of the first killed fell at the Cork Hill Gate of the Castle. The total of casualties exceeded 2,000 dead or injured.

Thirteen of the leaders of the Rising were executed between the 3rd and 12th of May 1916 in Dublin’s Kilmainham Jail. Today a plaque marks the place in the prison-yard where the execution of twelve of them took place. James Connolly whose injuries did not allow him to be standing was shot nearby on a chair.  The Kilmainham Jail is now a museum, and the guide who was telling us the story of the 1916 Rising took us to see the landing where the 1916 leaders were held briefly before their execution. Signs with their names identified each one’s cell. The cells were small. The Kilmainham Jail’s capacity for separate confinements, however, was considered an example of its features as a model modern Victorian prison; another example was the replacement of corridors with catwalks in a vaulted space surrounded by a skylight. The colorful history of this unique prison -which held the leaders of the four prior Irish rebellions since the end of the 18th century and a few after 1916- also included its use as a shelter for the poor during the Great Famine in a program under the 1847 Vagrant Act to clear the streets from their unsightly presence.

In one of the cells of the Kilmainham Jail I noticed this writing on the wall: “Beware of the Risen People.”  Next to the marker of the site of the 1916 executions now stands the flag of Independent Ireland high on a pole [92]. The Rising was not popular with the people of Dublin at first but the executions caused a change in the public’s opinion; the Rising’s executed leaders gradually came to be regarded as heroes.  Today, a sculpture outside the Kilmainham Jail depicts the executed leaders, 12 standing men and one empty chair in the middle. Dubliners would soon resume the struggle for independence, now joined by people from the rest of the country that had hardly played a role in the 1916 Rising. In the new phase close relatives of the executed leaders would take up their mantle. A striking example was Grace Gifford, the wife of Joseph Plunkett whose cell is marked in the Kilmainham where she was jailed in 1923.

Women were, of course, active in the 1916 Rising too. Seventy of them were taken to the Kilmainham. One was deemed high enough to be condemned to death, but her sentence was commuted to life in the prison “on account of the prisoner’s sex.” She was Constance Georgine Markievicz, born Eva Gore-Booth, who had become Countess Markievicz upon marrying her Polish husband. The death sentence of one male leader of the 1916 Rising was also commuted to life imprisonment because of his American birth: Eamon de Valera. Born in New York City to a Spanish father and an Irish mother, de Valera had been sent to Ireland to live with his mother’s family at the age of two upon the death of his father. In 1913, Eamon joined the Irish Volunteers, a secret organization which became the principal group in the Rising. I visited his cell in the Kilmainham Jail. De Valera would survive to become the most enduring and dominant Irish leader of his generation.

His story mirrors the history of the rest of Ireland’s fight for independence. Released under a general amnesty in 1917, Eamon de Valera a year later was president of the Sinn Fein Party that won an Irish national election for the first Irish parliament (Dail). The Dail promptly declared the independence of the Irish Republic, thus making de Valera the unofficial leader of Ireland. In 1932 he was Prime Minister as the head of a new party, Fianna Fail, which had gained control of the Dail. He held that office for 16 years, and then intermittently until 1959 when he resigned and was elected President of Ireland.  De Valera lasted in that position until 1973 when he retired as the world’s oldest statesman at the age of 90.

Civil War

The declaration of independence by Dail, in 1918, started the Irish War of Independence which, in turn, would lead to the Irish Civil War because of the dispute over the 1922 peace agreement signed with Britain. The agreement called for the partition of Ireland with the six northern counties of Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom while the south with its 26 counties would be given autonomy. The Irish signatory of the agreement was Michael Collins, the incumbent President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who was dispatched by Eamon de Valera to negotiate the agreement. De Valera rejected the agreement saying that Collins had failed to consult with him on the final terms. When the Dail narrowly approved this 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty over de Valera’s objection, he resigned as President. He challenged the right of the Dail to approve the Treaty as a violation of their oath to the Irish Republic. Many Irish Republican Army (IRA) officers were also against the Treaty and repudiated the authority of the Dail to accept the Treaty.  Michael Collins, now as the Chairman of the Provisional Government, responded by holding an election which he won. He formed a government for the new Free State of Ireland which was declared in December 1922. Collins also led the armed forces that supported the Treaty, while the Republican opposition continued to see the Treaty as a betrayal of the Irish Republic, constituted during the War of Independence.

