In just three days in Dublin, I experienced a very low low and a very high high. I had had business that ended late on Friday in another part of Europe, so I raced Saturday morning through airport connections and taxi rides to Dublin…I had a ticket to see Pavarotti’s final concert in Ireland—his Farewell Tour—that evening. According to the Irish Times, Pavarotti began his career in Ireland when he performed in Verdi's Rigoletto in 1963. He supposedly had a “soft spot” for the Irish since that time and had proved it two nights before with a rousing what-would-have-been penultimate performance for Ireland at the Point Theater.
My flights all ran on time, my luggage magically arrived at the carousel, and my cabbie told me I had plenty of time to get from hotel to venue. I checked in, donned my black suit, and tied my bowtie on the first attempt! When I got to the front desk for directions to the Point, the clerk suspiciously asked me, “Are you going to the Pavarotti concert?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I am very sorry to tell you that it has been cancelled due to illness.” Luciano Pavarotti cancelled his performance because of a serious throat infection. Dublin suddenly seemed a very uninviting place. With complete dejection, despite being at the Gresham Hotel in the heart of Dublin, I went back to my room and changed into casual clothes to explore the city. I wandered O’Connell Street past the Post Office scarred with bullets holes from the Easter 1916 uprising; I crossed the River Liffey on O’Connell Bridge; I ended up in the Temple Bar section of the city. Overrun by tourists, Temple Bar may not give a true picture of Irish life…but it offered abundant cheer, shops, live music, bars, and restaurants. My evening there lifted me out of my disappointment.
On Sunday, I toured the countryside, which was as green and lush as one would expect of Ireland. Every mile of winding road was bordered by heaped dry-stack rock walls, cleared from the adjacent fields; every mile spoke to me of a hard life eked out of the landscape. But beyond all the walls were vibrant fields and forests, crops and grazing herds.
We stopped at the magnificent and opulent Powerscourt Gardens—a landscape that has been designed and worked for 150 years into flowing gardens and waterscapes, dotted with statuary. They were striking for their formality and perfection.
Further into County Wicklow, we stopped at Glendalough and St. Kevin’s Monastery. Dating from the Sixth Century, the ruins of this monastic city are as haunting as the glacier-carved valley is beautiful. Wandering past the ruins into the valley beside the lakes, I understood St. Kevin’s inspiration to establish a monastery in that exact place.
On Monday, I visited the James Joyce Centre, where I had made special arrangements (because they are closed on Sunday and don’t normally offer tours on Monday) to hire a guide for my Ulysses tour of the city. A very brogued young lady began my tour and we followed Leopold Bloom’s wanderings as described in the book: Parnell Street and Bachelor’s Walk, across O’Connell’s Bridge to Sweny’s Pharmacy, Trinity College, Merrion Square, St. Stephen’s Green…and ended at the disappointing location where a hospital now replaces 7 Eccles Street—Bloom’s address in 1904. The original door to the house (all that remains) is on display at the Centre, where I thanked my guide at the end of a lengthy and tiring tour. I, of course, tipped her for the efforts, especially on what would have been her day off. She gratefully took the money with a bit of surprise and said, “Oh thank you. Now I can get myself a new pair of shoes!” She was sincerely grateful and yet the irony of a tour guide needing new shoes was not lost on me.
My small experience of Ireland was that kind of mixture throughout: kind and open people—happy tourists and the Irish, interesting and beautiful places, history and literature intertwined, disappointment and surprise.