Nostalgia, Apprehension and Molly Malone

This time, I’m posting earlier than I usually do and that’s because I had an unusual weekend — unusual, that is, for me.  The reason is that last Friday morning, Isabel and I set off for Dublin, the place in which I was born and in which I lived most of the first part of my life and where I received what passes for an education (of sorts).  She was curious to see the place from which I emanated and so, it was with some apprehension that I set forth on this short journey, which would last all of 72 hours.  The reason for my trepidation was that I hadn’t been to the city for about a decade and, it was beginning to seem to me, that I carried with me very little nostalgia for the place.
I used to be a fairly regular visitor to Baile Átha Cliath (as Dublin is known in the Irish language), going once or twice a year while my parents were still living.  I had spent a few days there in 2008 (14 years ago already!) with the idea that I might write a piece concerning the millennium since the foundation of the city but having pottered around archives for a few days, I decided to give that idea up as a bad job.  And the few times I had been there over the almost two decades since Ma passed away, all but one had been to do with funerals and memorials, which, I suppose has contributed more than a fair share to my lack of homesickness for the place.
However, it was time to go back and although I wasn’t really looking forward to it, go back I did, flying Aer Lingus from Heathrow to Dublin Airport.  The flight was uneventful save for the announcements that came fast and furious during the 80 minutes or so that we were on the plane.
During the short breaks between announcements from the captain and his co-pilot, I was able to enlighten my companion, who had never been to Ireland before, that Dublin is on Ireland’s east coast, more or less due west of Liverpool (although flying over Liverpool was not the route that air traffic control had directed the plane to fly) and as we descended through the clouds, we emerged into more or less what I expected to find—greyness, wetness and windiness.
Fortunately, we were able to locate a taxi without too much bother and made our way to a small hotel in central Dublin while we carried on a short conversation with a rather intelligent and clued up taxi driver.  As we crawled through the city traffic on Friday noon, the driver pointed out landmarks that he thought tourists (for that is what we were at this stage) should be aware of and as we drove up D’Olier Street, he showed us the walls of Trinity College, (TCD).  I mentioned that I had spent several years of my life there 60 or so years ago, and that seemed to take him by surprise but an even greater surprise (to him, at least) was when I mentioned that things had changed at Trinity in the years intervening and that when I had been a student there, the institution was sometimes referred to as “The Last Bastion of British Imperialism in Ireland” and that the bulk of the (then) rather small student body was Protestant and that probably more than half the students came from Great Britain or Northern Ireland.
However, what really floored Robbie, the driver, was when I said that Catholic students, if they were true believers, in order to study there, had to receive written dispensation from the then Archbishop of Dublin and Catholic Primate of Ireland, John Charles McQuaid.  “And what on earth had that to do with study?” asked Robbie.  “It’s beyond belief!”  Except that it wasn’t!
McQuaid was a man described by the journalist Fintan O’Toole in his recent book We Don’t Know Ourselves as:  “a small man whose piercing eyes radiated power and perception, had been the Catholic Archbishop for eighteen years already. He embodied the authority of the church in a country in which 95 per cent of men and 94.8 per cent of women were Catholic. … McQuaid’s writ ran so strongly that it did not need mere state law to impose it.  The extent of [his] obsessive monitoring of Irish cultural life for occasions of sin was as remarkable as his ability to enforce his will. Not long before [O’Toole] was born, the one and only national radio station, Radio Éireann, had played, on its popular and innocuous music programme, Hospitals Requests, Cole Porter’s ‘Always True To You’: But I’m always true to you, darling, in my fashion Yes I’m always true to you, darling, in my way. The presenter, Tom Cox, was summoned by the controller of programmes, Roibéard Ó Faracháin, a poet and playwright associated with the Abbey Theatre [and] heard the most dreaded words in Ireland: ‘The Palace has been on.’, the Palace [being McQuaid’s Archbishop’s mansion in Drumcondra—it is striking that the metonymy evoked a feudal aristocrat or even a monarch. Ó Faracháin told Cox that ‘His Grace is concerned at the somewhat, eh, circumscribed morality of the song. Indeed he believes that it advocates the proposition that a limited form of fidelity is somehow acceptable.’ The next time ‘Always True To You’ was requested by a listener, Cox played an instrumental version by Victor Sylvester and his Ballroom Orchestra.”