Fighting broke out on June 28, 1922 when the Provisional Government tried to assert its authority over the Anti-Treaty IRA units by attacking those who had occupied the Four Courts in Dublin since April. This was the vast building complex  in the center of town which has continued to house three of Ireland main courts  – the fourth (Central Criminal Court) having since been moved elsewhere.  Collins bombarded the Four Courts’ IRA garrison into surrender. Thereupon, he was appointed the Commander-in-Chief of the National Army. Just two months later, however, he was assassinated. Michael Collins was only 32 years old. He had been an Irish nationalist revolutionary since 1909 when he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He played a minor part in the 1916 Rising. Collins cut a swashbuckling figure. His picture is still a best seller in the souvenir shops of Dublin.

Michael Collins left the Free State government firmly in control of Dublin. The anti-Treaty forces were now dispersed mainly to the south and west of Ireland where, after losing the major towns, they resorted to guerrilla warfare. In October 1922, Eamon de Valera and the anti-Treaty politicians formed their own “Republican government” and called for a cease fire as the pro-Treaty forces gained increasing grounds. The military leaders of the IRA refused as they, indeed, considered Republican authority vested in themselves. The heavy losses among the military officers eventually led to an order by the IRA Chief of Staff to call a halt to what had become clearly a futile fight. In May 24, 1923 he ordered the IRA volunteers to dump arms rather than continue. There was no formal peace agreement in this Civil War. Instead, the Free State government enacted an Emergency Powers Act on July 2 and followed it by a General Election in which its supporters won with about 40% of the votes. The Republicans won about 27% of the votes, while many of their candidates and supporters were still imprisoned by the Free State.

Personal Politics

The legacy of the Civil War has continued to influence Irish politics. The two main political parties of Ireland have been Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the descendants, respectively, of the pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty groups of 1922. Fianna Fail first took power in the 1930s. However, the renegade IRA -maintaining that its Army Council was the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic of 1918- did not renounce military attack on the southern Irish State until 1949 when it became the Republic of Ireland. Thereafter, the IRA focused on ending British rule in Northern Ireland.

As I read the Irish newspapers during my visit to Dublin in July 2013, I was struck by the continued importance of the personal in politics. Some 90 years after the Civil War, Irish leaders were echoing the mutual disappointments that marred the relations between Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins. Today’s news abounded with tales of contemporary politicians’ sensitivity to personal slights and insults. The headline of a major article in Irish Independent on July 19 was an example:  “Senator wants apology over ‘insulting’ remark on Special Olympics.”  Two days earlier, in the same main newspaper of Ireland’s capital, another article on a different incident was titled: “We’re supposed to craft laws, not shout personal insults.”  Still other stories were about apologies demanded in parliamentary discourse relating to the use of “Regina Monologue,” a derogatory description deployed by a prominent Senator in criticizing comments on an important issue by a woman politician, Regina. She was offended by the sexist connotation in the intended reference to the well-known performance piece “Vagina Monologue.”

When I discussed these stories with Denis O’Brien, he nodded and then said: “You know, one President of Ireland actually resigned when the Prime Minister would not retract a comment by a Minister who called the President’s description of a Bill ‘a disgrace’.”  He was Cearbhall O Dálaigh, President from 1974 to 1976. Denis O’Brien was the presiding concierge at the Shelbourne Hotel. The Hotel had several concierges, but he was clearly the choice of regular guests who knew him as being far more helpful. Denis O’Brien sat high on a chair dominating the reception lobby of the hotel.  But he would gladly move his considerable heft to seek you in other chambers of the vast lobby with urgent information related to your request. Mr. O’Brien showed me the crossed gold keys on his lapel: “These are Les Clefs d’Or. I am the only Irishman who has been the President of the world-wide Concierges Association or UICH (Union Internationale des Concierges d’Hôtels).” He added a note of modesty: “As we say in Ireland ‘the habit does not make a monk’.”

