Guinness Storehouse

as a fan of craft brews, and living less than 10 miles from one of the most popular microbreweries in the state, I’ve taken a brewery tour or two (or dozen) over the years. from DIY affairs, to ones where the brewmaster takes you back among the tanks to explain the finer scientific points of beer brewing, to very limited, controlled situations where the script never deviates from the one all “tour guides” are compelled to memorize, the experience at the Guinness Storehouse is just that — an Experience.

with annual sales topping more than 1.8 billion U.S. pints, it shouldn’t have surprised me how thoroughly and expertly produced the “tour” at St. James’ might prove. in the dozen years since the Storehouse opened as a self-guided tour and attraction, over four million people have visited. the site, St. James’ Gate, was initially leased to Arthur Guinness in 1759 for the amount of 45 GBP each year for the duration of 9,000-year lease. (the company has since expanded outside its initial footprint and ultimately bought the land outright. a copy of that original lease is displayed under glass in the floor of the atrium.

the building that houses the Storehouse was constructed in 1902 as a fermentation plant for the brewery. it served as this capacity until a new fermentation plant was built along the River Liffey in 1988. the attraction is laid out over seven floors in what was, at the time it was built, the largest steel-framed structure in Ireland. the atrium is rather cornily designed to resemble the shape of a pint glass. the first floor introduces visitors to the four ingredients of beer – water, barley, hops, and yeast — and the general brewing process. after years of intimate and in-depth tours of craft and microbreweries, the polish of production surprised me a bit with projections of boiling tubs of wort and ovens of roasting barley, but seemed expertly and deftly done. you can’t actually see Guinness being brewed anywhere along the tour, but you can see the buildings at which various steps of the process take place! on the whole, the exhibits presenting other information interested us more. we saw examples of their famous marketing campaigns – My goodness! My Guinness! – Guinness advertisements on television throughout the decades (with cheesily appointed rooms identifiable by decade),  the famous harp seen in the logo encased in glass at the top of one escalator.

the most interesting part, by a stretch, however, was the exhibit on the cooperage. at the height of barrel production (for transporting the black stuff) in the 20th century, Guinness employed hundreds of coopers. within a few decades, as aluminum kegs came into use after 1946, the number dropped precipitously — from some 300 in the war years to 70 in 1961. the last wooden cask was filled at St. James’ Gate in 1963. the exhibit featured all the tools of the trade, as well as fascinating footage from the 1930s or so of men at work – clearly decked out in their Sunday best to show off their work to the camera – working through the entire process of making a barrel. after that exhibit it was mostly down to figuring out where we’d like to enjoy our “complimentary” pint of Guinness. (we opted for the Gravity Bar at the top of the “pint glass” with panoramic views of the city.)

I had absolutely no idea of this: according to Wikipedia, St. James’ Gate traditionally served as the starting point for Irish peregrinos heading to Santiago de Compostela. they could get their credencials stamped in the brewery before catching a boat to Spain; the nearby church will still stamp them for you.

Book of Kells

my first trip to Ireland, I decided not to stand in line to see the Book of Kells, which is probably for the best — at that point my knowledge of Irish history was rooted solidly in the twentieth century. having learned more about it and other illuminated manuscripts in the intervening years (in addition to seeing the delightful film of the same name), this time I was keen to make the trip to Trinity.

scholars generally agree that the Book originated in a monastery founded by St Colum Cille located on an island off the coast of Scotland. for quite some time, tradition held that St. Columba himself penned the text, though recent scholarship discredits that claim, dating the composition of the Book to more than two centuries after Columba’s death. some suggest the Book was created, likely by three primary authors, to honor the saint on the 200th anniversary of his death.

after a Viking raid in the early 9th century on the Isle of Ione, the monks relocated to a new monastery in Kells, from which the Book derives its name. creation of the Book dates to around this time, though no definitive evidence exists to indicate whether the Book was produced entirely at Kells, Ione, or at both. the printing of the text may have occurred at one, the illumination at another; it may have been done all at Kells, all at Ione, or even wholly the north of England or Scotland.

the first written reference to the text comes from the early 11th century, when the Annals of Ulster made reference to the theft of a great Gospel of Columba by Viking raiders. the volume was recovered (without its bejeweled, golden cover) some months later under a bit of sod. it remained at Kells after the dissolution of the Abbey, which became a parish church, until Cromwell’s men quartered there in the 1650s. the governor of the town thought it best to send the book to Dublin for safekeeping. in 1661 the bishop of Meath presented the manuscript to Trinity College permanently and it has remained there, with rare exceptions of loans, since. it went on display to the public in the 19th century and nowadays you see two different pages when you visit — one illuminated and one of standard text.

