Travel Journal April 6, 1999
Dublin: Ancient History.


Today was the first day since I've been in Dublin that the shops were actually open. What a transformation!

I noticed in some cases, draft horses are still used on city streets.

My first item on the agenda was to see the Book of Kells. Here's the front of Trinity College.

Trinity College was founded by Elizabeth I in order to educate the sons of the Protestant gentry. Catholics were of course forbidden to attend. Centuries later, when that ban was lifted, the Catholic bishops forbade their members to attend; That restriction was only lifted in 1970.

Here's the view from inside the front gate.

Unfortunately, the "old library" where the book is kept was undergoing restoration, so it was covered in scaffolding and not really work photographing. Here's what the more modern building next to it looks like:

Inside the old library, there is a surprisingly modern tourist shop, filled with lots of books on Irish history as well as the usual knicknacks.

It costs £4.50 to see the actual book; This gets you into a museum-like exhibit "Turning Darkness into Light", filled with various audio-visual displays telling about the book's history and construction. (I suppose all of this is needed to cut down on the amount of traffic; The Book of Kells is Dublin's second most popular tourist attraction, the first being the Dublin zoo.) Of course, no photos are allow - I was expecting this, but still rather dissapointed.

I'm glad to see that one of the displays has that little poem, written by an 9th century Irish monk, about his cat Pangur Ban.

The book itself is stored in a case along with the books of Durrow and Armagh, in very dim light, as you would expect. Still, it is most definately worth seeing. The Kells book appears to have been divided into two seperate books, so that you can actually see four seperate pages. The level of detail is remarkable.

After the books, we were led upstairs to the Long Room, which is a fantastic barrel-vaulted gallery of books, books, and more books - all of the apparently very old. Also are rows of marble busts of various scholarly figures, such as Plato, Shakespeare, and Milton. In this room is also the oldest surviving harp in Ireland - this is a marvelous harp, in great condition, with many intricate carvings. Legend says that it was Brian Borue's harp, although it appears to come from a date a little bit later than that.

After finishing with that, I decided that since I was at Trinity College anyway, I would see if I could investigate something that had been puzzling me. I have been told that Ireland is now the leading exporter of software in Europe. Yet from a population standpoint it is a tiny country, less than three and a half million, compared to England's 50 million. Of that number, a million live in Dublin and another million live in Northern Ireland, so the rest of the country has only one and a half million people!

I had thought that perhaps a visit to the Trinity College computer science department would clear up this mystery, however after spending several hours investigating I wasn't able to find any person to talk to who had a clue on this matter. I was able to find the CS department, but it was mainly deserted, inhabited only by a few professors who seemed absorbed in their work and not amenable to interruption. I wasn't allowed in any of the libraries (not being a student), and the lady at the information desk had no useful suggestions. So I gave up.

Being interested in history, I suppose I shouldn't complain, but it seems to me that in all of the U.K. and Ireland, the only tourist attractions I can find that feature modern subjects are museums of modern art. Specifically, I want to see the technology and industry of these countries as well as their history, and this is very hard to find if you're on the standard tourist track.

Next I visited the Irish National Museum, just a few blocks away. Again, no photographs were allowed, which was unexpected, given that the British Museum allows photographs. However, it was definately worth seeing. Highlights included the Irish Gold exhibit (a large collection of early celtic ornaments and gold jewelry), the Armagh Chalice, and the Brooch of Tara. There was also a special exhibit upstairs on Viking ship building, and a display of military uniforms from the 1916 uprising.

Later that evening, I walked around the town, sampling the Dublin night life. Unforunately, this consists mostly of pub-crawling of various sorts. There are more pubs in Dublin than I would have thought possible. While this is very charming, I happen to think that the local attitude towards alcohol and cigarettes is one of more unfortunate aspects of Irish culture. In Dublin, being alcoholic to the point of self-destruction seems to be accepted and tolerated. And pretty much all of the young people smoke, which I consider tragic.