I find it hard to pass an open door. There’s a curiosity about me that wants to know what’s inside. This was rewarded last week when we ventured into the Customs House, and this week when we stumbled into the Liquor Rooms on Dublin’s Wellington Quay. Night life in Dublin need never be boring.

We’d gone to the Workmans Club to see ReDiViDeR – a two-horns-no-chords contemporary jazz quartet whose founder and drummer, Matthew Jacobson has been billed by the Irish Times as one of Ireland’s most exciting young talents’. And while I’ve no doubt that the four lads have talent oozing out of their pores, I didn’t get it. Judging by the nodding heads and tapping feet in the room, though, I was the only one. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was worth it to see the inside of the building on 10 Wellington Quay, with so many of the original features still in place.

Night life in Dublin workmans club

The Workmans Club bills itself as having:

…a simple mission to provide a space where musicians and independent thinkers can witness their ideas come to life. From down and dirty rock gigs to intimate acoustic performances, comedy nights, book readings, multimedia take overs, themed markets, to diverse indie clubnights, The Workmans Club has become a haven for those who create music and art and those who consume it.

The building itself has been around for more than 160 years and for most of that time, from 1888 to 2003, it housed the Workingmens Club. It’s a mad place. The colours, the wallpaper, the furniture. It’s as close as I’ve seen to a Dublin take on a Budapest-style ruin pub with a nod to stately grandeur.

The whole concept of a working men’s club is a quirky one.

Victorian social reformer and strict teetotaler Henry Solly first launched the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union (CIU) in 1862. His aim was to give the working man an education, middle-class values and, most of all, keep him out of the pub.

Something went wrong and the Clubs attracted boozers of a stellar sort. They were massive in England in the 1970s and 1980s and I remember frequenting a few. Neil Anderson wrote a guide to them, reviewed in the Irish Times and worth a quick read if you’re interested.

Night life in Dublin Liquor Rooms

Next door is the Clarence Hotel – of U2 fame. By the side was a flashy looking door with steps leading down to a cellar and some interesting framed portraits dotting a wallpapered wall. We had to go look. The Liquor Rooms, a sister to the posh Peruke and Periwig over on Dawson Street, is a little gem and home to Burlesque in Dublin (note to self duly made to catch a gig next time I’m in town). Night life in Dublin has it all. It was quiet enough on a Sunday evening to have a good nose around and while the place probably wouldn’t stand up to daylight scrutiny, it does shabby chiq very well. Blessedly, the staff know their cocktails and for a tenner a piece (€10), these miniature works of art were worth the investment. I fell in love with the bathroom, the wall of fireplaces, and the indoor garden. Oh, someone give me a building and a budget…

Night life in Dublin Liquor Rooms

Night life in Dublin Liquor Rooms

Night life in Dublin Liquor Rooms

Let’s just wander, I said. And see where we end up. We were headed to the IFC in Dublin’s docklands, down by the Customs House, to see the 140th annual exhibition by artists of the Dublin Painting and Sketching Club.* Way back in October of 1874, a group of artists got together to start the club, one of whom was Bram Stoker, perhaps better known as the creator of Dracula. This year’s exhibition has the River Liffey as its celebratory theme and features work by both members and invited guests. The catalogue is impressive and just a week into the exhibition, quite a number of the works have sold. I found myself wishing I had €3000 to purchase a painting of Achill Island by John Kirwan and a way to get it to Hungary. It is absolutely stunning. A painting I could lose myself  in, over and over again. I have a week to figure out the logistics.

John Kirwan painting of Achill

M’s choice, Bluebell Meadow, by Vincent Smith, had already sold.

Bluebell Meadow, by Vincent Smith

Heading up the Quays, we passed the Customs House and saw a sign pointing to a Visitor Centre that neither of us had known was there. Admission was free and we had time, so we went inside. This neo-classical stunner was completed in 1791 with a bill of £200 000 (equivalent to about €40 million today). Said to the jewel of James Gandon’s portfolio, it is an iconic part of the Dublin skyline.

During the Irish War of Independence in 1921, it was burned down. I was a little shocked to hear that Michael Collins had given the order. The first round of restoration was completed by 1928 and the second by the bi-centenary in 1991. The part that houses the Visitor Centre is apparently the only original part left.