Trinity College Long Room

when I visited Ireland previously, I hadn’t any particular interest in queuing up to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. it seemed too much like trying to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre — lots of craning and waiting to discover that, while impressive, it really is much smaller than you’d think and the crowds prevent you from spending any satisfying length of time studying it. upon reflection (and after viewing the animated film of the same name), however, I rather regretted that decision and put it on my list of sights for any future trip to Dublin.

and adding it to my list was worth it if for no other reason than it granted me access to see the Long Room situated above. a byproduct of my love of history, I am also partial to unique or interesting libraries that have some interesting artifacts or stories behind them (I always loved Seymour Library for that very reason). both the space and the exhibit in the Old Library at Trinity did not disappoint.

stretching some 65 meters long and originally constructed between 1712 and 1732, the Old Library at Trinity started out with a boring plaster ceiling and books filling only the lower shelves. in 1801, however, it became the “copyright library” (or legal repository, like the Library of Congress) for all materials published in Ireland (and , uniquely, the United Kingdom) and it quickly exhausted its existing space. in 1860 the roof was raised to allow for constructed of the vaulted ceiling and second level of shelving.

the Old Library now holds some 200,000 books, some of the oldest held by the university, including some on display when we visited for an exhibition on preservation and conservation techniques. on display were books bound in leather and with wood; written on clay, papyrus, paper, vellum; texts in ancient languages, modern languages; illuminated manuscripts (like their more famous cousins downstairs) and hand-written scientific observations, or notes scribbled in a random on-hand journal; some decades old, some centuries old. just beside the entry door is one of the few remaining copies of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic read out by Pádraig Pearse in front of the General Post Office in 24 April 1916, something it seemed most people brushed past, just as a fair number trundled down the Long Room without looking at the rare manuscripts on display, their mission of seeing the Book of Kells accomplished.

the only downside to such an historic and impressive building — it was not built to compensate for the weather on the day we visited. as with each day on the Dingle Peninsula, our day out in Dublin proved unseasonably warm and without air conditioning or the ability to open any of the windows on the first floor to get a cross-breeze going, the informative exhibit on the Book of Kells was a trifle stuffy. the room housing the Book was, understandably, closely climate controlled and a welcome change after reading all the informational material.

St. Stephen’s Green

once enclosed, St. Stephen’s Green is now the main public park in central Dublin. the wall went up in the mid 17th century, was replaced by the surrounding homeowners with less-imposing railings in 1814, and finally opened to those who did not reside along the perimeter in 1877. (the land was opened to the public in part by the initiative of Sir A.E. Guinness, of the brewing family.)

throughout Ireland, the weather can be quite unpredictable, changing with little warning. the day I spent in Dublin, it vacillated between fantastically sunny, to crummily gloomy, to bursts of rainshower. luckily, the time I spend wandering around St. Stephen’s green was remarkably sunny, and showed off to remarkable effect multiple shades of green. there are paved paths around the perimeter and crossing the park. there’s a bandstand (seen above) and a remarkable number of statues and sculptures. one of Oscar Wilde in repose offers particularly amusing (or tasteless) photo opportunities. there are also busts or statues commemorating leaders of the 1916 Uprising, including one of the Countess Markievicz.

Countess Markiewicz

in addition to de Valera’s passport-linked protection, another of the leaders of the 1916 Uprising was spared execution. despite her role and the fact that she was summarily condemned with her male comrades, it was deemed inappropriate to execute a woman, and so Countess Markiewicz was merely sentenced to imprisonment. she was released in 1917 under a general amnesty, along with others whom the British locked up for their roles opposing British rule. she later was elected to the British House of Commons (first woman elected to the body, actually, though she never took her seat).

