Sunday, August 4, 2013

In Dublin's Fair City

We arrive by bus in Dublin at lunchtime and find it easy enough to walk to our accommodation.  We’ve got two nights to explore this city and on Monday we will take the ferry to England.  After checking in we go out for a walk to discover Dublin.  I am excited to be here.  Years ago, in 1959 my parents visited Dublin on their European Tour and extended honeymoon!  Here I am now - more than fifty years later, possibly walking down the same streets…?

I feel a little overwhelmed by this city.  After spending the last month in places where sheep easily outnumbered the human population, the traffic and people grate on me a little.  We ease back into city life quite easily and go to the Temple Bar District in search of lunch.  When my Irish friends hear we lunched at the most touristy part of Dublin, they write back in dismay with more local suggestions and I laugh.  I would have had the same reaction in Sydney if my friends had gone to places like Bondi Beach for a swim! 

We take it easy on our first day in Dublin and fall asleep to the strains of Molly Malone that
float through from the pub across the road.  Coming to Ireland has brought back memories of my childhood.  Many of our family gatherings always ended up with a sing along and it is only now I realise that the places my mum and her siblings sang about were all Irish!  Galway Bay, Limerick, Tipperary…and of course Dublin! 

We continue our discoveries of this city on Sunday morning.  Ironically, we find ourselves in St Mary’s – a former church that has now been beautifully restored to a pub/restaurant.  While the parish could not sustain a decent congregation, today more than 600,000 visitors come to admire the conversion.  The church
is full of history.  Handel once played the organ here, Arthur Guinness, the founder of the Guinness brewery was married here and John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church delivered his first Irish sermon here.  There is a self-guided tour that starts at the bust of Arthur Guinness, which sits atop the baptismal font.

Church conversions are quite popular around the world, but to see a pub amidst the religious symbolism of a church does feel a little strange.  We walk down to the basement that was once the burial crypt but has now been re-modeled as a nightclub.  The bodies have been exhumed and buried elsewhere…but it does feel weird that the dead were not allowed to rest in peace!!

On the way out we talk to one of the bartenders who sheds a little more light on the conversion.  I asked how this was accepted in what was once a deeply Catholic country and learn that in fact this used to be a Presbyterian church and hence there were no objections to the development application!  We ask about the influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland and hear the same message that we’ve heard throughout our travels across this nation. The influence and hold that the church had on the Irish is rapidly declining but it wasn’t that long ago that this authority resulted in strict controls on social norms, banning for example divorce, contraception, abortion and imposing strict censorship on many books and films!  

Ironically, the very institution that imposed these controls has been rocked by scandals such as the issues around child molestation and the cover-ups that happened at the very top to shield the priests involved.  Thankfully these isses are now being addressed but it is no wonder that the majority of young people are completely disillusioned by the church as an institution and do not attend mass.  Perhaps, one day Christian teaching might still influence their life even if they have no connection to the church as an institution.  The principles of loving your neighbour as yourself, forgiveness and caring for the earth and your fellow humans are after all what Christianity is really all about!  

We were also surprised and shocked to hear about the scandal surrounding the Magdalene Laundries that also rocked the Irish people in the in the late nineties.  Women who were pregnant out of wedlock or were engaged in behavior that was considered promiscuous were banished for years often with the consent of their family and condemned to an incredibly miserable life as slave labour in the laundries.  Their babies were taken from them
and they were forced to work in unhygienic living conditions, subject to corporal punishment and existing on inedible food.  It is daunting to learn that the last such laundry only closed down in 1996 and that in Ireland up to 30,000 women were incarcerated in these institutions.  Many Irish were unaware of their existence until 1993 when there was a public outcry as the news became public.  Allegations about the conditions in the convents and the treatment of the inmates were made into an award-winning film in 2002, The Magdalene Sisters.  As I read about the laundries I realise that this was not a practice that was unique to Ireland but that it was common across Europe and North America - scary! 

So - back to our tour of Dublin.  We are walking down the street when we run into Betta and t
he kids.  They have just arrived in Dublin to spend a day here before they fly back to Italy.  We greet each other in excitement, hug and say a final goodbye.

Ireland has a very rich literary past and Dublin is full of monuments to writers such as James Joyce and Oscar Wilde.  The memorial to Oscan Wilde is my favourite.  A rather nonchalant figure sits roguishly on a rock, looking toward two pillars that celebrate his wicked wit!  I love the quotes scrawled on the pillars…here are a few:

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.

“I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying”.

“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”.

On Sunday evening we meet up with Triona, a friend from my days of travelling to Uganda to trek the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in search of Gorillas!  Triona and I had shared a tent during our journey and Facebook ensured we would not lose contact.  It’s wonderful to meet up once again with people you met while travelling in distant lands.  Triona takes us to a
local pub and over Guinness and Cider we share stories of our lives and reminisce about the past. 

It’s almost time to say goodbye to Triona and Ireland.  Tomorrow we will take the Ferry to England and 3 trains to our new volunteer destination near Axminster.  We have loved our month in Ireland.  The Irish hospitality and generosity has been amazing and the friendliness of the people we have met has captured our hearts.  We’ve been amazed at their ability to strike up a conversation with complete strangers and have really enjoyed this openness and propensity to chat. Their laid back attitude has similarities to our own mix of cultures - Sri Lankan, Greek and Australian.  Their migrant history and the stories of leaving behind all that was familiar in search of another life has also struck a chord with both Steve and me, having similarities with the migrant stories of our own lives.  I’ve also loved the scenery.  It was rugged and wild along the coast and serene and picturesque in the countryside. 

This was our first visit to Ireland and it has surpassed our expectations!  I am incredibly grateful to all the new friends I made, old mates I renewed friendships with, our volunteer hosts and their generosity and the strangers who helped us throughout our travels – you have all made our experience here a memorable one! 

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