Archive for the ‘ Ireland ’ Category


Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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 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.

Ireland’s Counties



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.



Leaving Dublin

 Dublin is Ireland’s “Center.” In countries that have such a city – France is another example-  the Center is not just the Capital. Dublin is the economic and cultural as well as the political center of the country. Fully one-quarter of the 4.58 million population of the Republic of Ireland live here in an urban concentration that takes only 1.6 percent of the country’s total land. I wanted to learn about the rest of Ireland, 62 times larger and much more rural, which was home to the Irish other than the Dubliners. For that you needed to leave the Center, both physically and as a state of mind.  It helped to have Desmond as our guide.

He was from CountyLimerick. “That is one of the 32 ‘traditional’ Counties of Ireland,” Desmond said, “which are divisions for local government, originally formed in the 12th century after the Norman invasion to ensure royal control of taxation.”  CountyLimerick is located in the mid-west region of Ireland. It is a part of Munster, “one of the five Irish ‘provinces,’ into which Ireland was divided before the Normans,  each being under the influence of a ‘king of over-kings’ who were from the major Irish ruling families.”  Desmond added: “the Province of Ulster in the north with its 6 traditional Counties is not a part of the Republic of Ireland which is  in the south.”

Desmond’s manners were professional; his shirt and trousers always crisply ironed, his shoes shined; his English correct, his accent country Irish. Desmond was also our driver and the droning sound of his big Mercedes bus, driven fast, combined with the hum of air-conditioning sometimes muffed and aggravated the complexity of his speech delivered into a mouthpiece. This left us room for constructively imagining when his explanatory facts did not sound all that coherent, but we were on a short, whirlwind tour which the presage of time would make impressionistic anyway. The real challenge was to perceive the broad strokes of our physical surroundings as reflecting the rich story of Ireland that uniquely shaped them. In that, history and tradition called for my attention as much as the distinct lay of the land.

For about an hour the landscape in the drive south from Dublin was flat and green with some trees and hardly any buildings. We did not see any high-tech campuses. Desmond said many of the high-tech companies, so crucial to recent Irish economy, had established themselves near Dublin “but not in a specific area with a name like ‘The Irish Silicon Valley’.”  When we crossed CountyDublin into CountyKilder, more rolling gentle hills and farms came into view. The barley grown in the fields had been cut and compacted as silage. Presently, we saw some of the ruminants, sheep and cows, for whom the fodder was intended.

As we approached the town of Kilkenny, Desmond said “You find that word ‘kil’ in many Irish town names: Kildare, Killarney, Kilkenny. It is a Gaelic word meaning church.” He said that Gaelic which was “historically spoken by most Irish people” was the “Irish language” now used only by a minority of Irish as their first language, “fewer than 2 million.” They lived mostly in the area “from West County Cork to the west and northwest.” This was because “the English rulers were not as interested in those distant places and, partly because of that, the residents there have been poorer.” Since independence, however, the IrishRepublic’s government” has been making efforts to revive Gaelic,” Desmond said. He mentioned that the Government “succeeded in gaining acceptance of Gaelic as a ‘Recognized Language’ by the European Union as a condition for joining it.” He added that “Now four TV stations in Ireland broadcast mostly in Gaelic.” Consequently, according to Desmond “currently 40% of the Nationalists, that is citizens of the Republic of Ireland, can converse in Gaelic.” Directional signs on the road which we saw were in Irish as English, some for modern phenomena such as Airport (Aerfort) obviously derived from English.

Desmond’s comment about kil caught my attention as a it could be an explanation for the word kilisa (Christian church) in Persian, isa being the name for Jesus. When I broached the subject of possible connection between the two old languages, Desmond said “Gaelic is related to the Celtic languages like Scottish,, Welsh and Breton.” Celtic, of course, descended from Proto-Celtic, a branch of the Indo-European language family, as is Iranian. More intriguing, I discovered, Celtic languages are known to have been spoken in central Asia Minor during the 1st millennium B.C., a time of intense activity by the Persian Parthian Dynasty in the area.


The principal church in the town of Kilkenny is called St. Canice’s Cathedral, after the 6th century monk St. Canice (Chainnigh in Gaelic, becoming Kenny).  The 100 feet early Celtic Christian round tower that stands as the Cathedral’s sentinel is from the 9th century. The Cathedral itself is a work of the 13th century, preserved in its original style and form. Worship has taken place here for over 800 years. The Cathedral fits well in the current medieval-looking town with its narrow side alleys. Kilkenny’s origin, however, dates back to some 1,500 years ago. The Normans, who invaded in the 12th century, have left a lasting legacy here. Their legendary leader Strongbow (an Anglo-Norman lord named Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke), built a castle on the site of a fort that his father had established as an important element of the defenses of the town. Another noble man, the Irish James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormonde, bought the castle in 1391, when he made himself the ruler of the area. The Butler dynasty continued for centuries and the Castle, remodeled in Victorian times and set in an extensive parkland , remained the Butlers’ residence until 1935.

