I love the June bank holiday weekend in Ireland. Granted this is the first time that I have spent it as an Irish resident since the year 2000 but it evokes memories of sunshine. My birthday is May 31st so I link the day in my head with the bank holiday and glorious weather. I accept, that because this is Ireland, that there’s also probably selective memory at play – every day in Ireland can be a day for a deluge, so it’s probable that I have erased many memories of downpours.
Well today I arose and looked out the window – it was slightly overcast but seeing as we’ve been enjoying an Irish version of a heatwave for over a week already (that is weather above twenty degrees and no rain) I decided to trust mother nature and leave my dirty anorak at home (my raincoat is neither an anorak or dirty – I just love the expression ‘dirty anorak’ and if I ever utter the phrase I always follow it up by rubbing my knee and cackling – only among friends mind – I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about me. )
Today bikes were to be rented and we were going to cycle around the Phoenix Park (fun fact – this is the largest walled city park in Europe and you can get to certain areas where no matter which way you look there are no houses to be seen).
With its impeccable timing (and predictability) the skies opened en route and I arrived like a bedraggled mongrel. A change of plan was made – it was too wet for a cycle and the rain was stinging my eyes – I wanted to be indoors. Therefore we would go to the recently restored Richmond Barracks in Kilmainham – an old British Army Barracks which is now a museum.
I was slightly apprehensive. If I am to be honest, I am a little 1916ed out at this point. Being the centenary year of the 1916 Rising and living in the city where the majority of the Rising took place, it’s perfectly understandable that the museums and galleries and public buildings are all memorializing this year. You can’t move around the city without seeing exhibitions and displays. The museums and bookshops and street fairs are all participating. I realise that this is a very important occasion in Irish history and it’s worth commemorating. But when you’ve been as active as I have been over the last few months, visiting places of historical interest, it seems a little like overkill to me. This is not a criticism of the celebrations. But when you pack as many excursions, as I’ve been doing, it can all seem a little excessive.
It’s not just Ireland mind. If you go to museums and galleries in Amsterdam you cannot avoid hearing about ‘Het Gouden Eeuw’ – the golden age, the brief period in the 17th century when the Netherlands was a world superpower and international leader in the tulip (as well as other) trades.
I suppose the difference is that when I lived in Amsterdam I spaced my culture vulture activities out a little more. And the Golden Age is an era when the Netherlands strode the earth like an underwater colossus, so there is a sense of national pride about the whole thing. Ireland’s history seems a bit more, shall we say depressing – invasion, occupation, famine, war, emigration, oppression. Learning about it is not for the fainthearted.
So I was secretly relieved when we discovered that the barracks is only reopening to the public in three weeks time. I breathed an inner sigh of relief. Dodged a bullet there Murphy – not literally, it’s now a museum and will no doubt be very interesting and I will go visit.
In any case the sun was shining again, so we decided to walk to the nearby to the Irish National War Memorial.
I got to wondering what I spent my time doing in the 1990s during the four years I lived in Dublin. How come there are all these places that I had never ventured to.
The War Memorial is a memorial park to the 49,400 Irish men who lost their lives fighting for Britain during the Great War of 1914 to 1918. It was built by former British and Irish soldiers in the 1920s and 1930s, and maintained by them. But the ideology of mid 20th century Ireland dictated that those men who fought for Britain, were traitors, in the service of Ireland’s oppressor, while the brave revolutionaries of the Rising were dying for Ireland’s freedom. Many surviving soldiers fled to England, or hid their membership of the British army as these were not popular people in the Brave New World of the Irish Free State
It Gardens fell into ruin by the 1950s- and they became an unofficial dump for Dublin City Council.
As the decades rolled by, and bitter memories faded, the gardens were restored, and were re-opened to the public in 1988. They are very serene – set on the banks of the Liffey with beautiful rose gardens and a memorial monument, and woodlands.
Although this being 1916 while the memorial to the Irish men who lost their lives in the Great War is prominent; the memorial to the Irish men who lost their lives in the service of the British Army during the 1916 Rising is much more discreet.
Don’t rock the boat too much lads.