Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oktoberfest Dublin 2010 - einfach klasse!

Oktoberfest Dublin has begun! I enjoyed last year's festival so I headed straight down to Docklands today to check out this year's event. It looks quite similar, except that the beer - all of the beer - is provided by Erdinger instead of Paulaner. Fine by me, actually, as I quite like Erdinger.

There's the same range of delicious Bavarian food. Vegetarians beware: many innocent pigs died in the making of this cuisine. As well as pork and chicken there's the usual mix of potatoes, sauerkraut and a few non-traditional foods.

The Erdinger beers include lager, Kristal (clear beer), Dunkel (dark beer - very nice), and non-alcoholic (one of the best of its types). There's a €5-€10 refundable deposit on glass beer-mugs. Prosecco and other wines are available, as are various non-alcoholic beverages.

The set-up consists of a variety of food and drink stalls dotted aroung the venue, with tables and seating provided both outdoors and in a large tent. Also in the tent is a stage from which delightfully tacky German folk music will be played. With a few beers in you it'll sound great.

As the tent can get very busy, it's possible to book a table for 10 in advance. It costs €150 and you'll get 10 1-Litre Steins of beer*. (Yummy.) It's also possible just to turn up and hope for the best - but I'd suggest you get there early in the evening if that's your plan.

*The word "Stein" isn't normally used this way in Germany. It literally mean "stone" because once upon a time that's what beer-mugs were made from.

Oktoberfest Dublin runs until 10th October, from mid-day to 12:30 am each day except on Sundays, when it finishes at 8:00 pm.

Oktoberfest Dublin overview

Update: a reader has told me that there are at least two other Erdingers available: an Oktoberfest brew and "Winterbrau". Toll! And try to get to the festival before 6 pm - the later you arrive, the longer the queue.

Note: I've seen a few Google searches about wheelchair access. I don't know for sure that the venue is OK - if there are suitable toilets for example - but the entry-way to the festival is a fairly gentle slope, not a set of stairs.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Culture Night 2010 - Royal Irish Academy

One of the places I visited for the first time on Culture Night was the RIA on Dawson Street. It's impressively bookish.

The RIA organises public lectures on a range of subjects. Two upcoming lectures look particularly interesting:

1. The annual Hamilton Lecture, on 15th October in TCD, is by Robert C. Merton on the subject Observations on Mathematical Finance in the Practice of Finance. Merton is a Noble-prize winner and one of the leading figures in his field: if you work in finance, there's a good chance you've heard of him. It's a bit like Richard Dawkins turning up to talk about evolution, only with financial maths instead of public excitement or controversy.
2. Also in TCD, on 21st October, is a lecture called "The Anthropocene: a new geological epoch dominated by human activities". It's about climate change; very nice title, I just hope the lecture lives up to it.

Both events are free but booking is required.

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.

Writing 3.0: Fingal's Annual Writers Festival

takes place throughout the month of October and has an eclectic bunch of events in various locations around North County Dublin.

Highlights look to be An Audience with John Banville on 20th October in Farmleigh and a 2 weekend budding screenwriters' course in Blanchardstown Library. I also recommend catching a screening of The Eclipse, a quite creepy and cool Irish movie made last year with little fanfare in either DraĆ­ocht or Rush Library.

I've scored tickets for The Drivetime Diarists Live, featuring the man who would be president, Fergus Finley, Joseph O'Connor and the always entertaining Olivia O'Leary, also in Farmleigh on 15th October.

Most of the events are ticketed and can be applied for via the website. For full details, go here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Theatre: What the Folk!

As part of the Fringe Festival, the National Folk Theatre were in town to answer the question: "What is folk?" I certainly didn't know, but I enjoyed finding out over the course of the lunchtime performance, held in the Irish Landmark Trust on Eustace Street.

What the Folk! is just the sort of show I want from the Fringe Festival: enjoyable but also unusual. It's hardly a show at all, really, and more a friendly introduction to 'Folk'. Before the performance proper begins the audience are given a little slice of cake and a cup of tea, and led into a very nice comfy room. The performers sit around the room - there's no stage, no nice neat line dividing the folk performers from the rest of us.

And so begins the entertainment. They sing (in Irish and English, intermixed) and dance and tell the audience about folk - not just what it is, but the life they lead. It sounds as if folk is not just a job for them, but a way of life, and one they love. Personal stories and anecdotes abound, as well as an impressive listing of injuries. It's certainly the first Fringe show during which I've been taken by an actress to her bedroom to be told about the diaries she's kept for many years: What the Folk! must be one of the most honest, personal performances I've ever seen. (Either that or the performers are superb actors and should change careers immediately!)

