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Back to Dublin

Of course, after we got back to Dublin, we began thinking of what we could have done. Someone who has made it told us that there is a path that leads directly into the cave, but it's hard to see because it appears to end just as the hill gets the steepest. Mywatt was all for swimming across and climbing up, rather than down. This is apparently what St. Kevin did, because I've read of him "crossing the lake without a boat," which must mean that he swam. He certainly couldn't have jumped across, although, like my great-grandfather, he might have done it in two jumps.

It was good to be back in Dublin. There are so many more possibilities there. Being in the country is good for a change of air, but the city is the place to enjoy yourself, to see new things, and to shop.

Before we came to Ireland, I asked every Irish person I knew or met if they had any advice about places to go or things to do, and one man told me, "Get out of Dublin as quick as you can," meaning that the country is the place to be.

But I wouldn't give that advice. It's a good city, and worth whatever time you can put into it. However, I won't say much about Dublin and the things that you can do there, because I'd only be repeating what you can read in any guidebook. I'll only mention a few things you might otherwise miss.

One thing that you're sure to miss is Nelson's Pillar. This famous monument used to stand on O'Connell Street, and every tourist felt obliged to climb the thing, much as visitors to New York feel obliged to climb the Statute of Liberty. And, in both cases, it is something that locals never do. In fact, Dubliners were disgusted with me when I said that I wanted to climb Nelson's Pillar. They told me with some satisfaction that it was blown up a number of years ago, and no one will climb it again.

I think the Nelson in question is old "Kiss Me, Hardy" himself, but I couldn't swear to it.

We spent one good morning - on the recommendation of a friend - looking at the various bank buildings downtown, and this is worth your while as well.

And don't neglect the National Gallery. It is a well-laid out and comfortable museum, where you don't suffer from the press of the crowd. The collection is remarkable. Unfortunately the Spanish section was not open while we were there; if we had been with more people we could have asked them to open it for us.

One of the surprises of the National Gallery is its restaurant. In my experience, museum restaurants are like airport restaurants: bad food at high prices. This one, however, is a grand exception. There are so many good choices that it is often difficult to decide what to eat. It is the sort of place where you tend to eat more than you originally planned, because everything is so tempting.


The National Gallery also has a very good Italian collection that features a number of good Renaissance works.

Among the early Italian paintings, there is an Assumption of Mary Magdalen that caught my historical interest. It is a 14th-century production, and one of the least attractive paintings in the room. This in itself is interesting, since painters often used the Magdalen as an excuse to paint an attractive, voluptuous woman. Usually her sensuous aspect is enhanced by her traditional penitential garment - her own hair. Mary Magdalen has often appeared as a unhorsed Lady Godiva. Unfortunately, this particular painting comes from a period when painters had a very limited knowledge of anatomy, and so the Magdalen looks as if she is wearing a beige potato sack, as she ascends into the sky.

My reason for stopping at this painting was, that it is in the 14th century that paintings of the Assumption of the Virgin begin to appear. As far as I have seen, all earlier paintings that show the end of Mary's earthly life are called The Death of the Virgin, and there are plenty of these paintings both in Italian museums and abroad. My conclusion is that no one had any idea that Mary had flown to heaven until the 1300's. The painter of this painting apparently did not get the news quite right, and thought it was the other Mary who was honored in this way. Of course, it is possible that some apocryphal life of Mary Magadelen includes just such an episode, and this provided the basis for the painting. Who knows?

What else can I say about Dublin? I can repeat something I heard about clothes, and tell you something about Guinness.

We were advised by a wise Dublin woman to look at the clothes in the Dublin shops and notice the prices so that we would have a good basis for comparison when we shopped in the country. Because of this, we knew very well what a great deal we got in Glencolmcille and what a good deal we got in Blarney. We also saw - in the clothes Mywatt looked at - that the styles and the quality of the linen and lacework were much higher and finer in Dublin.

Two Words about Guinness

Whenever Guinness is served, no matter where in the world, someone will always say, "You have to go to Ireland to taste real Guinness. It's a completely different taste." But then they leave you utterly in the dark as to what the difference could be.

There are probably many differences that the connoisseur of beer could point out, but the main difference is smoothness. Bottled Guinness, and Guinness not properly tapped, has a bite and bitterness that is absent in places where they pull "real" Guinness.