In the 1640s the castle was the venue for the meeting of the Parliament of the Confederate Ireland government, formed primarily for uniting resistance against English persecution of Irish Catholics. Overtime the influence of the Confederation diminished and when Cromwell arrived in 1649, he dissolved it. Kilkenny remembers the early 17th Century as its “Golden Age.” The main street of town is called Parliament Street. On that street the town showcases the Rothe  House  and Gardens, built by an Irish merchant in 1594.

The Butler family’s coat of arms has three cups because of their duties and privileges as Chief Butler of Ireland, the position and title given in 1185 by the English Prince John with whom they came to Ireland. As one of those duties, the Butler had to make sure there was plenty of food and drink ready for the English King when he visited Ireland. Second, the Chief Butler had to serve the first glass of wine to the King after he had been crowned.  The third cup in their coat of arms signified that the Butlers received the “Prisage of Wine,” meaning that they were entitled to a royal levy of about 15% of all the wine that was imported to Ireland. The common people of Kilkenny, on the other hand, have been happy drinking beer since 1710 when John Smithwick founded Ireland’s oldest operating brewery here.  The Smithwick’s boasts of its 300 year history at a site on Parliament Street which used to be an ancient Franciscan Abbey where monks had brewed ale since the 14th century. The ruins of the original abbey still stand witnesses on its grounds.


This is not to say that the Prisage of Wine which the Butlers obtained was not valuable. Far from it, at the time of its grant in the major city of Ireland, Waterford, the common drink was red wine imported from France; one did not drink water for fear that was contaminated. I saw on display in Waterford an example of the jugs, also imported from France, in which that wine was drunk. Some thirty miles south of Kilkenny, Waterford had the great advantage of being on the estuary of the River Suir. When Prince John landed in 1185, Waterford had already fallen to the Anglo-Romans.  Arrow heads found near the town walls dating to August 1170 mark the time Waterford was conquered by Richard de Clare, Strongbow.  That event was also the beginning of the rapid end of the Viking era in Irish history.

Waterford was where the Vikings had come in 914 and established their first settlement in Ireland. It is the country’s oldest city, predating Dublin which is now the Vikings’ only other surviving settlement. Waterford also has the sole monument in Ireland named in honor of a Viking, Reginald (or Ragnall), the founder of this city. The Reginald’s Tower which I climbed is at the apex of “The Viking Triangle” in Waterford, located on the site of the original 10th century Viking settlement. The round Tower was rebuilt as a defensive structure in 1185 by Prince John and subsequently used, at different times, as a prison and munitions storage. Cannons installed there successfully defended against sieges in the late 16th century before the Tower was again used as a prison in 1819. In 1861, the Reginald’s Tower became the official residence of the High Constable of Waterford. Its last inhabitant having left in 1954, it is now a museum.

The museum displays a model of what the Viking settlement looked like. There are significant pottery fragments such as those of lamps used during the Vikings period. A beautifully crafted pin  excavated near the Reginald’s Tower is evidence of the very early smelting dating to the time of the founding of the city.

In 1783 George and William Penrose could relate to that smelting tradition when they set up their original Waterford Crystal factory here which I was about to visit. Indeed, by the middle of 18th century Waterford was a thriving industrial center of shipbuilding and ironworks. Their furnaces were fueled by timber from the surrounding forests. What especially helped Ireland’s crystal manufacturing was its exemption from luxury taxes which applied in England. The Penroses sold their business to their clerk, Jonathan Gatchell in 1799. He then expanded the company in partnership with a fellow employee.  In 1854, Waterford Crystal won several gold medals at the Great Exhibition in London, topping its growing international “reputation for beauty and intricacy of design and for quality of its crystal.” Ironically, later that same year, “economic conditions” made business impossible and forced the closing of the Waterford factory . It was resurrected 93 years later by two Czechs who migrated from their country which had been recently turned Communist. With only one boss, Karel Bacik, and one employee, the glass blower Miroslav Havel, the new Waterford Crystal company grew to the point that just five years later, in 1952 it developed its best ever selling design, the Lismore.

Today, in a flashy “House,” Waterford Crystal displays its jewels and offers a guided tour for a price. This is where most of the tourists to Waterford spend their time, their buses crowding the parking lot. Connecting the parking lot to the House of Waterford Crystal is a canteen run by a crusty woman who prepares sandwiches and salads alongside with her young employees for pricey offerings to the hungry visitors.

Waterford also has a claim to Irish nationalist history. It was in its Wolf Tone Club  that the Irish tricolor flag was flown for the first time on March 7, 1848, by General Thomas Francis Meager , an Irish nationalist who was also an American Civil War hero. Actually, Meager was an American general. A leader of the Young Irelanders’ Rebellion of 1848, he was sentenced to life in Australia but managed to escape from there to the United States in 1852 where he worked as a journalist while lecturing on “the Irish situation.” When the American Civil War began, Meager joined the Army and rose to the rank of brigadier general,  encouraging support among Irish immigrants for the Union. After the war he was appointed acting governor of the Montana Territory where he drowned in an accidental fall into the Missouri River in 1867.

