Did you get a card that looks like this?
I’d love to hear from you about how the card fared in the mail. Did the spots get scratched in the postal machinery? Did any of the spots fall off (there should be 25)?
Also, I’d love to hear any feedback you have about the card. Is there something that can be done to improve future versions? Would you like to get future postcard experiments? If so, mention that in the comments, too.
Tuesday, our last day in Belfast, was set-aside for more research. Having located the city library on Sunday, we now set out to see what we could find.
What we found was the most helpful librarian we encountered on our trip.
When we got to the research floor, I launched into me spiel for what seemed like the umpteenth time. She looked at me like I was a bit of a lunatic. My sister thinks I did sound like a lunatic. I remain unconvinced about my own lunacy, but, will allow speculation upon my sanity, because, I frequently question it myself.
Eventually, between the two of us, we managed to convey why we were there, and what we were looking for, and she actually became engaged in our search, and interested in what we were trying to accomplish, which netted us a number of useful bits of context. The end result of this conversation was that we were not
going to find what we were looking for at this library. We needed to go to the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). This office was located in, you guessed it, the Titanic Quarter.
We set out, grateful that we now knew the way that was not the long way, and we were soon at the office which hovered feet from those Harland and Wolf cranes. Like the Dublin city Library, we got access cards, and in this case, with our photos on them. For FREE. Our cards unlocked the research rooms, and provided an ID for accessing their online databases, and with these cards, we can access those same databases from home.
Here’s where you can imagine another library montage that looks way more interesting than it actually is. We looked through microfiche, and we looked through indices, and figured out how things were organized. Dad doozed a bit, and after we woke him (he was snoring) he took out the notebook I’d given him, and he started to work on the our very curious project, which I’ve not yet mentioned, and will explain later.
In the end, we did find some really interesting documents, which may, or may not have anything to do with anything, but, were worth getting photocopies of. After many hours, we finally gave up for the day.
On the way back, we stopped at the movie theater by the Belfast Ice Arena (they have a hockey team), and it was practically deserted, and the list of movie options we were interested in each required an hour of waiting, and so we gave up and headed back toward the hotel.
In honor of our last night in Belfast, we decided to go eat in the hotel’s restaurant, where we had pretty much, the best meal of the trip. Three courses. I had a roast pork dish, and a sticky toffee pudding for dessert.
The following day, we’d make our way back to Dublin, and to Limerick. From Limerick, and, after a last night at Limerick, we were heading home. That’s a downer, I know. Sorry.
In Belfast, the city decided to celebrate the holiday by having a marathon. Frankly, I’m against the idea that running for 3 times an already insane number of miles. This is not a way to celebrate anything. We were not in the marathon. Instead, we were all gathering in front of the Europa, once again, to meet a travel coach that would take us along the coast to the Giant’s Causeway.
The bus left relatively early for us-non-runner-types, as we ate breakfast, we could see the runners reporting to the start, at Belfast City Hall, just a block from where we watched, comfortably drinking hot tea and toast and sausages and all the proper ingredients of the famous Ulster Fry. Admittedly, after however many days of Irish breakfast, there were several items I had grown weary of. The tea and the toast were not among them.
The bus took us first to Carrickfergus castle, which is a Norman stronghold, (yes, King John had a hand in this one, too.) and the port where William III (yes, King Billy again) came to shore. He siege-d the place, they surrendered. Anyway, they now have a statue of him by the castle.
This was another castle we just stopped at for pictures. Which is probably more than fine, given how long it to to tour the last Norman castle.
From here, we head along the Antrim coast, with the tour guide pointing through the rain at some of the Game of Thrones filming locations. No, I didn’t get any pictures of them, as we didn’t stop, and I was not really in the right spot on the bus. Yes, they were amazing.
Our next stop, and this was an actual stop, where we got out and walked around and stuff, was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. They tell the tourists that the locals used to fish for salmon off of this bridge, for hundreds of years. The current bridge is a much safer version of the bit of hanging rope that was the bridge when there was supposedly fishing off of it. I’m thinking that there is no good reason to fish off a tiny little dangly bit of rope when you have things called “boats.”
The site is managed by the National Trust, and you can give them £5 to cross the bridge. We opted to watch and take pictures, and we didn’t pay the fee. It just seemed a pointless, touristy exercise. We did, however, appreciate the views. You can see Rathlin Island and Scotland from this part of the coast, and the scenery of the coastline is remarkable. I know this, because I just remarked upon it.
It’s a decent hike to the bridge from the parking lot, and we didn’t really linger, because our next stop was Old Bushmills Distillery, which was the place we were going to eat lunch. I was really excited about lunch at this point. Yum, lunch!
Most of our pictures of this bit of coast line, we took on the way back to the parking lot from the bridge.