But even in Ireland people talk about where the best Guinness is to be found. "For some people, it becomes like the search for the Holy Grail," I was told.

In our case, after a few unguided, more or less accidental (but always very good) pints of Guinness, we were sent to Mulligan's, on Poolbeg Street, which is not far from the O'Connell St. Bridge and the Bank of Ireland.

It is not the most refined place on earth. In fact, it was described as "your basic pub" and "a spit-on-the-floor kind of place," but it was not the worst place I've been. In fact, it was not so bad. The people were friendly enough.

But the Guinness was the best I had in all of Ireland. An Cruiscin Lan and the bar in Shannonbridge came very close, though. And really, it was good everywhere, and always better than what I'd had elsewhere in the world.

The creaminess of Mulligan's Guinness was unsurpassed, and all of the things that people dislike about Guinness were just not there: the bitter bite, the funny flavor, the complaints from the stomach after you swallow. Here was Guinness as it is meant to be, with a harmonious, pleasing flavor. And if you drink it very slowly, you will enjoy it even more.

Also, the better Guinness takes time to draw. If you see a bartender draw your pint in one motion, you will know, even without tasting it, that it does not represent the acme of tasting pleasure. Good Guinness takes three, or at least two, trips to the tap, plus intervals of rest in between. The first time, the pint glass is filled by a whitish substance that immediately begins falling in the glass, falling from the bottom to the top. The whitish substance turns atom by atom into a brown liquid that falls. After ten or twelve minutes or more, the glass is nearly full of liquid, but there is too much head. The bartender knocks part of the foam off, then fills the glass to the top. He may or may not have to do this a second time. In either case, when the glass is set before you, there is still some settling going on. If you watch carefully, just after all the settling seems to have stopped, the Guinness very abruptly turns black. Now it is ready to drink.

If you drink it very slowly, in small sips, you will notice many aspects of physical enjoyment that are quite interesting. Take one small sip. Wait, and listen to your body. Take another small sip. Wait, and listen again. You will find, if you do this through an entire pint, that there is some sort of settling or diffusion that takes place inside your two-legged pint that is analogous to what happened in the glass.

Three Questions of Ireland

One thing I had to do before we left Ireland was to ask three questions I was unable to resolve on my own:

1. Why are bars divided into two rooms? Nearly every bar has a door into which the bartender periodically disappears, and if you peak through the door, you'll see another bar on the other side, with its set of taps and bottles, and people drinking and eating and carrying on, just like you are.

2. Why is it that the worst and slowest drivers in Ireland all have a red "L" plastered on their back window? I had begun to wonder whether there was a society called the Low-Gear Solidarity, a group of people who'd undertaken a solemn vow to never go above second gear.

3. What is the difference between Coffee Black and Coffee White? When someone would ask, "Would you like coffee black?" and you reply, "No, I'd like a little cream," they would pause and say, "Do you want coffee white, or coffee black with milk in it?" or "Do you mind putting the milk in yourself?"

It turns out, to answer question no. 2 first, that the worst drivers generally do have a red L in the window because it stands for Learner. Some have more to learn than others. The incredible thing is that there are so many of them. I think we must have seen at least ten a day, and it was never a happy encounter. The traffic would be slow, and sure enough, one of the Red-L League would be at the root of it, driving at the head of ten or more cars and trucks on a narrow road. God bless them all.

The pubs are divided into two parts: a saloon, or bar - I forget the word - and a lounge. Traditionally, ladies would not enter a saloon unless their sense of morals enjoyed a bit of variety. The lounge is usually a nicer and better appointed space, and hopefully one in which a drink can be taken without sullying one's reputation.

Coffee black is ordinary coffee, and you can add whatever you like to it: milk, sugar, cream of tartar... Coffee white is coffee made with a 50/50 mixture of milk and water instead of simply water. Coffee is a rare enough item anyhow in the countryside. I remember vividly one morning spent mainly in trying to find coffee. Tea is usually taken. It's good tea, and some people do make it strong enough to satisfy the coffee urge, but tea is tea. In Dublin, however, it is easy to find good coffee. I recommend Rombout's, when it's available. But if you are driving around the island, and you cannot start your day without coffee, you may want to carry a percolator with you.

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