Irish Interlude: Part One

So here I am in Dublin, en route to a look at places my wife’s Scots-Irish ancestors once called home. I’.ll spare you most of the travelogue, though you can save yourself some dough by skipping the Book of the Kells exhibit at Trinity College. As one of the outspoken cabbies of the capital told me (too late) — “Eight euros to see one page of a book under glass? Forget it.” And I cleaned that up a bit.

On the other hand, the National Museum of Archaeology with ancient gold and Celtic and Viking artifacts, the National Art Museum and the Chester Beatty Library of rare books would be worth a pretty stiff admission price and they’re FREE. And any price would be cheap for a night at the Abbey Theater, founded by Yeats and Lady Gregory and host to premieres of many a famous Irish play.

We saw a fabulous performance of Twelfth Night. I was surprised they allowed that English author in the door, but was glad they did. The direction was too clever by half in places, but the ensemble was so expert it didn’t matter. I have never seen a better Olivia and Malvolio, Sir Andrew and Feste were also first rate.

In all, Dublin is a fine small capital city. It seems to operate well, is pleasant to walk, clusters most of its important sites compactly. The people are unfailingly cheerful and welcoming and it has accumulated its share of appealing architecture, public monuments and pretty parks since it was founded by Vikings more than a millennium ago,

And a river runs through it which is almost always good in Europe since they generally make it possible to stroll along their banks. This is in marked contrast to America since we so often seem to have polluted our waterways and then walled them off from the populous with booming highways so that you know a river is alongside the city but never catch a glimpse of the poor forlorn thing.

As we were in town an election was two weeks off and the place was papered with signs for candidates of seemingly dozens of parties. A former cop was driving my cab one day and asked where I was from. Small world, a cousin of his is a lawyer in my hometown. Lawyers led to politics and he was profane and funny on most topics but uncharacteristically brief on politics. “They all promise the moon, don’t they?” With the clear implication that no results were to be expected no matter who won.

But if he and the Irish are cynical about the pols, they seem pretty upbeat otherwise. The place appears to have recovered from a near death experience in the Great Recession. New rail lines are being built, the bike lanes are full, and the economy seems to be picking up steam.

The streets are full of the young. It is a university town so students are about and lend the city a youthful vitality. One weekday night as I was heading home for bed, the bars and clubs up and down the street were just getting cranked up. Mr. Byrne, the cop turned cabbie, glanced over at a driver talking on a cellphone and cursed the “#%@* Irish drivers” with, a grin.

It’s a lovely town.

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