When we got back to the parking lot, I listened to one of the park’s employees talk about the wind and its effect on the bridge, and he was saying that this bridge is much more sturdy than previous incarnations (and I’ve seen the pictures of previous versions, and he’s not wrong about that.). He also mentioned that it’s not nearly as interesting or challenging a thing to cross anymore, the new bridge was one that is less likely to have people who get on it and freak out and can’t go forward nor back. Sometimes, these people have had to be rescued by boat.
We headed to the famous distillery, and their cafe. It was pretty packed, but, they get people through the line in a pretty efficient fashion. I had a really fantastic beef stew. It was, in all honesty, one of the best meals we had. We didn’t do much in the way of seeing the distillery, which is mostly fine, but, we did see these not actually actively making whiskey barrels and the grounds and I took a few pictures.
After lunch, it was time to face the wind.
We went to the Giant’s Causeway. The audio tour on the way to see the geological wonder that is the causeway mention this specific bend in the road as the windiest spot in Ireland. Having now been to many windy spots on the island, I can say this was, by far, the windiest spot I had encountered. And, I’ll even go so far as to say that it’s the windiest place I have ever been in my life. A Japanese man took off a relatively heavy pair of prescription sunglasses, and they blew away, and the man and the lady (I would guess at her being his wife) gestured wildly toward me and talked to me in excited Japanese which I confidently interpreted from the “international language” method. I was the closest person to them to retrieve them, and I only just manage to get them before they blew further down the road. I am known for exaggeration at times, but, this is one one of them.
Anyway, they were very grateful to have the glasses back.
It was somewhat crowded, and I can only imagine what the place is like in the full tourist season. Dad had absolutely no interest in walking among the structures, given that there were wet spots (it being a coast and all) and the wind, well, the combination is certainly hazardous. The combo was definitely a risk, and I’m going to admit there were a few close calls for me.
We took many pictures, and we wandered around, even sat on the rocks for a bit, which is much easier than walking around on that windy damp rock.
Eventually, we did head back. My sister and I wanted to take the tram. Dad thought spending £1 on a ride back up the hill was a rip-off, and sheer laziness. My sister and I lost. We must fight the wind. Up the hill. It was strong enough to support our weight, if we had the guts to try it. We didn’t, but, I’m certain it would’ve held us upright. It was a long, hard walk up the hill, and all I wanted was something to drink at the top of it. So, I got a drink, and sat in their cafe.
We left then, and headed back down the coast, towards Belfast. Another full day come and gone.
Tomorrow, we were back on the research road.
We had built in time in Northern Ireland for research purposes, in case the trail from our research indicated that County Down was, in fact the correct place to find information about Brinsley Barnes. Downpatrick, being the governmental center of County Down, was where we planned to go on this day.
Except for one little detail. It’s a Sunday. A bank holiday Sunday, to be more precise.
We went to the bus station, and looked at time tables, and given that we’re looking at a Sunday, it takes a bit over an hour to get there from Belfast. It’s not a large city, which put the likelihood of records-type places being open were slim to none, meaning that it would probably be a lot of bus for very little to show for it. I had originally had this idea of seeing both the St. Patrick’s Cathedrals, and hiking to the place where the famous Saint is said to be buried. As we stood in the very quiet bus station and debated the trip, which was a mere £9, our enthusiasm for going anywhere just sort of dribbled away. We decided, instead, to see more of Belfast.
Because it was still the off-season, we had hop-on/hop-off tour companies genially competing for our custom, which lead to something of a bidding war, both in terms of places visited and discounts off the cost for three tourists in search of something to tour. In the end, we picked the tour company that promised cemeteries, when the other companies did not. Also, they gave us like a 25% discount.
I think we were mostly not interested in the “hopping-off” part of things. Laziness, perhaps was ruling the day, or maybe we mostly enjoying all the sitting involved in the staying on the bus, and completing the tour.
We also soon realized that Belfast is much smaller than we’d had in our brains. Like, this is the view from the “farthest” out point we went on the tour, and while we are on a hill, looking toward the shipyards, it’s clear that when they were building the Titanic, you could pretty much see it from anywhere in town. If you’re not convinced, just look for the big, yellow Harland and Wolf building cranes in the top right of the picture just to the left. Of course, I’m just now realizing I hadn’t posted a picture of the cranes in the previous post, so, maybe I ought to post a picture of those. Then, you should be able to spot them easily.
From the castle, we went to see the murals and the neighborhoods at the center of The Troubles. The murals are hard to capture in one frame, and as we drove past backyards full of happy children playing, and people walking about, I didn’t feel much like taking photos. The were some really sad signs of a that time, and it feels like a barely scabbed-over wound. In the picture below, the empty areas separated by fences are dividers between parts of this neighborhood. It’s hard to tell from this picture, but, there were remains of buildings with battle scars in them on the left side of that chain-link fence. on the opposite side of that lot, is a wall of murals.