Meager’s contemporary Irish-Americans had mostly come to America due to a different reason. What the House of Waterford Crystal had delicately referred to as “economic conditions” in 1854, were caused by the famous Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1852 which forced a million people to emigrate from Ireland. That immigration continued for sometime.  By 1911 Ireland’s population had fallen to 4.4 million, half of its peak. The great majority of those affected by the Great Famine were from Irish-speaking districts, and they also supplied most of the emigrants -among them, as our guide Desmond pointed out to his American group, the families of both parents of Richard J. Daley, the future mayor of Chicago, who came from An Seanphobal, a village in West County Waterford. In the decades of the 1840s and the 1850s, about 1.7 million Irish immigrants arrived in the United States.

City of Cork

Roughly 2.5 million of the six million Irish who would migrate to North America between 1848 and 1950 departed from the CorkHarbor which we were now going to visit.  Not far outside of CountyCork we saw the TipperaryMountains on our right in the north. “That is CountyTipperary,” Desmond said, “where President Barack Obama’s great-great-great grandfather came from.” He was Falmouth Kearney, a cobbler’s son from the village of Moneygall on the border of  CountyTipperary and CountyOffaly,  who arrived in New York on March 20, 1850.

In the fields between us and the TipperaryMountains we saw occasional plants with white flowers. “They are Bog Cotton which grows in damp peaty ground,” Desmond said. We were approaching the city called Cork which means “marshy place” in Irish. We had our first glance of the waters of the CelticSea in the Atlantic Ocean. Cork is an ancient city, founded 14 centuries ago on islands in an estuary. This is where the River Lee joins CorkHarbour, the second largest natural harbor in the world.  The city center is circled with waterways, crossed by 22 bridges.  Narrow alleys near the Harbor marked the older part of town. A modern esplanade ushered you to the Harbor. On the other side of the old town, stately four-story buildings from the recent centuries lined the streets with well-paved wide sidewalks. Contemporary high-rise residences had since gone up on the banks of the River Lee . The 18th century English Market, long a gourmet hub for fresh produce, fish, meats and cheeses, has been supplemented in nearby grungy streets with new ethnic restaurants, such as Noodle King and Delhi Palace. It is as if Cork wants to shout that it is hip in its recent “renaissance” that has earned it the title of “a European Capital of Culture.” It has even called itself “The People’s Republic of Cork.”  Its University College Cork, one of the oldest parts of the National University of Ireland, has an impressive campus. The Royal Cork Yacht Club boasts that it has the oldest charter in the world. Yet, with a quarter of a million souls, Cork is still only the “second” city of Ireland. Not just in size, but also in how it feels.

That is what I felt as I sat in the lobby of the Hayfield Manor Cork with its grand piano and grand stairway. It had the charm of a country house.  A refurbished Georgian property, the Manor is set in acres of grounds on a hill overlooking the city, tucked away in a mature private garden with an Aviary and Kennel  As I looked up, I noticed the main wall decoration of the lobby, a framed copy of the local newspaper Daily Express. It headlined the day’s news about an Irish-American President:  “Kennedy Assassinated.”

County Cork

County Cork west of the city of Cork is famous for its shoreline of many inlets, coves, beaches and safe harbors. We saw an example of those harbors in the picturesque  fishing village of Kinsale, some 15 miles south of CorkCity. It is a destination where in summer time the tourists substantially add to its population of some 2,000. According to Dermot Ryan, however, Kinsale  had a notable history long before tourism. A local guide for the last 40 years, Mr. Ryan was proud to be “Secretary on the Irish Federation of History Societies.” He showed me maps of Kinsale dating to 1601 and photographs of the place from 1889. At the harbor, Kinsale celebrated its two favorite sons with one monument. The memorial to the brothers Tim and Mortimer McCarthy commemorated their roles in Arctic Exploration.  Mortimer was on the Terra Nova in Robert Falcon Scott’s second trip in 1910. Timothy joined Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance in 1914.The McCarthy boys had learned how to handle boats in this Kinsale harbor and the nearby river estuary.

The roads outside of Kinsale had not changed much from the time of the McCarthys. We shared the narrow highway which had no shoulders with farm tractors. The few farm houses we saw were on the side facing the sea   . On this corner of the Celtic Sea the ruins of the Timoleague Friary awaited us at the scenic Courtmacsherry Harbor .

Timoleague Friary. The Friary was founded by Franciscan monks in the late 13th or early 14th century on the site of the 7th century Monastery of St.Molaga in the village  named after it, Timoleague (house of Molaga). Not much is known about St.Molaga, except that he was a local boy, as Desmond said, who is credited with bringing “beekeeping and honey to Ireland” from his trips to Wales and Iona. The Franciscan friars who came to live here several centuries later devoted themselves to strict rules of poverty and simplicity as laid down by St. Francis, so the architectural details of their buildings were quite plain . Their earliest church was extended when a tower was built about 1500. The monks allowed themselves the pleasure of the natural surroundings: their dining room in the northeast corner had 5 windows overlooking the sea. Forced to abandon the Friary during the Reformation, some of the monks returned when that storm was over and lived here on and off until 1642 when the Friary was burned down “by the English soldiers.” These were from the army of Cromwell which had arrived in 1633. Golden moss has since covered the stones of the Monastery.

