Monthly Archives: June 2016

Interesting Interview

I was recently invited by Irish Interest to do an interview for their website. It took place near Seapoint and, thankfully, the weather was on its best behaviour!

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Ireland’s Oldest Museum

Zoological Museum, TCD

Zoological Museum, TCD

For those interested in animal history a visit to country’s oldest museum is not only a must but a real joy. The Zoological Museum was established in Trinity College nearly 250 years ago, and has more than 20,000 items. Some of the earliest donations came from wealthy collectors, and artifacts from Captain Cook’s expeditions in Australia and the South Sea Islands. You can see a platypus, kangaroo and a Tasmanian Tiger that has, sadly, been extinct since 1930.

Narwahl tusk

Narwahl tusk

There is something here for everyone, from the big to the tiny, from an elephant skeleton to trays of beautiful butterflies, and ‘live’ exhibits of worms, beetles and a rather large, hairy spider! Most of the items are in glass cabinets and there computer tablets where you can get information of what you are viewing. On the main counter you can see and touch a very impressive Rhino’s skull, elephant teeth, animal hides and the almost mystical narwhal tusk that was taller than my guide, Lauren. There are jaws of a Great White shark with rows of razor-sharp teeth. Even lying on the table, unmoving, they are a scary proposition. You can stick your head in (if you dare!) and have your photograph taken, and it’s as close I ever want to get to those choppers.

JAWS

JAWS

One of the best collections is that of the Blaschka Glass Models of marine invertebrates. These were made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in Germany in the late 1800s and were used in schools and colleges as colourful, visual aids. And in the next cabinet is a replica skull of the Piltdown Man who was meant to be the ‘missing link’ between apes and man. This was later exposed as a hoax.

Little Monsters

Little Monsters

Engagement is the word to describe a visit to the museum that is open every day until August. There is a small fee, but then there is much to see and enjoy.

 

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Bloomsday – Where It All Begins

June 16th is unique in literature in that it actually has a day named after it. Bloomsday is named after the main character Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s most famous work Ulysses. And the date was deliberately chosen by the author as it was on this day in 1904 that he and Nora Barnacle, his future lover and wife, went on their first date. By that October she would leave Dublin and accompany him to France, where they struggled until his eventual breakthrough and international recognition.

Martello Tower, Sandycove - where it all began

Martello Tower, Sandycove – where it all begins

Joyce had stayed in the Martello Tower, in Sandycove, with his friend Oliver St Gogarty (who had rented the building) for a short time before leaving hurriedly after a gun was fired late one night. However, he chose to set the opening scene of his book in the building and Gogarty is immortalised in the first line:

Stately, plumb Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

A view north from the roof

A view north, to Dublin city, from the roof

The tower was one of many erected along the coast in preparation for an invasion by Napoleon’s forces. However, after Admiral Horatio Nelson (he of Nelson’s Pillar fame) defeated the French navy at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st October 1805, the threat was extinguished. Many of the towers were subsequently sold off while others were left unattended and remain derelict to this day. The tower at Sandycove was maintained in good condition when Gogarty rented it in the summer of 1904. Today, it houses the James Joyce Tower & Museum which is a ‘must-see’ for all Joycean fans and those interested in literary history. There is a fabulous collection of items, including; an original copy of Ulysses, many of Joyce’s notebooks and a vinyl recording of his voice! Up the narrow stairs the space has been remodelled with table, chairs and various contemporaneous items showing the living space as Gogarty and Joyce would have known it. Outside, there is Joyce’s death mask  and a guitar that he was fond of playing. Up the last flight of steps to the roof (from the stairhead..) you have the wonderful panorama of Dublin Bay, the coast northwards to Dublin City, leading you around to the mountains to the south-west. On a clear day it is spectacular and, not surprisingly, very popular with photographers.

Main Room - 1904 style

Main Room – 1904 style

Celebrating Bloomsday has become big business and events are now held in many cities around the world bringing a new audience to Joyce’s works. However, the original Bloomsday (in 1954 – the 50th anniversary) celebrations were rather prosaic by today’s standards and involved a number of Dublin’s literati and two horse-drawn carriages. The group: John Ryan (owner of The Bailey pub and founder of Envoy art magazine), Flann O’Brien, Anthony Cronin, Patrick Kavanagh, Tom Joyce (a cousin) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College) had planned a ‘pilgrimage’ along the circuitous route set out in the book. However, after a number of stops for ‘refreshments’ the adventure was abandoned due to ‘inebriation and rancour’ and they retired to The Bailey (on Duke Street).