This must be one of the nicest, friendliest events of the Fringe Festival, although it did run a bit late. The final show is later today, at 1 pm, but if you don't get to that (or can't get a ticket) then next time you're down near Tralee go visit the National Folk Theatre.

Rating: ****

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The GPO Museum

The GPO Museum is small and perfectly formed. It's been open a whole 2 months and hasn't had much publicity. I arrived at 5 past 5 on Friday evening and got into a healthy Culture Night queue of 25 mins before I could get in. The reason for that was insurance: they can't let too many people in at once. The first part of the museum is dedicated to stamps and philately in general. As a sometime stamp collector, it appealed to me but won't be exciting for everyone. They have a nice touchscreen thingy where you can design your own stamp and a separate one that lets you examine pretty much every stamp this country has ever produced. Kid heaven!

Part two of the museum deals with the postal service in Ireland from its inception to the modern day. It has a cool model of the GPO and voiceovers of people describing how things used to work. It also features a lovely old postal table with pigeon holes and a computer set into it, which shows different important letters belonging to the State. There's also an old telephone exchange which you can play with and listen to various postal employees. Awesome. The third section is, unsurprisingly, about the Rising and the role of the GPO in it, nicely designed with actors talking about how it effected them.
If the museum has a tiny fault, it would be that it's too technology based. I was chatting to an elderly lady in the queue and she particularly wanted to see a letter from Michael Collins to Kitty Kiernan. It was on a computer and she needed assistance to view it. Assistance was on hand and she left happy. Luckily, she was assertive but I think older visitors might be a bit intimidated by it all.

The museum took me about 30 minutes to view and will normally charge €2, which is nominal. I would have paid more to see it, if it weren't free on Culture Night! I also would have lingered if I didn't have a million other things to see that night. Wheelchair accessible; child very friendly; lots of fun: two very enthusiastic thumbs-up!

Now with added photos, courtesy of Stephen Ferguson, the museum's curator.

Culture Night 2010 - well played!

The first of a few posts I'll do when I've recovered from last night!
Here's the list of everything I saw, as well as randomly hanging around in Temple Bar and catching enough of the Committments to make me want to re-watch the whole thing.

GPO Museum
Revenue Museum
Garda Museum
Dublin Civic Trust
TCD Long Room Hub
Freemasons Lodge
Royal Irish Academy
Quaker Meeting House
Sebastian Guinness Gallery
La Cathedral Gallery

Coffee: update on Fixx, Dawson St

I had high hopes for Fixx on Dawson St when it first opened, but after an initially promising start service began to slip. There were originally two counters, one for take-away and one for stay-in - and then the take-away counter was closed, leading to long queues. The cafe seemed understaffed, and the staff started making mistakes.

I'm pleased to see though that the Bald Barista has intervened. Service has now improved, and although the take-away counter doesn't take orders it is being used to distribute the take-away coffees once they're ready.

Fixx also deserve praise for their macchiatos: they don't add too much milk. This should be pretty basic, but not all cafes get it right. Dear baristas: if you add too little milk, the error is easily corrected; if you add too much milk, the coffee is no longer a macchiato.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Plough & The Stars

Dave reviewed this back in August but it's worth highlighting that tomorrow morning The Abbey will give away 30 free tickets to that evening's performance on a first come first serve basis. You have to go to the box office in person. Just a small part of the Culture Night madness!

More information here

Culture Night

Don't forget, Friday 24th is Culture Night, the highlight of the cultural year. It'll be a very enjoyable night so if you haven't already had a look at the venues open on the night head on over to the Culture Night website, and see what's of most interest to you. (There are far more events and venues than you'll have time to visit on the night.)

Regardless of what else you do, make sure to wander through Temple Bar. It's the hub of activity on the night, packed with lots of do, but best of all it's got a wonderful buzz to it, a real sense of excitement.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Free classes in Gaiety School of Acting

As part of Culture Night, GSA are offering free classes for both kids and (separately!) adults.

That's not all though. They'll also have free Introduction to Drama and Acting for Camera 1 classes later in the month:

On Tuesday 28th September come along and try our Introduction to Drama - we have two classes running - 7pm - 8pm OR 8pm - 9pm.