The exhibition is in four parts:

  • Met Éireann’s ‘weather-themed’ room looks at the development of scientific meteorology in Ireland with a special focus on the weather of Easter Week 1916 and the weather on 25 May 1921, when the Custom House was attacked.  It highlights the unfailing commitment of weather observers who took daily weather readings, sometimes against all odds.
  • The Custom House and 1916, including the story of some Local Government staff dismissed for participating in the Rising, Bureau of Military History statements of prisoners in the Custom House after the Rising, and activity in the area of the Custom house during the Rising.
  • Gandon, telling the story of the architect James Gandon and the construction of the Custom House.
  • The Custom House Fire 1921, covering the events of 25 May 1921 and the subsequent restoration.

Aerial view of the Customs House

It’s an imposing building with much to note and a classic example of why we should look up more. I’d never noticed the Irish harps beside the English roses, or the very Indian-looking bull face on top of the pillars.

Customs House Pillars

I don’t know much about architects or architecture, but Gandon seems to have taken a delight in this one. And then I read that this was a game played by architects of the time – creating different shaped spaces for people to wander through. How very, very different from the functional stuff we see today.

Customs House Visitor Centre

Having watched the documentaries and read our way through the exhibit, we wandered towards the Irish Life Mall, passing for the millionth time the statue of James Connolly. But this time, we were walking. And we stopped. And saw the Talking Statues logo that gave us a link to tap into our phones to hear the story of Connolly and the part he played in Irish history. Written and narrated by Brendan O’Carroll (of Mrs Brown fame), it taught us stuff we didn’t know and reminded us of stuff we’d long forgotten.

James Connolly statue by the Customs House

Next time I’m in town, I want to find the statue of Joyce to hear what Roddy Doyle wrote about the man, as told by Gabriel Byrne.

I was born in Dublin. I love the city. And I love the fact that even now, I’m still learning about it.

 

*PS The art exhibition is on at CHQ, in the IFSC, in Dublin city centre from April 15 to 29, 2018. Admission free.

Visitors to Dublin can get caught up in the tide of tourists that flows around the hot spots like Trinity College and its Book of Kells. They dip in and dip out of the tidal pools neatly mapped on the hop-on-hop-off bus tours. They sip their way through the Guinness Hop Store and the various distilleries around the city each selling a liquid taste of Irishness.  And yes, there’s plenty to do, and even more to see. But there’s another side of Dublin, the backstreets, the ‘burbs, the lived-in places like Dublin 7 that are more than worth a wander.

Heading to the fab Slice of Cake for breakfast on Sunday morning (56 Manor Pl, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7), I went for a wander and found myself oohing and aahing like a love-struck tourist. There are some amazing buildings in the ‘hood and as I engaged in fantasies of winning the EuroMillions and buying a terraced cottage around the corner from Lucky Lane, I realised that neighbourhoods like these are gems just waiting to be discovered.

Terraced houses in Dublin 7

Cafés, bars, and restaurants line the streets while terraced houses speak to generations past who must be turning in their graves at the thoughts of the €300 000+ their 50-60 sqm former homes are commanding. These two-bedroom terraced houses ain’t cheap. But they have everything on their doorstep.

Stanhope Street school Dublin 7

Once a home for orphan girls, the Stanhope Street House of Refuge is now St Joseph’s School  for Girls. Dating back to the early 1800s, the gardens of the building have been likened to an oasis in the heart of the city. The 1970s monstrosity that extended the school leaves me wondering where the planners were that week, but perhaps the mix of styles simply reflects the student mix – 40% are of international orgin – and indeed that of the city in general.

Manor Street Dublin 7

I was more than intrigued by a banner calling for equality for all pollinators. On further investigation, it turns out that Bí URBAN has a master plan to

…create a green corridor that will connect the Botanic Gardens with the Liffey in Dublin 7, providing an amenity for the public and a living laboratory where DIT [Dublin Institute of Technology] can study the importance of nature in the urban environment.

What’s not to like?

