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This is an online diary of my latest trip to Ireland.
Dennis J. Ahern

Sunday, March 27th

I was up early in the morning and as all others were sound asleep took full advantage of the ensuite bathroom to have a shave and shower and put on clean underwear. There was enough light in the bunkroom to see that the person occupying the berth above me was female. I guess the independent hostels do not segregate by sex. The Youth Hostel Association hostels are almost always divided into men's dorms and women's dorms, except that some of then have smaller rooms designated as family rooms. I remember one time in an 8-bed dorm in Cork being more than a little annoyed with a French teen who had smuggled his girlfriend into the room to share his bed. I'm not a prude, but they kept some of us awake with their grapplings. I think I was more offended by the possibility that they were getting accommodations for two for the price of one.

My shortcut through the Castle Court shopping centre didn't work this morning because the garage wasn't open yet, so I had to walk around. I still managed to get to the entrance to the bus station by 8:30 only to discover that they weren't open yet. At least the shopping centre (Great Northern Mall) through which I had exited the bus terminal on Thursday was not open. As I had an hour and a half to kill before the bus for Dublin left I went into the lobby of the Europa Hotel next door and ensconced myself in a comfy chair off to one side where I could observe the comings and goings and work on the draft of my blog. I thought about breakfast in the hotel dining room, but my sister and I had partaken of this particular fare in 2001 and found it rather overpriced and not all that good so I nursed my orange juice instead. This hotel, by the way, has the disctinction of the most frequently bombed building in Europe, a frequent target of one faction or another, who knows. It was sometimes called the plywood palace it had so many windows covered. I wondered if the cleaning lady running the vacuum around would call the bomb squad if I left my bags long enough to hit the gent's. I decided to chance it as it was going to be a quick stop. When I came back all was still calm and I noticed that the concierge's table had free coffee and newspapers so I availed myself of the hospitality with the rationale that I had more than paid for it with our breakfast tab in 2001.

I periodically checked the outside to see if the doors were open at the shopping centre, but no luck and it was now less than half an hour to departure. Then it occurred to me that there must be another entrance to the bus station and gathering my bags I went across the street to the convenience store to stock up for the journey. I got some milk to have with my McVitie's chocolate covered biscuits and some more orange juice. Sure enough I found the entrance to the bus terminal around the corner on Glengall Street. Making sure to pump bilges once more before boarding I found my seat and put my bags in the overhead. Coming North from Dublin had been on a Bus Eireann, going south would be on an Ulsterbus. No matter, the ticket was still good from one to the other.

I had taken one each of every paper the Hotel Europa concierge had to offer and caught up on the news at the expense of the passing scenery. From the Irish Times I learned that the Shelburne Hotel, where Norman and I had gone for tea after our meeting with the Taoiseach, was being closed for renovations and 227 employees were being made redundant (laid off). The front page of the Belfast Telegraph had a story about labor negotiations with ambulance drivers, illustrated with a file photo of some emergency responce team loading someone in an ambulance. What was odd was that the faces of the ambulance drivers were pixilated so as to be unidentifiable. Such is life in Northern Ireland, where identities of police and firemen are considered classified information so as not to put them at risk of assassination. One of the big stories in the news was the deportation of some Nigerians in the Republic. It seems they were collected from their residence and put on a plane back to Africa. The shocking bit is that they left children behind in school. And the ongoing story of the McCartney sisters and who was or was not on the guest list for various St. Patrick's Day events in Washington was still claiming space on page one. The Daily Ireland, a Republican rag, had a column taking Ted Kennedy to task for not welcoming Gerry Adams with open arms, and dredging up Chappaquiddick to rub salt in the wounds.

After polishing off the papers and my milk and cookies, I settled in for a nap. I had a window seat about halfway back on the right. In the row ahead of me were three young oriental men, possibly Chinese, but it was hard to tell. They were chatting up a storm, but not in English. I didn't let them keep me awake. It seemed this was an express bus with no scheduled stops between Belfast and the Dublin Airport, but I was awakened as the bus came to a halt in the middle of nowhere. The door opened and were were borded by two police officers. Not PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) but Irish Garda with their flourescent yellow jackets with the reflective silver stripe around the middle. It was the border. There hadn't been any notice taken of the border when I came north on the bus on Thursday, but here we were in the bright sunshine pulled over at the side of the road and being asked to present our identification papers. One officer stood at the front, blocking the door while his partner went down the aisle examining what each passenger presented as proof of who they were. The three supposed Chinese presented their passports, but it was not sufficient as they were asked for visas. In halting English they claimed to be students, but they were asked to get off the bus. I didn't see them remove any luggage. The officer quickly glanced at the rest of us and got off. The door closed and the bus left. I wonder what happened to the three men or if they understood what was happening. I'm told that this was not an unusual occurrence. In the current climate the Irish have become quite attentive to borders that were formerly fairly open.