On Friday 1st October come along and try our Acting for Camera 1 - we have two classes running - 7pm - 8pm OR 8pm - 9pm

To guarantee your place please contact the school on (01) 6799277 and register for the class of your choice.

I did Acting for Camera classes in the GSA last year and earlier this year and I'd strongly recommend this to anyone.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Theatre: The Cappuccino Culture - review

Most theatrical productions don't start with audience members being handed small cups of sangria on the way in. They don't split the audience into two teams, or have members of the cast wandering around before the play begins, handing out snacks and explaining how the play with work. They certainly don't have audience participation, or actors who (for the most part) play themselves. The Cappuccino Culture is perfect for the Absolut Fringe festival - a highly distinctive and original performance made of 100% pure premium grade-A fun.

The show is about Dublin and Dubliners, and is structured as a gameshow-meets-variety-show. The cast are very multicultural - some are Dubliners born and bred, others are much more recent arrivals. There are questions about the city mixed in with singing and dancing and biographical monologues. (Don't fear, "monologue" doesn't mean boring.) I particularly enjoyed the 'taboo' and charades rounds: the audience had to guess the country being referred to.

This is a very fun, very clever, very original show. Go see it.

Rating: *****

Venue: The Boys' School @ SmockAlley
Time: 8:45 pm (duration 75 mins)
Dates: 20th - 25th September 2010
Tickets: €13/10

Newbridge House, Donabate, Co. Dublin

Newbridge House is an 18th century Georgian stately home, built for the then Archbishop Cobbe and his family. It continued in Cobbe ownership until 1985 when the county council bought it. The family retained rights to occasional use and the OPW took on the mammoth task of restoration, which they detail in photos beside the gift shop.

It opened in 1987 as a house and massive park and over the past 23 years has expanded to include a traditional working farm, a great playground for kids, picnic areas, etc. The house retains most of its original furniture, though some of it has seen better days. It's somewhere I've been enjoying for years, both as a child and an adult.
The €7 tour incorporates the fabulous red drawing room, a museum of items brought back from travel across the world (including a mummified ear and lots of butterflies), it also shows the huge kitchen with all its equipment and dining room amongst other rooms. For such a small amount of money, I think it's one of the best stately home tours in north county Dublin (I'll cover some more of them over the next few months).

The traditional farm charges a small admission too but is worth it, especially with children. There's a huge array of animals from baby chicks to cows and a friendly goat. There's also a display of fancy carriages and old farm equipment. Naturally enough there is a coffee shop - it's a bit small but does nice cakes and good whipped icecream.
The parkland is, I think, even more of gem than the house. There's over 300 acres and several guided walks. You can easily walk from Donabate train station to the house, and also down to the Donabate side of the Broadmeadow estuary.
There's lots of parking near picnic areas and recently they added a small farmers market at the weekends, thought it really hasn't taken off properly yet. The last day I was there, there were very appetising bbq smells. It's particularly beautiful in Autumn, which I'm sorry to say, is here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Theatre: The Cappuccino Culture

The Cappuccino Culture previews this evening, and opens night tomorrow:

"What happens when you get Irish, Spanish, Korean, Italian, German, Portuguese, Polish, Iranian, and French people together? Do they talk about the weather? Play pub games? The Cappuccino Culture is a playful exploration of identity, language and the meaning of home, embedded in the multicultural landscape of contemporary Dublin. Using the experiences and languages of performers and audiences, this ever-changing game ensures the show is different every night - mixing tonnes of energy with some really good fun."

I approve. More coffee-themed theatre please!

Venue: The Boys' School @ SmockAlley
Time: 8:45 pm (duration 75 mins)
Dates: 20th - 25th September 2010
Tickets: €13/10

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Theatre: Medea

As part of the Absolut Fringe festival, the Euripides play Medea is running in the Samuel Beckett Theatre in TCD.

On entering the theatre, the theatre-goer immedately encounters the most striking aspect of the production, the stage setting. The stage is filled with it: a two-storey house, open to the audience as if it were a giant doll's house. As well as being impressive in and of itself, this design is a clever piece of stagecraft. The actors can move from room to room without the play being interrupted by a change of set; this is particularly useful during the more dramatic moments later in the play. The open house also allows the audience to see peripheral action - there are many times when characters who might in another production move off-stage can, in this production, remain visible to the audience, getting on with background actions while the main action is elsewhere.