The Timoleague Friary was “endowedby the Barrys and the McCarthys who are buried here.” The McCarthys were over-lords of other clans in southwest Ireland and MacCarthy Reagh who funded the Friary lived near Kinsale in the 13th century. The Berrys (Barrymores) were the owners of the village of Timoleague. In addition to those two families, the ruins of Timoleague Friary have been used for burial purposes by others. One grave had a framed writing as a memorial to “Mum”. A more recent note left on this grave was in handwriting addressed to “Mom” on Mothers Day and said “Miss you”. The graves are both inside and outside  the Friary buildings. The crosses on the tombstones were “high crosses” of the Celtic Christian world, a free-standing cross made of stone, which combined the ancient Celtic cross -a simple cross with a ring surrounding the intersection- with the Christian cross. Families, such as O’Leary, have shared the same grave and tombstones.  The ruins of Timoleague have become a place for pilgrims who come to pray and reflect, Desmond said. The practice of grave digging, on the other hand, has been so common that the County had posted a sign to warn that it was dangerous and had to be authorized.

What has lived on from the days of the Timoleague Friary is an important book, the Book of Lismore. Commissioned by a descendant of Timoleague’s original benefactor, the work was written in the Friary in 1480 and named after him, the Book of Mac Cárthaigh Riabhach.  It is actually a vellum manuscript compiled from the early, and lost, Book of Monasterboice as well as other manuscripts. It consists of two main parts: one is on the lives of the Irish saints, St.Brigid, St.Patrick and St.Columba, and the other part is a greatly valuable Middle Irish narrative from the 12th century pertaining to the Fenian Cycle. The Cycle, also called the Ossianic Cycle, is a text of verse and prose about the exploits of the mythical hero Fionn mac Cumhaill and his warriors the Fianna. That is one of the four major cycles of Irish mythology (the others being the Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, and the Historical Cycle). I was amused to learn from Desmond that this Book of Lismore also contains an Irish translation of The Book of Marco Polo. Long lost, the Book of Lismore was discovered in 1814, in a blocked-off room of Lismore Castle, in County Waterford.

Near the ruins of Timoleague, we drove through the narrow streets of Clonakilty which featured impressive baskets of flowers hanging from the windows. Desmond pointed out the small town’s double claim to fame: Michael Collins, a heroic figure in Ireland’s campaign for independence from Britain in the 1920-1921 was born in the hamlet of Sam’s Cross near here and attended school in Clonakilty, and Henry Ford’s father, William, was raised in a village nearby before migrating to the United States in 1846.

Bantry Bay. Skibbereen, which means “little boat harbor,” was even smaller than Clonakilty, but it had the distinction of being the most southerly town in Ireland. We soon came to the much larger Bantry Bay with its spectacular backdrop of mountains. There were areas of fish farming in the Bay. “Those are for mussels,” Desmond said, but I also spotted lobster traps. Another sight we spotted here on a hill was a big poster with a picture of Maureen O’Hara. This was near the village of Glengrriff at a bay with the same name which is an enclave of Bantry Bay. The famously red-headed Irish-American movie star was in the news these days. As the Irish Independent reported, Maureen O’Hara had lived in Glengrriff since 1968. She had recently fired her “personal assistant” who was now about to sue her for libel. The assistant, Carloyn Murphy, was her neighbor and friend in Glengarriff. The dispute began after Maureen O’Hara lent her name to a film and acting center which was to be opened in her honor in Glengarriff with the help of Murphy. After firing Murphy, O’Hara moved to Idaho to live with her grandson. The poster we saw publicized the film and acting center whose future is now uncertain.

Glengarriff has long been a tourism venue in Ireland.  Its Eccles Hotel is a venerable institution. It has a sweeping view of Bantry Bay, including an island “which is still a favorite with the Irish tourists,” Desmond said. It certainly was that when the poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) and the playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856- 1950) used to come here. Those two luminaries stayed at Eccles Hotel which has placed their portraits facing each other above the fireplaces in its lobby. The Hotel, indeed, dwelled in nostalgia. It is not just that the sole book on the coffee table in the lobby was about when the city of Cook was named the cultural Capital of Europe: Here’s to the Cultural Revolution, Cook 2005.  Older still were the two issues of newspapers, respectively, from 1922 and 1994 which were hanging from the newspapers rod in the lobby. The hotel clerk’s explanation that the newspapers were “decorations” only added to the puzzle of their presence.


We left Eccles and drove on a climbing road away from the water to the top of mountains. On the top we went through the Turner Tocks tunnels into CountyKerry. There were three tunnels at this border, a big one in Cork, and 2 small ones in Kerry which were more carving of the hills with open windows. The road had narrowed to one lane. We soon came  to Kenmore, a town on a bay with the same name which was at the junction of Iveragh Peninsula and the Beara Peninsula, two of the three Atlantic peninsulas on the southwest of Ireland, the third one being Dingle Peninsula.

