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.
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.
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.
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!