The play itself is good but doesn't quite match the superb stage setting. Medea is a woman wronged, and the play is the story of her anger and vengeance. It's hard to sympathise with any of the major characters: Medea, Jason (of the Argonauts) and Creon can all be criticised. I also found the actors' accents a little distracting at times, and the dialogue itself somewhat uneven in its style.

It's only fair to point out that this production has received some very positive reviews, and I'm not discouraging anyone from seeing it: it is good; it just didn't live up to my high expectations.

Marks out of five: ***.

Sculpture In Context 2010

Recently I went to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin to see Sculpture in Context 2010. Over 100 works of art are on display, located throughout the gardens. A guide and map are available at the visitors' centre.

The artworks are varied: from quite traditional pieces in stone and metal to a crashed hot-air balloon. The gardens are themselves works of art, and a perfect setting for the sculpture - I really can't imagine any indoor gallery being as suitable for these works. Unsurprisingly, the most satisfying of the artworks in this context are the ones that best use the setting. In the Great Palm House, for example, a tropical storm has been recreated, complete with rain, ambient tropical sounds, and the roll of thunder. Also in the same building is Hanging Pods by Debbie Paul, consisting of three hanging metal pods - again, the setting enhances the artwork.

While I'm on the subject, the Great Palm House is worth seeing in its own right. The philosopher Wittgenstein is said to have spent a lot of time there. It's very pleasant, calming and, of course, warm.

Sculpture in Context runs until 15th October 2010. The Gardens are open from Monday to Sunday, 9am - 6pm. Both the sculpture exhibition and the gardens are well worth the visit.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Come for the art, stay for the book shop, the coffee shop, and, er, the art

The National Gallery is a fabulous Dublin resource.
As a Dubliner, I forgot about the NGI for most of my twenties, dismissing it as a dismal place I was once taken on a school tour, aged 9. And totally wasted it was on my entire class. However, part my current job involves a certain amount of interaction with Irish art and the NGI has taken on a shiny appeal.

The number 1 thing to mention about the NGI is it's entirely free. There's usually one pay to view exhibition but it's often "foreign" stuff, and who wants to see that old rubbish! They are open all year round, and open late on Thursday evenings. They are participating in the upcoming Culture Night, and I note that the current pay per view exhibition of Dutch Old Master Gabriel Metsu will be free that night.

I find the best way to approach a visit to any big museum or gallery, especially if it's free, is to pick only one part at a time. Otherwise, a serious case of museumbutt can set in, and you will need to sit on every available chair for 5 mins each time you see one.

Today I did the 18th/19th century Irish art section. A lot of people might find this dull and, to be fair, there's a lot of pastoral landscapes and still-lifes of dead game to be ignored.
However, it's worth taking the time to view some of the masters of capturing light like Robert Carver, Francis Danby and George Barrett. If you know anything about Impressionism, it's easy to see the French influence on artists like Roderic O'Connor. Make sure you take a detour to see the Caravaggio and The marriage of Aoife & Strongbow by Daniel Maclise, but don't bother with the tiny Van Gogh they bought a couple of years back: I think that money could have been better spent on a pile of Irish art.

I have also recently seen the 20th century art, which features some Laverys (including his huge masterpiece of Hazel in the artist's studio with a fab. purple coat), and the wonderful Harry Clarke drawings for Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales but sure take your time. It's not going anywhere.

The real danger for me is the excellent cafe (very good soup, great scones) and the wallet-damaging zone of the bookshop. It's a rare day I come out of there without a purchase. It's a great place to find presents.

The National Gallery also holds an extensive range of daytime and weekend courses, tours, lectures and sometimes even music concerts. Check out their website for details of these; most are free. They are child and wheelchair friendly and they also do audio tours of the permanent collection. Entrances are on Clare St and Merrion Square, though the latter will be closed later on this year for renovations of the older part of the gallery.

Free stuff

We'll be blogging lots about the upcoming Culture Night and Open House weekend over the next few weeks but I'm also going to do a series of posts on free, permanently available Dublin facilities.
Culture isn't just for people with loads of money, you know!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Winter's Bone

Banjos. Shotguns. Tight-knit extended families. Hogs. Battered old cars. Casual violence. Poverty. Isolation. Chainsaws. Disregard for the law. Hostility to strangers. More Banjos. The hillbilly has not been treated kindly by Hollywood.

Winter's Bone is set in southern Missouri, and tells the story of a 17-year-old girl facing incredibly hard choices as she struggles for the sake of her family. It's a topic with the potential to be worthy, grim and dull, but the film is instead dramatic and enthralling.

