Nun’s Island Theatre, Galway, Ireland

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Nun’s Island Theatre, Galway, Ireland

The cherry-red doorway stands out amongst the backdrop of grey stone. Doorways, being a threshold between one place and another, always feel like opportunities that provide endless possibilities regarding what lays on the other side. While a universal object, doors and their thresholds often still somehow manage to stay culturally unique, varying dramatically across Europe (and by extension, across the world as well). Doors in Ireland are often bright, colourful and arresting – see this door in Dublin for example – which reflects the playfulness of the Irish culture. This door opens onto the old Nun’s Island Theatre in west coast city of Galway, just a stone’s throw away from the youthful Galway Cathedral. Built in Neo-classical style, this proud little theatre was once a Presbyterian church in the 19th century. Nun’s Island, the theatre’s location and namesake, gets its name from a group of 30 nuns from the order of Poor Clare who sought shelter on the island during  the  Ulster Rebellion of 1641. The striking red door and gate is an eye-catching sight on this otherwise low-key street in Galway, one of the most beautiful cities along the western coast of Ireland.

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Dublin, Ireland

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St Stephan’s Green in Dublin, Ireland

In honor of St Patrick’s Day, I present to you a very green Ireland. We all know that Ireland and the color green go together like two peas in a pod (which are also green…). But why? In fact…shocking…Ireland’s national colour was originally blue! I know, this seems strange. No one knows seems to why Ireland switched from blue to green (or where the colors came from either…) but blue seems to be associated with the island’s colonial history as well as with old Irish myths. As for the colour green – well it’s the Emerald Isle, and it’s not hard to guess why. Anyone who has been to Ireland can attest to both its rural nature and its green landscape. Ireland is green because it rains a lot and has fertile ground, without many cities crushing the green countryside (as is sometimes the case in places like England or France where the population is more dense). And St Stephan’s Green – well it’s right there in the name. Even in central Dublin, Ireland is in need of reminding its population that it is in fact very, very green. So happy St Patty’s Day to all of you out there! Get your green on, pinch someone who doesn’t, have a pint of Guinness or Kilkenny and make plans to visit the country that made March 17th an international drinking holiday!

St Sephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland

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St Sephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland

Ireland is green, we all know that. It’s green not because of the leprechauns (sadly), but because of the rain; we know that too. So it only makes sense that Dublin’s biggest city centre park would have the word ‘green’ in the title. Anyone fancy a stroll through Fusiliers’ Arch, past the duck-ponds, through the flowers, among all the statues of famous Irish writers (like James Joyce, WB Yeats, James Clarence Mangan, etc)? It may seem peaceful – but it wasn’t always so. Dublin has – how to put it? – a troubled history. (In fact, for such a small country, Ireland has a bit of troubled history…). There was the the Dublin Lock-out made famous by Yeats’ “September 1913” poem. There was the infamous Bloody Sunday (in 1972; chillingly recent). And of course there was the Easter Rising of 1916. The Rising was an armed conflict between the “Irish Republicans” wanting to set up an independent Irish Republic, and the British nationalists who wanted to continue the Queen’s rule over the island. You may ask how that involves the park. Well, for some reason, the Irish insurgents set up camp in St Stephan’s Green. They barricaded the frontiers, they blocked the exits, and they dug trenches (trenches! In central Dublin! Try to imagine…). They turned the poor park into a war-zone. It wasn’t until they realised the Brits had set up shop in high up the nearby Shelbourne Hotel (guns pointed downwards straight at them), that they abandoned the war-park – and 100 years later, it’s beautiful again. Though interestingly enough, while they were still occupying the park, a cease-fire was briefly called so that the park’s guardian could…wait for it…feed the park’s colony of ducks! (FYI, the ducks are still there, and doing just fine!)

Dublin, Ireland

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Dublin, Ireland

I’m not quite sure how much of this is a working door and how much of it is just a painting. To me, it looks bit as if it walked straight off a page of a Dr Seuss book. And to think that this is downtown Dublin! Of course, Dublin is amazing for all the normal reasons: Guinness, stag parties, pubs that once watered the likes of Joyce and Wilde, Seamus Heaney, Shaw, and good ol’ Samuel Beckett. But the real reason for Dublin’s greatness? It’s a city where oddity is preferred over normalcy, a city that embraces insanity, spunk, colour and vivacity with streets that flow with life. Perhaps it was all those pints of Guinness and Murphy’s and Kilkenny over the years, but Dublin seems to have inspired artists on all levels, and the entire city literally vibrates with life (except, perhaps at 7 am, after the party. Then Dublin quiets down a bit…). No matter where you go, Dublin’s art and life always follow.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

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Belfast, Northern Ireland

Yes, this glittering building in Northern Ireland is different than the Republic of Ireland (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, etc). Same island, different government.  Here, they use the pound, measure things in miles, and are supposedly ruled by the Queen. Northern Ireland was created in 1921 because unlike the Republic of Ireland to the south, the majority of the population of Northern Ireland (then) wanted to stay part of the UK, as many of them were Protestants. However, the Catholics wanted a united Ireland.  Because of this religious and political divide, acts of violence rang out, including the infamous Bloody Sunday (Derry, Northern Ireland), where 26 unarmed protesters were gunned down by the British Army (14 died). It seems that most of the Catholic/Protestant violence has died down today. The Republic of Ireland doesn’t much like the queen, and still organises events to protest that the 6 northern counties haven’t yet became part of the Republic. Today’s Belfast is a small, quiet town by day, known for its nightlife, for providing the world with Van Morrison, Seamus Heaney, and Liam Neeson, and for the building of the Titanic (though this last feat is not something that I’D necessarily be very proud of!).

Oscar Wilde Statue, Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland

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Oscar Wilde Statue, Merrian Square, Dublin

Dublin is famous for Guinness, crazy stag parties (in American English, bachelor/ette parties), and its pride for the Irish writers.  Joyce, Yeats, Heaney, Singe, Bowen and Wilde are just a select few writers that Dublin immortalizes. From quotes in the Guinness factory to plaques on the streets to statues in the parks, Dublin is teeming with an intense love for the writers who originated from this small but impressive country. Oscar Wilde is one of them—the man who wrote The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray—and is remembered for his clever (and usually insulting) wit, as well as his alcoholism and homosexuality.  Wilde was a dandy, that rare class of men that dressed meticulously and extravagantly. He was famous at Magdalen College (pronounced maud-a-lin) before he even wrote anything of consequence, though he went on to publish plays with lines like,

“We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”

A true friend stabs you in the front.”

All art is quite useless.”

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

 “We really have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

So, go find his statue the next time you’re in Dublin, nicknamed the Quare [queer] in the Square, because don’t we all love Oscar?

Howth, Ireland

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Howth, Ireland

Howth is a little fishing village somewhere outside of Dublin. As a literature student, the only thing I knew about Howth was that this is the town where James Joyce and his lover, Nora Barnacle supposedly met for their less-than-chaste weekend getaways outside the hubbub and craziness of Dublin. Its castle is also one of the oldest occupied buildings in Ireland. Located on Howth Head peninsula in Dublin Bay, it has a very dramatic and breath-taking coastline. Stroll through the charming seaside town, relax done by the coast, shop in the bustling local market, have a picnic on the steep hillsides overlooking the bay, or look for the Joyce’s and Nora’s secret romantic getaway spot(s?)…Howth is a lovely place to go if you need a break from Dublin’s whirlwind Temple Bar and back-to-back pints o’ porter!