A Journey with Pipe-smoke.
A tour of Dublin with Ralph Smyth
And so we met at Two Pups Coffee, the pokey, cosy café on Lower Francis Street. Ralph Smyth, of Ralph Smyth Tours, entered the doorway clad in black with a navy scarf and dark gloves. The weather had turned, temperature wise, but the rain stayed away. It was a perfectly fresh day for a walk-through Dublin’s Horrid History.
Ralph, who’s Personal-a-Teas pseudonym is Pipe-smoke, is well versed with bringing the past of his Native City to life. Pipe-smoke’s Personal-a-Teas selfie tells me he is hard-working (certainly knowledgeable, taking tours across Ireland’s Ancient East, as well as through Dublin), Responsible, Devoted (he knows his script like the back of his hand) and Reliable. Unsurprisingly, Pipe-smoke arrived at Two Pups right on time!
The Dublin tour
Mozying on up the road together, the tour officially begins in the gardens of Dublin Castle. It’s here that the first Viking settlement laid down its roots along the edge of the ‘Dubh Linn’ (the Black Pool). Underneath the ground here, the tidal river, Liffey and the fresh water Poddle came together. The meeting of the waters created a dark silt and consequently, this specific area was christened ‘Dubh Linn’. Viking remains and other artefacts were found in this area thus providing credence to the theory of the settlement alongside the Black Pool.
The Castle grounds here are in a circular shape, bordered by beautiful flora and fauna, heralding the adjacent gardens which are dedicated to both the members of the Garda Siochana and indeed, Veronica Guerin, the Crime Reporting Journalist – people who left their homes to go to their respective jobs, never to return. Like many instances during this Walking Tour, history is complemented by contemporary soundings, echoes from the past, resonating very close to home, indeed. It also emphasises that in Dublin, we are truly engulfed with historical references. Like a ‘darkness moving towards the light’.
Dublin’s old city walls are present here within the confines of modern-day Dublin Castle, most notably, heading towards the Ship Street Gates. Also within the Castle grounds are the Chapel (Royal, consecrated in 1815, designed by Francis Johnston). Above the doors to the chapel are unyielding sculptures of Brian Boru, St. Patrick (most likely!) and St. Peter (holding the ‘Keys to Heaven’). Entering the Upper Courtyard, we are told how, contra to common beliefs, that the British did not invade Ireland, but were actually invited at the behest of the High King of Leinster Diarmuit McMurrough, who was hellbent on winning a ‘political turf war’ with the High King of Connacht. And so, Strongbow entered the fray.
The Norman Lord Strongbow and his army arrived in Wexford in 1169 and by 1170 they had taken control of Dublin itself, having removed the Viking / Irish settlers from the Upper Courtyard of Dublin Castle. This is where ‘The Establishment’ was to remain within Dublin for centuries to come. Still, in the Upper Courtyard, we learn about the Great Explosion of 1597, which nearly levelled the Castle completely, the ‘ethnic’ cleansing of Catholicism from Ireland and the Lady Justice, poignantly perched overlooking, not the City below, but the Establishment’s Tax Office!
‘There stands the Lady Justice, consider her station, her face to the castle, her arse to the nation’.
Something to think about, friends.
Dublin’s historic buildings
Not sure it’s true of every European, but it’s fair to say, many a Dubliner, would know little or less about the historic buildings in Our Fair City. Somewhat ashamedly, this certainly was the case for me! We arrived up the steps of City Hall and into the main chamber. Almost immediately, the splendour is astounding. It really is. The circular chamber roars British decadence, the Romanesque columns both outside and inside the hall are a blueprint from London’s most prominent historic landmarks. The Dublin coat of arms is mosaic’d in the centre of the chamber floor, the columns provide structure to the murals above, detailing notable historic moments from Dublin’s (and Ireland’s) medieval past (for example, the peace-meeting between the first native Archbishop of Dublin, St. Laurence O’Toole and Strongbow) and representing each of Ireland’s four provinces.
The ceiling is laced with golden strands and other elegant patterns. A grandiose clock face watches over the four statues in each ‘corner’, Daniel O’ Connell, Thomas Davis, Charles Lucas and Thomas Drummond.
And City Hall itself, was not untouched during the Easter Rising, as evidenced by the bullet hole present in the sculpture of Charles Lucas. Other historians make claim that this bullet hole is actually a remnant from the 1798 Rebellion. Essentially, City Hall is a hidden historic treasure, standing in plain sight.
From City Hall, we moved up Castle Lane, which ran along the moat of Dublin Castle, centuries ago and onto Werburg Street. Werburg Street Church is closed. It looks completely forlorn, unappreciated and redundant. This really beggars belief, because inside these walls oozes more history. Historical figures such as Strongbow, himself, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Jonathan Swift and the renowned composer Handel have considerable association with this street and chapel. We were reminded by Ralph of the ‘Skull and Crossbones’ and ‘Hour-glass’ sculptures over-looking the door of the chapel.
A voice from the past. Telling us that our time on this earth is finite.
The glint in our Tour-guide’s eyes also told me that, perhaps some souls never leave our city… we moved on towards Christ Church.
…to be continued
An important notice from Pipe-smoke: ‘for anybody who is interested in doing the tour if they quote “Horrid History” when they contact me I’ll give them a special price of €12.00 per person!’
(This will only apply to groups of 4 people or more. Single person tours will still pay full €15.00 per person)