Blackhall Place Dublin 7Closer to the River Liffey sits the magnificent building that is Blackhall Place, HQ of the Law Society of Ireland. For about 200 years, up till 1968, this was home to

a charitable school for boys of poor families […] called the Hospital and Free School of King Charles II, Dublin. It became known as the King’s Hospital or Blue Coat School because of the boys’ military-style blue uniform.

Carmichael House Dublin 7

Over on North Brunswick Street, also in Dublin 7, I stopped outside Carmichael House. From this impressive building, once the Doctors’ residence for the nearby Richmond Hospital, 48 charities operate. From Alcohol Action Ireland to Young Horizons and everything in between, the centre has been in operation since 2011.

Carmichael Centre KnowledgeNET brings together a full spectrum of management and governance knowledge needed to run Irish Not For Profit organisations.

What a resource.

Richmond Hospital Dublin 7

Photo: S Jacobs

But my vote for the day went the old Richmond Hospital itself. This stunningly gorgeous building was on the market in 2013 for €3.5 million. I didn’t have the money then, and I don’t have the money now, but wow …. what a place to live.  Back when it first opened as a hospital in 1901 (for the 100 years before that it had been a convent), there was one window for each bed. When the hospital closed, five of the Dublin courts moved in and operated from here until 2011. Some nasty rumours are going around that it might end up as a casino!

Richmond Hospital Dublin 7

Lisa Cassidy posted this 6 years ago on BuiltDublin.com:

I’m drawn to it by the roofline, the copper roofs tapering to a stack of ornaments, the little finials on the gables of each wing, the curves of the ridge line on the pitched roofs and the chimneys popping up throughout. The double loggias (covered galleries open to air on one side) on the ward blocks seem like useful facilities, outside without being outside, and covered outdoor spaces are to be welcomed in this climate. It’s a big, striking, formal building, and I would love very much to see the interior.

Me, too. I’d love to get a look inside. This is the sort of touristy thing I like to do. Wander and wonder.

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty

I was baptised into the Catholic Church. And for the large part of my adult life (when I got to choose whether or not to go to mass) I’ve been a regular Sunday mass-goer with the occasional mid-week celebration thrown in for good measure. I had a couple of years where I didn’t go. I was living in Alaska at the time, so perhaps it was a combination of simply not bothering and not having a regular priest that put paid to my religious attendance – I can’t remember. Read more

I tell myself that I only need a bed. A clean bed. And hot water. And a decent breakfast. I tell myself that I don’t need to spend a huge amount of money on a room that I will only be showering and sleeping in. That’s how I usually justify my hotel choice. But I have gotten tired of the sameness of hotel rooms, the miles and miles of carpeted corridors, the galleries of cheap prints on bland walls. Still, if the bed is clean and the water is hot and the breakfast is included, price usually wins out.

I don’t make the sort of money that allows me to rack up three-digit-euro-a-night hotel rooms. If I did, perhaps the stars would matter. But they don’t. Not really. Anyway, I found out this week that the word luxury as used in the hotel world applies to 6* and 7* hotels and resorts, and not, as I’ve always thought, to the 5* ones like the Four Seasons. So my usual 3* stays have now paled to paler than pale.

When we were planning our trip to Killarney, I reserved two hotels online. Himself reserved one. He seemed quite attached to his choice and I wasn’t much bothered about mine, so his was the one we went with. There was little if any difference in the price of all three. All promised clean beds, hot water, and a decent breakfast. Decision made, I left it at that. I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t check the website. I didn’t check the reviews. I simply trusted that it would work out.

We turfed up to the Earls Court House Hotel just off Muckross Road on a Monday night. We were late arriving but had rung ahead. ‘Just ring the doorbell,’ the nice lady said. ‘Someone will open up.’ So we did. And they did. And it wasn’t at all what I expected, not that I’d expected anything other than a clean bed, hot water, and a decent breakfast.

