Monday, September 27, 2010

Culture Night, part deux

I'm recovered enough at last to do the mega-review of this year's highly successful Culture Night.

After the GPO Museum, I acquired some friends and proceeded to Dublin Castle. The Castle is a place that most Dubliners forget about, and yet, it has a wealth of interesting cultural and touristy activity. On a previous Culture Night, I did the State Apartments tour, which was well supported and interestingly given, with just the right amount of history, scandal and social elements. This year, in attempting to find the Revenue Museum, I first encountered a small Gothic chapel, with fantastic stone and wood carvings. It curiously seemed to feature the names and coats of arms of English statesmen with years, but there was neither information to read nor tour guides on hand to explain. The internet tells me it's the Chapel Royal, which was the official chapel of the Lord-Lieutenant's household, so I'll take a wild leap and suggest the names and coats of arms are those of our many LLs. It was a Church of Ireland church and became Catholic in the 1940s. While lovely to see, it would have been great to have learnt anything about it while there instead afterwards from Wikipedia. Bold Dublin Castle!However, the Royal Chapel was not the Revenue Museum, which we did find around the corner (though signposts could help here). It's a very small museum and, while diverting, is still about tax and customs & excise so not overly exciting. The museum suffers from having all the information in both Irish and English but without a font change. Several times, I found myself starting to read the repeated section in Irish before realising I needed to jump over a column. Perhaps of most interest is the collection of contraband items taken from wouldbe smugglers and the toilet used to "assist" drug mules, with a special examination area attached!
Almost by accident, we found the Garda Museum located in a round tower just beside the Revenue Museum. And what a treasure of history it is. A host of photographs, uniforms, badges, props (ok, perhaps equipment is a better word), etc is displayed over 3 floors, each reached by a spiral staircase. This museum is not for the mobility impaired. I don't know if they do tours but if they do, it would be handy because there was simply too much information to absorb in one viewing. It was a little delight and deserves repeat viewing.

Now at the far end of Dublin Castle, I headed back to Trinity and stopped in to see the new Long Room Hub. It may be the nicest modern building in TCD. It's filled with light and excellent study spaces with comfy seats and some small lecture rooms. The queue for the Book of Kells stretched all the way down the side of the Long Library, so I gave that a miss.

Then came the Freemasons' Lodge. Until relatively recently, this was a place of secret meetings and handshakes. They probably still have both of those but nowadays they also do tours. The Masons will allow any man (grr) who believes in any God to become a member. I had the chance to do one last year and was talking about it for weeks afterwards. First off, you wouldn't believe how big the Lodge is. It was purpose-built and comprises two sites on Molesworth St. Room after room of elaborate Masonic imagery combined with heraldry, flags, Egyptian mythology, paintings of Masonic luminaries and biblical references. Carved thrones litter the place and there's no shortage of bibles. At the risk of sounding irreverent, the descriptions of what Masons do sounds a bit like a cross between grown-up Scouts and a college society that has the best rooms ever. My favourite room is the chapel, which has the illusion of being a free-standing structure within the building, complete with fake windows and the coats of arms of each Grand Master of the Lodge.
After that, you'd think wherever happened to be next would pale in comparison, but the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson St rose to the occasion. Though I'd seen it on tv, I'd never been inside before, and again, I was surprised at the size of the place. It's heaven for any bibliophile and I plan to get back there soon for a proper perusal of their catalogue. They do talks and host small exhibitions of their holdings. Keep an eye for upcoming lectures.

Onwards to Temple Bar, the hub of activity. We called in briefly the Quaker Meeting House, where the tone was much more relaxed. There were plenty of galleries to view here and we just took the time to see the Sebastian Guinness one, which featured an odd collection of very expensive photographs which didn't have much of a theme. Some were beautiful and some were not. I was glad to see this sort of gallery on a busy night because normally I wouldn't go into those places solo since there's often a feeling of being watched by not very busy staff. Meeting House Square was showing The Commitments, still funny after, wait for it, 19 years, though it was a bit hard to hear the dialogue over the crowd. I must do a re-watch to compare with a much changed Dublin.

Overall, a fantastic evening of culture. I'm relieved there's a couple of weeks in between it and Open House.

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