We had a brisk, sunny morning here in Dublin. Perfect weather for a walk. I had a destination in mind but I find that flexibility is a must if I am to have a real adventure. So I started out towards the Charles Beatty Library. I crossed the River Liffey at O’Connell Street. Then I crossed it again as I followed the central waterway further west. It went on like that for about a half an hour before I was quite sure that I was lost. Now, don’t read this and think, “Oh no! Action Jack is lost. What ever will he do?” I find that being lost is just part of the process when it comes to adventuring. I found a bus map and figured out which way to go to get to the library.
     As I neared my destination I realized that the Chester Beatty Library was located inside Dublin Castle. I have seen the Upper Courtyard and other wings of the Castle before. I had not seen the Garda Memorial Garden, though. This was my chance so I entered through the crumbling stone archway that leads to the Garden. I looked around for a grand garden full of brightly colored flowers and sculptures. There were none. What I saw was a modest fountain with a few small, dull sculptures and a granite wall. The flowers were short and all had a dark tint. For a moment I was underwhelmed and had I been anticipating big things I may have even been disappointed. But then I began to understand what this all meant. This was not a royal garden like I had seen in many European cities. This was not a celebration of the grandeur and decadence of monarchs or their lives. This was a tribute to ordinary men who had their lives cut short. This is the only memory that survives of many of these men. The sculptures that I had been confounded by upon my initial viewing came into focus. They were likenesses of the cross sections of felled trees; trees that had been taken before they had time to mature. I stood in this humble garden looking at the names of men who had been taken before they had time to mature. I do not know if I agreed with their cause. I do not know why they died. All I know is that, at least in some small way, these men were given an opportunity to live on.

After circling the garden I approached the library entrance. As I entered I thought that this was unlike any library I had ever seen. As I exited three hours later I would still believe this to be true. There was a restaurant and gift shop on the first floor. There were no books available to read or checkout. The “Reading Room” was off limits to everyone but the staff. So you must be wondering, “What was in this library if there are no books to read?” The answer: A collection of books and prints so rare and valuable that touching them would be a crime, literally.
But let me start at the beginning. On the first floor was a “Lecture and Video Room.” I sat down in the small viewing area and watched a biography on the life of Mr. Alfred Chester Beatty. In the late 1800s the Scotsman graduated from Columbia University as a mining engineer. He took his knowledge west and before long discovered a number of gold deposits near Denver, Colorado. Beatty used the money he made to buy a house in London. When World War I broke out he turned his home into a hospital as part of the war effort. After the war ended Beatty returned to mining. This time he went to Africa. He established successful mines that employed hundreds of locals. He reminded his team that “this is the black man’s country.” He paid them well and supplied them with appropriate housing. When malaria broke out among his African workers he brought in doctors from Britain to treat them. When World War II broke out Beatty used his position to supply the Allies with raw materials, which got him knighted. After the war Beatty bought a home in Ireland. He turned the home into a museum for the thousands of books and prints he had collected during his lifetime. This collection is now on display at the Chester Beatty Library, which honors Ireland’s first and only Honorary Citizen.
After having heard all of this my mind raced with the possibilities of what I might see here today. I wasted no time hustling up the stairs to the second floor to begin the viewing. I entered a darkened room and looked to my left. The first thing I saw nearly had me laughing out loud. Not a “Funny ha-ha” laugh but a “NO WAY” laugh. It was a book written by the great Roman orator Cicero. In fact, it was the book simply known as “Orations.” I own a copy of this book and take great delight in reading it but I would have been ashamed to be seen with my Penguin Classic version in hand at this point. This was a handmade, illustrated, gold illuminated book commissioned by the de Medici family, who were Italy’s most powerful family for hundreds of years in the middle of the last millennium. To give some idea of exactly what that means the de Medici family produced four Popes.

After I was done fogging up the glass case that housed this treasure I wondered what else I might find. The next few seconds are a bit of a blur but I maintain that I knew what was there before I saw it, somehow. I snapped my neck so hard that it hurt. There on the wall was a black and white engraving. The twisted figures and fine details told me that it could only be one person’s work and if it was his work I hoped that it was one of his best. I was right on the first count. This was an engraving by Albrecht Durer, the German who revolutionized the art world with his prints. On the second count I was not correct. It was not one of Durer’s finest prints that was on the wall in front of me. It was three of them. The three that are collectively known in the art world as “The Master Engravings.” First among them was the one that I had nearly given myself whiplash over: “Knight, Death and the Devil.” I was first introduced to this piece years ago in my second year of college. Since then I have had a deep respect for the man who created it. Later, in my sixth year of college, I saw “Knight, Death and the Devil” in another lecture hall on the other side of the country. This is a powerful piece and it elicited quite a lengthy conversation when Amanda, the professor, presented it. If you have never seen it before you must look it up on Google Images. Spend a few minutes looking closely at this copper plate engraving, which measures just under 10″ by 8″, and you will see why it has had such a lasting impression.

I realize that I am running a little long-winded so I will try to share these last few bits with you quickly. On the other side of the darkened room I spotted another book I have become quite familiar with. However, this was once again a version of the book I had never imagined. It was an illustrated scroll of the Japanese classic “The Tale of Genji” from 1868. The illustrations, which were in the classical Japanese style, tell the story of how this legendary lover spends his life. I won’t give anything more away for those of you who may want to read it someday (there are plenty of versions in English).
While looking through the many aged scrolls in the collection one jumped out at me as having a very modern parallel. In “Scroll of a Waka Poetry Contest” a group of Buddhist poets were depicted in combat that resembled rappers in a rap battle. Only the first few chapters of the scroll were visible so the Eminem character must not have appeared until later on.

On the third floor of the library was a special exhibition called “Sacred Traditions,” which was devoted to the texts of the world’s most prolific religions. Among the books were stunning copies of the Qu’ran emblazoned with gold, ancient Buddhist scrolls, and the account of the Crucifixion of Christ by Saint John written in Greek on papyrus from around the year 120.
So what began as a walk to the library became a journey through history. Some of it brought back fond memories. Some of it brought me to places I had never been. All of it has given me one more adventure that I hope you enjoyed as much as I did. I had planned on updating the blog twice a week but I will work hard to bring you as many new Action Jack Adventures as I can. Until next time…

Advertisements