Hotel history of Killarney

Tourists have been visiting Killarney since the mid-eighteenth century, thanks to the then Lord of Kenmare, Thomas, 4th Viscount Kenmare, who began by inviting visitors and residents to the town. When Queen Victoria dropped by in 1861, Killarney went international, and it’s been on the global tourist map ever since. Before the railway came in 1853, it had three hotels. A year later, it had seven. And they’ve multiplied over the last 150 years to epic numbers. It seems like every other house in Killarney is a B&B, a guesthouse, or a small hotel. Roomex.com lists 93 hotels. Alphrooms lists 53. Kerry Hotels lists 247. And out of all these, himself chose the Earls Court House Hotel.

earls court hotel

Ray, one half of Moynihan team that owns and runs the place, answered the bell. He was all chat. We signed the forms and got our keys, only too delighted when he mentioned that he’d put us in a four-poster bed and hoped we’d enjoy our stay. I knew that wasn’t what we’d booked but hey, I’d never slept in a hand-built 6ft x 6ft four-poster bed so I kept quiet. For a change. Anyway, all I was after was a clean bed, hot water, and a decent breakfast. Breakfast started at 8 but we were due to start the conference at 8. ‘No problem’. he said. ‘We can open the kitchen for ye at half seven. And if there’s anything else you’d like, let us know.’ It was all very relaxed. I offered to pay but he said we could do that when we checked out. No rush.

The voice in the lift announces each floor in a broad Kerry accent. The carpeted corridors don’t match. The paintings and prints on the walls are a hodgepodge of styles. The Period armchairs sprinkled around the place are upholstered in all sorts of materials and patterns. And the overall effect is absolutely fabulous. It’s like stepping into a period house, complete with drawing rooms, drapes, and duck-down duvets. Okay, so maybe the duvets are a bit on the modern side but they’re covered with heavy brocade bedspreads that turn a sleep into an experience you want to drag out forever. Tucked out of sight at the back of the hotel is a service room where guests can do laundry. A pragmatic nod to twenty-first-century living.

4-poster suite

This is a photo taken from their website. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t do the room justice with my limited photographic skills. We didn’t get the flowers or the wine, but that’s not a complaint – it’s me being honest. I wouldn’t want ye to get too envious. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to leave my hotel room. I cut short a night out on the town and passed up on another to come back to the room and work. It was so quiet, so spacious, so real that I caught myself reaching for a bell-pull that existed only in my mind’s eye. I wanted to summon the maid to turn down the bed and draw me a bath (or in this case, a Jacuzzi).

The Earls Court is more than a 4* boutique hotel furnished with some lovely antiques and an extensive breakfast menu covering everything from award-winning porridge (I didn’t ) to a full Irish (I did); from kippers (I didn’t) to a bacon, cheese and guacamole wrap (I did). The home-cured ham, the homemade brown bread, the lemon drizzle cake … delicious. Yep the Earls Court is much more than a hotel; it’s an experience.

What makes the Earls Court different

And for all that it has, the one thing the Earls Court doesn’t have is sameness. It’s an original. What started out in in 1990s with 10 rooms has been extended to 40 over the years. Ray and Emer are still very visible, very much in charge. But they’re more than ably assisted by a very personable staff who have a nod for everyone. From the witty Margaret Mary on the front desk to the inimitable Agnes, a veteran of the hospitality business, who adds a breath of fresh air to breakfast, everyone we met had time for us. They were never too harried to stop for a chat, to ask how our day had gone, to answer a question or seven. And they have what everyone in Killarney seems to have been blessed with – the ability to banter.

The Lord of Kenmare knew what he was doing when he recognised in Killarney an innate hospitality that would make it a memorable place to stay for centuries to come. And had the Earls Court been around back in the 1700s, he might even have had our room.

Lounge at Earls Court Hotel

Woodlawn Road, Off Muckross Road, Dromhale, Killarney, Co. Kerry
killarney-earlscourt.ie
(064) 663 4009

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I was a great fan of Bulmers back in the day. I loved the stuff. But as my stomach ages and my taste buds get a little more sophisticated, that love is waning. While I still enjoy a glass every now and then, I can’t handle it like I used to. I’ve been looking for a replacement for a few years now but find everything too sweet. Or too dry. Or too sharp. Or too gassy. And I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve tried craft ciders. I’ve tried English ciders. I’ve tried Hungarian ciders. I came close once with a French cider from Normandy, but that was a short-lived long-distance relationship.