Driving north on part of the route called Ring of Kerry which circles the Iveragh Peninsula, we saw Ireland’s highest mountain range called Macgillycuddy’s Reeks (stacks) which stretches 12 miles and includes Ireland’s highest peak at 3,406 feet, the Carrauntoohil. These mountains and the several lakes which they surround are all left from an ancient glacial landscape.  The Ring of Kerry crosses KillarneyNational Park. We stopped at a lookout in the heart of the Park with a panoramic vista called Ladies View, a name recalling the visit by Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting on her 1861 trip. Now as then this location is still a favorite of women: several were picnicking here on this day. A larger group of visitors chose to walk around for a better look at the spectacular scenery.  Desmond pointed out the lakes before us. “The three major lakes of the Park are Upper Lake, Muckross Lake (also called Middle Lake) and Lough Leane.” The last one, meaning the Lake of Learning, was so called because of the studious medieval monks of the Innisfallen Abbey, who recorded the earliest history of Ireland. Their monastery, now in ruins, was founded in the 7th century on an island in that lake.


The town of Killarney is at the shore of the Lake of Learning. Today it hosts tourists rather than monks judging by the number of their cars descending with us on the road toward Killarney. Indeed, this town claims to be where Irish tourism began over 250 years ago. The streets of Killarney were festooned with banners  welcoming visitors from near and afar. We stayed at a hotel catering more to Irish guests. It was owned by the same people who ran Cork’s luxurious Hayfield Manor, but the contrast between the two was remarkable. Here, corridors at uneven levels and bending at points where older structures were joined led to guestrooms with mismatched furniture and walls some of which were painted and some wallpapered. The lobby was homey with the receptionist sitting at a low-level desk sharing the space with the guests who lounged in arm chairs discussing the souvenirs purchased that day. The one I noticed was a 2014 Calendar with a picture from Maureen O’Hara’s movies The Quiet Man as its cover which I had seen in a Killarney store.

Killarney is known for its live music venues and it had several stores selling records, music books, song books, and traditional Irish musical instruments, including the frame drum bodhran. During the day the pubs were well-attended by the locals watching horse racing on television. We were in the middle of Killarney’s July Festival, and its major event was “horse racing,” the guide Desmond said, pronouncing the animal’s name hos. Elsewhere on the streets of downtown one could hear music. A group of four teenagers played several string instruments in front of a shop. At another corner a man wearing an Elvis mask sat on the ground, playing the guitar. He sang Jingle Bells, among other tunes. In Murphy’s pub that boasted it had won the James Joyce Award for being an “authentic Irish pub,” an ensemble of two men and two boys playing traditional Irish music. Near Murphy’s there was a passage way with a wide array of banners and flags hanging from the ceiling. Going through it, I found on the other side a crowd of about 50 people in an open plaza listening to three musicians on a stage.

They played mandolin and guitars and sang. When they paused, the one in the middle called out to the audience “Anybody’s birthday?.., anniversary?.., divorce?” He got no response. Then he asked “Any Americans?” Many yelled “Yes!” He followed: “Any English?” A few replied. A handful of Germans also answered to his polling, but no French. In the momentary silence that followed a group of middle aged guests who had just come out of a restaurant next door and taken seats in the plaza made their presence known: “Denmark!” The musicians had one more question: “Any Irish?” None replied, but when the entertainers finally started singing Irish folk songs several in the audience sang along with them quietly, including a young couple who kept watchful eyes on their four year old son dancing in front of us. That breakdown of the visitors to Killarney in the musicians’ sampling was echoed on the streets of the town where you mostly heard American accent, followed next by German.

Dingle Peninsula

Desmond pointed to the license plates of cars in Killarney: “Note that because of superstition regarding the unlucky number 13, the plates don’t have 2013; instead there are two license plates, one is 131 for cars bought in the first half of 2013 and the other is 132 for cars bought in the second half.” Alas, this stratagem did not protect a truck we presently saw near Killarney. It had caught fire. Notwithstanding the great flames shooting up, we were casually allowed to pass the burning truck on this narrow road. That evening in the local newspaper I read the reasons a former expatriate Irish had given for returning home. One was this: “In Australia and the US and UK people doggedly stick to rules. In Ireland it is considered a ‘challenge’ to bend rules: No such word as No!” The point was expanded by his kudos for the police (gardai), defined as “Guardians of the peace rather than the enforcers of the law, it’s only when you’ve encountered foreign police that you recognise (sic) how decent and sensible most gardai are.”

