Another Decade in Dublin

On October 5th I made my zillionth trip to Dublin, that city of vast literary and cultural genius that always has me holding my breath and wondering just what will happen this time. Magic always happens there – sometimes in obvious ways but mostly in quiet ways. Ways that are mostly inside me.

Something about Dublin makes me want to be a better writer. Maybe it is walking the streets where once many literary giants walked; Beckett, Behan, Joyce, Kavanagh, Wilde (I’m just plucking a mere few feathers from a magnificent plume). I’m always struck by the knowledge that they were once just regular people, like me – and much more. Fantastic, romantic or realist visionaries who dared to hope that what stirred them would one day stir the world. Ordinary dreamers who became extraordinary guides to the internal worlds and ideas that previously only they knew.

I could go on and on about them, but that is for another time and I will write more soon about the literary side of my trip.

This post is about the reason I went to Dublin this time. It was to celebrate the 60th birthday of my good friend, Sue Fell, along with our friends Dianne and Dan from Arizona, who joined us for the week.

Sue and I have known each other for over twenty years now and have spent many fun and adventurous times in each other’s company. We met through our mutual love of U2, and that shared passion has seen us experience some wonderful times at concerts in several countries over the years.

As a treat for Sue’s special night (her birthday was in September but we designated October 9th as the big day in Dublin), we booked the penthouse suite at The Clarence Hotel, which is famously co-owned by Bono and The Edge of U2. Now, we are not millionaires by any means, and not even close to it, but this suite is a very special place, and this was the third time we had stayed there. We save very carefully for it, and between four people it is not so bad!

For the rest of the week (seven nights in the penthouse would make our wallets explode!) we booked a really lovely duplex apartment in Smithfield, on the north side of the city. From our 6th floor living room window we could look out to the Jameson Distillery opposite (no longer operating) and the new Generator Hostel, which makes staying in the city cheap and comfortable for youngsters looking for a good time! The Luas (Dublin Tram) runs from just across the street so the location could not be more convenient.

Our week was our usual holiday mixture of culture, laziness (lots of that) and good food and wine (lots more of that!). We saw a play at Bewleys Lunchtime Theatre on Grafton Street and one at The Peacock on Abbey Street (more about both of them in another post). We ate at fantastic restaurants (Dada on William Street South, The Green Hen on Exchequer Street, Town on Kildare Street and of course Cleaver East, which used to be The Tea Room, in The Clarence Hotel).

On the Sunday we ventured on the DART to Killiney to blow away the cobwebs. In the wide arms of the bay we walked, the pebbles and shells crunching beneath our feet, and watched the pale, cloud-filtered light from the sun dance on the surface of the water.

With an appetite built, we took the DART one station back to Dalkey and had lunch at Finnegans, where the ghost of writer Maeve Binchy (Dalkey’s famous daughter) can still be felt – if you really want to feel it. This was her regular drinking place – she even used to bring her own chair!

On one of our days there, Sue and I had what we call our “lazy day” – which is code for slow and meandering boozy day. This tradition was started in Nice exactly one year previously, when we spent the day in glorious sunshine, sampling a jug or three of local wine. In the much cooler Dublin climate we kept out seating arrangements indoors for the most part, but did venture outside at one of the venues in our 4-pub crawl.

As our first weekend moved towards mid-week, our thoughts drifted to the penthouse. This was something we had arranged a long time ago. With the memory of our previous two stays there still in our minds, it had a lot to live up to. Thanks to Mario, the Revenue Manager at the hotel, it certainly did! He always looks after us so well whenever we stay at The Clarence, and this time was no exception. From the arrangements for afternoon tea on the day we arrived (there was a long table set out in The Study to accommodate us four and three of our friends who had come to help celebrate Sue’s birthday) to a couple of bottles of bubbly and a plate of chocolates for Sue in the suite, everything was perfect.

Staying somewhere as special as the penthouse suite at The Clarence means you have to make the most of every moment. Who wants to sleep when you are in such a beautiful place? The décor is subtle and tasteful, with beautiful accent colours like reds and teals to compliment the pale walls and oceans of oak. Sue and I stayed up the latest, going outside at intervals to catch the changing light of a Dublin day. When Sue went to bed, I spent a scant few hours on the couch in the Gallery upstairs, with the light from the dozens of tealights we had placed around the room flickering on the walls and casting gentle shadows upon me that stroked me to sleep.

I awoke briefly to catch the fire of the sunrise as it set Dublin ablaze. I went out onto the balcony feeling as sleepy as the city looked, marvelling again at the river and its bridges, the buildings old and new stretching into the distance and – for the moment at least – the tranquil beauty of city waking up.

We had done what we came here to do. We had marked another decade in Sue’s life. She’s been coming to Dublin for almost three of them and I am sure she will continue to do so.

It is always my pleasure to share it with her.