The bus made its only scheduled stop at the Dublin Airport. It was only long enough for passengers to debark and retrieve their luggage and for others to board, but that did not prevent the elderly couple seated behind me from getting off long enough to have a wee smoke. It must be awful to have such cravings. I had a craving myself for a wee something, or rather simply, a wee, having consumed a half litre of milk and about a litre of orange juice since boarding in Belfast. But I would have to hold it and the fag cravers had to cut it short as the bus was soon on its way for the final leg into the city. I didn't look forward to the pay toilets at the Bus Arras. Number one, I didn't like having to pay for number one, and number two, I'd heard the facility was in a dreadful shape these days with multiple fixtures out of order or completely smashed.
In the city proper I was on familiar territory, passing landmarks that I knew from previous travels. Suddenly it dawned on me. I was familiar with the designations for local bus stops in the form of a Dublin Buss logo on a pole or shelter, but it was only now that the design registered in my consciousness. What I had always taken for granted as some indiscrimate representation of a castellated tower, was in fact the lower-case letters "d" and "b" for Dublin Bus. How many years had this been as plain as the nose on my face yet I had never recognized it for what it was? Dublin Bus logo
Dublin Bus logo
As luck would have it, the bus driver stopped on O'Connell Street across from the GPO and let off anyone who wanted to, which accounted for about half his passengers. The good news is, the corner where he dropped us was right where there was a restaurant where I knew there was a public rest room downstairs. I had my long-awaited wee and headed off up to Mountjoy Street where I checked in yet again at the hostel and was given the same bed I had before leaving for Belfast. There was only one other bed occupied—by a very old and rather grubby looking gentleman, who had what appeared to be all his worldly possessions piled up around him—leaving me a choice of lockers. The way this particular 8-bed room is laid out there are three bunks with their ends against one wall with a pair of lockers between each of them, and along the opposite wall is the other bunk, parallel to the wall with the remaining four lockers along the wall and then the sink next to the window. Impulse may steer someone to choose a locker adjacent to their berth, but I've found this to be rather awkward as there is no place other than the space in front of the locker to lay stuff out if you are doing a bit of shuffling. The best locker, I've learned, is the one next to the sink as you have plenty of space to move around and can even draw the table over next to the locker to pile things on. It also helps that at night there is some light coming in through the window next to the sink in case you've forgotten to pocket your flashlight before going out for the evening.

As this was my penultimate day in Ireland, I found I had one mission yet to accomplish. Often in my travels, I have sent a postcard to the staff of the Library back home in Acton. When I was in New York in February, I sent them a postcard of the lions outside the new York Public Library with the message that I was "sending them a lion to say hello". For this trip I had meant to pick up a postcard of the Library at Trinity College, but the gift shop had not been open when I was there for the Archive CD Books Ireland launch. My plan was to try some of the tourist shops to see if they had any, but if need be, I was going to go over to Trinity and see if they were open on Easter Sunday. And so, I set off down Blessington Street to see what I could find on this my penultimate day in Dublin.

I had noticed earlier that all of the lamp posts had Irish tricolors affixed to them, high enough to be out of reach. It occurred to me that Easter had more than a religious significance in Ireland as it was the day on which the populace recalled the historic events of the so-called Easter Rising of 1916 in which rebel forces occupied the GPO and other locations in the City. As I drew close to Parnell Square North, where the Dublin Writers Museum looks out over the Garden of Remembrance, I heard amplified music and observed a crowd gathered in the street facing a temporary stage set up on a flatbed lorry (truck). On stage were four or five musicians, later identified as Pat Savage and Friends, strumming guitars and banjos and whatnot and singing a song I recall from an old Clancy Brothers record—"Oh, we're off to Dublin in the green, in the green . . . our bayonets glistening in the sun . . . to the rattle of a Thompson gun . . ." etc. The crowd was armed with tricolours on sticks and signs with "Sinn Fein" on them. I quickly discovered that this was a Sinn Fein rally to commemorate the events of Easter 1916. Observing the crowd, noticed one husky lad wearing a black T-shirt that said "I still hate Margaret Thatcher". Sidling over to him I pointed to his chest and said "At least you've got to give her credit for one thing." to which he responded with a blank expression as I continued "she's the only Prime Minister to have a disease named after her." pausing for effect before delivering the punch line "mad cow disease" to which he broke out in guffaws. I quickly moved on before he could pin a Sinn Fein button on me.

