Sep 25, 2012

Dublin, Part I: a bit of a schemozzle

So my moving plans have changed slightly...I just learned that the room I'm to move into "hasn't been readied yet", whatever that means.  However, I was promised that I'd be in by the end of the week for sure.  It's a small inconvenience, but one that can be dealt with.  Oh, well.  On to a more exciting topic: Dublin!

We left on Friday, which proved to be the busiest day of this trip.  A two-and-a-half-hour bus ride brought us to our first stop: the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) museum, more often referred to as Croke Park.  (The GAA is Ireland's biggest sporting organization, and it promotes the two major Gaelic sports: Gaelic football and hurling.  Here's the Wikipedia link if you're interested in reading more about the GAA.)  What on earth is hurling?  I'm getting there, I'm getting there...

Here's the remarkably unimpressive front of the stadium.  At the time, I was too focused on stretching my legs to wonder why it seemed so plain.
Right away, we met up with a tour guide who gave us a thorough run of the stadium...and to his credit, this is where he started:
I would pay to see someone try to play with these hurleys...
...which brings me to hurling.  Hurling is a field sport that combines the brutality of rugby, the equipment and technique of lacrosse, and the impossible complexity of cricket...or, at least, that's how it feels to me.  (Here's a link to some arguably more objective opinions...and one more to my friend Carla's blog if you'd like to read what one of my fellow Union students thinks of the game.  Hint: she's in love with it.)  As for me, I've yet to encounter any sport as frightfully dangerous as hurling...and given the self-preservation instinct it inspires in me, I'm surprised by the fan base it has in this country.  No question about it - the Irish love their hurlers.  Need some evidence?
This Waterford crystal chandelier hangs in the Croke Park players' lounge.  It's worth €500,000 (at today's rates, $645,350 and INR34.5L).  And those are no regular baubles - they're Gaelic footballs and sliotars (hurling balls).  There are 32 footballs (one for each county in Ireland, since each one sends its own team to compete in the championship) and 70 sliotars (to represent the 70 minutes of play in a championship game).  The best part?  Thanks to LED technology, they can display the team colors of the winning team being hosted in the lounge.
The hurlers' jerseys...
...and one for the token New Yorker on the team, perhaps?
This is a practice/warm-up room where players get one last chance to horse around before they run through those doors and onto the pitch.  (See that net hanging from the ceiling?  It's meant to protect the lights; apparently, sliotars can be launched at over 150 kmph.)
That's the goal.  Apparently, shooting a sliotar below the bar gets you thrice the points that you would receive for getting it over the bar.
A famous quote attributed to GAA commentator Michael O'hEither.  The Irish may speak English, but it's certainly a different English from the one I know.
An aerial view of the pitch
Overall, it seemed like a run-of-the-mill sports stadium.  To a girl who didn't grow up in a sports-obsessed family, they all look the same.  (Cue the dirty looks from any sports fanatics who are reading this.)  So I was eager to get to the next stop, which I expected would be far more interesting: Kilmainham Jail.  This jail, which was built 1796 and closed by the Irish government in 1924, housed prisoners of all ages - and yes, that included children.  The youngest of them was five years old and arrested for some petty theft I was too shocked to retain while the tour guide was explaining it.

It looks spooky, doesn't it?  Years ago, all of the public hangings happened here at the entrance.
We could only go on the tour in groups of six or seven, so I checked out a few of the exhibits while I waited:

Hard labor was part and parcel of the Kilmainham experience.

A letter written by Irish rebel Joseph Plunkett in 1915, asking his woman to marry him. Ten minutes after they were married, he was executed for leading the Irish in rebellion against England.
Here are a few shots from the tour itself:

A hallway lined with prison cells meant to fit one person.  In reality, they held more like five or six people, since there were so many people being arrested for crimes as mundane as stealing bread - during the Great Famine, no less.  Each prisoner was given a single candle for light and heat...every two weeks.
The richer prisoners got far more space.
The East Wing of the jail.
This cell, like I mentioned before, was meant to hold one person.  The prisoner would be here for 22-23 hours a day; the 1-2 hours left were meant for exercise and bathroom time.
Grace Plunkett (the recipient of the love letter above) would later become a political prisoner in the Irish Civil War. During her time at Kilmainham, she painted this on the wall.

Note the small, lonely cross in the corner.  It just breaks my heart for the poor people who suffered there...
But take heart, friends: that was only the first half of Friday.  Coming soon: a visit to the Guinness Brewery...

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