I sit still for a few moments, trying to allow the sun on my face to cheer me up. But I still feel anxious, rushed to see as much of this city as I can before I’m off sightseeing around the rest of Ireland. I only have a few days and I still want to see Dublin Castle, the National Gallery, Trinity College with the Book of Kells, and the buskers and shopping on Grafton Street.
I pull out my map, now that I’m sitting down, but I still can’t any make sense of it. The elusive street signs seem to be hiding. Scanning the intersections, there is nary a sign until I look up…on the corner of a building, about 12 feet above the sidewalk, is a blue and white sign with rather small print, with a name in Irish first, and underneath in English…There they are! I had mistakenly been looking for signs like we have in Canada; attached to STOP signs or power poles, but these signs are inconspicuous. I locate Dublin Castle on the map to orient myself, and stuff it into my big purse, arranging the camera across my chest. Finally! A destination! My sense of purpose reignited, I head in the right direction. I resume my trudge past the never-ending shops, pubs and cafes and within a few minutes I find myself in front of Dublin Castle.
Having spent my whole life in BC, the oldest surviving structures I have seen are ramshackle log cabins with sod roofs that dot the Chilcotin and Cariboo landscape, and the odd restored Victorian house that might date back to the mid 1800s. Dublin Castle is millennia older and has a long and fascinating history. Situated in the very heart of historic Dublin, the castle gets its name from the Dubh Linn, or Black Pool, situated on the site of the present Castle Gardens. Here were found the remains of a significant Viking settlement dating back to 841. It is said that the Vikings may have used Irish slaves to build the walls of the original fortification, possibly a Gaelic style ring fort. They ruled Dublin with an iron fist for almost three centuries, expelled in 902 only to return in 917. The High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, finally defeated them for good at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
But neither the Irish nor the Vikings could withstand the invasion of the Normans in 1169. Evidence suggests that there was a wood and stone castle on the site in the 1170s, but the first “castle” in the proper sense of the world, built with strong stone walls and good defensive ditches, was completed by King John of England in 1230. Unfortunately, most of the medieval castle burned up in the great fire of April 1684. It started in the Great Hall and only by blowing up nearby buildings, were the citizens able to stop the flames from reaching the gunpowder stored in the Powder tower. Following this, King James directed that the old walls be taken down. Rebuilding began and more stately accommodation replaced the medieval fortification.
Dublin Castle was used for centuries as the seat of English administration in Ireland, but was handed over to Michael Collins and the new Irish Government in 1922, following Ireland’s independence. It now serves as a major government complex and a popular tourist attraction, its ancient round tower and sprawling outbuildings span 900 years, Viking to Medieval, to Georgian, rough stone and cobbles side by side with intricate plasterwork and modern art.
I wander the Castle grounds in awe, my eyes trying to take it all in. Sculptural heads jut from over ornate doors and cast iron spirals decorate garden walls, allowing glimpses of more modern colourful mosaics. Archways and chimneypots, lion-headed doorknobs and even the cobbled courtyard are all equally fascinating to my country-girl curiosity. I have missed the tour that would allow me to enter the buildings but I long to see what lies behind those lovely doors. Realizing that I’m out of time, I snap some photos and reluctantly leave.
Walking towards my next destination, Christ Church Cathedral, I get caught in my first Irish downpour. The formerly bright sky abruptly darkens and the clouds open up. Water pours from the sky in buckets and spurting rivulets flow down the streets, ankle deep. My so-called “waterproof” jacket is useless in this downpour, and the thin trousers and sandals I’m wearing are completely unsuitable. I run for the cover of a large overhanging tree in the Churchyard, completely soaked to the skin. My trousers are transparent with wet and my hair is dripping in my eyes. Within minutes it is over, and the sun once again appears. As I wander around the church, reading placards and snapping pictures, my steaming clothes dry in the sun.
Christchurch Cathedral is a beautiful building by any standards. Said to be the oldest building in Dublin, it was initially made of wood, sometime after 1028 when King Sitric Silkenbeard, the Hiberno-Norse King of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome. It was built on high ground, overlooking the Viking settlement at Wood Quay and became one of only two churches for the whole of Dublin at the time.
Funded by Henry Strongbow and other Norman magnates, the church was rebuilt in stone in the 1180’s, but fell into disrepair for much of the 19th century. From 1871 to 1878, it was extensively renovated and rebuilt. It is now difficult to tell which parts of the interior are truly medieval and which are Victorian imitation.