|Dublin Famine Memorial||I've gone from deserted early-morning London to lying on a bench in Dublin facing the Irish Potato Famine memorial with its emaciated human figures and starving dog.|
It's a bit strange that people don't spend much time on the memorial. They snap a few photos, glance at the plaques and walk away quickly. The street here is oddly quiet, a contrast to the crowded pavements of O'Connell Street and the Liffey near Temple Bar, only a few blocks away. I watch a plump man pose with one of the famine statues while his wife takes his picture. It seems an incongruous gesture. Not quite wrong, but disrespectful. What do a bunch of well fed Westerners have in common with these gaunt hopeless ghosts? I don't know why I can't have a sense of humor about this, why I can't see making an irreverent gesture towards this memorial. Maybe it's too personal. Speaking as a scientist, I doubt that a sense of injustice can be transmitted genetically. I simply know too much about the history that led to the emigration of my ancestors. Speaking as a superstitious Filipino-Irish Catholic, I think it might be my blood that's outraged.
The starving dog menaces the group of victims from behind. During the Famine, dogs were often shot, partly because there wasn't enough food to keep them, and partly in order to prevent them from devouring the carcasses of the human dead.
|For those of you who don't know the history of the potato famine, I'll provide a brief background. In 1845, the potato crop in Ireland was struck by blight. The tenant farmers of Ireland, who were largely Catholic, were forced to subsist on plots of land, the minute size and poor soil quality of which permitted exclusively cultivation of the potato. Between 500,000 and a million and a half of these people died in the years 1845-1849. Around two million attempted to emigrate to North America, Australia and other parts of Europe. The total population of Ireland at the start of the famine was around eight million.|
It's not unreasonable to speculate that the amount human suffering caused by the potato blight could have been mitigated had Ireland closed its ports. None of the other crops in Ireland were failing. Estimates based on the exported goods, of which official tallies were kept (unlike the bodies of the dead peasants) demonstrate that the population could have been fed had some of the goods stayed in Ireland and been distributed amongst the destitute. However, many of the farms were already in debt, and those with an interest in Ireland's economic situation balked at this seemingly simple solution.
The potato, by the way, is a highly nutritious food, containing carbohydrates, protein, minerals and vitamins, including vitamin C. Presumably, this is why so many people could dine exclusively on them and a splash of milk for their entire lives.
A close-up of one of the male famine victims, clutching his remaining ragged possessions, or possibly what little food he's managed to find, trying to make his way back to his family.
|Dublin Famine Memorial|
|Dublin Castle Exhibition||I shake myself out of this brood and return to the bus station to meet Becca, who's spent the past couple of days in Kilkenny. We drop our things off at the hostel and head out. Our first stop is Dublin Castle, where we stumble on the sand sculpture exhibition in the courtyard.|
We walk behind the castle to the Chester Beatty Library, which some of you may remember as my favorite museum in Dublin. It's just as thrilling as it was the last time, and they've changed some of the exhibitions around, so I get to see different surimono (single-copy woodcuts) and illuminated texts than I saw in January.
Unfortunately, the plaques standing around these describe the sculptures in other cities and from the previous year's exhibit, so I can't provide further details.
|After a pot of tea and a pastry, we go to The Duke to join the literary pub tour, which turns out to be well worth the ten euro. The two guides give us a bit of history at each stop and perform scenes from plays. At The Duke, they perform Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. At Trinity College, one of them recites Oscar Wilde's letter about delivering a lecture to a group of American silver miners, who were unimpressed by the lecture but appreciated his ability to hold his liquor. We stop at O'Neill's for a drink. Before going to The Old Stand for another, we pause outside the tourist office, which used to be the only Presbyterian church in Dublin but closed its doors finally when its congregation dwindled to three. They perform a piece from a play whose title and author I can't remember. The scene centers around two panhandlers who have lost their jobs because of the union strikes in early twentieth-century Dublin. One claims to be able to distinguish between Catholics and Protestants at twenty paces. When he identifies a Catholic, the two sing a nationalist ballad. When he identifies a Protestant, they try to woo a few coins out of him with a hymn. Our last stop is outside The Duke, but we don't go in. Our guides regale us with a deleted section from Brendan Behan*'s Richard's Cork Leg, wherein a woman of ill repute tells a bawdy story about an encounter a group of nuns have with a dismembered donkey penis. (The punch line comes from the Reverend Mother: "Oh, look what the Protestants did to poor Father Slattery!")|
We go off laughing to have a whiskey nightcap at the Hairy Lemon.
*Drunkard. Republican. IRA member. Playwright. Probably in that order.
The Celtic Tiger may have been the economic boom of the nineties, but Dublin doesn't show signs of stopping its explosion. I think I counted fifteen cranes in operation on the south side of the Liffey.
|Cranes over the Liffey|