I could barely look at the murals as we drove by them. They seemed so disconnected from the reality of the homes around, where the scars of the past still screamed to be heard. Those broken walls and empty lots filled with trash, so different from all the rest of the city, were much more powerful than falsely cheery images painted skin deep on a white-washed wall. The reality of the pain is not so easily glossed over.
Our guide was carefully neutral, and noted that there was blame to be had on both sides, but, like the damaged neighborhood, there was much more in what he didn’t say than what he did say. His tone and demeanor were much more relaxed when we had gotten out of the residential area and were on our way back to the city center.
As we got the edge of the city center, the guide pointed out this painting, which naturally denoted the border of the part of the city loyal to the crown. It is, of course, a portrait of William of Orange, the Dutch king, who is known informally as “King Billy” in these parts. He invaded England and deposed King James in the “Glorious Revolution,” taking the crown as William III. This is the William of “William and Mary,” and the Victor of the Battle of the Boyne. Basically, if you’ve never heard of him, you have lots of reading to do.
Waving farewell to the King William, we turn to see the Europa Hotel looming just ahead. Our hotel is a mere two blocks from this large hotel, with the dubious claim to fame as “The most bombed hotel in the world,” during the turbulent times in Belfast history, this was a common target because the international press corps stayed here.
If you are wondering when I am going to come to the cemeteries, since they were the selling point for this tour company, well, it turned out to be a disappointment. We did, indeed, pass by a cemetery. It was walled, and nothing particularly interesting was visible from the road. It was not a place where they had a “hop-off” stop, so, there wasn’t even the option to extend the visit.
The website for the city of Belfast is actually really good, and we had, before we left, downloaded the walking tour of Belfast’s cemeteries, so, if we found some time later, we could get ourselves back.
We were dropped off at the Europa, and we did some meandering around before we moseyed back to our hotel for the night, to get ready for the bank holiday Monday the next day.
After our day of research, we wandered back across the river, stopping at the train station to get a timetable for trains leaving for Belfast the following day. We also stumbled upon “The Pantry,” Dublin’s version of my dad’s breakfast place in Pueblo. He’s one of the “everyday” morning customers.
We strolled along this street, and I found a shop that had inexpensive luggage, as the straps on my new (bought for the trip) backpack were falling apart, and I needed a replacement. We got a few other souvenirs, and eventually, we headed back to the hotel to pack for the next part of the trip.
The next day, all packed and ready for the next leg of the trip, we headed to the bus station. The trip from Belfast to Dublin, well, I posted that last week. After our neighbors got off, the trip was not nearly as interesting. I got caught up on journal entries at least.
Once in Belfast, we took a connecting train to the city center (our hotel was a block away from the City Hall), and headed to the hotel.
After stowing the luggage, we were ready for our now traditional “get a feel for the city walk-a-bout.” Plus, my sister and I needed to get us some local currency, so, finding an ATM was of some importance. Armed with a local map and some general orientation tips from the front desk, we headed first toward City Hall, where we checked “get local currency” off the list. My sister, who has been a titanic Titanic fan since long before there was a movie, wanted to head towards the Titanic Quarter. She was doing the navigation for us this day, and we meandered in the general direction of the famous shipyards of Belfast were located. We walked along the river, and we walked, and we walked, and while we were clearly getting closer, we soon realized we’d taken the long way. Having finally gotten there, we decided we might as well go in and tour the museum.
It’s a pretty elaborate museum. They’ve got some impressive interactive 3D animations that simulate walking through the ship, and a ride that takes you through the building process, how the teams of riveters did their part, and there are all the ship’s plans, which you can zoom into. Belfast is rightly proud of its ship building, and of the flax industry which lead to linens and rope-making, and the growth of the city.
One of the few pictures of all three of us came from here. Yes, it’s a novelty picture that they were happy to sell us.
My sister, having come this far, was not going back until she’d seen the berths where Olympic and Titanic sat during construction (which is really a big empty bunch of nothing), and the pump house where something got pumped, and the Harland and Wolf office building.
I admit, I’m not quite the fan she is, and by this point, we’d been walking for a long time and I was pretty cranky about being on my feet, especially to see stuff that wasn’t even there any more.
The only thing that keep me going, if I’m being really honest, was that my sister was so very clearly pleased to be there.
She is not the only one who is captivated by the tragic story of the mighty ship and its maiden voyage. As much as I’ve absorbed of the players in the tale over the years hovering around my sister, I still learned a decent bit. One of the things I didn’t know was that Ernest Shackleford was one of the expert witnesses who testified at the inquiries into the tragedy. He stated, unequivocally, that the sinking was the fault of Captain Smith, who was going way too fast for waters where ice had been reported.