she studied art in London, and became involved in the suffrage movement there. following her marriage (to a Polish count) and return to Ireland, she also became heavily involved in nationalist politics, joining both Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (‘Daughters of Ireland’) in 1908. the following year, she established a para-military organization to instruct teens in the use of firearms. during the Easter Rising, she supervised the setting up of barricades around St. Stephen’s Green. the Countess, her commanding, and their men held out for six days, until the British showed them a copy of Pearse’s surrender order. in addition to her stint in Kilmainham for her role in the Uprising, she was jailed for anti-conscription activities and was still in jail when her colleagues held the first meeting of the Dáil Éireann, which declared the Irish Republic. she served as Minister for Labour for two and a half years (April 1919-January 1922) and was, consequently, the first female cabinet minister in Europe. she was the first woman appointed to a ministerial post in Ireland, and the only one until 1979.

she left the government with Eamon de Valera and other Anti-Treaty politicians, was jailed again in 1923 and led 92 other women on hunger strike before being released (within a month). she joined Fianna Fáil and was elected again to represent the party in the Dáil Éireann but died before taking her seat.

while I was traveling, I heard a fair bit about the comparative progressiveness of Irish women, and how many fought as ardently and stubbornly for rights as other freedom fighters. there wasn’t any one figure, however, who stuck out to me until I started writing up about the Easter Rising. our tour only allowed for a few words on some of the more well-known figures involved (Pearse, de Valera, Plunkett), but there remained a sense that the Countess was something out of the ordinary. now I know why.

the marriage of Joseph Plunkett & Grace Gifford

another story from Dublin. also with unhappy ending. our guide used this as the “personal interest” thread for those visitors not otherwise held rapt by the history of Kilmainham Gaol.

two of the leaders of the Easter Rising were Joseph Plunkett and his best friend Thomas MacDonagh. in 1908 both were involved in St. Edna’s School in Dublin, which was established by Patrick Pearse, a major figure in the events of 1916. it was through St. Edna’s that Joseph Plunkett met Grace Gifford and (by extension) her sister Muriel, whom MacDonagh later married. the two women were raised Protestant, and later converted to Catholicism (their father and mother were Catholic and Protestant, respectively, and according to custom, the sons were raised Catholic, daughters, Protestant).

Joseph and Grace got engaged in 1915, Grace began taking classes to convert, and did so in April 1916. they planned to wed on Easter Sunday (in a double ceremony with his sister and her fiance). obviously, things did not go to plan. upon learning that Joseph’s execution was slated for the morning of the 4th of May, Grace purchased a wedding ring form a Dublin jeweler’s and the pair wed during the night of the 3rd of May at the chapel in the jail (from whence the tour starts). they had ten minutes together, observed by British soldiers in one of the decrepit cells of the west wing, before she was forced to leave him. he was executed as condemned in the yard of the jail in the morning.

prior to meeting Joseph, Grace worked as a cartoonist and resumed her work to support herself following his execution. she supported Sinn Fein, and was elected to the party’s executive board in 1917. of course, involvement in politics during this period could be problematic, and Grace was arrested by Pro-Treaty forces and incarcerated in Kilmainham for several months during the Civil War. (she painted murals in her cell, one of which remains.)

as mentioned, her sister married Joseph Plunkett’s best friend and, consequently, was widowed at the same time as Grace. Muriel & Thomas had two children and, when Muriel died suddenly of heart failure while swimming in 1917. Grace sought custody of the children, and actually shared it with her sister Nellie until 1919, but was ultimately denied the opportunity to raise the children. after her release from prison, she remained understandably bitter towards the government of the Irish Free State, and moved from one apartment to another around Dublin living on the little money that she could earn as a cartoonist. in 1932, Eamon de Valera granted her a Civil List pension, which improved her material conditions somewhat. in 1934 she began legal proceedings against Joseph Plunkett’s father, who, because of the invalidation of Joseph’s will, was beneficiary of anything to which dependents or survivors were entitled. (the case was settled out of court and Grace received 700 pounds). Grace died in 1955 in a rented flat in Dublin, her life not having improved significantly in spite of the pension.


let me start out by saying that this post is rather bleak. if you’re having a cruddy day, maybe wait until tomorrow of the day after to read this.

