Ireland: Dublin, Day 1

Friday, Nov 29, 2002

We decided to return our car to the airport, since we didn’t need it in Dublin thanks to the DART rail system. Yet another adventure. Dublin is being modernized in everything from culture to infrastructure. That means that there were a lot (no, really, a lot) of ongoing roadwork all over the metro Dublin area. Following the signs to get to the airport from Dun Laoghaire, we ended up taking a detour due to some construction, and ended up some 10 miles south of Dublin, in some little town called Stepaside, before we realized we were lost, again. A quick stop at a petrol station and we were finally on our way, except what should have been a one-hour trip was now turning into an all-morning event. At least we got to drive pretty much all around the great ring road around greater Dublin. When we had finally returned the car, we took a bus back into the city, foot travelers once more.

Our bus dropped us off near the Post Office, so we decided to stop there. This was the scene of the Easter Rising of 1916, when a band of patriots took over the Post Office, declaring the independence of Ireland from British rule. We’d see more of this band of rebels later. The inside, while still functioning as a post office, also serves as a kind of museum, with signs pointing various locations. We didn’t go in; it as too crowded. Outside, however, once can still see the bullet holes made 87 years ago on that fateful Easter Monday. The very famous memorial to the Rising, the statue of Cuchulain, is visible from the outside. There is something wrong with that statue, however…

The statue is a reference to the death of Cuchulain, when faced with insurmountable odds in his final battle, he ties himself to a pillar stone with his belt in order to face death standing tall instead of lying down. It is the greatest symbol of defiance, of stubbornness, and the archetype of the Irish warrior. But this statue depicts Cuchulain slumped against the rock, defeated in death. It has been turned into a Christ figure, and emptied of all its burning inner fire. I understand why the Christ allusion was used, but to us it cheapens the legend, the myth, and the memory of those who fought and died Chuchulain-like against insurmountable odds, refusing to lay down their lives in submission.

From the Post Office we walked down to Trinity College, salivating at the idea of our next destination: the Book of Kells exhibition. The Book of Kells, briefly, is a collection of the four gospels of the New Testament, written in Latin, and created sometime in the 8th or 9th century by monks living in the fringes of the known world. It is the finest example of art from the so-called Dark Ages, but more than that, it is a legacy of the love of books that these monks had, the same love that would lead them to make copies not only of the gospels, but of other books of antiquity, thus preserving the knowledge of the classic period for posterity.

Unfortunately they do not allow photos to be taken at the Book of Kells exhibition,
so here’s the cover of the little book we bought at Trinity College on the Book of Kells.
Nov. 29, 2002

Housed in the old library at Trinity College, the exhibition begins with an incredible and excellent introduction called “Turning Darkness Into Light”, an exhibition on the process of book-making in the early Middle Ages. It is well-documented and it gives you information on everything, from the selection of skins for vellum, to the writing and illuminating process, to the binding process, putting the book in its historical and cultural context. It is all geared towards making you truly appreciate what you are about to see. Any bibliophile like us will love the exhibition, but they are sure to love even more the actual book, which is where we, the literary foreplay all done with, headed next.

At any given time you see, displayed under thick glass, two different pages of the Book of Kells, plus two pages from four other historical books of the same period. On this day, we saw the Portrait of St. John (pictured on the book above) and the page with the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 1, 23-38). Most everyone would come in and look around the display, spending a few minutes at most; we went in, picked a spot, and got nose-to-the-glass close in order to truly see the magnificent artistry. Even after almost 700 years, you can still see the brushstrokes on the paint, the marks of the quill as it etched its way on the vellum, the tiny pores on the calfskin page. The colors are still vibrant and time has been kind to the work, allowing us to see all these details. Just as one is able to see the hand of God in nature, there are works that allow one to see the hand of God as manifested through the artist; the Book of Kells is such a work. Christian or not, one has to admit that there was divinity guiding this work of art, inspiring it, and preserving it for future generations. That said, God has a sense of humor, so do watch out for all the little scenes drawn in by the illuminators, scenes of sexual romps, of earthly delights, of pure joy of life. They make for an interesting game of hide-and-seek amidst the centuries-old illuminations.

After this we headed back to the B&B as sundown was approaching and Shabbat was about to start.