Recent travels to Ireland and England provided the opportunity to see countless artworks and architecture I’ve studied for years. In considering how to write about the numerous worthy sites and exhibits, I am reminded of my art trip to Italy two years ago. There, I wrote a series totaling 22 posts, mostly about art, but also about the adventures of traveling alone. Blogging was, admittedly, a faux companion in a country where I knew no one and spoke very little of the language. The trip, including an art residency in the remote Basilicata region, was a glorious though isolated experience and writing the blog felt like a lifeline.
This time, I traveled with my family who thankfully tolerated and embraced (at times) a rather heavy art itinerary. I expected to write a few entries while traveling but spending time with friends and family eclipsed the writing desire I experienced in Italy. So, this post is the first of a three part series reflecting on favorite sights and exhibits in Ireland and England.
Part 1: Art and Sights in Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains and the Boyne Valley
Part 2: Art and Sights in London
Part 3: Art and Sights in York and Manchester
Amongst the many joys travel provides, one of my favorite benefits is the opportunity to see art and architecture in person. We can study books, watch films and view photos of just about anything on the computer. But the experience of sharing actual space with an object, artifact or artwork lacks the inevitable filters that are present when viewing work from afar.
Seeing art in person allows ideas to more directly and permanently enter our minds and thinking. The crispness and realness of the object becomes a sharper, clearer part of our perspective which may be one of the many reasons travel is so enriching and mind opening. The natural beauty, historical sights and art of Ireland were no exception.
When studying the Passage Tomb in graduate school, I never expected to step inside the ancient structure which was built 500 years before the Egyptian Pyramids of Giza. Located in the Boyne Valley, the Passage Tomb (also known as Newgrange) was built by Stone Age farmers. The precision and location of the cruciform structure reveals sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and the seasons as related to agriculture. One absolutely fascinating construction fact is that the corbelled roof, has never ever, in over 5000 years, leaked a drop of water. We tend to think of modern equipment and techniques as being superior to Stone Age methods but I sure know of a lot of leaky roofs these days! And this is mind blowing – our tour guide pointed out the Tomb was built before the invention of THE WHEEL! (when researching this tidbit, I read that the tomb was built right around the time of the first wheel, which was used for pottery before later being applied to chariots and other mechanical devices).
I must also mention that a great part of our visit to this highly regulated and protected UNESCO World Heritage site was our tour guide, Mary Gibbons, who I highly recommend. After visiting other historic sites in the Boyne Valley, such as the Hill of Tara, we returned to Dublin and Mary delivered us right at the front door of the National Museum of Ireland. In the archeology branch of this four part museum, we saw many of the jewels and artifacts found in the Boyne Valley, making the museum visit quite meaningful after our educational day with Mary. On the heels of the Boyne Valley tour and preceeding a visit the next day to the Peat Bogs, the museum visit was perfectly timed for us to really appreciate the displays.
Speaking of the Bogs, one of the most startling exhibits was the Bog Bodies, the most famous being the Cloneyman. Those bodies have been found in the highest point in Ireland, the Peat Bogs, where the soft, porous, ground is more liquid than solid, though it decptively appears to be grassy terra firma. Any living thing that sinks into the muck tends to be preserved due to a lack of oxygen in the bogs. The area has provided some of the oldest flesh bodies on record (older skeletons have been found but not older bodies with flesh intact) giving scientists priceless information about humans dating back to 2000 BC. To read more about Bronze age human sacrifice and about scientific discoveries made based on these bodies, visit: http://www.museum.ie/Archaeology/Exhibitions/Current-Exhibitions/Kingship-and-Sacrifice/Cashel-Man.
The day after our tour north of Dublin with Mary Gibbons, we toured south of Dublin with Tours by Locals guide, Terry Lambert. We drove by and admired Dun Laoghaire, Dalkey, and Killiney on our way to Powerscourt Estates in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains. The hours spent at Powerscourt were magical, with one spectacular scene, garden, and sculpture after another. After visiting the Powerscourt Waterfall and stopping for lunch, we visited the famous monastic ruins of Glendalough.
With one more day in Dublin before heading to north Wales, we visited Kilmainham Goal, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, and The National Gallery of Ireland. Below are some photos from that final day in Dublin.
For art and history enthusiasts, Dublin is well worth a visit…I just wish we’d had a few more days to explore more of this rich and beautiful island. Next up, London! Thank you for reading.