Denis O’Brien had been a concierge in Dublin for thirty years, the last 6 in the Shelbourne.  He had seen a lot; he was knowledgeable. He invited me to his periodic lecture in the Hotel on the history of the venerable Shelbourne. “The Irish Constitution of the 1922 was drafter here,” O’Brien said. That was the Constitution of the Irish Free State, or the second constitution of the independent Irish state. This was the work of a committee set up by Michael Collins. Later, however, the Shelbourne would also host “President Eamon D. Valera.” A video screen in the lobby showed de Valera’s picture and the number of his room, among those of many other celebrities who had stayed here over the years. Denis O’Brien had met many of them and knew many important persons in Ireland, including the current President, Michael D. Higgins. “He comes here for his haircut sometimes. He is academic, meaning a scholar, and very open; you can just walk in his office and see him.”  I told Denis O’Brien that he should write his memoirs. I mentioned a comment by certain critics of The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman that he got much of his information about foreign countries from taxi-drivers and concierges. I offered, “One could do much worse than talking to you.” O’Brien responded that many others had made “the same suggestion,” but he “respected others’ privacy.” He chuckled: “Their wives will find out about their men.” I could not tell whether he was joking.


Denis O’Brien had said: “The church, the undertaker’s and the pub have been the three gathering places for the Irish.” He had added: “The undertaker and the pub owner were often the same.” Obviously, I needed to spend some time in the pubs (public-houses). Tour guides tell you that Dublin has “over 1,000 pubs, and 600 churches.” Some of the pubs have had connections with the Church. Brannigan’s is in the annex of an old convent. It still has the pews where the customers can sit.  O’Neill’s has kept the “special nook for girls,” set aside on the order of the Church so that “girls would not be able to corrupt the drinking men,” as my bar mate explained in half-jest. He scoffed: “But, of course, Irish men would walk over 10 naked women to get to the beer!”

The 300 year old O’Neill’s is mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses, as is another pub with centuries old pedigree, the Dukes ; although Joyce was more of a regular visitor to another pub on the same street as the Duke’s, the Davy Byrnes, which also appears in Ulysses. The area called Temple Bar with its narrow cobbled streets had many pubs and was very lively at night. However, as an Irish woman advised me: “Temple Bar is where the tourists go and not the Irish, so when I am in a pub there I find myself as the only Irish. We go to the pubs elsewhere.” It was paradoxical that while the hotel rooms in the Shelbourne were occupied mostly by out of town guests, its bar was full with well-off Dubliners. Here, I had a chance to find out what were the current topics of their conversation.

My conversation with them, naturally, began with reference to the weather. Dublin had been experiencing an unusual stretch of warm days. “The last time it was like this was in 1986,” a man said. His friend continued: “Last year, in comparison, we only  had two sunny weekends between May and September.” This heat had had no special impact on agricultural crops, they told me. I asked them if the issue of Climate Change was an important one in public discussions. Their response was: “People here are aware of the Climate Change debate but are not concerned.”  A woman said: “Abortion is the hot issue.” She showed me the July 19 copy of Irish Independent which she had been reading. The main article on the front page was about what Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny had just said in an interview with that newspaper after his Government passed the country’s first abortion legislation: ‘I’m a Catholic. Not the best, but a Catholic nonetheless.”

Kenny is from the Fine Gael party which has been in power since 2011. Our bar conversation now turned toward politics.  “Current government is from the right now, but before it the left had ruled for many years,” someone informed me. Another man said: “Next election is two years from now and the right is likely to lose.” Nobody offered to disagree. I asked about the “Time of the Tiger,” the few years before 2008, when Ireland awed the world with its fast rate of economic growth. The woman in the group said : “ It was a great time while it lasted. People felt high and optimistic and took out loans and did not think about how they were going to pay back. Now we are left with big houses and big cars and nobody is able to pay for them.” Her friend agreed: “Now property taxes and water charges which did not exist are being imposed by government.” Bankers were the ones mostly blamed for the problems.  “Recession is bad for everybody but we are getting out of it,” the woman concluded. She also added that there were safety nets: “Everyone 65 and older receives 200 Euros per week. There is nationalized health care for all. Private medical practice exists but it is very expensive. The perception is that they take better care, but not many believe that.”