Winter's Bone avoids becoming yet another inane hillbilly-as-monster movie. The reason is simple: unlike many films about the rural South of the US, the protagonist isn't an outsider. Ree Dolly (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is part of the society depicted in the film, and as such the setting feels far more interesting and credible than in the typical hillbilly movie. Her world is not a cardboard cut-out set up to provide cheap scares.

Remarkably (and enjoyably), Winter's Bone manages to include many of the stereotypical elements I listed above. It does something far more novel than trying to dismiss the stereotype: it redefines how the viewer sees it and feels about it.

Above all, this is simply a damn fine story, acted well, with a plausible setting and a good pace.

Marks out of five: ****

Winter's Bone opens on Friday 17th September in Light House Cinema. Light House should be pleased with themselves: they've picked a real winner with this.

Open House Dublin 2010 - programme

The programme for Open House 2010 is now available. I'd highly recommend a visit to Iveagh House on St Stephen's Green.

Erdinger Oktoberfest 2010

I've never been to the real Oktoberfest in Munich, but the Docklands Oktoberfest last year was very enjoyable. Beer, delicious pork-based food, tacky but enjoyable music... what's not to like? Here's what Docklands have to say about this year's Oktoberfest:

"The Erdinger Oktoberfest will take place in Dublin's George's Dock over a ten day period from Thursday 30th Sept to Sunday 10th Oct 2010.There is plenty to do for all, from having a Bavarian lunch during the week, to a great Bavarian night out with friends."

Be there or be sober and hungry.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I've just seen Jerk in Project Arts Centre. Wow, that was... different. If you're looking for a show with puppet-on-puppet sexual violence, this is the the show for you.

It's rare to see members of the audience stand up and walk out; three people left during the performance I was at. This is unlike any other show I've seen, and I alternated between being impressed and wondering why anyone would pay to see this play. It was disgusting and fascinating.

It seems almost unimportant compared to the pervasive obscenity, but I should mention that the ventriloquism towards the end of the play was excellent, very interesting to see (or, well, not see) in its own right.

The final showing is tomorrow (Tuesday 14th September) at 9:30 pm. It's listed as sold out, but you might pick up a no-show ticket.

In giving this marks out of five, I have to split this in two.
Enjoyment: **
Novelty: *****

Coffee: 3fe - "Are you tasting or drinking?"

Third Floor Espresso have very cleverly decided to divide their menu into two parts: a "drinking menu" and a "tasting menu":

"Some customers want to hear all about the coffee and really experience something. They’re there to taste and want to leave having enjoyed their coffee and hopefully learned something. We love these customers.

Other customers just want a cup of coffee. They’re aware that we’re quite into what we do but they dont want to hear any shpeel, they just want a tasty cup of coffee. We love these customers."

Whether you want a quick classic cup or to savor a €7 Esmeralda, I'd strongly recommend Third Floor Espresso (3fe).

'Power and Privilege: photographs of the Big House in Ireland 1858-1922'

Dave and I went to see this exhibition in the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar yesterday. I'd never been to that part of the National Library before: it's a great little space.
The photos come from 5 different collections that belong to the National Library, who has the largest collection of 19th century photographs of Ireland (though that isn't surprising at all!)

What they have chosen are quite astonishing. Themes include staff, family events, gardens, transport and science. The landed gentry and aristocracy classes were the only people who afford to indulge in amateur photography during this period. They took photos of whatever they fancied but it's notable that very little of what they shot was away from home, though perhaps this was because of the huge diversity in subject matter available on their doorstep.
I was really drawn to the formal photographs of staff - particularly those attached to Curraghmore, the home of the Marquis of Waterford. Incidentally, the 1911 census return for that house is one of the largest in the country and a fascinating read in its own right.
The photographs of hunting and shooting look very similar to modern hunting, though naturally it has declined in popularity as a hobby.
The changes in fashion during that time, especially for women, are striking. Massive big hooped skirts in the 1860s give way to slimmer versions over time, as women's attire needed to be more practical. However, their clothes in the photograph of women participating in an otter hunt look don't look ideal for walking in a forest!
Notable too is a photo of the "leviathan" telescope at Birr Castle....the Earl of Rosse was an amateur photographer as well as a stargazer.

The photos have been produced by scanning the original plates and printed on archival paper.
Admission is free and it runs until December. Well worth your time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

And now for something completely different

You may not be aware of it but knitting is huge in Dublin.
Yes, knitting. I said it would be different.

