IETF meetings are pretty intense, and take up the full week. Apart from the social event, on Tuesday evening, I seldom have time for anything else during the meeting, like, oh, say, sightseeing. So I stayed in Ireland for several days afterward, to have time to see some sights.
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The one in-conference opportunity for some down-time, Tuesday evening’s social event, was at the Guinness Storehouse. That shouldn’t be any surprise; I guess we could have booked the Kilmainham Gaol — lots of Irish history to be told there — but, well, I think we made the better choice. Guinness is quite a legendary and revered family around Dublin, having provided plenty of jobs — very good jobs, with proper benefits and lots of concern for employees and their families — and a great deal of local pride. The brewing business is now owned by foreigners, of course (just as America’s Budweiser is about to be), but the name lives on.
There are other stouts, like Murphy’s and Beamish, and an organic brand called O’Hara’s, but Guinness bears the standard — and the harp logo (though they’ve mirrored it left to right compared with the official symbol of Ireland). The brewery tour is now self-guided, with a path through it and stations at which to stop and read text, watch videos, and feel and smell (barley, both raw and roasted).
After the tour, we went up to where we were served food and drink (the stout, yes, and the other Guinness products as well), and were, if we chose to try, taught to pour a proper pint of the stout: fill the glass, set it down and let it settle for a full two minutes, then top it off slowly. A Guinness is food, indeed, but it isn’t fast food. Most apprentices overachieved a bit on the last step, letting the foam overflow the glass; probably we shouldn’t quit the day jobs. We finished at the top level, the Gravity Bar, with a 360-degree view of the city, a view that made it clear how much construction is going on — everywhere were cranes, of the metal kind. We had an all-around view, but the bar doesn’t revolve. Someone suggested that after a few pints, it doesn’t have to.
When the last IETF session was over, I took off with two friends and the 18-month-old son of one of them, and we headed to Kinsale, in County Cork. We spent Friday afternoon getting there, taking our time as we drove the Irish highways and country roads, and stopped here and there — notably in Cahir to see the castle there.
On Saturday, we went to the city of Cork, and ended up taking one of the hop-on/hop-off bus tours. That turns out to be a good way to see what’s around, and then to visit it: your ticket is good for the whole day, so you can do the tour, and then loop around again, if you like, getting off and on and checking things out. With a toddler in tow we didn’t do much hopping, but we did get off in the main shopping area where we wandered and did some shopping and visited their marvelous church. And, of course, we tried the local stout, Beamish — a nice alternative to the Guinness. Dinner was back in Kinsale, at Crackpots Ceramic Restaurant.
Our driver preferred to take a day off of driving, and we wanted to spend some time in Kinsale, so Sunday was a walking day — first to the Charles fort, on the east side of the channel bringing boats into the town, and then to the James fort, on the west side of the channel. The Charles fort has been partially restored, it’s the larger of the two, and they give tours of the fort. The walk there is a pleasant one, a couple of miles from the center of town.
The tour emphasizes the history of the fort and the living and working conditions in it. Whatever one might think of military service now, things were far more grim for the average soldier back in older times. Essentially, you lived in squalid conditions, worked long and hard hours, ate poorly, and were likely to get sick or killed (and they seemed to care little if you did). And if you didn’t stay in line, you were tortured — publicly, to dissuade others. On the good side, though, if you worked outside the fort you probably lived in squalid conditions, worked long and hard hours, ate poorly, and were likely to get sick or killed... and, as a soldier, you at least got a regular paycheck for all that.
By the time we went to the James fort, after a dinner at the Fishy Fishy Cafe, it was late in the day. That didn’t really matter, though, because this fort is quite small and is mostly a ruin, and doesn’t have tours. We couldn’t go inside, but it’s situated on a lovely spot with great views that we could enjoy while having a rest from the walk.
It was also a bank-holiday weekend, and there was a rowing competition on the river as we crossed the bridge on the way to and from the James fort. Lots of people were out along the west bank of the river, picnicking and cheering the rowers on.
Monday was like Friday, making our way through the countryside, this time back to Dublin. We went by way of Blarney Castle, where we climbed to the top and got more great views (none of us kissed the stone, but, really, none of us particularly needs help in having “the gift of Blarney”). We also passed through the town of Durrow, and stopped at Holy Trinity Church there, where there’s a cemetery with the most interesting gravestones, many of which tell whole family histories just on the one stone.
