Saturday, May 29, 2010

From the GAA to Glasnevin - A Day in North Dublin

One of the joys of jet lag is that you wake up wickedly early on the first day and sometimes for several days after arrival. Granted, this might not seem remotely wonderful, but it does have its advantages. Specifically, there is almost nobody around!

In my case, I started the day by wandering around with my camera to snap a few photos of Trinity College where we are staying as well as of its immediate environs.

Molly Malone is famous around Dublin for the shellfish she sells in a traditional song. One wonders whether she is known by tourists (and especially male ones) for something else altogether.

After my early morning wander, the group met at what quickly became our regular meeting point just outside Trinity's "Buttery."

The first stop on our journey into north Dublin was Croke Park and the GAA Museum. Croke Park is the spiritual home of Gaelic sport (Gaelic Football and Hurling) in Ireland. The stadium is also the fourth largest in Europe.

Our guide seemed like a fine fellow...

A Gaelic pitch is roughly the size of three soccer fields.

At Croke Park they are justly proud of their grass which is painstakingly cared for by an expert ground crew. Visitors are allowed to stand next to the pitch but NOT on it!

The locker rooms are lined with jerseys from every county that participates in the GAA. Both rooms are identical because Croke Park is home to ALL teams, not just Dublin.

On the tour, visitors get to stand where the winning team stands. Our crew was justly proud of its "victory."

Once back inside the museum, students had a chance to try their hand with a hurley (an ash stick used in the game of hurling). All brave enough to face the laughter of their friends found it tremendously difficult. It is. Even so, the lads were great sports about it.

Liam, our driver and a former player from Cork who played at Croke Park during the late 1950s, gave us a short lesson.

Once we finished at Croke Park, it was on to a less lively location—Glasnevin Cemetery. Glasnevin (also called Prospect Cemetery) is the permanent home of many of Ireland's most significant artists and politicians. It very literally tells Ireland's history in stone. In this next photo, you can see it in the distance. Look for the round tower at the center of the image.

When I first started visiting Glasnevin in 2002 it was of precious little interest to most Irish people. Since that time, and as the cemetery runs out of plots to sell (allowing payment of expenses), a decision was made to build a fancy new museum and to hire Shane (the guide and cemetery historian) to increase the number of tours he gives from one per week to several per day. He's not only one of the best guides in Ireland, he's (surprisingly) one of the most lively. A rockstar of the hereafter.

Some of the stone carving in Glasnevin is truly amazing. This panel is from a high cross carved by James Pearse--father of Padraig, the famous 1916 revolutionary.

Glasnevin exists because Daniel O'Connell (the "Mighty Dan," the "Liberator") passed legislation allowing for the creation of a new Catholic burial space. Despite its legislative origins, O'Connell demanded that the graveyard be non-denominational.

When he died at the height of the Famine, O'Connell was buried at Glasnevin (though his heart was sent to Rome as per his request). Originally he found himself at the bottom of the cemetery. During the Gaelic revival, however, he was reburied with great pomp at the top of the cemetery under a newly built round tower. Our tour took us right into the burial chamber and many touched his coffin for luck. Family members are stacked in an adjacent chamber.

Liam came along on the tour. Not only is he interested in everything, he's a tremendous source of knowledge about all manner of things. A brilliant fellow and a fantastic addition to our trip! Still, if he shows up at your local pub for trivia night, just give up and buy him a pint. You'll be all the richer for it.

Tour completed, we dined at the cafe and wandered the museum. It starts with handy display about grave-digging (a growth industry, I'm sure) and a very informative lesson in body snatching which is not as lucrative as it once was. Body snatchers (called "sack 'em up men" in Dublin) could make a years wage simply by stealing one fresh corpse. The fresher the better and therein was the problem. Some less scrupulous characters in Edinburgh and London started manufacturing bodies. In horror, the Brits quickly passed anti-snatching legislation and, just like that, the grave robbing industry came to an end.

With our tours done for the day, and before heading on to hear a lecture by Mike Cronin (Boston College), the leading historian of Gaelic sport in Ireland, we stopped at the "Gravediggers" public house next to Glasnevin. This pub has changed little since the nineteenth century and students saw how older public houses are divided along gender lines. A screen allowed men to drink without being seen by women wandering past the door. Meanwhile, a lounge next door was available for the ladies. We did not observe the gender conventions and drank in the men's room. Wait, that doesn't sound quite right. We drank in the main bar. There, that's better.

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