I was not excited for the trip back, but, we started back towards the city center, and this time, we took a far more direct route, and it was a much more reasonable distance. In total, is was just over seven miles, which was the most we walked in a single day for the whole trip. (Our daily average was five miles.)
As we got to the city center, it was starting to rain, so we found a place to sit, and had some dinner. From our vantage point, we could see the city hall out the window, and we could watch people heading for shelter as the sun was setting, another day coming to a close.
After returning to the hotel after the movie, we started researching how to get to the RCB, and what their hours were, and if we needed some sort of secret handshake to go visit the place. They were open the next day, and my sister figured out which bus stop we needed to get off at, and what the fare would be there and back again. Instead of going all the way to the National Library and picking up the bus from there, we found a closer stop, directly across the river from The Custom House.
We got on our first Dublin city bus, and headed toward the suburbs, holding our breath that our directions were sufficient, and that we’d recognize our stop before we passed it. We passed a large cemetery, and saw a bit of what Dublin is like away from the city center. I wondered how often it was that “tourists” got out of the heart of the city, and saw what it was like in the less famous parts. No real way to know, I guess, but, for my part, I was glad that I was one of them.
The ride wasn’t long, maybe 10-15 min, but, as we rounded the corner of a street with a private hospital, we saw the stop number we were looking for, and were able to request our stop.
Now we had another dilemma. In which direction was this fabled place of records?
We wandered along the street, pretty sure we knew where we were going, and a private school I had not seen on the map made me doubt my navigational instincts. Just a moment later, when our fears started to creep into conversation, we saw the largely nondescript building we had seen on the web site. Even more confirmation came from the handy labeling in the form of the big honking sign on the building.
We walked up to the door. It was locked. We exchanged questioning glances. A guy came up behind us, and pushed a button. A speaker chirped to life, and a voice asked him to declare himself. The man told them it was “first name I can’t can’t recall,” and the voice from the box clearly knew him, and buzzed the door open. He-whose-name-I-can’t-recall looked us over, and then, holding the door for us, invited us in.
The man who snuck us in, went straight upstairs. We noticed the lockers just inside the door, and put our bags inside, taking only our pencils and notebooks. Once all was stowed, we marched upstairs and nearly scared the staff out of their minds. Three people, appearing inside the building unannounced? Horrors.
I told them we’d come in with guy-whose-name-I-recalled-then-but-is-lost-to-me-now, and we were sorry for causing him distress.
He started breathing again.
For what seemed the millionth time, I launched into the basics of what we were hoping to look at, and the gentleman said, “Well, I’m terribly sorry, but, the Princess is in another castle.”
Actually, it wasn’t much better than that.
He told us that all the records for that parish had been lost in a fire. There was nothing left.
After having come all this way, I was not going to give up. I wondered out loud if there were maybe headstones that might’ve been moved from the church yard when the ground the church stood on had been acquired by Guinness for cheap housing, and he remembered something. There was one book. They were the only place in the world with this book, and it might help. It was a collection of transcriptions of vestry records from three Dublin churches (including St. Bride’s) that no longer exist.
Well, it was worth a shot.
We pulled up some chairs at the table, and opened the book. It was printed within the last 15 years, and it had an index, so, we looked in it for that fateful surname.
There was a single entry. It was a Barnes that was unknown to me, but, it seems that one of the members of the vestry, in 1680 and 1688, about 20 years before the baptismal record we’d gone to look at, was a Mr. Robert Barnes. Well, that could turn out to be an interesting tidbit of information. Not that we knew how or why that was interesting, but, with genealogy research, you really never know what will turn out to be important.
Having now exhausted all the resources the RCB had for us, we walked back to the bus stop. The next place to search was the Dublin City Library. The driver that picked us up, was the same one that had dropped us off an hour earlier. I think he was as surprised as we were.
We took the bus back to the area around the National Library. The city library is on the other side of Trinity from the National Library, so we started hiking that way. I figured it was just as easy to cut across campus, and, given that it was not raining today, I knew I would not have that as a navigational scapegoat. Since it was a nice day, no one was in the mood to argue, and it was an excuse to see more of the campus, and feel like college students. Or something.
This time, we didn’t miss any turns, and walked right up to the library, and followed the signs up the stairs to the research room. While the outside of the Dublin City Library isn’t much to look at, the inside has got a bit of architectural charm.
The three of us got to the research counter, and we told the librarian we were here to do research. She said, “Of course! You just need to fill out this bit of paper work, and if you have an ID, we can get you all set. ” We all set to filling out the paperwork, and within a few short minutes, I was holding my very favorite souvenir of the whole trip: A Dublin City Library Card.
I couldn’t take my eyes off this shiny bit of plastic.