And so we arrived at the hotel and after unpacking, decided to go for a walk in central Dublin, which, after having been cooped up for several hours seemed like a seisnible thing to do, especially as the sun was now shining.  But first, being in need of something to eat, we took ourselves off to a place in which I had wasted many hours six decades ago — Bewley’s Oriental Café on Grafton Street.  At first glance, it seemed as if nothing much had changed, save the coffee roaster that used to be in the front window of the café, billowing out clouds of coffee-smelling smoke from the roasting of coffee beans into the street but on closer examination, some things had indeed changed.

For a start, there were fewer tables than there were then.  The clatter of dishes as they were moved from trays to marble tables had been muted.  And then there was something that never had existed in my day — waiters.  Bewley’s of the early 1960s had waitresses, dressed in black with white aprons, all looking well over 60 years of age (well, I was about 20 at the time) and who never, ever smiled, let along talk to the customers. However, the coffee in 2022 was as good as it used to be in 1965 and the light snack was tasty as well.

 

However, sitting there, I noticed something that I’d never paid attention to all those years ago — Bewley’s quite wonderful stained glass windows. So over the next couple of days, we returned to Bewley’s twice.

 

And then it was back out to Grafton Street, a right turn to Nassau Street and across the road into the hallowed grounds of Trinity College.  And that was where I felt my first pangs of nostalgia for, after all, I’d spent four years of my life there as an undergraduate and a further year two years later as a graduate student.  And where did I go that afternoon, if not straight to the Museum Building, which housed the Geography Department, as well as Geology and Civil Engineering.  I turned the handle of the front door and lo and behold, it opened and as I walked inside, it seemed as if nothing had changed in 60 years!

 

I just couldn’t believe it.  And I was reminded that as a third year Geology student, the then Professor of Geology, one Robert George Spencer Hudson, FRS had set a compulsory examination question which asked us, the students, to write about the geological history of the building stones in the Museum Building.  Although we’d been in and out of that building for the best part of three years, only one student (and it was not I) was able to manage it.

I duly sent a copy of the photograph above to an old friend, also an Emeritus Professor of Geography at a Canadian university and some years my senior with the caption “Nothing has changed—Amazing!” and received the following response: “Those bannisters were great for sliding down”.  I had never thought of doing that and I didn’t really think that he was that kind of person but, never a great judge of character, I have been proven wrong yet again!

And as we exited the Museum Building, Ireland being Ireland, the heavens opened and, umbrellaless and soaked, we returned to the hotel.

Bra fitting specialists — but no in-window demonstrations

The following day, we went our separate ways for an hour or so — shops for one and the TCD campus for the other.

Outside the Berkeley Library stands Arnaldo Pomodoro’s sculpture ‘Sfera con Sfera’.  The “Pomodoro sphere”, as it is apparently known locally, was donated by the artist. supported by TCD and various Italian organisations. There are similar works in this spherical format at such locations as the UN Plaza in NYC, at UC Berkeley and at The Vatican Museums.  This particular sculpture underwent a major conservation project in 2008 bringing the surface of the piece back to its original condition and restoring its complex sub-structure and pivot.  Quite some piece from any angle.

 

… and then it was off to College Park …

… The Graduates’ Memorial Building …

… and. of course, the Campanile.

And then it was back into the city while Isabel completed her shopping expedition and I made the acquaintance of one of Dublin’s more illustrious citizens.

“She wheels her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow.”  No cockles, no mussels!   Molly Malone’s baskets were empty. 

