Monday, September 26, 2011

The Holy Ground Once More...

Posting from just outside Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. This year's tour group couldn't be a nicer bunch of people, and we are having excellent adventures so far!

Our first day in Dublin (despite a bit of jet lag), we took in a city tour, the Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College (where you can see two open folios from the Book of Kells, along with one each from the Book of Armagh and the Book of Durrow). Once again, the beauty and exquisite detail of the ancient manuscripts astonishes. Such life and texture in the words and creatures, even after all these many centuries.

After all that, a short rest, dinner at the hotel, and a few of us even managed to stay awake for An Góilín, the traditional singers' session held every Friday night in the Teachers Club at Parnell Square. We heard a huge variety of singers and songs, everything from beautiful sad love songs in Irish, to rowdy sing-alongs and American ballads about the banks of the Rio Grande, and even a recently-composed comic song of praise about the Dubs' great victory in the All-Ireland football championship!

A visit to the National Museum of Ireland started with the KINGSHIP AND SACRIFICE exhibit about the bog people found in Ireland, and how they got there. Visiting Oldcroghan Man (who was discovered by Paddy's cousin, Kevin Barry), always seems rather like a family obligation. We learned a lot about the possible reasons an Iron Age person might have been sunk into a bog. Some people believe it had to do with kingship rituals that sought to marry the leader of a people to the great goddess of the earth, and perhaps the bargain had to be sealed in blood. Of course, no one knows for certain, because the Celts of Ireland left no written record of their rituals and beliefs. Fascinating and chilling.

A visit to the Guinness brewery was next, something I'd never had a chance to do before, and great craic. An excellent exhibit about the history of the black stuff, and all the work that went into brewing, storing, transporting, advertising, and drinking it. Oh, and they give you a wee taste as you go, and pint at the end as well! Paddy's father used to work the canal boats that transported the wooden barrels of Guinness down the Grand Canal from Dublin to the Shannon, and he had great tales of drilling undetectable holes and (ahem) perhaps siphoning off a few pints along the way.

A smaller group of us headed back to the Museum in the afternoon (after a stout lunch!) to see the Broighter Collar and the Faddan More Psalter, the 9th-century book of psalms found in a Tipperary bog about five years ago. Some pages were still readable; others were fairly badly damaged. I've been waiting ever since it was discovered to get a gander at it, and finally got my chance. No photos allowed in the exhibit, but here's one from the National Museum.

Did manage to get a few good snaps of some of my favorite Iron Age artifacts though, including this one, the Loughnashade Trumpet, an ancient instrument found sunk in a lake near Navan Fort (aka Eamhain Macha). Here's a link to a video about the horn, including information about how and where it was found, and how John Creed of Glasgow made a replica of it in 1998. You can even hear the replica played by Irish musician and scholar Simon O'Dwyer. Simon's got a whole website devoted to his obsession with ancient instruments:

After a nice Italian dinner (con gelato) in Temple Bar, we wandered down to M. Hughes in Chancery Street (home to wonderful traditional sessions every night). Had a few after-dinner drinks and listened to  fine tunes (and a couple of extra fine songs) from Dermie Diamond, Helen Diamond, Vincent Doherty and company. Fiddles, pipes, flute, guitar—food for the soul.

All right, children, time for the leaba (bed) now. Much more (and many more snaps) later... 

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