The other night, at the opening night of TBEXIreland, I was exploring the stables at Killarney Racecourse. The horses were away and the stalls given over to food and beverage producers from the area, courtesy of Taste Kerry. It was there I ran into Rupert and his cider from Longueville House in Mallow, Co. Cork. [As a complete aside, every Rupert I’ve ever met has been tall – is there something in the name?] It was love at first sip. No artificial sweeteners. No additives. No colourings. No sulphates. No preservatives. Nothing but Irish apples and natural yeast.

I did the whole tasting bit. I sniffed and swirled and let the apples soak into my tongue. I did a mental checklist of all the descriptives I could use, checking for notes and bouquets and heritage. A line from a cider review by Charlie Harvey came to mind: robust with a good kick of apple balanced by some nice farmyard notes. Sounds good but in all honesty, I wouldn’t know a farmyard note if it sang to me. I can’t lay claim to be an cider aficionado. I just know what I like. And this I liked. A lot.

I asked him what the secret was to making a good cider. It’s simple. ‘Tis all in the apples: cider apples. They don’t use eating apples or cooking apples or any other sort of apples other than cider apples. Other cider makers might use cider apples but they’ll then add some regular apple juice to the mix for sweetness. Not Longueville. They only use Dabinett & Michelin, heritage, heirloom cider apples.

I went back for seconds, and thirds, and fourths: they were small glasses. Had the queue not been forming behind me, I’d have been brazen enough to ask for a bottle to take with me. But, Rupert assured me that Longueville House Cider is on sale in SuperValue right now – 3 bottles for €10. I thanked the travel gods that I’d booked check-in luggage to take back with me.

And there’s more: Longueville Mór  (slightly stronger than the Longueville House cider with an AVB of 8%). This cider is fortified with brandy. Their brandy. Yes, they do brandy, too. I liked the cider and brandy mix but I’m not a great one for neat alcohol. The brandy is very much a brandy and judging the sighs of satisfaction from those around me, it’s a good one. Me? I preferred the house cider.

Curious, I did a quick search to see if any cider heads had reviewed it. And I found this on Cider Says:

First Impression:  Light orange amber hue.  Very low carbonation.  Smells of cider apple juice, yeast, and a hint of funk.

Tasting Notes:  On the sweeter side of semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low tartness, acidity, funk, and tannins.  Hints of bitterness and sourness.  Notes of tannic rich cider apples, barnyard, brown sugar, orange, leather, yeast, and honey.  Moderate length finish.  Moderate apple flavor, sessionability, flavor intensity, and complexity.

And while still curious – What does sessionability mean? – I was delighted to note that my new love is similar to cider from Normandy, France, ‘such as Christian Drouin Pays d’ Auge, due to the richness, flavor notes, and funk’. Whatever funk is.

Now, all I need is for someone in Budapest to stock it.

Longueville_cider

Longueville House, Mallow, County Cork, Ireland P51 KC8K
Tel: +353 (0)22 47156
US/CAN toll free tel: 800 323 5463 info@longuevillehouse.ie

 

 

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Brag about Irish scenery, whiskey, or music. Wrap up Ireland in culture,  prose, or poetry. Colour it in 40 shades of green or 50 shades of rain. For me what sells the place is the banter.

I’m back in Ireland. Again. This time in Killarney, Co. Kerry, attending my first TBEX – an international convention of travel bloggers. The main sponsors – Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland – along with the host town of Killarney, are pulling out all the stops when it comes to showcasing the local offer to delegates. Pre- and post-conference side trips include Dingle, the Ring of Kerry, Muckross Abbey, Ross Castle and other local destinations all carefully chosen to give the punters a taste of what some might say is the real Ireland. Posters around the town warn everyone that we’re here – just in case.

The opening event out at the Killarney Racecourse offered an impressive sampling of local food and drinks, (courtesy of Taste Kerry) the requisite show of Irish dancing, and a fascinating insight into horseracing given by Sandra Hughes (daughter of the late Dessie Hughes, a legend in his time – I won a few quid on Hardy Eustace in his day) – but more on all that later. What I’m revelling in today is the banter.

We got back into town about 9.30 last night to find a lot of the shops still open. Time works on a different clock in this part of the world. Most of the tourists spend their days out touring the countryside, only coming back into town in the evening, so local merchants have adjusted accordingly.