We were on our way to see the eight ancient Ogham Stones in Beaufort village, a few miles from Killarney. They stood on the edge of the road in a fenced site, still remarkably erect after more than 18 centuries. Cut along their edge vertically were sets of strokes. These were the oldest known form of Irish writing. The inscriptions were short, “mostly the names of a person and his father,” Desmond said. They were probably memorials to the deceased. Ogham was usually written in four sets of strokes, each consisting of five letters which could be from one to five strokes long. Thus there were twenty letters in this Celtic script. The Ogham writings we were seeing dated from 300 A.D. These were “orthodox” inscriptions of the early or Primitive Irish language. That language then evolved into the Old Irish language around the 6th century. Although this language was also written in Ogham until the 9th century, the Old Irish became the language of the earliest Irish sources in the Latin alphabet. With the transition from paganism to Christianity, Ogham was forgotten in favor of Latin. Early Christians adopted the practice of making stones with Latin inscriptions and Christian symbolism, even re-carving some of the old Ogham Stones. In recent times, having an Ogham Stone in one’s front yard has become fashionable,  causing the removal of some from their original places.  They are now protected in places the government has put on its List of National Monuments.

If the Irish now do not use the Ogham to write, many of them still speak the language for which the script was invented. Contemporary Irish (Gaelic), however, has evolved from the Primitive Irish, into Old Irish, then Middle Irish, and finally Classical Irish; in the process it has changed.

One of the largest Gaelic speaking communities of Ireland lives in DinglePeninsula which is designated as a Gaeltacht, meaning an area where Gaelic is the predominant language, the vernacular spoken at home. That designation is by the Irish Government which helps to protect and restore the Gaelic language. We saw evidence of this effort in the town of Ballyferrita, home to a celebrated Irish language school during the summer. Students were going to classes as our bus passed through this community in the west of DinglePeninsula where 75% of the population speaks Gaelic on a daily basis.

DinglePeninsula has attracted many more visitors because of its seascapes and intriguing ancient stone structures. As tour guides would tell you, the American magazine National Geographic once called it “the most beautiful place on earth.”  At the pretty Smerwick harbor, not far from Ballyferrita, is Gallarus Oratory (The Church of the Place of the Foreigners). Built between the 7th and 8th century it is the best preserved early Christian church in Ireland, according to the Archaeological Survey of the Dingle Peninsula. Architects admire it as “the apogee of dry-stone corbelling, using techniques first developed by Neolithic tomb-makers. Corbelling consists of laying courses of flat stones so that each course projects slightly inwards beyond the one below until the sides almost meet at the top and the roof can be closed by a single slab.” The same dry-stone corbelling technique was used in many huts found on hundreds of locations in the Dingle Peninsula. Called beehive huts due to their resemblance to beehives, such structures were a common form of dwelling in Dingle by the early Christian period. The ones we were seeing “may well date to the 12th Century when the incoming Normans forced the Irish off the good land out to the periphery of the Peninsula,” according to an official Irish tourist publication.

The beehive huts’ use as human dwellings persisted into the 19th century. Now they function as farm buildings . DinglePeninsula is home to more than 500,000 sheep, and we spotted several just across the road from some beehive huts, grazing in the green field by the sea. These sheep’s famous long curled hair was sheared and they were branded across the back. “Ninety percent of our lamb is exported to Europe,” Desmond commented “and in Ireland you have to pay top dollar for it.” Indeed, lamb was rare on restaurant menus and expensive.

The western “periphery” of DinglePeninsula which these sheep and their beehive huts occupied had spectacular views of the Bay of Dingle with mountains of IveraghPeninsula in the background. The popular sandy beach at Inch was wide and long and on this uncommonly warm and sunny day even had a few swimmers and sunbathers. Desmond pointed out the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks beyond the water. “In those wild mountains Lords of Reeks, the Macgillycuddys, lived who at one time were the most powerful family in this corner of Ireland. They were feared by other residents. Ironically, in recent times, their most famous descendent was the American comedienne Lucille Ball!”

The scenery became stark and dramatic when we reached Slea Head . This was just a mile and a half from Garraun Point which is the westernmost point of DinglePeninsula and mainland Ireland. Further west, however, were the Blasket Islands in the water just before us. A village on the islands was inhabited until 1953. Now only “a couple of structures are left, but people go to the Islands for the day,” Desmond said.  Since then the village of Dunquin, near Garraun Point, has become the westernmost settlement of Ireland.

Dingle Town

Garraun Point and the handful of other small villages in the DinglePeninsula are dwarfed in population by the only town in the peninsula after which it is named: Dingle. The town has some 2,000 inhabitants. It also has 52 pubs crowded with tourists. “Bitte,” a German visitor said as she took the spare chair from our table, dragging it across the room to her table because all other chairs in this large pub were taken. The brightly colored houses of Dingle’s main street stretch from a small town center featuring a bronze sculpture of Fungie , a bottlenose dolphin who has often visited the Dingle harbor area since 1984. Dingle Harbor was settled in the 12th century and by the 16th century Dingle was one of Ireland’s main trading ports. The town center, however, commemorated a rare military event in the history of the town when “James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald, leader of the Geraldine Revolt arrived in DingleHarbour on the 13-July 1579 with military aid from Spain and Rome during the Elizabethan Wars.”

Royal Rock of Cashel

CountyKerry as well as CountyCork and CountyWaterford were part of the ancient Province of Munster. So was CountyTipperary where the “kings of over-kings” of the Province had their seat of power in the Rock of Cashel. When we arrived there, it became clear why they had chosen this site. The large Rock which could accommodate a castle and several other major buildings was exceptionally defensible as it sat high in a vast plain which could be easily watched for advancing adversaries.  What is more, this surrounding area of some fourteen by six miles has been among the best land in Ireland for agriculture, especially dairy farming. Called Golden Veil, it is “like RhinelandValley,” Desmond said.

