A Full Day of History in Dublin!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

It would take weeks to see all of the historical sites in Dublin. We’re cramming in as much as we can while we are here. The prime goal for the day was EPIC, The Emigration Museum, on the other side of the River Liffey. We took a circuitous route, passing through the grounds of Dublin Castle. The first castle on this site was built in the early 1200’s, after the Norman invasion some years before. It was damaged by fire in 1673, and mostly demolished. The round Record Tower is the only portion of the castle that dates from the original structure. Next to it is the Chapel Royal. The castle served as the seat of English and British power from 1171 – 1922. Now the castle is used for ceremonial events. It also houses a library and museum.

The Dubh Linn (Viking name meaning black pool) Gardens sit just south of the Chapel Royal. The center is marked by stone patterns that represent sea serpents. At each corner of the grounds is a small garden. Three of these gardens have been designated as memorial gardens; one commemorates members of the Gardai, or Irish Police, who have been killed in the line of duty.

We walked along Grafton Street, full of shops designed to draw the tourist, and the Temple Bar area, with pubs designed to do the same.

One corner boasts a statue of Molly Malone, made famous in song:

“In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”

Beginning around 2014, tourists have been told that Dubliners will rub sweet Molly’s breasts for good luck, although doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it. Apparently, it’s just another way to make tourists feel their getting an “Irish” experience. You can see how worn that part of her anatomy is. We opted to take our chances without her blessing.

Dublin’s Custom House, which fronts on the River Liffey, was built between 1781 – 1791, to replace an earlier structure. The current building was severely damaged in 1921, five years after the Easter Rebellion. Earlier, Ireland’s president, Éamon de Valera had called for a public show of force by the IRA, to reinforce the idea that it was an army representing an Irish government. He had suggested two possible targets, one of which was the Customs House, an important branch of the British government. The Customs House was chosen in part due to the fact that it was a physical presence of English control. Attacking it would have an impact.

About 120 IRA Volunteers gathered at the Custom House; many belonged to the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade under Tom Ennis. Armed only with pistols and a limited amount of ammunition, they stormed the Custom House and overpowered the police guard. Cans of petrol and bales of cotton were spread throughout the building and set on fire. The Custom House held many government documents, including tax records. Their destruction would cause a hardship to the British government.

More IRA volunteers were posted outside the building to defend against the British forces which had quickly arrived. The IRA soon ran out of ammunition, and the battle was over in short order. The British arrested 111 people, about 70-80 who were IRA. A total of 8 people were killed (5 IRA and 3 civilians), and another 16 wounded ( 5 IRA, 4 British and 7 civilians.)

Thousands of records were destroyed during the attack. The fire burned for days, as the Dublin Brigade responsible for putting out the fire, some IRA members themselves, actually helped to spread it.

Between the Custom House and EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, along the waterfront of the Liffey, is a set of sculptures, representing the potato famine of the 1850’s. “Famine,” by Rowan Gillespie consists of six figures, including a dog, carrying their meager belongings (or starving children) as they search to escape their suffering. The faces are particularly poignant; even now, tears come to my eyes as I look at the photos. Many emigres sailed from this location, looking for new lives in America, Australia, and other parts of the world.

EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum tells the story, not only of those who were trying to escape the potato famine, but of the accomplishments of many of their descendants over the years. The museum is housed in a former warehouse known as the CHQ building (Custom House Quay), which dates to 1820. The museum was designed by the company Event Communications which bills itself as an experience design agency. There are 20 galleries that guide you through the history.

There were many interactive displays to enhance the experience.You can learn of the many contributions of the Irish to our world, in the fields of medicine, education, politics, mathematics and science, dance and music, literature, film, and even crime (Billy the Kid for one.)

At the end, there is even an opportunity to add your family name to the list of those who left Ireland. My great-grandfather came in his teens, after most of his family died in the Potato Famine. He worked on a farm in Iowa, then purchased that from from his employer. Among his descendants are scientists, educators, actors, farmers, entrepreneurs, medical professionals, sports professionals, a university president and a state senator, not bad for a n orphan boy far from home.

The EPIC experience should be a “must” on every visitor’s list.

About kcbernick

I love to travel.
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