A young fellah was hoovering inside Shades of Erin – one of the cornucopia of craft shops in town. He assured us he was still open for business and invited us in for a browse. I complimented him on his hoovering and asked if he’d come round and do my house when he was done.

‘Ah sure I will – but don’t tell the mother. I don’t do it at home.’

I was after a Grandfather shirt for himself – one of those heavy brushed-cotton collarless jobs. But he had none in stock.

‘But here, listen. Would you not fancy a poncho? I’ve been sick looking at them for months but today I brought down the price  to €60 and they’ve flown out the door. Mad, isn’t it.’

I wasn’t into ponchos or jumpers or any of the woolens, but he was determined.

‘Yer woman next door might have one – c’mere and we’ll check.’

He led us to a couple of shops a few doors down – Country Crafts. He told the young one inside what we were looking for and left us to it.

‘I only have the one’, she said, pulling out a tent-like shirt in a nice pale blue. ‘It’s all I have left.’ It was massive – an XXXL. Way too big for himself. But she could see I was biting.

‘You’d be quare shnug in this for the winter. ‘Tis lovely and warm. Sure try it on and see.’

I did. The shoulders were down near my elbows and the tail of it covered my knees. But it was, as she promised, quare shnug.

‘They say I could sell sand to the Arabs’, she said with a smile.

‘Not this particular Arab’, says I.

‘Ah go on’, she said. ‘Tis lovely on ya. I’ll knock another fiver off it. You know you want it…’ And there began the banter. Back and forth. On politics, on tourists, on travel.

I was born in Ireland. I grew up in Ireland. I know Ireland. I’m not one to fall for the tourist twattle. But I love the banter. I wasn’t buying the shirt as much as I was buying the experience. I should have spotted the family resemblance. Danny Cronin and his sister Monica are great brand ambassadors for Killarney and for Ireland. And were Monica running the country, we’d be in good hands.

So with me bagged and sated, she sent us off down to Quills to sort himself out.

I felt my way through the woolens, picked up a present for a friend’s baby, and fixed on a shirt for himself. We went up to the counter to pay. Three women stood waiting to serve us. It was coming up to closing time on a Tuesday night and what business they’d had, had been done. I asked them about the Merino wool, having heard that Ireland was now importing wool from Australia and then  knitting it up. But apparently, we’re also mixing it with Irish wool, to keep it Irish. The traditional Arans with the oiled wool were on sale – they’re not moving as well as they used to, crowded out by the new range of softer wools and pastel colours. There was the usual litany of where are ye from and what are ye doing in town, but far from being rote, they were sincere in their ask. They wanted to know.

Greta, Sheila and Geraldine on the job at Quills

I miss that. I miss getting someone’s life story on the way into town on the bus. I miss the running commentary on the weather or the random remarks from equally random strangers on what I’m wearing or how I’m looking. I miss the engagement, the questions, the innate curiosity that feeds into our stories and embellishes our blather. I miss the banter.

Walking down main street on our way home close to 11 o’clock, we passed Eric Gudmunsen getting traction with the tourists with his Trump song. He had them completely engaged. Further on, the lovely Teresa was offering a taste of some caramel ice-cream.

‘Can I interest ye in some ice-cream? Handmade in Dingle. All natural. Lovely stuff.’

Teresa at work in Murphy’s

I took a spoon to be polite and that was me done. I got the low down on it all, checked out the full offer, had a few more samples and promised I’d be back. And I will. They have a Dingle Gin ice-cream that has a kick in it and a lovely sea-salt one that I could have for breakfast. But apart from the creaminess and the taste and the inventiveness of the flavours, they have Teresa. Wearing her Jackie Healy-Rae cap instead of a hairnet, this pint-sized ice-cream enthusiast is a great ambassador for the Murphy brand.

So yes, Ireland has the scenery, the whiskey, the music. It has the culture,  the prose, and the poetry. It has its 40 shades of green and its 50 shades of rain. But what makes it special are the people and their willingness to engage. What makes Ireland Ireland is the banter.

 

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It’s been years since I last lived in Clontarf. I did my time in Dublin 3 many  lifetimes ago. And I loved it. Being able to smell a low tide. Waking up to seagulls (before we were on the outs). Living in relatively luxury in a mews built by an avant-garde American couple at the back of a house on Castle Avenue before it was popular to use up every available parcel of land for housing. It was great.