It might not seem like much, but, ever since I was little, the library was one of my favorite places on earth. Whenever we moved to a new city, it was the symbol of being a resident more important to me than enrolling in school, or knowing our address, and it is one of the first tasks on my to do list when settling into a new city. And here I was, possessing that first, and most important, sign of being a member of the community of Dublin. I think that this makes me, officially, a Dubliner. Sure, they would deny it, but, I have a library card. I belong.
Really and truly, I love looking at it. I’ve shown that card more than I’ve shown pictures. And it was FREE. What a miracle.
So, now, imagine an episode of Buffy where they Scoobies spend hours in the library flipping through musty old books. Yeah. that was more interesting than what we were doing. Granted, we didn’t have to flip randomly through books without indexes, we mostly used the computers to search through old newspaper archives and indices of records, and sort through the burial records that they had, and look for property records, and well, anything that might help us figure out the parents of Brinsley Barnes. This is the not-remotely-glamorous, tedious, you’ll-never-see-it-on-“who-do-you-think-you-are” part of family history research. It’s hours of mind-numbing searching, trying another tactic, looking again, and mostly finding nothing. This is not the same as National Treasure where the clues lead to clear and obvious steps. No. This is like wading through a swamp picking up almost everything, turning it over in your hands for a while, and then setting it back into the muck, because you don’t even know what you are looking for, but it’s probably not that. Probably. Maybe make a note of it anyway.
Anyway, my sister hit gold first, having simply searched the newspaper archive for the name “Barnes.” It turned up an ad from a Belfast newspaper, put in about 1700. It was offering the services of a Robert Barnes, to residents of both Belfast and Dublin. Robert Barnes tuned pianos and taught music, both organ and piano. Perhaps this was why he was on the vestry at St. Bride’s? Could he have been their organist? It also was the first actual clue we had as to why Brinsley was listed as being simultaneously from Ulster and from Dublin. Perhaps the family had homes in both places, and spent one season in one city, and then moved south in winter. Who knows? But, it was, perhaps a clue. We also found other sources perhaps corroborating the story that Brinsley’s father was a doctor. Certainly, his name was the same as one of the three potential sets of fathers, and the date would be correct. Of course, this was information about freemen of Dublin, essentially a business directory. Naturally, they didn’t have anything useful like, Yup, James Barnes, a surgeon, has a son named Brinsley, and that kid went to the American colony, and landed in Pennsylvania, and then moved to North Carolina, and yes, this is the guy and the answer to the question you were looking for.
Nope. No such luck. We’d just have to settle for the bits we got.
We finally ran out of steam, and called it quits, having looked through the most likely information, and even a bunch of unlikely information, in the event that something would jump out and surprise us. It was time to move along. Plus, the library was going to kick everyone out soon, anyway. I wasn’t going to risk them taking away my shiny card.
This day we had planned to devote to research. Our plan was to head to the National Library of Ireland, which even has a staffed genealogy desk. It was a good day to do research, as it was expected to be rainy all day. Since I planned to be inside all day, it was the one day when I decided it would be fine to leave my poncho behind.
I know, I know.
The National Library of Ireland is not far from Trinity College. We took out usual route there, and then I somehow missed the turn (I’m blaming the rain) and we ended up on Grafton Street, which is parallel to Kildare Street, the one we really wanted. Grafton Street is one of the main shopping districts in Dublin, and we ended up following it all the way to St. Steven’s Green before we turned around.
Did I mention it was supposed to rain all day, and I left my rain gear behind?
Here’s the one picture I took of rainy Grafton Street. The big neon sign on the left side is Captain America, and it’s a restaurant. From a distance, the character looks more like Spider-man, and then I saw the label of Captain America, and, the shield is there, but, well, I was amused by it.
By this point I was aggressively damp, and annoyed that I’d failed somewhat at navigation, but, in the end, we got to the National Library of Ireland. If you get to Dublin, even if you don’t need to research anything, I really, really recommend going into this building. It’s right next to the National Archaeology Museum, it’s got beautiful mosaics in the floor, the reading room is beautiful, and was a favorite haunt of James Joyce, it’s got a really huge collection of materials, and, it’s FREE. Did I mention FREE? Heck, even if you don’t take my word for you, you can take a virtual tour of the place, online. Click your heart out. Trust me. It’s a wonderful space for reading, and just hanging out.
We got in, and following standard research protocol the world over, locked our bags and damp outer wear in a locker, got out our pencils and the little notebooks I’d packed for us to record whatever we couldn’t photocopy, and we headed toward the genealogy desk. We waited a few minutes, as the librarian was busy with someone else, and then, he motioned to us. I briefly mentioned what were looking for, specifically, records from a specific church in Dublin, that has been gone for more than two centuries, but, was less than half a mile from where we were.