Illustrious, she may be, but I’m not sure that the RC Church would have approved of Molly’s outsize mammary glands or the mollycoddling they were getting from passers-by in the process of passing by!

Adjoining Molly and her coddling was Richie, from New York, who informed all and sundry that he had fallen in love with Irish traditional music some years ago and is now pursuing a Master’s degree at TCD in this area.  I hadn’t heard the uileann pipes played for half a century when on summer evenings, a neighbour, a contemporary of mine, used to sit in his back garden and play this rather mournful sounding instrument.  Vivian didn’t become a professional piper but he did become a High Court justice in later years.

Then it was off to see something new in the city — the EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum, located in the Docklands, near the Custom House.

The Custom House, Dublin

It’s a museum that covers the history of the Irish diaspora and emigration to other countries and which was voted “Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction” for three years 2019, 2020 and 2021 ate the World Travel Awards.  Initially, I thought that I’d come to some cheap sound and light show but as we walked through it, it struck me that it is really a very slick history of Irish emigrants and their contribution to Western culture.  A lot of thought went into this show and it made me think that Ireland has finally come to terms with its history.

And this feeling of coming to terms with history is nowhere more marked than across the street from EPIC where six statues depicting the  Great Famine have been installed.  I say “come to terms with its history” because about 30 years ago, an American colleague who was spending a year on sabbatical at University College Dublin was astonished to discover, as he travelled around Ireland, that there were no memorials to the Famine and on inquiring, was informed that the Great Famine is also the great shame.  So seeing these installations just confirmed the opinion that I had formed an hour or so earlier.

 

After all the activity of the day, we met up with old friends for dinner and had a really enjoyable time notwithstanding the racket in the restaurant for the first part on the meal.  And then the following day, a near miracle occurred when the sun came out.  We were collected at the hotel and driven to the Jewish cemetery where I visited my parents.  I hadn’t been there for a decade but after reciting the kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead and shedding many tears, the feeling was cathartic — there was no other way to describe it.

After the cemetery, it was a quick tour of what remains of Dublin’s Jewish community as we were driven to the house in which I grew up (where the saplings of 70 years ago are now fully-fledged trees), looked in on both schools I had attended and visited the synagogue where I had my barmitzvah and where I was married.  Unfortunately, the building was locked as it’s only open at for prayers, i.e. every morning and evening and on the sabbath and festivals and it will be sold eventually when the move to a smaller venue on the Terenure Road is renovated, something that could be as much as two years away.

… but I was able to take a photo of a photo of the interior with its beautiful stained glass windows …

… inside what passes as the only kosher grocery shop in town

Then it was off to Avoca in County Wicklow for lunch with Joyce and Alan with helpings the size of which even ravenous Americans might have found difficult to finish and we ended the day in a very crowded Glendalough, as beautiful was ever notwithstanding the bikers and the hundreds of cars waiting to find a place to park!

 

The Sunday weather was amazing and the large expanses of gorse provided a shade of yellow that was a contrast to the rapeseed yellow of a fortnight ago in the Cotswolds and was absolutely beautiful.

 

Overall, it seems that Ireland, like other places emerging from Covid restrictions has a labour shortage for it appeared that every other business in central Dublin was carrying notices like these.

On the basis of the fact that the booth for Tarot readings in one of the city’s arcades in Central Dublin was closed up, it might seem that there is little future for us all and for Ireland.

 

We finally made our way back to Dublin Airport to await the plane returning us to London.  Finding a men’s loo proved difficult but near to where we were sitting, I found this, which I [mistakenly, it seems] interpreted to be what it wasn’t but which annoyed me all the same at the time.

 

And then it was back to London and to the quiet of Hampstead Heath!

   

And, folks, if you’ve got this far, you’re invited to download this and find out a little more about the writer of this blog. All comments, queries and corrections are welcome and will be answered in due course!

Stan’s Memory Book, late 2021.  

Memoirs Draft 4 Complete 1

 

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