Sunday, May 30, 2010

Southwest Dublin: Kilmainham and Guinness Storehouse

Today's organized route was less formal, just two planned stops: Kilmainham Jail and the Guinness Storehouse. (I expected students to visit sites relevant to a paper that they're writing in the afternoon.) Kilmainham was first on the list.

I admit that Kilmainham, with its terrifying serpents over the entryway, is one of my favorite sites in Dublin. Partly this has to do with the fact that my very first publication dealt with the jail, but above all it is due to the fact that the prison is absolutely fascinating. It opened in 1796 and subsequently housed virtually every major revolutionary figure in Irish history as well as thousands of ordinary men and women who stole bread or spoke out of turn. Like Glasnevin, Kilmainham is a history lesson in stone. It speaks about the Irish past, but also about the history of prisons which evolved from metering out justice on the body to endeavoring to reform the mind over the course of about fifty years at the end of the eighteenth century. Kilmainham features dungeon like cells and a brightly lit "panopticon."

Of course, the prison is most known and celebrated as a symbol of the Irish struggle for freedom from English rule. The tour of the jail closely follows the story of Irish independence and most of the stories are of revolutionary heroes. The tour ends in the prison yard where 16 leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were shot. The locations of these shootings are marked by two black crosses.

Across the street from the prison is a sculpture called "Proclamation." It depicts the figures of the leaders of the Easter Rising with black blindfolds on, their sentence written at their feet. In the middle of the circle is a bronze reproduction of the "Proclamation of the Republic." Somebody left behind a candle. At first I found it a bit ridiculous, but as I spent time looking at it from a variety of angles, I came to really like it. Notice the bullet holes in each figure.

With Kilmainham behind us, we headed a few short blocks to the Guinness Storehouse—Ireland's most popular tourist attraction. Over the course of several floors, visitors are taught about the ingredients in Guinness (using a waterfall and large displays of hops and barley), the brewing process, Guinness advertising, and a host of other topics. The whole thing is over-the-top and a bit overblown. More challenging, it more or less makes Irishness equivalent to Guinness—something about which I would be deeply concerned were I Irish.

After making one's way through the exhibits, the Guinness Storehouse ends with a bit that is actually really quite nice—a rooftop pub with 360 degree views of Dublin. Best view in the city!

With the organized portion of the day done, the students hopped on the bus to explore Dublin for the rest of the day on their own...

As for me, I headed off to take pictures--showing one of our group the way to St. Michan's Church which is famous for a collection of mummies as well as for an organ apparently once played by Handel himself.

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