You might have bought an Innocent Smoothie with a little hat on it at some point but may not have known they were knitted by ordinary people who donated their time so Innocent would donate some money to Age Action Ireland. But there is also a healthy undercurrent of knitting circles and shops popping up all over the city. Stitch in Beaumont, Springwools in Walkinstown and This Is Knit in the Powerscourt Townhouse shopping centre are a modern kind of knitting shop – a far cry from the dreary basement of Hickeys on Henry St. Here’s an example of why.

On Thursday night I attended the second annual “Yarn Tasting” at This is Knit. What the feck is a “yarn tasting”? Well:
60 ladies of every age gathered at this ticketed event in The Loft of Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. Jackie and Lisa, the mother and daughter team who run This is Knit, had assembled 32 samples of different yarns that they stock for us to try out. They must have spent days winding little balls of each type! We were instructed to bring needles of varying sizes. Yarns of different sorts were also on display, in unique ways, along with finished knitted items for people to try on. We started with samples of lace weight yarn, which is the fiddly sort that you see on diaphanous shawls and wedding shrugs. From there, we progressed to sock weight. Many many knitters love to knit socks but I think it’s the dark side of knitting. Honestly, I prefer to just buy socks! Next came double knitting (or dk to us in the know); what everyone else might call “normal wool”, then Aran (Ireland’s own hefty contribution to the world of knitting) and lastly chunky. We were treated to refreshments and nibbles. On a tangent, I also had a fantastic roasted red pepper pesto and goats’ cheese sandwich from The Pepper Pot. Sandwiches are to me what coffee is to Dave!

I attended solo and soon adopted a group of 3 other women. We bonded over the needles and exchanged Ravelry usernames. Ravelry is basically knitting facebook – you post up pictures of things you’ve knit, can search a massive database of patterns, and ask for help on the extensive forums.

This is Knit also runs classes for knitters and crocheters of various levels. Here's what I came home with.

Expansion is expanding by adding a new poster.
I have already reviewed the Lavery exhibition for DC and I hope to bring a different, probably female perspective to the site.
There'll definitely be less coffee in my posts!

Absolut Fringe - Macnas

The show by Macnas last night was part threatre, part parade, part Halloween party, and entirely enjoyable. Fireworks and flares filling the night with red light and smoke and unexpected noise; giant puppets wandering through the crowd; dark, menacing figures moving through the darkness; haunting music; and most of all a sense of mystery and the unknown.

If the organisers of Absolute Fringe hoped for a spectacular opening show to get the festival underway, they'll have been delighted with the performance of Macnas yesterday evening. Five out of five.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Irish Baroque Orchestra - season launch

The Irish Baroque Orchestra have launched their new Dublin concert season.

The first concert is called "Ireland 1750" and will be held in Christ Church Cathedral on 18th September:

Our first concert of the season is “Ireland 1750”, offering an invitation to travel back in time to the music halls of 18th-century Ireland. Featuring 5 works that were performed in Dublin during the mid-1700s, including Purcell's King Arthur and Handel’s Il pastor fido, it's also a rare opportunity to hear music by German-born Johann Sigismund Kusser, who settled in Dublin when he became Chappel-Master of Trinity College.

Christ Church is a good choice of venue, a beautiful and atmospheric setting.

Ladies are requested to attend without skirt-hoops, and gentlemen without swords.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Open House Dublin 2010

One of the highlights on the city's cultural calendar is Open House Dublin. Here's what the organisers, the Irish Architecture Foundation, have to say:

"The Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF) has confirmed the full programme for the fifth annual Open House Dublin, which takes place from 7 to 10 October 2010. Over one weekend, Dublin buildings of all types and periods will open up their doors to allow citizens explore the architecture of their city, with special tours by hundreds of professionals and enthusiasts, completely for free."

Last year I visited Iveagh House and the OPW offices at St Stephen's Green, among other locations. To describe them as lavish doesn't do these buildings justice: did a former Minister for State really need to commission a crystal chandelier from him home constituency for the stairwell directly outside his office?

The finalised brochure isn't available just yet. It's due out on 15th September.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blogger gatecrashes the Convention Centre Dublin

It was an accident, gov.

As I walked by Spencer Dock this evening I spotted that the Convention Centre Dublin had opened. It was lit up by a very impressive projection-show, and like a little deep-ocean fish attracted to the light, I was drawn in.

