May 18, 2004
Lonely Planet lied. Trustworthy up to a point, LP has a tendency to misguide, misjudge, or have outdated information at least ONCE in each book. In Egypt, it was the location of the final stop on the bus to Sharm El-Sheikh and the quality of our hotel. In China, it was the timings of the boat tour in Shanghai. Here, LP promised that the Gallic Kitchen (allegedly displaying a sign that stated "Our food is so f****** good you won't believe it") offered a "melt-in-your-mouth goat's cheese brioche." We sought out the place. We tried their fare. We don't believe it. LP, that was your one get-out-of-jail-free card.
Speaking of jails, after dejectedly eating our crappity breakfast in St. Audoen's Church's garden, we headed west towards Kilmainham Gaol. Taking the scenic (and, naturally, longer) route, we walked along the Liffey. It started out as a good idea as we got the chance to see the various, lovely bridges arching over the river. But soon, the bustling shops and pretty quays and early morning commuters faded in the Irish mist. Wait. That wasn't mist. That was the fumes of hundreds of cars and busses and trucks rumbling by on the street which now resembled a highway. By the time we reached Heuston Station, we were gagging on the exhaust fumes and questioning our sanity in choosing to walk to the Gaol when it was so painfully obvious that everyone else took the bus there. The Irish Museum of Modern Art appeared, our map showed it as a landmark near the Gaol, and so we headed . . . thataway. Half-way there, we started second-guessing ourselves. We turned around, retraced our steps, took a long, circuitous path that led us away from, south of, and then back to the Gaol. We stopped at a wholesale beauty salon supplier to ask for directions and learned that we were just a few feet away from our destination after all. We lingered there a bit longer than needed; not so much to understand which way to go, but more to rest in the air-conditioned store and listen to the burly Irishmen's lilting voices debate over the proper directions to give us.
Kilmainham Gaol was amazing. For over a century, the prison held more than just criminals. Rebels, political heroes (including the future prime minister and president Eamon de Valera), and people seeking escape from the Great Famine came through the gates . We listened closely as our guide, Martin, told us about the history of the jail, highlighted some of the more important inmates, and explained why the site has become a national monument. Basically, the jail represented the struggles Ireland faced through an important period in its history. The jail opened four years before 1800 when the Act of Union abolished the Irish Parliament and made Ireland a part of the U.K. The jail closed two years after the south of Ireland declared itself a Republic in 1949. The massive, limestone prison became a symbol of Ireland's battle for independence. Plus, it was the setting for In the Name of the Father, The (original) Italian Job, and the U2 video "A Celebration"!
Martin, who got an A for his knowledge of Irish history, his red hair, and his accent, showed us the sunlit East Wing where two floors of cells were connected by metal catwalks that afforded the guards a 360 degree view of the cells around them. The Victorians believed that punishment (hence the cold, harsh cells with little to no interaction with any other human being) should be tempered with hope (hence the small window in each cell letting in God's sunlight and a view of heaven). The new section reminded me a lot of the jail in The Shawshank Redemption(which, for you trivia hounds, was filmed at Ohio's closed Mansfield State Penitentiary).
The infinitely colder, darker, and grimmer old section still bears the names of some of the prisoners. We were permitted to enter the cells as we pleased, but none of us stayed for too long inside. The older section led to the execution grounds and the wall where Martin described the killing of the Invincibles as well as the execution of James Connolly who so badly injured in the fighting during the Easter Rising of 1916 that he was unable to stand for his execution and so the British tied him to a chair and shot him there. We learned that an execution requires space away from the other prisoners, a firing squad, and one blank bullet so that none of the gunners knows who was the real executioner. Ah, the things you learn every day.
After the tour, we shook off the gloom and doom that had descended upon us and walked through the neatly kept lawns of the MOMA. We passed the Guinness Storehouse, the Guinness Brewery, and the Guinness Windmill. At St. Patrick's Cathedral, we parked ourselves on the crowded, sunny yard and watched future footballers in their diapers practice their kicking skills without falling down or dropping trou. Starved after our long hike to and from the jail, we risked mad cow disease and had cheeseburgers at Chatham Brasserie near Grafton Street. Lunch was followed by iced lattes at St. Stephen's Green. We browsed around St. Stephen's Green's Mall, but after the misfortune of PAYING (15 cents) to use the bathroom (STANK), we ran back outside and went on a shoe hunt: me, orange trainers; Amelie, lime green Pumas (that do not exist). Grafton Street started getting really crowded and one guy almost knocked the pony out of me! We wandered around a bit more, had a great dinner at Monty's of Kathmandu and since it was still light at 9 p.m., hit International Bar to round off the night.
Next up: Last Day Doublin' in Dublin.