There were several uniformed Gardai scattered through the block, directing traffic away from the closed-off street and generally showing a presence. Also observed and observing, at the fringes of the gathering, were men in plain clothes who periodically took little notebooks out of their pockets to scribble something down. This is something I've been doing all along, but somehow, I suspect they were not drafting notes for a blog. Soon the folk music gave way to political speeches and the recitation of excerpts from the diary of Bobby Sands.
As I found this to be somewhat less than entertaining I set off on my search for a postcard of the Long Room at Trinity. Opting to depart by the less-crowded Parnel Square West, who should I almost bump into coming the other way but Martin McGuinness, the number two man in Sinn Fein, accompanied by what I can only assume was a bodyguard. Here in the space of 48 hours I was within spitting distance of two of the arch enemies of the current Troubles, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. And this the same week in which I met with Bertie Ahern. As for McGuinness, I've always thought he bears a striking resemblance to a certain past-President of The Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA). Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness
I was in and out of several souvenir shops along O'Connell Street, but didn't find the postcard I wanted amidst all the paddywhackery. Feeling a bit peckish I stopped in one of the Centras and got me a Cornish pasty, making sure this time it wasn't one of those spice-laden dragon pasties.
Looking for a place to sit a bit and enjoy my lunch while it was still hot, I ambled onto the new wooden boardwalk along the North side of the Liffey at Bachelor's Walk. At the end closest to the bridge originally named for Lord Carlisle, but now bearing the name of Daniel O'Connell, there is an al fresco cafe, but it looked like I wouldn't be welcome unless I was paying for a seat, so I hiked about halfway to Capel Street before I found a public bench from which I could watch the seagulls in the mud of low tide. The Liffey Boardwalk
The Liffey Boardwalk (photo by Peter Scott)
I had just barely finished my lunch when I heard a marching band coming down O'Connell Street and hastened to the bridge in time to see the Sinn Fein'ers with their flags and fifes and drums behind an escort of police motorcycles leading them across the river. I caught up with them and walked alongside to the tune of "This land is my land, this land is your land . . ." wondering if their version was ". . . from the Blasket Islands to the Glens of Antrim . . ."

I left the black-clad band marking time in D'Olier Street and headed on to the College, where I was relieved to find that the gift shoppe was indeed open for business, and was, in fact, thronged with tourists. I wonder what the monks who illustrated the Book of Kells would think of people paying €7.50 to see a single page of their work. I found just the postcard I wanted, showing the Long Room with its high shelves crammed with books, but I discovered I couldn't buy a stamp. The sales clerk suggested that I might be able to buy one from the shop in the Student Union if it was open. Before heading off in search of postage, I needed to pump bilges again. There are no public toilets in the Library building itself and visitors are directed across the quad to a modern building in which I discovered a facility quite unlike any I had seen before. Men's rooms, for those of you unfamiliar with such interiors, usually have toilet stalls the same as a Ladies' room, with the additional feature of a bank of urinals, or in the case of many European installations a single trough continually flushed with a stream of water. In this case, not only was there a single, stainless steel trough all along one wall, but it extended to the floor, and for a distance of some three or four feet away from the wall, was covered with a metal grating, such as one would see over a subway ventilating shaft, beneath which the water ran in a continuous river, the width of the urinal. No worries here of someone accidentally shaking a few drops on the floor.

A stamp, it turns out, was harder to get than the postcard to put it on. The student union was not open and several shops that I tried would only sell me a book of stamps, for which I had no need. The Post Office, needless to say, was not open on Sunday, but I was informed that there were machines in the exterior wall where you could purchase stamps. I discovered there were four of these at different points in the front and sides of the GPO, but none of them worked. Luckily I was able to retrieve the coins I put in the slots.

At this point, the Sinn Fein parade had ended up back at the GPO and there was much oratory to be heard, but at this point it had been a long day and I had a date for supper. My friend, Norman, had planned to take me out Sunday night to that pub, Jamie Fox's, "the highest pub in Ireland" when I returned from Belfast, but when I got on to him on the phone he informed me that his aunt had come for a visit and they were gathering at his sister's for dinner and would I like to come along. Of course, I accepted, as I always enjoy visiting friends at home more than going to a pub. So I headed back to the hostel to be ready to go. When I got back to the room I discovered my locker was wide open. I had a sinking feeling that it had been broken into and everything of value was gone, but I soon realized that it was just the way I had left it. I not only had not locked the lock, I hadn't even closed the locker. What on earth had I been thinking? Nothing had been disturbed.

Norman found me waiting on the stoop as he arrived in Mountjoy Street at the appointed time. Driving out to Sandyford I recognized some landmarks for the trip we'd taken on the Luas March 12th. Norman's sister made a chicken dish that was quite nice and his brother Denis' wife Ilsa made a strudel for dessert, she being German-born. The night was capped with chocolate Easter eggs and brandy and it was a late hour before I was deposited back in Mountjoy Street for my last sleep in Ireland.

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