Despite my promises to the contrary, I have been slack in publishing this entry. What can say, except that boring day-to-day details like finding a job keep getting in the way *sigh*.
Ireland was another country I didn’t expect to see. I suppose you could say we ended up there for financial reasons: we finally found some cheap flights! True, they were with RyanAir, which isn’t exactly my favourite airline, but it was a short journey and we figured we could tolerate it for a few hours.
We decided to have a splurge while we were there, eschewing the usual cheap-and-cheerful hotels we’d grown accustomed to in favour of something a little more upmarket: a genuine castle!
The one place I was desperate to visit was Trinity College, home of the famous 9th century illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells. The college grounds were surprisingly peaceful, given its location in the city centre.
Trinity College courtyard. Being here made me miss my student days. As an enthusiastic graduate who would spend the rest of my life collecting degrees if given the opportunity, I found myself wondering about the odds of winning the lottery so I could go back to uni myself. (My conclusion: nil. We never buy lottery tickets. Kind of stacks the odds against me that, doesn't it?)
Trinity College was also where I fell in love… with the most amazing library I have ever seen:
I told Pete to gimme a flashlight, 'cos I had a plan: I was going to hide, get locked in and spend the night happily perusing all those wonderful old books. Sadly Pete refused to comply, stating that a) he didn't have a torch with him, and b) the librarians wouldn't approve. He eventually dragged me away, kicking and screaming (well, pouting and sulking, anyway), to see the Book of Kells.
This cheered me up no end, 'cos I have always been rather fond of illuminated manuscripts. I took a calligraphy class once, many moons ago, and discovered that pretty writing is actually very hard to do. The monks who created this book must have been so, so patient - the detail in some of the images is truly stunning. (Note: You're not allowed to take photos of the manuscript, but Google images has dozens of pictures.)
I guess we'd picked a good day to visit, 'cos we were able to spend a reasonable amount of time perusing the exhibition. (I have heard that during peak times the crowds are so dense that it's impossible to get near the display case containing the Book of Kells itself.) There are other illuminated manuscripts on display, plus a lot of information about the history and construction of the documents, but you only actually get to see a couple of pages from each book. If you want to see the Book of Kells in more detail, visit Clontarf Castle. They have a replica copy in the lobby, and if you ask the concierge nicely, he'll take it out of its cabinet and let you have a closer look.
One of the things we learned that day was that the scribes who made these manuscripts often made mistakes. I get weird connections in my head, and soon found myself wondering if they ever got bored like the disgruntled typesetter in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. The story describes the “Buggre All This” Bible of 1651, which was renowned for the following entry:
2. And bye the border of Dan, fromme the east side to the west side, a portion for Afher.
3. And bye the border of Afhter, fromme the east side even untoe the west side, a portion for Naphtali.
4. And bye the border of Naphtali, from the east side untoe the west side, a portion for Manaffeh.
5. Buggre all this for a Larke. I amme sick to mye Hart of typefettinge. Master Biltonn if no Gentelmann, and Master Scagges noe more than a tighte fisted Southwarke Knobbefticke. I telle you, onne a daye laike thif Ennywone half an oz. of Sense should bee oute in the Sunneshain, ane nott Stucke here alle the liuelong daie inn thif mowldey olde By-Our-Lady Workefhoppe. @*”Æ@;!*
6. And bye the border of Ephraim, from the east fide even untoe the west fide, a portion for Reuben.
Does the Book of Kells contain similar entries? There’s an incentive for me to learn Latin, if ever I had one!
Other things that Dublin is famous for include, of course, pubs and booze. We had a lot of of boring stuff to do while we were in Ireland - shopping, seeing doctors and depressing things of that nature - so we made a good choice in going to Dublin, ‘cos there were loads of pubs (*) to help ease the trauma after an hour in a department store.
(*) Between 900 and 1,000 of ‘em, if memory serves.
We, of course, spent many an hour in these Hostelries of Happiness, but didn’t feel that we could leave the city without visiting one of their alcohol-producing establishments. We had a choice of the Guiness Storehouse, or the Jameson Distillery, and chose the distillery, primarily because I can’t stand the taste of Guiness. (They give free samples at these places, you know. No way am I going on a tour where I can’t take advantage of the free booze!)
It turns out that this place is no longer a working distillery, but more of museum with waxworks and videos, for which it has been heavily criticised. Personally, I enjoyed the tour. We got an overview of how whiskey was made (which really was the point of the visit), and a nice free glass at the end (a welcome bonus). However, one review I read described it as “an excruciatingly slow march to and through a gift shop”; if you are a real whiskey connoisseur you might want to give this a miss and take a tour elsewhere.
While I’m on the subject of musuems and the like, I can recommend the National Leprechaun Museum for forty minutes or so of mythology and silliness. This is a relatively new tourist attraction – actually, our taxi driver didn’t believe us when we asked to go there. He was convinced we were having a laugh at his expense, and only acquiesed when I showed him an advertising leaflet I’d picked up – and while it isn’t a particularly large musuem, it has been imaginatively designed. You get a good introduction from the friendly staff, then are left to wander through the remaining exhibits on your own. We liked the oversized furniture room (to demonstrate how the world looks to a leprechaun), heard a yarn or two from the story-teller, and generally had great fun learning a bit about Irish myths and legends.
Humungous props. A family with several kids went through the same time as us, and, I have to confess, they made me feel old and creaky! The little ‘uns climbed up and down the pieces of furniture with the agility of monkeys… while it took me five minutes and an eventual shove from Pete to get on that chair!
Dublin is also known for its fair share of things eerie and bizarre, and stories abound about hauntings and poltergeists and things that go bump in the night. For a city tour with a difference, we decided to take an evening ride on the Ghost Bus. For the next two hours we were regaled with stories about body-snatchers, banshees, and the creation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, complete with a variety of audio and visual effects (some scary, some cheesy).
This was a bus tours with a difference, however, 'cos at certain points we were allowed to get off the bus and walk around some spooky places. Our first stop was St. Kevin's churchyard, where we learned the ins and outs of grave robbing. Our guide even asked for a volunteer to perform an actual robbery!
Our guide was a real character, and a veritable fount of all things horrid. The dark mark on the wall behind him is a mystery in itself: nobody knows what caused it, and when it's washed off, it always comes back again.
The tour ended in St. Audoen's Church and the forty steps, which are haunted by Dublin's most famous ghost: the 'green lady'. The guide told us that the tourists frequently get strange images here, and urged us to take lots of photos. We dutifully did as we were told, and all ended up with a gazillion boring piccys that look like this:
A couple of people claimed to have captured strange visual aberrations in their photos, at which point Pete and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes skeptically. Funnily enough, just after that we took another picture of the steps which was completely distorted - the only time our camera has ever failed to produce a coherent image - so perhaps there was something (or someone) to it after all! For those of you with an interest in the macabre, the company has a webpage where people can post the ghostly pictures they took during the tour.
We had a fabulous time in Dublin, despite the constant rain, so I guess I'll have to be forever grateful to RyanAir for selling reasonably-priced tickets!
I'll post my final entry (from Kenya) next week.
'Bye for now...