He gave me a slightly awkward grimace, one that wasn’t apologetic, as in “Gosh, I’m sure sorry, but, as much as it pains me to say it, we haven’t got anything from that church.” it was more like “How dare you ask me about that church, Infidel!” With his words, he said “St. Bride’s was Church of Ireland,” and there was a pause while he let that sink in, and I made a short nod of acknowledgement, as, until that moment, I had not known St. Bride’s affliction. His pause was followed by “We don’t have any records for the church of Ireland. We only have Catholic records.” Again I gave a nod of “No, of course I won’t mention the Church of the Oppressor again, I’m so sorry to have brought it up.” He warmed to my silent promise not to mention uncomfortable subjects ever again, and pulled out an information sheet with local genealogical repositories, and told us that the Church of Ireland records could be accessed at the RCB (the Representative Church Body) which, thank all that is holy, happened to be in Dublin, too, and open to the public. He pointed to a spot straight outside, and said, you take the number 14 bus straight to it. They’ll be able to help you.” I heard the implied “And may God have mercy on your soul” at the end of his statement, and we dutifully turned around, gathered our things, and went back out into the rain.
We did very quickly find the stop in question, and looking at the post, the fare was going to be somewhere between 2.60 and 11.80, and exact fare was expected. Seemed reasonable, but then reality set in. What if we got there, and learned they were not open on whatever day this was? Or that it was by appointment only? And, while the sheet of paper had a really bad map on it, how would we know where to get off? Entertaining all these unknowns was a bit more bravery than we wanted to exhibit on this rainy day, so we decided we needed to look this up before we went any further, and might as well punt, and do it the following day, when we were better prepared. We figured we might as well go see the Archaeology Museum, since we were standing right in front of it, and it’s also FREE. Plus, it had the distinct advantage of being an indoors-sort of place, which tend to be dryer than the outdoors places where the buses come.
And enter we did.
The Archaeology Museum is a mirror image of the NLI, and there are wonderful mosaics here, too. Plus, there’s some amazing treasures here. We had a special affinity for the reconstructed passage tomb, just having gone to Newgrange the day before, and some of the artifacts found on those sites live here now. There’s a collection of pretty amazing works in gold, and the bog people of Ireland are on discreet display, which sounds more oxymoronic than it actually is.
After a few hours, and now mostly dry, we were feeling peckish, and ready for some lunch. The cafe at the museum was packed, so we went to the museum shop. It was here that we found a suitable gift for mom. They threw in a free tote for it, which was good, because it was part cashmere, part wool, and water doesn’t agree much with it. From there we thought, “Hey, there’s a cafe inside the library, let’s try it.” Sure enough, it was much quieter, and we had a lovely break.
From there, we decided to go to St. Patrick’s and if we had time, to go to the Chester Beatty museum. We packed up, redistributed the spare rain gear, which means they took pity on my idiocy, and gave me an extra layer, and headed out.
I think dad appreciated his poncho, which looks pretty much identical to the one I’d left behind, but, I’m not sure if he’s at all pleased about this stomping about in the rain business. Me, I like the rain, and it was, as they say in Ireland “a soft rain,” not really cold, and not pouring. I will take a soft rain over 8o degree weather any day.
My biggest interest in St. Patrick’s was, of course, the famous 18th century dean, a man by the name of Jonathan Swift. You might have heard of him, or know of his most famous creation, “Gulliver’s Travels.” And, by some curious chance, he shares a birthday with yours truly. I know that you’re amazed I don’t look a day over two centuries, and you’d be right. It pays to moisturize.
We were grateful to get out of the rain, and we stood in the entry way to try and drain the excess moisture off. It seems a tad sacrilegious to bring excessive damp inside, even if rain comes from the heavens.
I was surprised at how many visitors were here on a rainy weekday, during business hours, but, maybe I shouldn’t have been. There was much to see inside. Besides the grave of Dean Swift, there were some pretty impressive stained glass windows, a remarkable pulpit, and several impressive sculptures. There are also some early Christian grave markers that were from the church grounds, but, which predate the structure itself. St. Patrick is said to have had a holy well on the site from which he baptized locals when he was in Dublin. Today, it is an Anglican church, and has been since well, as long ago as its near neighbor, St. Bride’s church, which was likely where our Barnes ancestors attended, to the later dismay of the genealogy librarian of the National Library of Ireland.
There were interpretive signs all over the place, and I learned how very little I really knew about Jonathan Swift.
After exhausting our interest in the place, we started to head back to the Chester Beatty Library. Sadly, we got there about 20 min before it closed, and that was too late to do the tour. We decided it was time to head back, given the rain was not giving up.
Since the night was young, we decided that the seemingly barely alive cinema next to our hotel deserved some patronage, so, when we got back there, we headed in. We were slightly disappointed that the movie that fit the “right now” option was Pompeii. Yes, it’s every bit as bad as you suspected, but, it was fun, and I realized it was my first movie theater movie in a foreign country. Here we were, propping up the international box office. Plus, it turns out that the main character is identified as a Celt from Britannia, which would probably point to him being Welsh. Yes, that’s me thinking too much about a movie that wasn’t very good.
