It’s the Fourth of July today, something I had to remind myself of on a few occasions. Naturally, the 4th isn’t celebrated here in Ireland, and I felt a bit farther from home as I imagined my family all gathering at our house to eat mesquite-grilled meats and various other deliciousness, play games, and celebrate our freedom. I felt like this was a taste of what it would be like if I came to school here, missing holidays and birthdays and family reunions. And I think I would be a little more lonely and homesick on those days. But this morning before I left my room I was reading a few Psalms and went to one of my favorites, 139. And this is what stood out to me:
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
“If I settle on the far side of the sea…” I smiled to myself as I read those words. Isn’t that what I’ve been contemplating? And God’s Word reminded me that even here His hand guides me and holds me fast.
Today I woke up feeling back to normal, and I ate a Rice Krispies breakfast before heading out. But by the time I got to City Centre, I was hungry again, so I found a nice bakery in the Temple Bar area and had a magnificent bacon and tomato quiche with a cup of tea. “Second breakfast,” I thought to myself. “I’ve become a hobbit.”
Then I ventured over to City Hall, an impressive building that was definitely worth a look. Right behind it is Dublin Castle, the center for colonial rule in Ireland for hundreds of years. It has an old Norman tower and attachments from various ages. The castle didn’t open until 2:00 on Saturdays, so I didn’t go in, but I did enjoy the castle’s garden and the Chester Beatty Library, which is a real treasure.
Chester Beatty was an American who made his fortune as mining engineer, starting at the bottom of the mining industry–shoveling rock–and working his way up. He eventually moved to England for his health, where he was knighted, and later retired to Ireland. When he died, he bequeathed his collection to the city for the benefit of the people. The collection contains all sorts of cool things and lots and lots of books and illuminated manuscripts and ancient fragments of biblical texts and scrolls from all over the world. It was a breathtaking display. And there is no admission fee.
After that, I had lunch on a quiet patio and enjoyed just being there in the cool air protected from the rain by an umbrella. I moved on to St. Stephen’s Green, one of my favorite places in Dublin, then to the National Museum of Archeology, which had an incredible display of prehistoric, viking era, and medieval relics. I was especially impressed by the Stone, Iron, and Bronze Age things. One of the great things about bogs is that there is no oxygen there so they preserve anything that goes into them. Everything from spearheads to ancient butter has been pulled out of bogs! And the museum has them on display. They also had four bog bodies on display, probably sacrificial victims, all male above 25 years old with red hair. It made me think of Seamus Heaney’s “Tollund Man.” The speaker of that poem thinks about visiting a bog body in Denmark, where a similar religion was practiced as that of contemporary Ireland. The man was a sacrifice to the earth goddess, which the speaker connects to the self-sacrifice of modern Irish rebels, who are in a sense sacrificing themselves to the earth in their service to reconnecting Ireland. But it’s the unsettling imagery of the irrational violence and meaningless death of the past in connection with the present that is most stirring.
After perusing the National Museum, I found my way to Merrion Square, which was owned by Oscar Wilde’s family and now displays a sculpture of the writer, the face of which is appropriately bemused. One almost expects to hear a witty remark while walking away. The Square is now a lovely public park and was filled with families enjoying a sunny Saturday afternoon. I enjoyed listening to children laughing as I strolled about.
I ended my day back on Grafton Street, a popular pedestrian street, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people there. I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number, so I found a cozy rooftop restaurant and had a light dinner before returning to my room. I was glad to get away from the bustle of the busy city; it’s quite here.
Overall, it was a pleasant day. As I evaluate my experience traveling alone, I feel at once that it is better and worse than traveling in company. I enjoy going my own pace and getting to experience the city and culture without another person acting as a buffer. But I also regret that there is no one to share it with and keep thinking of how much I want to share this wonderful city with the people I love. I see my family and friends all over, and I find myself picking out where I would take them if they were to come with me someday. I would love to watch this charming city unfold for them as it has for me.
P.S. It’s after 11 here, and finally dark, and I’m preparing for bed with the sound of fireworks bursting through my window. Maybe I’m not so far from home after all.