Today would be a day of contrasts for our tour group, as we left the pastoral countryside of Donegal and headed to Dublin City; the last four days being spent in a quaint hotel and the next two nights to be spent in what the Irish refer to as a "castle."
We drove across Northern Ireland and back into the republic to Monaghan. There we stopped for some tea before continuing for our afternoon visit to an old friend: Arthur Guinness and his little store.
For many visitors, Ireland conjures up images of castles and thatched cottages, wide open green fields and a great deal of Irish music playing all around. Though all that is there, from the mysterious to the music, Ireland is a thoroughly modern state. Joining the European Union has changed everything from currency to roadways. One can still find the Ireland of their grandparents but in very subtle ways. It would be akin to the visitor coming to America and looking for log cabins, cowboys and bison in Colorado. They are there, but one has to take Denver in as well. So it is not at all unusual in Ireland to behold a great old cathedral and see across from it a modern shopping center.
Nowhere are there such contrasts than in Dublin. A drive along the docks of the Liffey will reveal modern buildings cheek to jowl with old pubs and warehouses. Dublin has become a world city. People of all races and creeds can be found, and yet, there is something Irish about that too. From its origins as a Viking settlement, Dublin has assimilated foreigners and made them violently Irish. I saw that firsthand when we arrived at the Guinness brewery.
The brewery has a wonderful tour that takes the visitor through the many steps needed to make the beer that is almost as symbolic as the harp. However, if you get on the elevator, you can head straight up to the seventh floor, where the geniuses that have created this marketing sensation created a pub with a fantastic 360 degree view of Dublin. Among the servers with names like Declan, Colm, and Sean, was a guy named Bill. Sure enough, when I asked him for a pint, he answered with a Midwestern accent. Turns out he hails from Holland, Michigan, and came to Ireland with his Irish fiancé to visit. He talked about how his fiancé now really wanted him to settle down in Ireland. Bill shrugged his shoulders, finished topping off the pint and with the faintest hint of a brogue starting said, "I'm getting used to living in Dublin."
Mick drove us to his home town, Dunboyne. The "castle” Dunboyne sits on the grounds that once had a fortress in olden times. Later, a Georgian manor house graced the grounds and that is pretty much what is left today, along with some very tasteful modern improvements. While not as "castle-like" as some, the place sure made up for it with sumptuous lodgings. Once again the contrast that is Ireland today was evident with the mix of the old and new.
The Irish cherish the old as well as embrace the new. When we drove through his town, Mick pointed out his watering hole, Brady's pub. The pub is considered a heritage site and protected from being destroyed or "re-muddled.” We headed to the hotel, relaxed and had dinner. The concierge mentioned that there was some traditional music taking place at, where else, but Mick's pub Brady's.
We finished our dinner and gathered everyone who wished to see a session or "seisun.” About five adults were seated with fiddles playing alongside a young boy playing concertina and another boy alternating between tenor banjo and guitar. They were as kind as could be, inviting me to get up and sing a couple of songs. One of the fiddlers had relatives in Chicago and so we talked quite a bit about various parts of town, like people do when starting to find some common ground. They were almost reverential when they heard that Brian and I had studied and played with Cuz Teahan. Our group was an appreciative audience and clapped, sang and chatted with the locals. We left the pub feeling like we got backstage passes to the Rolling Stones! It was the perfect end to a long day.
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