An email from Ireland

My son, Steven, is currently teaching in London and heads off on a break during mid-term. ….From Holyhead i caught a massive ferry into Dublin. I am here currently and although i was a bit uncertain about coming here, i am glad i have. I went on a bus trip around town and visited the Guinness brewery and the Kilmainham gaol. The latter being the best thing i have seen on my travels too date. The goal can only be viewed with a guide and boy did she know her stuff. This prison is ‘the’ historical piece of Ireland. Established around 1800 when the act of union came into being and closing in the 1920’s upon the establishment of the irish free state. This prisons main purpose was to house the irish political leaders. Walking through their cells, seeing their graffitti and hearing the reasons for their imprisonment was very emotional stuff. All of the main leaders were put in here from the united irishman who lead the first rebellion in the late 1700’s to the leaders of the 1916 easter rebellion. The most gripping part was when we went into the court yard where all these amazing men and women were ‘murdered’. There you find a simple black cross and a flagpole with the irish flag waving. You feel the history in the place along with the deep sacrifices made for independence. Many people were in tears by this place and as she told of one of the 1916 leaders, dragged from hospital still in his wheelchair, stripped, blindfolded, tied, (with a) white cloth placed over his heart so the gunmen could aim at it, i too was moved. What was also fascinating about this place was the history of the irish civil war which i had no idea about. The terms of the treaty which brought ireland into being, apparently split ireland down the middle and led to a 10 month civil war. The stories from this period are so devasting words can’t describe how it must have affected the people involved in it. People here don’t talk about it, what with it being so recent, considering that people Nana’s age would have been involved, no wonder the conflict is still around. In the scope of history this thing happened yesterday. One of the most moving things i read was a letter from one of the political prisoners to his long time girlfriend, also in prison, asking for marriage as his last dying wish before being executed. The wedding took place in the prison chapel, he was handcuffed the entire time, no friends or family were present and after the wedding they shot him while she, being in the same prison, could hear it. During the potato famine things were so bad that people commited crimes to get in here, for then they were sure to get at least one meal a day. For a prison that was meant to house only 600 people during the famine it took in at least 10 000 prisoners. Thats right at least 10,000. People were in spaces so tight god only knows how the could have endured it. When they died, which thousands did in this place, they were buried under these massive pieces of stone. Body after body, no names and they had a type of acidic mixture thrown on them to stop disease and everything else. Till this day no body knows how many people are under those stones. It was also interested to hear about the last prisoner of the jail ending up as the countries first president. This place was left to ruin and was almost demolished, but a small group of people saved it – a story amazing in and of itself. The prison has been used for the setting of many films ‘The Italian Job’,’In the Name of the Father’ and numerous songs by u2 etc. This prison leaves you with the most deep seated rage and hatred for the English whose role in all this misery is both outrageous and undeniable. Yet, its the involvement of the irish time and time again in the carrying out of so much of this history as well that, beggers belief. That so many would work with the English against their own people is like imagining the Jews working as guards in the concentration camps. Yet after centuries of persecution they must have either seen no other way to survive, or were ignorant of the fact, regardless it is a most depressing history. I don’t think its for no reason that Dublin is home to many fine beer establishments and whiskey dist. After you leave these places the words by Parnell sink deep into your very being:
No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country, “Thus far shalt go and no further”.
Which leads me on a lighter note, the Guinness brewery. This is the no.1 tourist destination in ireland. That’s right more people visit a brewery then any other attraction in the whole country. The exhibition was fantastic and the history was great, however i was more taken in by the history of their advertisements. Some of their ads are excellent, particularily the one’s using the circus animals. The originals are very pretty and i must admit that the toucans are absolutely delightful. At the top of the brewery there is a bar which has 360 degree views over Dublin. It is the place to see the city as well as have a pint of the black gold. The brewery is massive around 26 hec. and takes up a huge chunk of the city. The passion that is Ireland and her ‘troubles’ has visited one of us. I’ll reserve my opinion on Ireland and let the email stand on it’s own. The matter of young people going overseas to see for themselves the history they learnt at school and heard at the feet of their elders is one of the great institutuions around today. All of my kinder have travelled and they are all the better for it. Well written, don’t you think?