Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Big Fat Irish Vacation Day 9: Kilkenny to Dublin

The sun was shining the next morning, but I was not. Oversoft hotel bed? Aching bones from a new front coming through? Still being pissed off about leaving the music before I was ready? Or maybe the vacation was just reaching its natural end. I don't know. But I was not an especially happy camper.

But I have to give the Clubhouse Hotel credit. The breakfast was not the best I had in Ireland - that credit belongs to a couple of the B&Bs - but the dining room was amazing. I'd never really appreciated the term "Georgian" before. I felt like I had been dropped into an episode of "Upstairs Downstairs" and was terrified Hudson would find me not at all suitable. I found a picture on the web that kind of captures at least some of it, but still doesn't do justice to the experience of being surrounded by something so elegant. The dead animal parts were no longer on the walls, but the plaster work and sporting prints certainly were, a testimony to the history of the place, which started as a clue for the local Hunt back in the day and eventually became a hotel. Only recently has it stooped to having to cater to noisy American in blue jeans and trainers, poor thing.

Dining Room at Clubhouse Hotel

Tom and I put together a battle plan. Get up to Dublin, drop off the car, take a bus into Dublin for a last look around and be ready to catch the plane in the morning. One thing high on the agenda was a stop by Bray to see where his grandfather had been born and raised. Bray is just south of Dublin, so it all seemed quite do-able in the bright light of morning. So off we set.

We were hoping for another evening in Dublin, maybe a walk along the Liffey.
 We had kind of forgotten that Ireland we had been driving in the countryside and small towns. Driving the freeways of Dublin to get to the turnoff to Bray was a bit unnerving, especially as it put us in the thick of the heavy truck traffic heading for the port. Things didn't get better when we got to Bray. Not only were our maps outdated, but there was a lot of road work going on. The locals were only a little less frustrated and aggravated than we were. It was with great relief we found a place to ditch the car so we could get out and walk. That turned out not to be that great an improvement as we never did get a clear mental map of the place to help us keep our bearings. We kept getting tangled up. End-of-vacation fatigue was definitely setting in.

It says a lot that we were actually grateful to see a McDonald's. Partly to get a cup of coffee without having to worry about what to call the sort of coffee we wanted, partly because the Irish haven't seemed to have discovered the rest stop yet and we had been driving for quite a while. Tom had hoped to go by the school where his grandfather had taught. But the confusion with the maps, the construction and the realization that our instructions were really bad, made us decide that was not going to happen. The school is a private residence now, and all we could have done is drive by anyway. Still, it was a huge disappointment. We walked around Bray, and decided that Grandpa had the right idea when he left the place. Though in fairness to Bray, did it really have a fair chance, considering its streets were a torn up shambles, Tom was in a bad mood and the shifting weather fronts were making my bones ache so I was  feeling nasty? Let's give Bray a break and say there was some bias on the part of the judges.

Every man and his dog was complaining about the traffic in Bray

We headed back to Dublin with an eye towards returning the car, checking into the hotel, and taking a bus back to the city center for one last look around. Weren't we going to be the savvy travelers? But by the time we got done topping off the gas tank - the second time we'd put gas in the car, by the way, and the first time we'd done it mostly out of a sense of paranoia, not out of any need - and getting caught in the round-about and taking the wrong road not once not twice but three times before we finally took the right turn for the airport. And THEN going through all kinds of hell getting to the actual hotel - why is it always so hard to navigate around airports?!!! - the promised change in the weather had set in and the mild but blustery weather we'd had while filling up the car had turned into a cold driving rain that verged on sleet. Just getting off the bus and getting up to the hotel took my breath away. Taking a bus into Dublin for a final look-see was out of the question. So our final night in Ireland was going to be spent in the confines of a very American style hotel. Not exactly the plan, but a case of pneumonia is not exactly the sort of souvenir one wants to take home.

                                                          Mr. & Mrs. Eileen O'Duill, Speakers Bureau Photo                                                                    Eileen found all the Irish documents we're needing for Tom's Irish citizenship.

All was not lost, however. I had managed to get hold of the gal who'd been gathering up the Irish documents on Tom's paper chase. The originals she has sent us had been lost in the mail, and rather than risk that happening again, we'd agreed to meet while we were in Ireland so she could hand-deliver them. Our hotel wasn't too far from her home, so she drove over. I was impressed that she insisted on coming over right away because it was rush hour and the weather was foul even by Irish standards, which I think are rather high on that count. But Eileen was lovely and delivered the birth and marriage certificates into our hands so now all we had to do was pair them with the American documents and return them to Ireland for Tom to get his dual citizenship. And hope that bunch doesn't get lost as well! Still, I was very impressed with anybody who could come out in such miserable weather so late in the day and seem so happy about it.

So instead of taking a last look-see at Dublin, and seeing if we could find where my great-grandfather had been born on the Temple Bar, we wound up eating at the hotel restaurant, organizing our luggage, and watching television. Not the last night we had planned at all.

Being a capital city, Dublin has lots of statues. Most of them are on high pedestals, but some of much more accessible. The locals, true to form, have given them less than reverent nick names. I'll finish this entry with some of my favorites. Three statues that I really enjoyed, and two that just baffled me.

The three I liked:

On Earl Street, James Joyce, aka "The Prick With The Stick"
On Grafton Street, Molly Malone, the "Broad with the Cod" or the "Trollop with the Scallops"

                  At Dublin Park, Oscar Wilde, "The Fag on the Crag." The different colors of his clothes were obtained by used stones of different colors.

The Two That Baffled Me take some explaining. First off, they actually shared the same sight, on what is now O'Connell Street by the main Post Office in Dublin. First off, the English erected a monument to Admiral Nelson here in 1808, putting one up in Dublin even before they got around to putting one up in London. Put that under the heading of "Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm."

Apparently the locals were not charmed by the presence of Admiral Lord Nelson, or impressed with his statue being atop the "tallest Doric column in the world," because the IRA blew it up in 1966. That might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but they were probably having doubts when the Irish government began replacing Pillar.

First was this sculpture of "Anna Livea," which is supposed to be a personification of the River Liffey as per James Joyce. I've included two shots so you can truly appreciate this thing's awfulness.
Side view

No, this is not elongated or distorted.
The river is supposed to be "represented by a young woman sitting on a slope with water flowing past her." The locals didn't buy it for a minute. She was quickly dubbed "The Floozie in the Jacuzzi" and the "Whore in the Sewer" (give it the local pronunciation of "hoo-er" and you'll get it). I doubt there were many tears shed when this thing was moved off O'Connell Street to a small park in 2001. Little did they know what was about to be visited upon them. Namely....

The Dublin Spire ---

The official name of this thing is The Millennium Spire. The locals prefer such names as "The Stiletto in the Ghetto" and "The Nail in the Pale;" "The Pale" being the area of Ireland under direct English control in the late Middle Ages. (hence the term "beyond The Pale.") Nobody seems quite certain what this thing represents. I found some literature that rattled on about "Ireland's promise in the new century while harkening back to her storied past," but that sounds like International ArtSpeak to me. The shape is supposed to recall ancient standing stones, and there are some sort of kind of rune-like things on it, but it's being out of polished steel messes up that image. At least it is a convenient meeting place. You can't confuse it with anything else, and since at 400 feet high it's the tallest thing in Dublin, you can't miss it.

But seeing as what came after, you have to believe if the boys in the IRA had known what was going to come next, if they might have thought twice about toppling the old Admiral and just wondered off to a nearby pub for a refreshing pint.


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