throughout much of Ireland, there’s little evidence of homelessness, or people sleeping rough out of necessity, as I’ve seen on State Street or virtually anywhere in San Diego. there’s no part of me that believes that this results from the fact that homelessness is not a problem in Ireland. my few hours in Dublin alone disillusioned me of any notion on that score (though I hadn’t much believed it up to that point, either). in most of the places I visited I saw people who clearly occupied the margins of society. not a lot of panhandling, but certainly some worse for the wear, depending on the time of day. one Irish person I spoke with said the lack of panhandling, sleeping on benches and other activities that one might associate with homelessness in the States (and in San Diego, certainly) results from a stronger tradition of offering services and support to homeless people. maybe it’s a Catholic thing, maybe it’s a cultural difference in attitude towards homeless people. maybe the quality of social services available helps people find food and housing on a more consistent or reliable basis, but in Dublin at least, the system is inadequate. understandably, with the explosion of the Irish economy in the last decade, Dublin became an increasingly attractive destination for those unable to find suitable work or opportunities elsewhere in the country. an immigration policy, implemented in the late ’90s and early ’00s, that made it relatively easy for residents of new EU countries (many from Eastern Europe, and Poland on an extraordinary scale) compounded the difficulty of finding suitable work.

after spending nearly two weeks in small cities and towns throughout west and north, it was something of a shock to finally spend time in Dublin. there are benches along both banks of the River Liffey, and it makes for a rather picturesque walk. unlike along the River Corrib, the River Lee, or the River Foyle, however, the benches along the Liffey, on Bachelor’s Walk and Swifts Row, were filled with men and women killing time, who seemed to have no particular place to go. while waiting for the bus back to Drogheda, one guy, sporting clothes that looked insufficient to ward off the chill brought in by the wind, asked every single person waiting for the bus (as well as every person who walked past the stop) for a cigarette. after finishing lunch in a cafe in Aston Quay, I waited in the road for one of the buses to take me on to Kilmainham Gaol and witnessed a guy (at about one o’clock in the afternoon) projectile the liquid contents of his stomach onto the pavement. whether he was homeless or not, I did not see anything like that while in any other city of any size (and am certainly glad for it).

the worst thing I saw in Dublin — in all of Ireland, really — was on my walk from O’Connell Street back to Busaras to catch the bus back to Drogheda. sitting on a corner were three people, a woman and a man in their thirties, and a boy of about ten. they weren’t up against the side of the building, or on a stoop, or making any effort to get out of the way of foot traffic, but were perched smack in the middle of the pavement. the man wasn’t (or couldn’t) say anything, but the woman was cooing affectionately, as a mother would over her child. both adults were petting the boy affectionately; it seemed they must have been his parents. the kid didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the situation. the woman’s speech was slurred and just this side of incoherent as she told the boy she loved him and that he was such a fine, good boy. he tried pulling away from her careeses, but against the two of them he didn’t have much luck. no one in Talbot Street seemed phased by their presence, and we all kept walking.

Eamon de Valera

one of the male leaders of the 1916 Uprising made it out of Kilmainham with his life. in fact, Eamon de Valera made it out of Kilmainham twice, after first being held by the British, and later by the Pro-Treaty Irish forces. he was saved from execution with the other 1916 leaders because of his American passport. he held dual citizenship because his mother was Irish; he was born in New York, but was sent back to Ireland to live with his mother’s family after the death of his father (who was not Irish).

he had a leading role in writing the Irish constitution and during the Civil War that followed independence and the treaty with Britain, he lead the Anti-Treaty forces (thus landing in Kilmainham the second time). moreover, he established what continues to be the largest political party in Ireland (Fianna Fáil). from the beginning of the Free State, de Valera served in national politics, as an MP, as chief minister of the Dail Eireann, as Taioseach (twice), and as President of Ireland (for fourteen years).

de Valera’s legacy is somewhat contested, particularly when contrasted with that of Michael Collins (who lead the Pro-Treaty forces during the Civil War). some historians have argued that de Valera’s actions during the Easter Rising were not constructive, that he wasn’t able to hold it together to effectively lead the men for whom he was responsible. Tim Pat Coogan, for one, argues that de Valera’s failures outweigh that which he accomplished in later years (and the man has written biographies of both de Valera and Collins). whatever he did or didn’t accomplish, and however it stacks up against other Irish political and military leaders, de Valera definitely holds a place in the Irish consciousness.

