A side chapel in St Patrick's Cathedral

A side chapel in St Patrick's Cathedral

Mon, 30 Mar - Dublin


My visit to Dublin Castle was one of the highlights of my time here so far. This was the centre of English rule in Ireland since the beginning of the 13th century (it had been a strategic Viking settlement before that), and it reached its zenith in the period between the Act of Union of 1800 and the creation of the Free State in 1922, during which Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom, with its MPs sitting in Westminster, and the Castle was the official home of the Viceroy, and the centre of aristocratic society as well as political power, as well as being the focus of nationalist and socialist opposition.

The guided tour took us down into what's left of the medieval structures, into what used to be the Chapel Royal (now de-consecrated), and then into the staterooms. It was unbelievable to stand in what used to be one of the bedrooms, where the badly injured James Connolly was held after the Easter Rising of 1916 before being taken to Kilmainham Jail to be strapped to a chair (he was incapable of standing) to face the firing squad

The state rooms are nowadays used for posh functions like state dinners for visiting dignitaries (JFK, Mandela, even Elizabeth II), and for the inauguration of the Irish President. The last person to sleep there was Maggie Thatcher, when she was over for peace negotiations. Security dictated that she flew in and out by chopper and couldn't venture out.

The portrait in the group above is Elizabeth, Marchioness Conyngham (1769 - 1861). She was George IV's mistress. Her Wikipedia entry portrays her as a thoroughly unpleasant person, but George kept his wife out of his Coronation to have La Conyngham by his side, so she must have had something going for her.

The story here (recounted both by the tour bus driver and the Castle guide) is that the road between Dublin and Slane (still the home of the Conyinghams, and again a scheduled visit later in my trip) is unusually good and straight so that George could get to her as quickly as possible when he felt the urge.

By coincidence, later in the day, I happened upon this statue, commemorating William Conyingham, 4th Baron Plunket, Archbishop of Dublin 1884 - 1897. There's no keeping us down.

By the way, I should explain that I decided not to cart my "proper" camera around with me during my Dublin sightseeing, so all these are from my iPhone. Hopefully the quality of photo will improve once I get "on the road".

So for some good photos from the Castle, as well as lots more information, this link to its web site is highly recommended.

Can't get away from the Conynghams!


I haven't worked out how Dublin comes to have two Anglican cathedrals, but it's good to know that they have been able to cooperate - in June 1742 the two choirs combined to form the chorus for the first performance of Handel's "Messiah" in nearby Fishamble Street, and to this day both cathedrals boast about their music.

Another area of overlap related to the period around James II and our good mate William III, alias King Billy of Orange. When James was in the ascendancy, before William arrived, Christ Church was run according to the Roman rite, but after William's victories at the Boyne and elsewhere, and James' hasty and undignified departure to France, Christ Church promptly switched back to being Protestant, and there is on display a sumptuous set of gold plate given to Christ Church by William as a token of his gratitude, for what I'm not sure.

Meanwhile, just down the road, St Patrick's has on show the chair William supposedly sat on when he attended services there! Besides which, St Pats have the tomb of William's right hand man, Marshal Schomburg, who landed the Orange troops at either Groomsport or Ballyholme Bay in 1689.

St Patrick's is most famous, of course, for having had as its Dean from 1713 until his death in 1745 none other than Jonathan Swift of Gulliver's Travels fame.

Of course, over time both buildings have fallen into disrepair as their fortunes waxed and waned. It is amusing to note that both have been restored to their present state with the aid of alcohol, Christ Church being the beneficiary in the 1870s of the whiskey distiller Henry Roe, and St Patrick's of Guinness money in the 1860s and subsequently. Were these rich men trying to enter through the eye of a needle?

I should perhaps explain that Strongbow was the nickname of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, who led the Norman invasion of 1170, the precursor to Henry II's arrival in October 1171.

  • Strongbow's tomb, Christ Church.

  • St Patrick's Cathedral

St Patrick's, looking West from the Choir


The National Library has a special exhibition on the Life and Works of W B Yeats. This year is the 150th anniversary of his birth on 13 June.

As with the Easter Rising 1916 exhibition I saw yesterday, when the subject matter is relatively recent, there is no shortage of artefacts to put on display. In Yeats' case, this was primarily drafts of his poems as they were being composed, usually handwritten first, and then typed. All with multiple amendments. It would have been fascinating to study his creative process, except that in order to preserve the paper, the lighting was so dim that one could hardly read anything!

The most informative parts of the exhibition were what I took to television documentaries about Yeats, and about the Celtic Revival generally, and Yeats' interest in the occult and mysticism, his position on the political issues of his day - he was even a member of the Irish Senate 1922 - 1929, and chaired the committee choosing the designs for the first Free State coinage. Later he flirted with Mussolini, but apparently did not actually espouse fascism.

As an aside, there was a small James Joyce display at the entrance to the Yates exhibition. Apparently Joyce did all his work in longhand manuscript. Also, he subjected his work to multiple extensive revisions. So there are no fewer than 20 copies of Ulysses in Joyce's own hand!!! And it is NOT a short book. I wonder what he did in his spare time!


The National Gallery was my last stop as I trudged home wearily through the rain - it is less than 200 metres from my hotel. I needn't have bothered. For a start, much of the gallery is shut for renovations. Of what I did see, there wasn't one picture that I liked. And they were about to close. If you want to see for yourself, click here, and/or there is an iPhone app called "Masterpieces from the Collection".


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