Occasionally, I’d venture down to the village itself and have a pint in The Sheds owned by the Connollys. Their name is still on the window but whether that’s just laziness or actual testimony to the fact that they still own the place some 30 years later, is debatable. The pub hasn’t changed. Not a bit. And it’s great to see that it has survived the tide of modernisation that swallowed up neighbouring pubs like the Yacht. It’s only concession to progress is the conversion of an upstairs room into a theatre space that now houses Viking Theatre.

pilgrimMy birthday week had kicked off in style the night before with dinner in Drumcondra and a visit to an old haunt from my NIHE days – the Cat and Cage – another pub that has survived the Celtic Tiger relatively intact. Friday night was earmarked for dinner in Moloughneys, a lovely eatery in Clontarf  village that does good food well. Then a nip around the corner into the Sheds for 75 minutes of excellent entertainment in the guise of Philip Doherty’s The Pilgrim Starring the sublime Rex Ryan (the late Gerry Ryan’s son – apparently he was named Rex because Gerry thought it would look good on a poster ), this one-man man show is the best piece of theatre I’ve seen since Hilda Fay in My Name is Alice Devine.  

Billed as ‘an Irishman’s odyssey through a world set ablaze by 9/11’, it is brilliantly written and was even more brilliantly performed. Ryan plays Christy, a young lad from Dublin who is about to discover that the world doesn’t revolve around him. He also does justice to an old man with a powerful shower, various airport employees, locals, and even a pregnant woman (does anyone know why marigold gloves stuffed with ice cubes might be something a pregnant woman might want?)

His plane home to Ireland after five months in San Diego was diverted to Newfoundland for four days in the aftermath of 9/11. I’d never given much thought to the hundreds if not thousands of planes grounded that day in the USA – and the ‘plane people’ they carried. He gets drunk during their overnight on the plane and wakes up in a church. For a minute he thinks the Virgin Mary is appearing to him. You had to be there – it was the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.

pilgrim2The various calls that go out for the likes of toilet paper and condoms as the locals struggle to cope with the influx of temporary refugees – what Doherty calls a ‘Noah’s Ark of nationalities’ and the various short-term relationships that spring up reflect societal interaction at its best.  Russian musicians entertain the masses with their version of a ‘Communist Céili’. And time passes marked with activity: ‘three beatings, two benders, and one fake apparition since I last had a shower’. The links between Ireland and Newfoundland are subtly woven with fishermen looking like ‘blight-ridden potatoes’ and Padre Pio morphing into Peadair.

Christy’s sex scene with Penny (his long-time friend, a woman, now pregnant with his child and in his mind heart-achingly classified as ‘just Penny’) was both graphic and beautiful and so quickly recounted that sensibilities didn’t have time to be offended. The drowning scene had me gasping for air as I watched enthralled, mesmerized at how one man could so vividly portray something so terrible. Rex Ryan is a man I’d travel to see on stage again. Philip Doherty’s manipulation of the English language has as me green with envy. Directed by Aoife Spillane-Hinks, The Pilgrim was at the 2014 Dublin Fringe and is heading to Edinburgh Fringe this month. If you’re going that way, be sure to put it on your must-see list. I wonder if there’s any way to get it to Budapest or whether it would travel?

I love birthday weeks. This one has started well and is shaping up to be a good one. As it trundles forward, I’m grateful for the many friends who have already shared it, and those who have yet to share it, and for the likes of Ryan and Doherty and Spillane-Hinks whose talent traverses boundaries and provides us lesser mortals with so much entertainment.

 

 

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“Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law. But always meeting ourselves.”

James Joyce’s Ulysses is arguably one of Ireland’s most famous literary offerings. In some 265 000 words, 30 000+ of them unique, it chronicles the life of Leopold Bloom in the course of a day –June 16, 1904 – in Dublin. Joyce chose to mark this date, the day on which he first stepped out with the woman who would become his wife, Nora Barnacle. Today, June 16 is celebrated globally as Bloomsday. And one of the most notable celebrations outside of Dublin is here in Hungary, in Szombathely, the birthplace of Bloom’s fictional father, a Hungarian Jew by the name of Rudolf Virág, who emigrated to Ireland.