When we boarded the train to Belfast, the car we choose was about two-thirds full. We stowed our luggage, and my sister and father chose the two remaining seats (out of a group of four) on the left side of the train, so I sat across the aisle from them. While we waited for train to go, a group of four older ladies come on board, and started trying to find seats together. One of the ladies was asking “which way is the train going? I must be facing the same way as the driver.”
With a bemused look, several of us indicated the direction the train was travelling, and she slid into the seat diagonally across from me. One of the others sat next to me, and the other two took the seats facing her, just behind my dad and sister. The lady-who-can’t-sit-facing-the-wrong-direction kept a commentary of things as she and the other ladies got settled.
Getting settled included pulling out a packet of snacks, which she promptly opened and offered around to everyone. She made sure to show the label so we could see what she was offering. They were Jelly Babies.
For those less nerdly-inclined than me, Jelly Babies are a sweet I had never eaten, but, had known from watching Doctor Who. The fourth Doctor regularly offered this sweet to strangers, diffusing tensions and putting people at ease. I wondered if this lady might be herself be a fan of the show, or maybe she just liked Jelly Babies.
I grinned, but declined, and the packet then moved across the aisle to her travelling companions. As the candies made the return trip, she-who-sits-the-same-direction-as-the-driver commented upon the cheek of Mary Katherine who helped herself to *two* Jelly Babies.
As the trip progressed, I learned the ladies were sisters, and one of them had come in from Wales to meet the others, and they made regular trips together. They chatted nearly non-stop, talking about their favorite ways to preserve cut flowers, (the lady with the Jelly Babies likes to use a tablet in the water. Tablets were her “go-to” solution for everything.) they discussed tabloid news, and the foibles of absent family members.
One of the sisters was moving slowly, and that brought out the story that she’d gotten hit by a car as she stepped off a curb in her village. “Eighty years old, hit by a car in her own village! Can you believe the nerve of them to hit an old lady minding her own business crossing the street! Disgraceful!”
Eighty years old. My traveling companions were four octogenarian ladies who looked younger than my dad, and who went on weekly adventures with each other. I hoped that when I was eighty, that I’d be making trips regular trips with my sisters, chattering like excited twenty-somethings and giving each other mock grief about taking an extra sweet out of the packet.
She was certain the gentleman across the aisle (my dad) was going to need a tablet after having all their chatter behind his head for so long. She asked if he was traveling with me, and I told her yes, he was my dad. She told us that they were sisters, and that was how they were. I smiled and told her it looked pretty familiar to me, when I got together with my sisters.
She was certain he would be glad to see the back of them, and probably I would too. As they were getting off, she made the same assertion to my sister, who promptly told her “No, she loved every minute of it, she’ll miss you.”
My sister knows me all too well.
When we arrived in Belfast, I was determined to buy some Jelly Babies and share them with my traveling companions. That’s what a local would do. Or a Time Lord.
When we were planning our trip, one of the places on the top of my list was the passage tombs at Newgrange. Older than the pyramids, older than Stonehenge, the oldest solar observatory in the world, the more than 40 tombs in the Boyne valley are a World Heritage Site, and something that I felt must be on our list. Over 60% of the neolithic art in all of *Europe* can be found at these quiet monuments. I had booked our seats the night before, and chose to meet the coach in front of The Gresham Hotel. When I chose that departure point, the travel office lady asked me if I knew where it was asking “by the Spire?” I nodded confirmation. The earliest departure time was fully booked, but, there was room on the later bus, so I took it.
By this point, dad had not appreciated churches, nor world-famous libraries, and I was worried that pre-Christian pagans were going to be yet another thing he was not going to appreciate. He had forgotten what we’d said about the place before we left, so, I turned to the correct page in the guidebook, and handed it to him. He didn’t seem to be excited about it at all. Inwardly, I sighed, and prepared myself for whatever commentary was going to await us.
We set out after breakfast, but, at a leisurely pace. After taking our friend the LUAS (light rail) to the same stop as the day before, we headed in the opposite direction, this time heading north. As the main street of the main city in Ireland, there’s tons to see all around. There’s the General Post Office, which was also a center for the 1916 Rising, bullet holes still mark the exterior (but aren’t very obvious from across the street).
Just as we were about a block from our destination, the famous Gresham Hotel, which is across the street and slightly north of the post office, I see it. It’s about half a block ahead of us, to our right. It’s the statue of James Joyce. It’s a sculpture I’ve seen in pictures, and always admired, and I’ve long had a fondness for Joyce’s short stories. I told my sister I needed her to take a picture, and she said, “Oh. Ok.” And she did take the picture. Dad finally realized we’d stopped, and asked my sister why we were stopping, and she told him, “Kate wanted a picture with the statue.” There was no flicker of recognition as they looked over the bronze man in front of them. They shrugged and chalked it all up to my general eccentricity.