The role of American companies in Ireland’s economic recovery was highlighted in the statistics published while I was in Dublin. According to the Irish Exporters Association’s annual top 250 survey, Microsoft was clearly the busiest firm in Ireland in 2012, sending goods and services worth 13.7 billion Euros overseas during the year. That was one billion Euros more than the amount exported by the second ranking Goggle. Information technology firms dominated the list, with five of the top 10, and nine of the top 20, ranks overall. Dell was fourth, exporting 9.9 billion Euros worth of goods and services. Pharmaceutical and life sciences were by far the second biggest sector in exporting from Ireland, with seven of the top 20 ranks. The American firm Johnston & Johnston was the third biggest exporter in Ireland at 10.5 billion Euros in the year. The Exporters Association’s list, full of foreign multinationals, showed few indigenous Irish firms high up. Packaging firm Smurfit Kappa Group was the biggest native-Irish exporter, with the sales of goods and services worth 7.4 billion Euros for the year, placing 5th overall. The next ranking Irish companies placed 8th and 17th on the list of highest exporters.

It was not just American companies that were prominent. Dublin was attuned to the news about Irish-Americans in general. Newspapers covered the story of “the Irishwoman Samantha Powers” as the just-nominated U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. was referred to. Also covered was “the Irish lawyer” who defended George Zimmerman in his trial for killing Trayvon Martin. Then, of course, there was the deluge of American tourists in Dublin.


I joined those tourists in the rite that is called the Dublin Music Pub Crawl. In our group of about 40, all but five were from the U.S. I even ran into several from my own San Francisco Bay Area. In the routine that is now 20 years old we were taken on the Crawl to four pubs by two musicians who also served as our “musicologists.” One of them played the “Irish fiddle” which he described as “not that different from violin,” while the other played a guitar and sang as well. They said the “original Irish instruments” were the harp “which is smaller than the standup and sits on the knee and in the past had metal strings,” the bodhran “which was originally from goat skin and not calf skin,” and the pipe “which is different from the Scottish bagpipe that was originally used to scare the enemy by pretending that there were many people on the attack.”  They added: “In Ireland we also play something which is like the Greek bouzouki.”

The Pub Crawl musicians told us that “60 years ago in Ireland music was played only to dance with, now we also play just to listen to it.” The musicians played a few old Irish tunes and sang some songs, including the obligatory “Sweet Molly Mellon”. Then they played the Scottish folk ballad “Caledonia” for the couple from Scotland in our group,  and the Canadian song “The Mary Ellen Carter” for the three Canadians among us. They joked that they would not sing any Johnny Cash songs for the Americans as they could hear those all over Dublin in other pubs. “He is not even Irish; his people come from Scotland,” they said. They mentioned the names of several pubs where we could find “real Irish music, played in sessions which begin after 10 in the evening.”

I saw the oldest extant Irish harp, dating from the 15th century, on my visit to the Trinity College’s Long Room. It was constructed from oak and willow with brass strings. Deemed an emblem of the country’s early bardic society, this harp appears on Irish coins. I also saw traditional Irish stepdance, with its rapid leg movements while body and arms are kept largely stationary . On the streets of Dublin, this was performed for the tourists by an elder itinerant dancer wearing hard shoes and colorful costumes .  On Sunday July 21, Dublin was the scene of the Riverdance, a public event at which many joined in stepdancing. I noticed several women and men on the Trinity College campus who were getting ready to go and participate. A few wore a black T-shirt with this quote from Samuel Beckett: “Dance first. Think later.” One of them who said she was a student of Beckett’s works laughed while informing me that the famous quote from the playwright’s Godot was somewhat of a mistranslation: “The text in the original French was in the rhetorical: Il pourrait peut-etre danser d’abord et penser ensuite?, which Beckett himself correctly rendered in the English version as ‘Perhaps he could dance first and think afterwards.” Regardless, that day she with the other 1693 dancers from 44 countries would break the world record for the Longest Riverdance Line on the Samuel Beckett Bridge which is over the Liffey – as I later read in the newspapers.

For “real Irish music,” as I was told, I went to O’Donoghue’s Pub. It had an outdoors area with several tables, but the music and the bar were inside. There were eight men, all playing guitar-like string instruments, and one woman who played the drum-like bodhran. The music that this jamming produced was superb. The musicians played for themselves, expecting no pay. We were all attentive, ignoring an inebriated man who suddenly jumped on a chair behind the bar  and started belting out an incoherent song.