Back in 2007, Hungarian filmmaker Csilla Toldy, who’s now living in Ireland, made a 26-minute documentary The Bloom Mystery on the Hungarian-Jewish origins of Leopold Bloom. The film was shot simultaneously in Hungary and Ireland on Bloomsday 2007, and underscores the almost intangible affinity that exists between the two nations.

A couple of years ago, in 2013, Ambassador Kevin Dowling and the Irish Embassy here in Budapest, launched a Belated Bloomsday, designed to coincide with the Night at the Museums. There’s a lot of interest in Ireland and her literature here in Hungary and this night is a welcome addition to the literary scene.

bloomThis year’s venue ‒ 2B Gallery, Raday utca 47 ‒ will host music, readings, a film, talks, and an art exhibition on Joyce from 5.30 to 10 pm on Saturday, 20th June. Hungarian actors from the Atrium Theatre Company will read from Joyce in English and in Hungarian [I believe that they’re hoping to put on a full performance of The Dead later this year – something else to look forward to]. And if you fancy a bit of fancy dress, don your Bloomsday threads, enter the Joycean Best Dressed competition, and get a free glass of Guinness to put you in the mood. [If you’re a punctuation pedant, you’ll need a Guinness or three.] One of the features of the night will be the screening of Pat Murphy’s wonderful film, Nora. For more details, check the Embassy’s Facebook page.

Ulysses is a treasure trove of great advice and its relevance hasn’t dimmed with the passing of time.  I’ve tried, on a number of occasions, to read the book in its entirety, but have failed miserably. It’s a punctuation thing.  I did partake in a 24-hour reading of the text in San Diego one year and admittedly at 3 am in the morning it began to make some sense. I went so far as to buy the unabridged audio version in the hope that hearing it might be easier. But alas, besting the beast is something that I still have to do before I die. I agree with Carl Jung who said that Ulysses could ‘just as well be read backwards, for it has no back and no front, no top and no bottom’. Mad in the head, Joyce was.

Flicking through the tome this week, I came across a few pertinent quotations that still stand tall.

On smoking: ‘The mouth can be better engaged than with a cylinder of rank weed.’ On intolerance: ‘It’s a patent absurdity on the face of it to hate people because they live round the corner and speak a different vernacular, so to speak.’ And on the passing of time: ‘Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.’ For all his battiness, our man Joyce did us proud. And it’s great to be able to share him.

First published in The Budapest Times 19 June 2015

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It’s not that I’m afraid of heights. I’m not. But I like to have something solid under my feet when there is so much distance between them and the ground. I had vague memories of crossing the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge on the north coast of Ireland but they were vague; so vague in fact that a second go, twenty years later, was the order of the day.

IMG_2784 (800x600)Faced with the problem of getting to Carrick-a-Rede island from the mainland, crossing a 20-m wide chasm that dropped 23 m to the sea, local fisherman came up with this rather innovative idea. And all to check their salmon nets. As I struggled to navigate the 70 or so rocky steps down to the bridge, I had visions of fit and feisty fishermen lugging their catch up home. Some days, working at a computer doesn’t seem half bad.

IMG_2770 (800x600)Back in the day, it had just one hand rail. Today, there are two. No more than eight can be on the bridge at the same time (which is comforting) yet the size of those particular eight doesn’t seem to matter (which is less than comforting). As we trekked the mile and a half or so to the bridge, I did stop occasionally to wonder whether it was worth it. But the view from the island is fantastic. You can see Rathlin Island, and on a clear day, Scotland.

IMG_2766 (800x600)The colours are gobsmackingly glorious and the remoteness of it all makes it very much worthwhile. Travel and Leisure notes it on its list of the world’s scariest bridges and I can see how some might be terrified (ahem, pH). But that fear is put on hold because it’s so beautiful.

IMG_2776 (800x600)There’s an old house down some steps that is probably a boathouse of some kind. It had me fantasizing once again about living in the wilds, far from the mania that is the twenty-first century. But given that there would be a steady trail of tourists passing overhead all day every day, peace and quiet might not be as I might expect.

If you’re in the vicinity, it’s worth making the effort. And if you have kids with you (even big kids) they’ll love it.

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