I wandered past the drinks being served on the first floor, heading on up to the higher floors to get a look at the city. The venue had a not-quite-open feel to it - staff polishing and cleaning, with every item of furniture perfectly positioned and every space filled with nothing but emptiness. The view was beautiful, though perhaps slightly impaired by the interior lighting reflecting on the glass; the front of the building has been described as a "glass drum" and is tilted so that the drum projects out at an angle from the lower levels of the building.

At this point I was alerted that this was in fact a private function. I ambled back downstairs, rather regretting that I hadn't nabbed a free drink on the way up.

The attendees at the function were convention organisers and potential customers of the CCD from around Europe. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, and quite understandably so as the venue is extremely impressive in its scale, functionality and aesthetics. Well, at least in comparison with the dreary business-oriented hotels so frequently used for conventions. (You know the ones, dull franchised places entirely lacking in character.)

There's no doubt that CCD is in a different league to other venues in the city: and I have no doubt that it will bring much-appreciated business tourists to the city. If you're interested in taking a look, there is an open day for the public on Sunday 12th September. Edit: I've asked CCD and they've said this is not a ticketed event requiring prebooking - just show up on the day.

The press release for the opening of the Centre is here.

The Convention Centre from directly outside:

The Convention Centre reflected in the building on the opposite side of the Liffey:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Gallery of Photography: Close to Home

I dropped by the Gallery of Photography on Meeting House Square over the weekend to see their new exhibition, 'Close to Home' by Stephen Ahern (the winner of the Gallery’s Artist Award for 2010).

Says Stephen: "I’m interested in the difference between looking at something and looking at a colour photograph of that same thing, whether it’s something I’m seeing for the first time or a scene I’ve encountered everyday for years. Rather than seek out the unusual, I want to make pictures of my own environment, wherever that may be."

To someone such as myself with a relatively limited experience of photo-exhibitions, visual impact and the spectacular are more engaging than subtlety. As such I didn't like this exhibition as much as (for example) The Gift, the Gallery's previous exhibition. Perhaps more expert gallery-goers, tired of photographs based on the unusual and the striking, might find Ahern's works refreshing.

Miscellaneous - coffee, food and drink

I've been very bad about missing my usual routine of posting once a week about coffee. I haven't been to Coffee Angel enough yet to evaluate it properly - first impressions are good.

And on the subject of coffee: I've been to Third Floor Espresso (3fe) on Middle Abbey Street a few times recently. 3fe has a reputation for serving the best coffee in the city, although "best" is a problematic word in matters of taste, particularly once we move away from the tradional "classic cup" coffee taste. There's no doubting though that the coffee is superb.

While in 3fe I started reading one of the books left there for the benefit of the customers. Cognac - A Liquid History tells the story of the drink, and a very passionately written history it is. The author clearly loves his subject; I'll read more when I return.

I decided to have cognac later that evening, a Hennessy on the rocks, in Chameleon Indonesian Restaurant in Temple Bar. I've heard very varied opinions about Chameleon, and I'm not surprised. The menu design consists mainly of set menus made up of several small dishes. These vary greatly in style and taste. Get the right mix and you'll love the place, but there's a good chance you'll find at least one or two dishes not entirely to your liking. Perhaps it would be better to visit Chameleon as part of a group than on your own - if you don't like something, someone else might.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Midway LARP

It can be fascinating to see the results when two or more distinct subcultures or disciplines start to share ideas. On Friday evening I'm going along to the first Midway LARP event, in HRTA in north county Dublin. Midway is a mix of airsoft, Irish-style LARPing and UK-style LARPing.

Let's take this one step at a time. Airsoft is like paintball, but using air-guns. It's fun and challenging and one of the fastest growing hobbies in Ireland. LARP means very different things to different people. In Ireland LARP is similar to improv acting and tends to involve a lot of talking to other characters. In the UK and the US, LARP typically refers to hitting people with latex-foam weapons in a game based in a high-fantasy-medieval setting - if you've seen the film Role Models you'll know what I mean.

Midway combines these three elements: the politics of an Irish LARP with the physicality of airsoft and "rubber-sword" UK-style LARPs. Mil-sim airsoft games (i.e. games aiming for greater realism) sometimes have a LARP element, but the crucial missing-link of such airsoft games is that most players do not have a specific named character: they play a generic soldier with an assault rifle. I'm hopeful that this element of the Midway LARP will increase the impact of "character death" - you can't just respawn and be back in the game 30 minutes after being shot as if nothing had happened.

