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My Irish trip of last year ended with the desire to return to the island, particularly to spend some time in Dublin. My wish was realized this March, when I managed a sunny (yes!!) long weekend in the Irish capital.
Guest again of wonderful Irish friends, I spent the time of the short visit walking in the old city and making excursions to Drogheda and to Maynooth, west of the city.
The view of the City from the landing plane did little to forecast good weather, in fact it was a rather dramatic northern scene. But this time I could easily recognize from the plane several city landmarks, among whose was the beautiful Aviva Stadium.
The clouds were all gone by early afternoon and the ‘walk’ in the city started with a seascape, a visit to Dun Laoghaire (south of the city center). The old town of Kingston, famous for the harbor and the old grand hotels, now has a remarkable marina and a new, imposing, architectural feature: the Rathdown’s Lexicon library (Carr Cotter & Naessens 2014).
The harbour, with the two long granite piers, is really a visual treat and a pleasure to walk on.
The next day, an event in Drogheda was the perfect excuse to visit one of the oldest towns in Ireland. The town, twice besieged during the Irish Confederate Wars, was taken by Oliver Cromwell in September 1649 as part of its conquest of Ireland and was the infamous site of the massacre of the Royalist defenders.
The event I visited in the city was an intriguing solo show of Janet Mullarney’s work. The senior Irish artist exhibited at the Highlanes Gallery.
A particularly interesting feature of the town was the St. Peter’s Church of Ireland, built in 1745 by Hugh Darley on an old (1556) religious site whose cemetery still stands.
Re-entering Dublin I decided to visit another contemporary art show at the IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art). “Trove Dorothy Cross from the National Collection”, was shown in one of the buildings within the 1648 converted Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
Although the recent Hospital restoration did preserve the architectural jewel, the conversion to a contemporary art gallery appeared to me to be still a work in progress.
The following day was sunny and a perfect one for a long city walk. I was also excited because I was privileged to be allowed the interior visit of two of the most noted and historical buildings of Dublin: the Leinster House (the Oireachtas Éireann, the Legislature of Ireland, 1748 by Richard Cassels) and the famous Custom House (1791 by James Gandon).
The walk continued by reaching the National Gallery of Ireland going through Merrion Square Park, a real treat of spring colors. Although the Gallery is currently undergoing a large renovation, a section is kept open to exhibit some of the collection’s gems. I was particularly taken by the display of the works in the gallery. The sensibly colored backgrounds, the perfect level of artificial light color temperature and intensity made the enjoyment of the works a memorable experience (and I hope the renovated gallery will further those efforts).
The next day I decided to further the museum round with a visit to the National Museum of Decorative Arts and History. The old Collins Barracks (Thomas de Burgh, 1701), restored and adapted to exhibition space, now host an intriguing museum of decorative arts. The walk that followed the museum visit was dedicated to a set of downtown buildings that I find quite iconic and characterize the old Dublin. The first one was the “Pepper canister”, St. Stephen’s Church (by J Bowden and J Wella, 1821); then St. Paul in Smithfield (by Patrick Byrne 1835) and finally the Marrion Hall, a Brethren gospel hall by Alfred Gresham Jones (completed in 1863). I think the green hats on all those buildings are very Irish…
With some sunlight left in the day, a brief visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the amazing 800 year old Catholic center of Ireland, turned into a magic experience when the youth choir of the Cathedral performed a Lenten music and reading.
The last day, another one gorgeously sunny, was dedicated to a short trip west of town.
We headed to the town of Maynooth where the amazing complex of the University hosts St. Patrick’s College, a 1795 building that later on was altered with additions by Augustus Pugin (in 1845). Walking on the university ground I realized that the Royal Hospital, the Barracks and the Seminary share an imposing presence and have similar plans.
Just outside Maynooth I visited an architectural beauty: the Carton House (the 1747 Earl of Kildare residence modified in 1815 by Richard Morrison), now a luxury hotel.
On the way back to Dublin we stopped in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, at the Castletown House. The spectacular Palladian style house was built in 1729 for William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and the façade was almost certainly designed by the Italian architect Alessandro Galilei, while the Irish architect Sir Edward Lovett Pearce added the wings.
After those few sunny days, the last night brought a mantle of snow on the Dublin area, a really curious view from the plain.