I was talking to someone over the holidays, who mentioned that he sometimes read my blog, and that he found it funny. While I kelp a straight face, on the inside I involuntarily preened. Tell me more.
‘Yes. Even though it has absolutely no point – you’re not making any statements – it’s still funny.’
Ah well – I supposed I deserved that ego deflation.
On my pointless wanderings around Dublin, I had plans to do something vaguely cultural on Monday. Being the last day before returning to work, I felt that I ought to step out of the regular routine. Tomorrow I would be back on the nine to five treadmill, and my free time for new experiences would be severely limited. I have not quite given up on my dream of finding a job that pays the same as my current one, but only requires ten hours a week worth of labour. I have yet to find this dream job however.
Monday I was going to visit the Richmond Barracks in Inchicore. This is an old British Army Barracks that was reopened as a museum late last year. I have visited previously – last summer – a few weeks before it was due to open. My intention was to revisit the place at some point. Not that I had any overwhelming desire to see even more 1916 Rising, or Irish military history. It was more to do with the fact that these buildings are interesting, and I’m paying for them – as a taxpayer I hasten to add, not from some non-existent trust fund. While the 1916 Rising history is engaging, seeing as last year was the centenary of the event I’d seen plenty exhibitions and memorials which would explain my reluctance. My mind was made up however – I was going to see this place.
I got the tram to Suir Road, which google told me was the closest stop. Like a good little millennial, when I disembarked, I switched on the navigator on my telephone. It told me that I was 600 metres from the barracks. I followed the instructions. They took me to a cul-de-sac containing some very fetching semi-detached houses. Pleasant as these dwellings were I suspect they were not the base from which the British Empire kept its military eye on its wayward Irish neighbour over the past few centuries.
I retraced my steps to see if I had missed a signpost. Nothing. In the distance I saw Kilmainham Gaol – another important symbol of Ireland’s colonial past. I had no inclination to visit this – it’s only accessible via a guided tour, and I had already done this last year. In any case it was now 3pm. Time was against me in my quest for Monday cultural enlightenment.
I walked towards the gaol – as it was located across the road from my replacement destination – the Irish Museum of Modern Art – which is housed in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham – an enormous building set in vast and beautifully manicured gardens in the heart of the city.
I arrived to be informed by the rude sign that the museum was closed on Mondays – including bank holidays. Well that’s bloody marvellous I thought. At least the café was open – I’d have a nice cup of coffee – from where I could plot my next move. The café is in the cellar and is quite atmospheric. I entered, to be informed by the beaming assistant that the café was now closed.
‘Fie on you’ I thought to myself, ‘Are you really going to deny me a plain cup of coffee?’
I said nothing.
My day of culture was being thwarted at every turn, by timetables and my inability to read a map.
I walked to Heuston Station, dejected. I boarded the tram to go home. At the Abbey Street stop I had a brainwave. There is an exhibition very close to my flat – called ‘Epic Ireland – the Diaspora Museum’.
This is located in the Custom House Quay building on the north-side of the river. It is a listed building – formerly a tobacco and wine warehouse. During the silly times earlier this century, it was renovated and reopened as an upscale shopping mall. The high-end shops that moved there, all went bust. These days the retail units in the space, are nearly all food outlets selling lunch to the busy little worker bees in the financial sector.
‘Epic Ireland’ has taken over the entire basement and it is an interactive exhibition telling the story of Ireland’s history of mass emigration, why this happened (poverty, pestilence, starvation, oppression), what they experienced in their new lands, and how they shaped and influenced the countries they inhabited.
I had my reservations about the exhibition. Having seen the appalling 1916 exhibition in the Ambassador Theatre my expectations were low. As this was also a commercial exhibition I expected lots of special effects and gimmicks, but little in the way of actual artefacts or research. It cost fourteen euros, for which you had full access to the individually themed rooms. Starting with the reasons they left and ending with the musical, cultural and social legacy they brought to their new countries.
Most of it would be well known to Irish people – we learn this in school, but I guess it would be fresh for foreign visitors. Some of it was new to me though. I had no idea that Argentina was such a popular destination for Irish emigrants in the 19th century – or indeed that the most famous Irish-Argentinian is a gentleman called Che Guevara Lynch. Or that Barbadian pop superstar Rihanna has Irish ancestry.
Interestingly this was the first exhibition or historical account of Irish emigration that I have seen, that acknowledged that gay people had been driven out Ireland in their thousands – particularly in the twentieth century – because of the oppressive, stifling Catholicism of the newly independent nation.
Having lived abroad myself for so many years maybe I had a less misty-eyed and romantic vision of emigration than that which seemed to inform some of the rooms.
All in all it was a fairly interesting show. Nothing ground-breaking for sure, it was only slightly spoiled by the sense of self-glorification that Ireland does so well. It was still a worthwhile spectacle though.
Having once been part of the diaspora which this museum was celebrating I thought that an area for improvement or development would be a room to remember the emigrants who returned to Ireland after many years away, and their attitudes to the old country now that our impression is no longer clouded by a romantic nostalgia for the old country.
What have these people achieved since their return? Aside from working in the industrial wastelands of county Dublin, and authoring pointless blogs I mean?