The Rock of Cashel has become an important depository of facts and myths about Ireland’s history. The Kings of Munster established themselves on the Rock in the 4th century. Old artifacts found on the Rock include a “Roman type” brooch  which dates from the first century. Although there have been hypotheses of some kind of Roman invasion of Ireland around that time, this country was never formally a part of the Roman Empire. The Roman influence, however, often extended beyond its borders. In the year 100 Ptolemy was writing about the geography and tribes of Hibernia, the Romans’ name for Ireland. The people who eventually populated Ireland were native inhabitants who had lived here since the Late Bronze Age, 600 B.C., gradually absorbing infiltration of small groups of Celtic-speaking people. More likely than the result of an invasion, elements of Celtic culture, including the Gaelic (Goidelic) languages emerged in Ireland due to the natives’ exchanges with the Celtic groups in southwest continental Europe. By the 5th century this blending of indigenous and Celtic cultures produced the Gaelic culture of Ireland. It was also around this time that Ireland’s main over-kingdoms, such as the one presiding on the Rock of Cashel began to emerge.

Our guide in Rock of Cashel who provided much of that information now stopped in front of a concrete cross on the grounds of Cashel. “This is St.Patrick’s Cross,” he said. It is actually a replica of the one made in the 12th century; the original which was carved from sandstone has been moved indoors to protect it from further damage by elements.The guide pointed out that the Cross was in the Latin Style, one face depicting Christ’s crucifixion, and the other St.Patrick. It had two pillars on either side, “denoting two thieves who were crucified with Jesus.”  He said the locals believe that “if you could hug this Cross you will have no tooth ache, and if you hop as you hug you will get married within a year.” The legend has it that on the spot where the Cross is located St. Patrick baptized the pagan King Aengus in 432.  The guide said in the process “Patrick accidentally placed his staff into the top of the King’s foot, and the King did not make any sound. When asked, the King replied that he thought that was part of the ceremony.”

The purported conversion itself is a part of the myth of Patrick, developed in the centuries after the Saint’s death. St.Patrick, who may not have arrived in Ireland until 461, was primarily a missionary to the pagan Irish of the northern kingdoms in the Provinces of Ulster and Connacht.

As Prosper of Aquitaine, a contemporary chronicler, has noted, in 431 the Pope sent Palladius the Deacon as “first Bishop to the Irish believing in Christ.”  He worked with Christians in the Kingdoms (Provinces) of Meath and Leinster. The latter was next to Munster, the Province where the Rock of Cashel is located.

In 978 Brian mac Cennétig (Kennedy) , better known as Brian Boru, defeated the incumbent  king of Munster and was crowned the new Provincial king at the Rock of Cashel. He then moved the seat of Kingdom to a site in CountyClare and went on to dominate the other Provinces of Ireland. With a population of about 500,000 people, Ireland at the time had over 150 kings, with different size domains. In 1002, Brian Boru won the position of the High King from Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill whose families, the Uí Néill dynasty, had ruled as Ireland’s High King for centuries. By 1011 all other regional rulers in Ireland acknowledged Brian Boru’s authority. Within two years, however, his rule was challenged by several powerful families and he was killed in battle. Subsequently in 1013 Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill was restored as the High King.

Ecclesiastical Rock of Cashel

In 1101, the King of Munster, Muircheartach Ua Briain, having conquered most of Ireland’s Provinces and declaring himself High King, donated the Rock of Cashel as a gift to the Church. Not much has survived of the Rock’s earlier royal structures. The buildings that remain are all from the 12th and 13th centuries. They are a collection of Celtic and medieval architectures. The oldest one is the Round Tower. As a look-out tower it rises 90 feet above ground. It is the best preserved as well as the tallest structure on the Rock.  The ancient dry-stone method was used in its construction. Much more sophisticated is Cormac’s Chapel , an Irish Romanesque church that combines elements of Germanic influence in the twin towers on its sides. Named after Munster King Cormac Mac Carthaigh, the Chapel was built in 1127-1134 with sandstone, from the hills nearby, which has become water logged by the passage of time. The frescos in the interior which told the life of Christ have been damaged with “discoloration of the paint layers.” At the time of our visit, the restoration work to repair “the impact of microbiological growths” required that Cormac’s Chapel be enclosed in a rain-proof cover so that dehumidifies could dry out the stone and “prolonged irradiation with ultraviolet light” could   “destroy the reproductive system of the micro-organisms.”