Bloomsday's first Pilgrims: JR, AC, FO'B, PK, TJ

Bloomsday’s first Pilgrims: JR, AC, FO’B, PK, TJ

You may very well see some horse-drawn carriages on the big day but as to whether they will be ferrying such an illustrious group, well, I guess that’ll be another story. Happy Bloomsday!

 

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Killiney Hill – A view to thrill

So where would you find a pyramid in Dublin? It was a question that our teacher asked one day and none of us had an answer. After some serious head scratching from the class he told us but we had to see it to believe. That was a while ago, and the memory of my first sighting of the Pyramid, atop Killiney Hill, is a fond one.

The Pyramid

The Pyramid

Killiney Hill is one of two hills, the other being Dalkey Hill, that are within Killiney Hill Park which was opened to the public on 30th June 1887. A committee was set-up to raise the necessary funds to buy the land and open the place to the public as part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (50th). With much hard word the asking price of £4,000 was collected by various events, raffles and public subscriptions and paid to the owner Robert Warren in late June. The land had always been a popular spot for picnics and walks, and the committee was mindful of Sir Charles Cameron’s (Dublin City Health Officer) comments that the benefits of ‘opening up new lungs in the city would be incalculable’.

The Mapas Obelisk

The Mapas Obelisk

Colonel John Mapas owned the land in 1740 and built Mapas House soon afterwards. After the particularly harsh winter of 1741-42 he arranged for workers to build an obelisk on top of the hill. This helped keep workers busy and for them to get some much-needed money. The men also erected the wall that still surrounds the park. The obelisk stands 173 metres (510 feet) above the sea, from where the viewer can enjoy a fantastic 360 degree panorama. On a clear day it is possible to look to the East and see the coast of Wales.

Out to sea

Out to sea

Just below the obelisk is the Pyramid, a set of steps erected by Robert Warren, where the viewer can sit, relax and take in the sweep of Dublin Bay with the beautiful Sorrento Terrace and Dalkey Island beyond. There is much to see from here, but the park is also popular with walkers and those interested in local flora and fauna.

View of Killiney Bay to Bray

View of Killiney Bay to Bray

 

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Footsteps – a short story

It was while walking by the sea that the idea came to me. I have often found that having the water rippling beside me helps in the formation of ideas, or maybe it’s just coincidental. A friend said that it had to do with our make-up of over 97% water, and he might just have something there. Whatever, a stroll along the beach, with the bubbling water a constant companion, has always been a place for reflection, imagination and quiet.

And, of course, relaxation.

Sandymount Strand - on a clear day....

Sandymount Strand – on a clear day….

Some time ago, on a beautiful spring morning, I was walking on Sandymount Strand when an idea floated into my mind, just like a wave top coming ashore. It is one of my favourite places in Dublin to go and ‘be alone with my thoughts’, such is the openness and calm to be found there, especially in the early morning. As I walked slowly along the sandy beach towards Ringsend, I gazed over to Howth and the almost mirror-still water that stretched to the horizon. How often had other people looked out at this scene from where I was now standing, I thought, and breathed another lungful of clear, tangy air?

And then it came to me.

People had been coming here for years, since time immemorial, gazing out over the very scene that was mine to behold. For just in front of me was a line of footsteps in the sand, an image that had not changed since the first person left similar marks so very long ago. The French have a saying for this: ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’ which translates as ‘the more it changes, the more they it stays the same.’ That seemed about right as I watched a wave rush in and cover the footsteps in its watery embrace, removing them so completely as to leave no sign of their brief existence.

James Joyce

James Joyce

As the water receded, smoothing the sand into a new canvas awaiting its next mark, I remembered that James Joyce had a fondness for this place and included it in his most famous book, Ulysses. In chapter three, the young hero, Stephen Dedalus, walks along the strand and wonders about imagination, thought and sensation. The feel of the words is meant, in Joyce’s hand, to be fluid, hence the setting by the sea, where all things move from birth to death and, finally, renewal. This transience can lead to something permanent, and it is this cycle of renewal that really got a hold of me as I stepped quietly into the cold waters. I immediately left a mark that was just as quickly erased. The thought that there are things that could not be changed had a strange, comforting feeling. Joyce understood this better than most and allowed Stephen ask the question ‘Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?’ It was not something that I could answer, but I liked the idea that he, like all of us who walked on the strand, had ‘our moment.’ We all leave a mark, but as to whether it will last into eternity, well, that is for others to say. In the meantime, I keep walking on the strand, not so much in the hope of seeing Stephen Dedalus, but in anticipation of the soothing, dreamy rhythm of the gurgling water.

...on the seashore

…on the seashore

 

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