After dividing our time between the capital city, Dublin, and the lovely coastal town of Skerries, we bid farewell to Ireland’s east coast today and headed south to Cork (home of the Blarney Stone). The Lord has blessed us with excellent weather these last few days. When we left the White Cottages in the morning, we met a mother on every block pushing her baby carriage; when we returned in the evening, we passed joggers and walkers on every corner. I wonder if the locals love fitness this much when it’s raining?
Skerries boasts a windmill dating back to the 1200s. The bright-eyed, glib-tongued Patty conducted us on a tour through the restoration of all this mill and its brethren: a watermill with three stones (one for flour, one for feed, one for beer!), a five-bladed windmill (French technology; much ahead of its time when it was built 300 years ago), and assorted equipment.
Did you know flour combusts? Millers could only work by the light of day until the invention of electric engines, for fear of explosions. Their safety switch: wooden teeth on the mill’s gears. If the grain ran short and the stones ground into each other, over a hundred teeth would snap in seconds before sparks flew. Millers also suffered from a condition equivalent to miner’s lung, thanks to the flour dust.
Guidebooks warned me against visiting the so-called “Page of Kells”: Similar to the Mona Lisa, this incredible medieval manuscript apparently doesn’t permit much of a viewing experience. We visited the free alternative: The Chester Beatty, Library. This private collection, now open to the public, includes cultural artifacts dating back to 2700 BC: drawings, pop-up fashion drawings, beautifully bound books, one of the world’s best collections of Qu’rans, and so on.
I came for the illuminated manuscripts, and they did not disappoint. Alongside fragments of papyrus New Testaments from 300 AD, the museum displayed pages from the four Gospels. If only my Greek-reading friends had been along to attempt translations! The images, only a few inches square, captured incredible detail in vivid color: shaded columns, intricate capitals, flowing robes… My favorite illustration featured the Matthew’s account of the Slaughter of the Innocents–pictured in Renaissance French dress.
Incidentally, the library stands alongside Dublin’s Castle. Yep, a castle, right in the middle of the city.
For our final night in Dublin, we attended a Storytelling Dinner at the Brazen Head (“Ireland’s Oldest Pub”). Between courses, the speaker combined historical accounts of the potato famine (‘Before the blight, families ate potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner’) with childhood recollections (‘Whenever I visited my grandparents’ home, I saw two portraits hanging in the front hall: Pope John Paul II and John F. Kennedy’). She concluded with an image an Irish family gathered around the fireplace, ‘the spirit of the household,’ each contributing a story or song for the evening…’whether you could sing or not.’