Next to Cormac’s Chapel stood Cashel’s Cathedral. Built between 1235 and 1270, it was augmented in the 15th century by the addition of the Hall of the Vicars Choral, for the laymen who helped in chanting during the services, and the five-story Castle as the residence for the archbishop. The Cathedral was named after St. Patrick and came to be recognized as the best Irish church building: it is aisle-less in a cruciform plan with a central tower, multiple arches , and faux windows on the walls. Around the Cathedral in the fields below there were several abbeys. On the east, we could see the ruins of Hore Abbey, founded by Cistercian in 1272. On another side was a Dominican friary which was founded in 1243.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral continued in use until 1748. Then its main roof was removed at the order of the presiding Anglican Archbishop of Cashel who maintained that the damages to it could not be repaired. The damages were caused mostly by the wind that “on this plateau could be up to 90 miles an hour in winter,” according to our guide who pointed out as proof a large boulder that the wind had wrecked from a building. The Archbishop subsequently built a new cathedral at a different site, abandoning the gutted old Cathedral and what else remained on the Rock of Cashel.

Since the Reformation, from 1567 the bishops of the Cashel Cathedral have been from the Anglican Church of Ireland rather than the Irish Roman Catholic Church. Our guide told us about an exception, when “one bishop surreptitiously served both as the Archbishop of the Anglicans here and the Catholic Archbishop of a monastery up north.”  Religious differences, however, mixed with politics at other times and produced violent results. In 1647, the Castle of the Cathedral was the scene of the massacre of many Irish Roman Catholic clergy by the troops of the Anglican Parliament of England under the command of Earl of Inchiquin, sent to re-conquer Ireland from the self-government of the Irish Catholic Confederation which, in alliance with the “English royalists” opposing the rule of the Parliament, had come to control two-thirds of Ireland since 1642.

In addition to the clergy who died in 1647, many of the past Cashel bishops are buried in the Cathedral. Indeed, the whole Rock of Cashel has become a popular cemetery. In the grounds surrounding the buildings there are graveyards with Celtic crosses. The largest commemorates the wealthy local Scully family. It was built in 1867, but the top of it was cut off by lightning in 1976. Multiple burial of the same family is common here. The demand for the dwindling scarce burial lots on the Rock “led the local government in the 1930s to establish a registry of those who would be eligible,” our guide said. “Of the 5,000 who were registered only 5 are left.”   He added as an afterthought “also, people still get married here.”

Lough Rynn Castle

We now went to see a part of Ireland assigned to St. Patrick as his mission in the 4th century: County Westmeath in the Province of Leinster. After all those centuries it was still rural and sparsely populated. The biggest town of the County, Mullingar, has only 20,000 residents. Mullingar has enjoyed a measure of fame because author James Joyce mentioned it in both  Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. Its main street now boasted a shiny “sphere” sculpture, but Mullingar’s main attraction for the tourists, mostly anglers, were the three lakes nearby.

We went to another lake, Lough Rynn, in CountyLeitrim, located in yet another ancient IrishProvince, Connacht, included in St. Patrick’s assignment.  This County was near the border with Northern Ireland where most of Ulster is located – the latter being the only historical Province of Ireland which we did not venture in on this trip. The main attraction at Lough Rynn was the Castle by that name built in the late 19th century by the 3rd Earl (Lord) of Leitrim, William Sydney Clements. It has since been bought and turned into a hotel.

The LoughRynnCastle as the hotel is called is on an estate covering 300 acres of Ireland that is idyllic with exceptional natural beauty. Since the 18th century this was the home of the Clements Family.  Long before them, the Mac Ragnaill Clan had been here. The ruins of their 12th century castle still exist. The hotel is in the newer Castle which sits majestically on the shores of Lough Rynn  with breathtaking scenery. The property has lush green pastures and ancient forests, as well as yet a second lake . There is a boat house and a walled  garden.  Maintenance personnel keep the paint fresh on the sculptures which grace the grounds. The front lawns were designed to keep the walkways for the servicemen discreetly below the sight from the Castle. The luxurious interior of the hotel aims at evoking the time when this was the house of a Lord.

That Lord, William Sydney Clements, actually died before his Castle was completed. The legacy of his times as the master of this estate from 1854 is far from pretty. He is remembered as merciless against his “tenants” who worked on this land. They grew oats, attended cattle and pulled turnip, did not make enough to feed themselves, and had few ways to rise. Sydney was assassinated in 1878, it is believed, largely as a result of his tenants’ discontent. In CountyDonegal where he was murdered, there is a monument (in Kindrum) to the three suspected assassins who were commissioned by a tenants’ rights secret society, honoring their action which “Ended the tyranny of landlordism.”

The LoughRynnCastle which is only 90 minutes away from Dublin by car especially caters to “weekenders.” To that end it has served as the venue for such events as an open-air concert on its lawns featuring Ireland’s National Harp Orchestra on the occasion of “The first ever O’Carolan weekend.” Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738) was a blind Irish harper and composer. Many consider him to be Ireland’s national composer. In Lough Rynn he is considered a native son. He lived a few miles away. As we passed through the town of Mohill just north of the Castle, we came to a statue of O’Carolan erected on the main street. He was sitting with a big harp between his legs and so absorbed in making music that he looked oblivious to the lacuna in his closed eyes.  As such he was an apt metaphor for Counties of Ireland, immersed in their rich history and tradition, contained in the splendor of their natural beauty