We showed up in Dublin on Friday afternoon and, after grabbing a very cheese-laden lunch in the Bad Ass Cafe and exploring Temple Bar in the rain, we headed over to Trinity College, which is a veritable sanctuary of peace and serenity in the heart of bustling Dublin. Despite being laden with backpacks, bags and a mandolin, we made a beeline for the Old Library, paid for a pair of tickets and entered the exhibition where the Book of Kells is kept .
Ah, the Book of Kells. I’ve seen the illuminations from the Book of Kells reproduced a million different times, on everything from posters to tea towels - heck, I even made my own hand-drawn copies of illuminated letters from the Book of Kells for a Latin project I did in high school - but as well as I thought I knew the book, I still wasn’t really prepared for seeing it “in the flesh”. The knotwork is so intricate and so very tiny; every line that twists and weaves across the page is as fine as a hair. The Book of Kells, along with several other “pocket gospels” and illuminated manuscripts (not least the Book of Durrow), is kept in a glass case in a darkened room, and I hovered over the case in awe, scrutinizing the perfect, confident pen strokes, marveling at the richness of the reds, the depth of the blues and the sparkle of the golds, and thinking of the monk’s hands that created this stunning work over 1000 years ago. It was humbling, moving and uplifting all at the same time - like all great art is.
That wasn’t all that the Old Library had to offer, however. After moving out of the Book of Kells exhibit, you enter the Long Room . The Long Room is, indeed, one heck of a long room with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and walls that are lined with almost a quarter of a million of the oldest books at Trinity College. In its own way, the Long Room was as breathtaking as the Book of Kells. When I walked in and saw those bookshelves reaching up to the ceiling, packed with countless leather-bound tomes all nestled together, whispering their secrets to one another in the heavy, dusty silence, I literally stopped dead in my tracks. Jeremy turned to me with a big smile and said, “This is the place for you!” And indeed, I probably could have spent all day there, drinking in the sight and smell of so many lovely old books.
I did finally allow myself to be dragged away from the Old Library, and we went off to have some coffee, meet up with Jeremy’s old school friend Diarmaid and get ourselves all dolled up for an entirely different type of cultural experience: Ministry at the Temple Bar Music Centre. It’s hard to write complete sentences to describe the sonic assault that is a Ministry concert, so I guess I’ll just say that it has been many, many years since I danced so crazily at a concert, or got so drenched in sweat at a concert, or have been so tempted to throw myself into a mosh pit at a concert. It was a loud, hot, brilliant event, and after it was all over, we dragged our aching bodies to a pub to quench our thirst with frosty beverages and talk about life, the universe and everything well into the night.
The next day started understandably slowly, with coffee and bagels in a bustling cafe, followed by a pleasant stroll to a great little food market. There, we nibbled on smoked salmon and mackerel, had a bit of sushi and miso soup (which is remarkably restorative after a rough night), ate fresh Clare oysters with crumbly brown bread and cool white wine, sipped on a strawberry smoothie, noshed an organic burger - and then left the market before we were tempted by any other food (unbelievably, I was able to resist the roast vegetable tarts, fresh organic strawberries and cream, samosas, burritos, cheese, cakes, breads and hot apple juice with whiskey…).
Strengthened by the victuals, we wandered down to the National Museum of Ireland . Jeremy and I had been to the museum once before, several years ago; that time around, we had had about 15 minutes to run through and catch a glimpse of some of the museum’s fantastic treasures. This time around, we were able to stroll through at a leisurely pace to marvel at the ancient swords and shields, the fascinating remnants of Viking life - and case after case of gold, gold and more gold.
The museum is packed with gorgeous objects, but there were three definite highlights for me: the Lurgan longboat, which is an enormous vessel carved from a single oak tree; the Tara Brooch, which is a gorgeous, delicate piece of work; and, above all, the Ardagh Chalice . Much like with the Book of Kells, I found it nearly impossible to tear my eyes away from the Ardagh Chalice . The gold knotwork on the chalice is as intricate, delicate and perfect as that in the Book of Kells, and I was utterly stunned by the metalworking skill that went into making such an object. If I could smuggle one thing out of the museum, I think that would be it.
To round out the day, we grabbed some cake and coffee in the lovely new wing of the National Gallery, took in a cricket game and a gin and tonic near Trinity College, and slurped some noodles at Wagamama before spending a quiet evening in with some bottles of good red wine. The next day was quiet and relaxing as well: a huge, delicious Sunday roast, followed by a tour of the Guinness Storehouse and pints of the black stuff in the Gravity Bar, where we took in the fabulous panoramic view and watched the sun go down over the city. It was the perfect way to end a wonderful weekend in Dublin.