When we finally navigated to Trinity College, where I stayed for the next two nights, we found an organic-food restaurant, The Farm, where we had dinner before my friends headed for their hotel near the airport. I checked into my room, and then wandered out again for some walking and photographing, exploring a bit of the Temple Bar area near the university.
I awoke on Tuesday morning to the typical Dublin weather: rain. If you’ve ever wondered about the Dublin writers — Joyce, Shaw, Yeats, Wilde, Beckett, and the others — and how they got that way, well, it was the rain. And the drink, yes, that too, so let’s say it was liquids in general. Anyway, having but that one day in town, and wanting to make the most of it, I wasn’t about to stay in my room. By happy chance, they have hop/hop tours there as well, and the bus stops right at Trinity College. And, so, on I hopped.
I got to see the parts of the city I could walk to later, and I paid attention to where things were as we went through. And I got to see the parts of the city I wouldn’t see again, at least not on this trip, and to get some bits of the history of things from Mary, our guide on the tour bus. It’s a very inexpensive and very worthwhile way to spend a rainy hour and a half, and by the time we alit on O’Connell Street, just across the river Liffey from Trinity College, the rain had let up enough for me to take an umbrella-assisted walk around.
I started by wandering to the National Gallery of Ireland and spending some time there, and then did some photographing of the famous Georgian doors of the Dublin buildings — one can buy coasters and posters that are full of them, but it’s always nicer to get one’s own photos. Nestled in the area is the office and residence of the Taoiseach (the Prime Minister) — the new one, now, Brian Cowen, after Bertie Ahern resigned in a tax scandal. More doors, and then it was time for a hearty lunch: Irish stew and a pint of Guinness goes down very well after a chilly, wet morning, and the stew at Foley’s bar, where I stopped, was very nice — beef, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, and celery, in a well-seasoned broth.
Brief points of the afternoon: Dawson Street, Grafton Street (the high-end shopping area; no, I didn’t buy anything), Dublin Castle, City Hall, the old St Andrew’s Church (now the city’s tourist office), Christ Church Cathedral, and a walk along the Liffey, criss-crossing the various bridges and snapping photos along the way. The rain mostly held off, even if the sun never appeared, and it was a nice afternoon, all ’round.
After a double macchiato at an Insomnia Café, I fit in a visit to the Book of Kells exhibit at the Trinity College library. If you’re into old stuff, or artistic stuff, or both, this is a must-see exhibit. The Book of Kells is a 9th-century illuminated manuscript, on vellum, and it’s in amazingly wonderful condition, still, today. How many 1200-year-old books have you seen lately? (More information about the book is on Wikipedia.) The exhibit starts with a section explaining how it was all done, from making the vellum, to inscribing the text, to making the pigments, to drawing the illuminations. Then you get to see the book itself, open to a particular page (I heard that they turn the page every three months). You exit through the library’s long room, which, as a friend told me, is like something out of a Harry Potter set. What a wonderful space! I had to sit on one of the benches for a while and take it in, smelling the books and the wood, several stories high.
The evening was dedicated to the Literary Pub Crawl. It was recommended to me by Lisa Simeone (who blogs at Cogitamus), and a fine recommendation it was. Some actors started this about 20 years ago: folks gather upstairs at The Duke pub on Duke Street, and two actors (Brendan and Frank, this night) perform bits of Dublin literature and humour. They started with something from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and went from there, as about 25 of us visited four pubs and stopped at spots along the way. I met a delightful Australian, and we enjoyed chatting, praising Brendan and Frank, and quaffing half-pints of Guinness throughout (yes, half-pints: five halves, I can do these days; five pints, not so much). For reference, the four pubs were The Duke, O’Neill’s, The Old Stand, and Davy Byrne’s.
And there it is; quite the trip, ending with the 6 a.m. bus to Dublin airport on Wednesday. A prosaic finish to a diverse and interesting visit.
 On the bus, Mary quipped that ’tis said that when you shop for shoes on Grafton Street in April, you buy one shoe, and then hop on one foot until September, when you might afford the other one.
 And no, I didn’t mention a restaurant this time. See “Guinness is food”, above.
 There’s a pub on the concourse, and there were people drinking beer there at 7:00 in the morning. Perhaps they were night-shift workers having some brew after their shifts. One can hope.