Saint Patrick’s Day

Today is probably one of the most famous Saint’s days in the world, when people come together and celebrate with music and revelry, and much alcohol. Most people don’t even know why they celebrate it, except for the fact that it’s a great excuse for a party.

Thanks to for the following info all about St Patrick.

Many folk ask the question ‘Why is the Shamrock the National Flower of Ireland?’ The reason is that St. Patrick used it to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans. Saint Patrick is believed to have been born in the late fourth century, and is often confused with Palladius, a bishop who was sent by Pope Celestine in 431 to be the first bishop to the Irish believers in Christ.

Saint Patrick was the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland who is credited with bringing christianity to Ireland. Most of what is known about him comes from his two works, the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography, and his Epistola, a denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish christians. Saint Patrick described himself as a “most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped idols and unclean things had become the people of God.”

Saint Patrick is most known for driving the snakes from Ireland. It is true there are no snakes in Ireland, but there probably never have been – the island was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the Ice Age. As in many old pagan religions, serpent symbols were common and often worshipped. Driving the snakes from Ireland was probably symbolic of putting an end to that pagan practice. While not the first to bring christianity to Ireland, it is Patrick who is said to have encountered the Druids at Tara and abolished their pagan rites. The story holds that he converted the warrior chiefs and princes, baptizing them and thousands of their subjects in the “Holy Wells” that still bear this name.

There are several accounts of Saint Patrick’s death. One says that Patrick died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, on March 17, 460 A.D. His jawbone was preserved in a silver shrine and was often requested in times of childbirth, epileptic fits, and as a preservative against the “evil eye.” Another account says that St. Patrick ended his days at Glastonbury, England and was buried there. The Chapel of St. Patrick still exists as part of Glastonbury Abbey. Today, many Catholic places of worship all around the world are named after St. Patrick, including cathedrals in New York and Dublin city

Why Saint Patrick’s Day?
Saint Patrick’s Day has come to be associated with everything Irish: anything green and gold, shamrocks and luck. Most importantly, to those who celebrate its intended meaning, St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide.

So, why is it celebrated on March 17th? One theory is that that is the day that St. Patrick died. Since the holiday began in Ireland, it is believed that as the Irish spread out around the world, they took with them their history and celebrations. The biggest observance of all is, of course, in Ireland. With the exception of restaurants and pubs, almost all businesses close on March 17th. Being a religious holiday as well, many Irish attend mass, where March 17th is the traditional day for offering prayers for missionaries worldwide before the serious celebrating begins.

In American cities with a large Irish population, St. Patrick’s Day is a very big deal. Big cities and small towns alike celebrate with parades, “wearing of the green,” music and songs, Irish food and drink, and activities for kids such as crafts, coloring and games. Some communities even go so far as to dye rivers or streams green!

Out of the Miry Clay – Part Four

Conor O’Donnelly’s musical career started in the parlour of his family home in Dundalk when he was two years old. Parlours, for the average Irish family, are hallowed places shrouded in darkness, and light is only allowed to enter a few times a year; at Christmas, or if someone gets married. Or dies.

But between those days when Santa came and left big-booted prints, and when people dressed either gaily or sombrely and ate tiny triangular sandwiches and talked in hushed tones, little Conor would toddle through the heavy wooden door and sit on the thick carpet under the table. The carpet that rarely was dented by shoe and boot would flatten beneath his diapered bum, and with a metal box of his mammy’s pegs he would rattle out the rhythm dancing in his head.

If the songs in his head sounded like angels to him, the best he could make of them as they left his body was a high pitched, squeaky “la la la”. And on those strangled melodies he drifted away, through his world of fantasy, to a place of music and light and utter joy.

The reality of his world was quite different. He was clumsy, chubby and ruddy of face, with hair the colour of carrots. His school days were a constant battle and he learned, quite early on, to run fast. Away from trouble, from the teasing a heavy child gets. Into his world of music.

When he reached 12 a miracle happened. Or, maybe part of it was not a miracle, but science taking a hand. As a result of the running – maybe – his puppy fat melted. And at the same time (almost to the second, his mother often joked) his orange hair softened to a gorgeous, deep amber and then, a little while later – like alchemy at work indeed – to a raven black that mirrored his paternal grandmother’s. He had her eyes too, soft and green like shamrocks, or moss on the Dublin hills.

His voice lost its shrillness and gained a mellow resonance that pleased all who heard it. His family loved to show him off at family gatherings and wakes, but he didn’t want to sing “I Will Take You Home, Kathleen” and “Danny Boy”. He wanted to rock out with his friends, and with them formed a band that owed more to balls and blind luck than it did to talent.

Three bands later, at age 17, a meeting with a giant Englishman with outrageously unruly hair saw the birth of The Southsiders. A mix of Irish, English and Scottish testosterone and a considerable amount of Guinness, it exploded on Dublin like a bomb, smack bang in the middle of the punk invasion.

Conor O’Donnelly’s star was set to rise. Big time.