I was not really surprised by their reaction, but, it’s a lonely feeling to be wandering this city of writers with two people who were not acquainted with any of the famous authors who called the place home.
We arrived at the hotel, with the Spire in front of us. The hotel was built about the same time as the post office, and famous Hollywood types used to stay there. The three of us held down the sidewalk in front of the hotel, and waited for our ride.
Once on the bus, we went across the river to pick up the rest of the passengers. Dad listened as our driver, Dennis from Latvia, reminded us that the fare we paid for the bus didn’t cover seeing the monuments. Dad did a double take and looked at me. “Did you know that?” I told him, yes, I did know it. It was on the brochure and it’s in every guidebook. Dad was stunned. He couldn’t believe that we’d be shelling out more cash when we got there. He looked only slightly mollified about the situation, and I hoped he’d hold onto whatever lecture he was preparing until, well, the far side of never. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that at the peak season, there’s not even a guarantee that you will get a ticket, since they can’t be purchased in advance.
When we arrived, the driver told us that at the center they’d ask us if we wanted tickets to Newgrange only or both Newgrange and Knowth. We opted for both, and had just enough time to buy our tickets and trek across the river to catch the shuttle up to Newgrange.
We climb to the top of the hill, toward the entrance to the monument. The tour guide tells us about the place, and we wait for the group ahead of us to leave, and then we’d go into the place. As we stood outside, dad has apparently really absorbed the information from the tour guide. He’s actually excited, and he’s telling me that he’s really glad that I wanted to come here, and this was really amazing.
I was not prepared for that response.
And yet, I’ll totally take it. I can’t believe we finally found something that dad actually liked. Don’t let anyone tell you that miracles are a thing of the past.
Crossing the threshold to the passage that leads to the inner chamber, you travel back nearly 5000 years to see a space which is much as it was then. Though it was raining outside, the structure, made with no mortar, was absolutely dry. No moisture had ever entered here.
There is room for about 15-20 people, and we lined the outer wall of the inner chamber, and listened as the guide explained what happens every year on the winter solstice. On that day, the sun comes into the roof box, first diffuse, and then it concentrates into a beam straight to the back of the chamber, like a laser beam. In a minute, she would turn out the lights, and they would simulate the phenomenon.
The lights went out. It was pitch black inside, just as it would be the entire year, until the shortest day. Everyone was silent.
And then the light came on.
On the solstice, the beam of light lasts for about 8 minutes. For the purposes of the tour, the light stayed on for only a few minutes, maybe even only a minute, but, for me, even just recalling it weeks later, I still get chills to recall that magnificent light, the return of light and warmth to chase away the cold and dark.
As we made our way out again, the assembled group was quiet, still holding that sacred space that we had just shared. Outside, dad was even more excited, and wanted to know if I thought the gift shop would have a picture of the light coming into the passage, or a book for kids to show them this marvelous place. He wanted to share it with his grandchildren, and tell them about this place, built with almost no tools and surrounded by megaliths from far, far away.
I told him there was a good chance that they would have all of those things.
We walked around until it was time to return to the shuttle. Dad understood now why the tickets weren’t included in the bus fare, because of the limited amount of space in each tour. He marveled at the effort it would’ve taken to move each of the kerbstones, and to fit all the other stones together in such a way as to keep out the damp and be a lasting structure.
He was glad we’d gotten tickets to the other site, Knowth, too, and was excited to look for souvenirs and gifts in the shop, and then go to see the other mounds.
At Knowth, there are a number of mounds, newer than Newgrange, and all of smaller size. A few are aligned to key dates on the solar calendar, but not all are. These are too unstable for tourists to enter.
Here, though, dad became curious about how they maintained the grass-covered mounds, and learned that they mow them with special equipment. He spent a chunk of our time here to seek out the mowing crew, which happened to be mowing that very day.
We wandered among the mounds, and climbed to the top of the largest one, Knowth, which had a pretty amazing view. From here, on a clear day, you can see the Hill of Tara, and, of course, Newgrange. Today, as you might notice, it was a bit overcast, and there were some scattered showers, so we could make out neither of these features. We could, however see the river, and yellow fields of the seed that gets made into canola oil.
All too soon, it was time to turn back.
As I started writing this on Thursday night, I learned that there was a pretty horrible act of vandalism at Hill of Tara this week. This sort of intentional harm to such an important monument makes me sad that we weren’t able to visit that site.
Of course, I admit, the Hill of Tara is mostly just a hill, even if it has great significance to Irish history and folk lore. With the curse of limited time, it was a site that just didn’t make the cut. And, while I didn’t feel too much guilt then, well, there’s a bit of regret from here.