Easter Rising 1916

the 1916 Easter Rising was the first major uprising since the end of the 18th century, but it didn’t go well and was quashed within a week. popular opinion of the rebels at the time was not favorable; no one joined the cause and the British were able to quash the uprising entirely. they did produce and sign a proclamation of independence, which the signers knew might likely lead to their executions (which it did).

the general post office in the middle of O’Connell Street was the center of the action (though the taking of the Four Courts was crucial as well). there’s a good narrative of events here.

the leaders of the uprising were taken into custody at Kilmainham, tried, and promptly sentenced for execution.
one of the leaders sentenced to death — James Connolly — was wounded during the final battle at the GPO. consequently, he was never held at Kilmainham, but rather transported to a prison hospital, where he was held until the day of execution. a gunshot wound he’d received doing battle with the British became infected and doctors did not give him more than a few days to live. this did not appease the British, who determined that he must still be executed based on the order handed down. on the appointed day (12th May 1916), he was transported from the Royal Hospital by stretcher to the jail. whereas the other thirteen men executed at Kilmainham for their part in the uprising were marched to the far end of the yard, Connolly was in such bad shape that the British decided not to inflict the additional, excruciating pain of carrying him to the far end of the yard. instead, he was tied to a chair — as he could neither stand nor even sit up on his own power — and shot.

word of the executions got out and turned the tide of public opinion. despite the best efforts of the British, details made their way into newspapers and other publications. although the executions were carried out in the isolated hard labor yard (which could not be seen from elsewhere in the prison), the priests present to administer last rites were appalled by the treatment of the condemned (and particularly James Connolly) and felt no compunction about sharing the horrors they witnessed. it was these reports that re-cast and illuminated for the general Irish populace the ideals for which the rebels fought and died and, ultimately, which shifted public opinion towards demanding independence.

the far end of the yard in the second picture is where all but one of the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed. the final man, James Connolly, was executed on the spot directly to my right as I took this picture.

Kilmainham Gaol

the Kilmainham Gaol was the one thing, above all others, that I wanted to see while in Dublin. it was used for the Daniel Day-Lewis film “In the Name of the Father,” though the prison ceased to function as such in 1924, and a trip here seemed to cap my interest in the legacy of conflict in Ireland.

construction on the prison began in 1796 and construction of both wings reflects the prevailing beliefs in penal reform at the time. the west wing is dark and initially the hallways had no natural light. the cells were packed beyond capacity almost as soon as the prison opened, dozens of people sharing a single cell. unlike now, prisoners were neither segregated by age nor gender, and oftentimes entire families would be shut up together. despite the cramped quarters and general squalor of the prison, during the famine, Kilmainham and other jails provided an acceptable alternative to starving on the street. you could commit a petty crime and get locked up for a day or two, where you were guaranteed three square meals and shelter, more than you could say for living on and begging in the streets.

while the west wing represented one school of penal thought, the newer east wing represented another. many of the features of the newer wing are aimed at reform, rather than strict punishment. the “pan-optic” style (seen in the second photo) meant that you could see almost everything from any one point along the wall. relatively few guards could keep an eye on the large population (who were not allowed actually into the open area for any kind of recreation). the skylights were intended to draw the gaze of prisoners upwards — to remind them of the appropriate source of inspiration to repent for their crimes. the windows in the cells were located high up on the walls, and the inside of the peep hole was shaped to look like an eye: you were always being watched and you couldn’t forget where they expected you to turn for “help.”

much of Kilmainham’s notoriety stems from its famous prisoners. the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held in the west wing, and executed in the hard labor yard. other nationalist prisoners, including Eamon de Valera, were held in the prison twice. following the Treaty with the British that established the Irish Free State, the Pro-Treaty forces imprisoned members of the Anti-Treaty faction, many of whom they had fought alongside during the war for independence.

after the prison was abandoned, it fell into quite a state of disrepair until it was decided to turn the facility into a museum investigating the history of the prison, and the evolution of nationalism in Ireland. the OPW now operates the facility and runs the tours. our guide was quite good and knew far more about the facility than what she covered on the tour. it was refreshing after a couple of other anemic, lamely-scripted tours of facilities steeped in history. it was also rather interesting to see her react to questions from people who had no clue about the history of the Troubles, or about the political history of relations between Ireland and Britain. after going in to some detail about how poverty and class divisions are at the root of the Troubles, one person (for whom English was not a first language) came up to ask “so, why is it that there’s a problem between Catholics and Protestants?” she took a breath, and diplomatically explained that, in fact, it’s nothing to do with religion. at all.

few more stories about Kilmainham and its prisoners in upcoming posts.