The game is set in a post-Apocalyptic world, a full century after the fall of civilisation. This provides the justification for crossing two very different forms of combat, the hand-to-hand melee of LARPing with the ranged combat of airsoft. Making those work together will be a challenge and should be interesting to watch: while guns will usually be superior to melee weapons such as swords, they suffer from the need for precious ammunition.

Midway is being run by internationally-acclaimed LARP writer Nick Huggins and starts on Friday 3rd September 2010. Another game is planned for later in the month.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Glasnevin Cemetery museum

As part of Heritage Week, Glasnevin Trust Museum gave free tours of Glasnevin Cemetery.

As well as being enjoyable, the tours were exceptionally suitable for Heritage Week: I hadn't realised just what a who's-who of modern Irish history and culture Glasnevin Cemetery is. Michael Collins, Dev, Brendan Behan (whose grave is often graced by a pint of stout), Big Jim Larkin, Charles Stewart Parnell, and Constance Markiewicz are there, along with over a million ordinary Dubliners. For some reason I was shocked to see Maud Gonne's grave; when a person is remembered as they were in their prime, and did not die a famous death, the thought of their ageing and death seems jarring.

The guide regaled us with stories about the cemetary, mixed in with a generous helping of relevant Irish history. I hadn't realised that grave-robbing had been quite a serious problem in Dublin for a time in the 1800s.

Most of all I was struck by the impact of the Liberator, Daniel O'Connell, who founded Glasnevin Cemetery. Has Ireland ever had a more truly world-class politician?

An excellent tour, highly recommended. The standard price is €5, and there are 3 tours per day, seven days per week. Oh, and visit the museum while you're there: it's very high quality, as you'd expect for the €11m spent on it.

Photos by RosieMonstre.

Started today...

The Gallery of Photography on Meeting House Square has a new exhibition, 'Close at Home' by Stephen Ahern.

Also starting today was Sculpture in Context in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin.

Not long now until the Absolut Fringe Festival! It starts on 11th September.

Photos added for Mouth to Mouth review...

Article updated with photos. Thanks to Crooked House for supplying these.

Only a few days left if you want to go see this - it ends on 4th September.


Over the weekend I was at Salute, a military-themed festival in the National Show Centre near Swords. (No, I hadn't heard of the National Show Centre before this either.)

It. Was. Excellent.

Now admittedly the vikings weren't there, and I didn't see any Romans around either - but there was a surprising amount to see and do. I expected that Saturday afternoon would be enough to get through it all, but it wasn't and I happily returned on Sunday.

The Irish Great War Society ran "living history" scenarios, based on training drills used in WWI. Interesting facts scattered throughout, in particular their partially re-enacted discussion of "trench raids" to capture enemy soldiers for information. I asked a member of the Society if it (the Society) had a particular resonance or popularity in Northern Ireland. I suspect this is a regular question for them, and the answer, I'm told, is no: it has many members from both North and South.

There was an airsoft firing range. I did my bit for the public good by taking payments for a while to give other airsofters a break. I was surprised by the steady flow of enthusiastic members of the public willing to part with €2 to shoot. (They overwhelming went for the approach of firing full-auto at the target - convenient for the people manning the range, as this is much faster than carefully aiming for each shot.) It has to be positive for airsoft that many people who turned up to fire the guns said they'd just recently started playing.

There were many different types of military vehicles, from armoured support vehicles, to light militarised pick-ups to a Challenger tank. I'm unsure if it's true but I heard that such a tank was sold for a mere €20,000. A bargain! Although tanks of course use a lot of fuel, measuring fuel efficiency in gallons per mile rather than miles per gallon. Perhaps "fuel efficiency" is entirely the wrong phrase...

There were re-enactments from WWII. There were medieval weapons demonstrations. There were people wandering around in period uniform for no particular reason. It was a sunny weekend and a very enjoyable event.

To add a final more sombre note: one man I talked to was a former Serbian special forces soldier. He had a certain contempt for the entire affair, feeling that no-one who had been in a real war - at least one with the massive savagery of the Yugoslav wars - would regard war as a theme suitable for entertainment. (He was there because his kids wanted to go.) He described having once eaten almost nothing for 25 days while being persued by the enemy; he also told me about how his brother was killed. I have no way to know how much of what he said was accurate, but I also can't dismiss his point.

Plenty more photos to come! For now, here's a Challenger tank in a rally-style slide...

Challenger tank