I had some idea of where I was going this morning but just to make sure I stopped by the Dublin Tourist Information Office. I was heading to Phoenix Park, which I knew was at one end of Dublin along the River Liffey. I did not, however, know which end. The pleasant, dark haired woman at the office told me which bus I could get on to get there. “A bus?” I thought. It is only a few miles away and how will I ever have an adventure on that short of a bus ride. No, that just wouldn’t do. I specified that I wanted to walk to Phoenix Park. Her response was almost the polar opposite of mine. “You want to walk?” she asked, seeming a little shocked. I smiled and nodded. She told me I could take a right when I got to the river and follow it all the way.

So there I was, once again walking the River Liffey. The wind was blowing and the air felt frosty as bursts of it found their way down the back of my neck. The boardwalk seemed more relaxed than usual on this Sunday morning. I took my time because, well, because I like to take my time when I am walking. Whether I am lost in the sights or lost in thought a slow walk is usually just what I need to get found again. After about an hour I began seeing bridges I had never seen before. Just as impressive as the ones I had seen but altogether different in design. There is no shortage of imagination in the engineering here in Dublin.                                                                                                  

Then I saw smoke stacks and what I assumed to be a giant factory that stamped out some kind of car part or plastic toy. My hypothesis was close but not quite spot on. This was more of a storehouse than a factory and they brewed beer rather than manufactured goods. The kind of beer they produced: Guinness. So there was the famed Guinness Storehouse of Dublin. For those of you who have ever had Guinness before this is where it came from. As I continued to get closer to the brewery, what I had always considered “the smell of Dublin” got stronger. Before this I had not realized that the distinct “smell of Dublin” was the smell of Guinness.                                                  

After spending a few minutes looking at the massive beer compound that produced all the world’s Guinness my attention was drawn to the other side of the river. Green Irish grass and yellow tulips filled a stately park that lay just the other side of a wrought iron fence. On the fence was a sign that said “Museum Entrance 50 Meters.” At that point I started to realize that Phoenix Park would have to wait. I was within a stone’s throw of The National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts and History.

The posted hours for Sundays were quite short (from 2 PM to 5 PM) but I hoped to make the most of it. I checked my watch and had about ten minutes until they flung the doors open. I found some steps in front of the massive barracks that constituted the entrance and sat down for a snack. After all, museums are hard work and I needed all the energy I could muster to make the most of it. People smiled as they walked by me at my place on the stairs. One man stopped and wondered aloud if this was an old boarding school or insane asylum. The man, Ronald, was from Scotland and had done quite a bit of traveling in his time. We swapped stories, compared hostels, and somehow got on about American politics. Not in the way I am accustomed to discussing politics. This was just a pleasant sharing of observations and a few witticisms. As the clock struck two Ronald headed in and I finished my granola bar.

My snack finished, I walked through the stone arch that led to an open square. This is where Irish armies of the past had drilled and marched in preparation for battle. I spent a few minutes envisioning the soldiers in full regalia marching in formation and thrusting bayonets into the open air. Then I went into the museum, which occupied the former barracks. Before entering the main exhibitions I was halted by two familiar faces. In a niche along the wall were the Roman Emperors Nero and Julius Cesar, made of marble and brightly colored. I was not sure what a museum of decorative arts might hold but I had a feeling I was going to enjoy it.

At the end of that hall was a picture of a horse and a sign that read “Lost and Found: Dickie Bird.” I cut into the room next to the sign and in front of me stood the skeleton of a horse at eye level. It was the incredible equestrian, Dickie Bird. His remains had been buried under the barracks long ago and when archaeologists began digging around the area they found the headstone of this famed horse. What the frustrated diggers did not know was that the headstone had been moved from the original burial site, which was at the other end of the property. In 2008 they discovered the horse buried under the Clancy Barracks. “Why is this horse so famous?” you must be thinking. It’s because he was not just any horse. He was a war hero who became somewhat of a mascot to the Irish troops who fought in the Crimean War, which is commonly known as the first “modern” war due to its extensive use of railways and telegraphs. Despite the modernity of the tactics employed in the Crimean War, Dickie held an important place to those men of the 5th Dragoon Guards who fought alongside him.

Following the hallway in the opposite direction I came to an exhibit about a piece of history I have often wondered about but never took the time to research: The Easter Rising of 1916. Of course, now I have more questions than answers but I also have more answers than I did this morning. I suppose that is progress. So, here are the highlights of what I learned about this monumental event in Irish history. Near the end of the 19th century a sense of nationalism began growing in Ireland. Around the turn of the century the Gallic language and culture was being heavily promoted by groups within Ireland. This movement was not without its detractors, many of whom came from Britain, and this would be the crux of the problem. As the growing sense of nationalism became more fervent it would erupt into violence. Many Irish nationalists were imprisoned, exiled, and executed as they called for Home Land Rule, or the ability to govern themselves as their own nation. It was on Easter Monday in 1916 that a full rebellion was waged against the British government and anyone who supported them, starting at the General Post Office in Dublin. The point of view of the nationalists was that the British were using them as means to their own ends. Patrick Pearse, one of the nationalist leaders at the G.P.O put it best when he said, “There are many things worse than bloodshed, and slavery is one of them.” Following the unsuccessful uprising all of the men who signed the declaration of independence, including Pearse, were executed. And that is the two minute history of the Easter Rising of 1916, which would lead to the division of Ireland between nationalists and those who wanted to remain in the United Kingdom.

My time wandering through the rest of the museum was spent in the rooms filled with gold and silver chalices, Irish furniture from every era, intricately designed teapots and snuff bottles, one thousand years of Irish coins and medals, and the entire Asian artifact collection from world-renowned collector Albert Bender.

I never made it to Phoenix Park but when history calls I tend to answer. As I walked back I daydreamed about what kind of treasure I might find next time I try to take a walk to the park. Would I make it or would I be stopped in my tracks yet again? I don’t know and I must admit that I am not too concerned either. I am sure I will find an adventure and that is what it’s all about, anyway. Right?

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