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Aug 18, 2013 | A Letter to Ireland


As I wait for my Ryanair flight to roll out of Dublin’s airport, I have many reasons to want to come back. While the first two days of my time in Dublin were spent working deep within the walls of Google’s Dublin offices, I made sure to give myself ample time on the weekend to explore. I had always wanted to visit, since Ireland has made itself an impressive national brand and I was a fan of the Corrs, an Irish family band.

A neat twist to my weekend stay was that I found on-campus housing at Trinity College – it was the cheapest place I could find at short notice, and it was perfect for what I needed – a single room with shared bathroom facilities. I thought it was rather smart of the college to generate additional income, together with its campus tour.

Friday night I wandered around Temple Bar and stumbled across countless impressive street performers. I ended up listening to a group called Mutefish, who had an interesting mix of drums, mandolin, Irish flute and tin whistle. The flutist was incredibly skilled, and it had the unintended effect of making me want to buy an Irish flute as well as their CD. I was evidently not the only one impressed by their skills. My Irish stew and Murphy’s beer was decent, but it was the music that I really enjoyed.

Early Saturday I headed to Kilmainham Gaol, arriving an hour before it opened. Luckily a queue started about 10 minutes before opening time, and I was warned ahead of time that it would be busy. The 9:50 tour had about a good 30 people participating, and as we walked around the jail the tour guide filled us on the rather sombre history behind the people who occupied its walls. These included 14 of the 15 men involved in the Irish (revolution) of 1916, who were executed before public opinion changed from disdain towards the incitors of violence to hatred for the British. There was a part of me that wished that I had known this history beforehand, as it seemed to make the tense stability Ireland seems to be undergoing a lot more understandable.

After a bit of siesta in the afternoon I headed downtown again to the Gaiety Theater, where I attended the evening performance of Riverdance. I have a vague memory of watching it on DVD my first year of college, but there’s nothing quite like seeing it in person. I had the second row Dress Circle seats near the right edge, which was cut off perhaps a sixth of the stage on the far right, but it was still a great view. There was something particularly mesemerizing about seeing someone’s body’s lower half spent on making so much (precise) noise, while the upper half was spent on making everything look absolutely effortless.

I spent Sunday morning traveling to Howth, a small town on the northwestern edge of Dublin, jutting out into the western coast like a thumb. Sadly I didn’t have much time to explore except to get about 200 meters into the cliff walk around the peninsula, but I did pass a place W. B. Yeats called home for 3 years in the late part of the 19th century, and managed to score some incredible views of the islands and the sea.

I think if there was any way to summarize Ireland in the sort of high level I-was-only-here-for-two-days kind of manner, it has to be that the charm and beauty comes from an intense battle between the rugged and refined. This tension manifests itself between the rugged men and the beautiful women, between the refined manner of dancing and the rugged nature of noisy feet, between the unpredictable roughness of the weather and the beauty of the land that nourishes itself from the rain. Perhaps the way I am attracted to Ireland is similar to the way I am smitten by Switzerland – the underdog, the small but fiercely proud country – makes itself known to the discerning.

Sad, how I will always be a stranger in both.

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 18th, 2013 at 12:52 pm, EST under the category of Life, Oh Life. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.