28 February 2007

Croke Park History

Just got wind of this ITV news report from last week. It looks ahead to the Six Nations rugby match that happened this last Saturday. It's a nice little summary of the historical significance of the match that subsequently happened without any reported problems whatsoever.

15 February 2007

Burgeoning Café Culture

After having lived a few years in an English town completely bereft of good coffee shops, I've been quite pleased with the number of cafés here in Dublin. In fact, according to an article in this month's edition of The Dubliner magazine, cafés are on the rise in Ireland's capital city by 25% in the last five years. The reason for this growth is likely the amount of disposable income in the pockets of Dubliners (ie., The Celtic Tiger).

The Dubliner article also argues that pubs are a fading cultural quirk of the past and lists the stereotypical elements of Dublin's public houses: loud music, bad food (if any), and uncomfortable seating. Personally, I've been to plenty of great Irish pubs with decent food and an environment quite conducive to socializing, but for some reason I don't think The Dubliner is known for looking at the good things in Irish tradition.

So, what are the necessary ingredients to a great café? Ambiance, comfortable seating, quality food/drink, and friendly staff. This last ingredient is my own preference and is probably reinforced by a bad experience I had recently. (I realize the price for a take-away coffee is often lower, but I never thought I'd get kicked out of an empty café for taking a seat with my paper cup!)

The Dubliner brings up some other pertinent issues in a very balanced way, like the influence of globalization (hello, Starbucks!), and the efforts of pub owners to adapt to the café culture demand. Interestingly enough, in regards to globalization, the magazine article is quick to point out that, while Starbucks gets a bad rap for its obnoxious saturation marketing, they're not the only company with an eye on world domination. Ireland's own O'Brien's sandwich shops boast 300 outlets in 12 countries.

Ireland is known around the world for friendly people and good conversation, among other things. Seems to me that a thriving café scene only serves to uphold that reputation!

10 February 2007

A Saturday in Dublin

Kristy and I went into the city centre to explore today. In particular, I wanted to visit Café Irie for lunch in the Temple Bar District. This month's issue of The Dubliner magazine has them listed as the top café in the city. It's a small, second-story place across from Luigi Malones and Urban Outfitters. There's only seating for about 15-18 people or so, but the people are very friendly and I was quite impressed with the food, including the coffee. In fact, it might need to become a regular stop-in whenever I'm in the city. (No Starbucks for this Yankee.)

After lunch, we sauntered over to check out the Saturday Food Market. The smells and sights made us wish we hadn't just eaten! We already have plans to go back next Saturday afternoon, only this time with empty stomachs.

Next, we stopped by the Oxfam book shop on Parliamant street and picked up “The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats” for €6. Then it was back through Temple Bar where we dropped in at the Project Arts Centre just in time to see a group leaving for The Rain Party. In keeping with the art theme, we wandered down to the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios for a look through Matt Stokes' documentary exhibition on early 90's “cave raves” in the UK's Lake District.

For the first time, we also finally stopped in at the Dublin Tourism churchy-looking building. I picked up the Dublin International Film Festival programme and got really tempted to purchase the required membership to the Irish Film Institute in order to get in to some of the showings. As I was looking through the schedule, I realized that it's happening during the same week that I'll be out of town visiting my brother on business in Spain. DOH! Maybe next year.

Finally, before heading back to the LUAS, we stopped in at St. Teresa's. Always a peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of life in Dublin.

07 February 2007

National Museum of Ireland

My wife and I are taking an Irish history course here in Dublin and for today's class, we were taken on a tour through the National Museum. Some of the more recent (and gruesome) findings in the museum include the remains of human bodies that were preserved in various peat bogs around the country. The one we saw today was killed some 4 or 5 hundred years before the birth of Christ, yet it was so well preserved that Gardai were able to take fingerprints that were as clear as any fingerprints they take from living people today!

One of the comments by our tour guide had to do with the popular ideology of a peaceful Ireland in ages past that was something close to a utopia of sorts. I've heard other Irish folk talk about this teaching in the context of a search for Irish national identity. In some ways, I guess it's the same way with whatever country one happens to be from. Where we've come from as a collective people informs our national identity, so whatever we can do to romanticize or idealize that past is the tendency.

As for Ireland, this has to be met with the reality of human sacrifices and a certain level of "barberism," as our tour guide put it today. The pre-historic man we saw had been ceremoniously dismembered and mutilated, presumably in an effort to bring agricultural fertility to the land.

04 February 2007

A Big Weekend in Sport

It's a big weekend in sport, here in Ireland. Last night was a big occasion for the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association). At first I was having a difficult time trying to figure out what all the hype was about, but it appeared that the Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Tyrone was the first match to be played at night under some new flood lights at Croke Park. According to the author of this RTE article, all the fanfare will probably be looked at as a bit of hyperbole in the future. As for this Yankee living Dublin, it looked like hyperbole happening before my eyes in the present. I'm pretty sure I heard some GAA or Croke Park official say in an interview before the match, “this is the biggest event of the weekend in the northern hemisphere.” Right. Never mind the Six Nations tournament happening throughout the weekend. (Yep, that's people in at least SIX nations who'll be watching the rugby matches.) And I don't think anyone told him about the 232 countries who'll be watching the American Super Bowl today, with a potential viewing audience of 1 billion people.

The GAA's self-aggrandizing aside, I watched some Gaelic Football today on the telly (a re-broadcasting of “the weekends biggest event in the northern hemisphere”) and I rather enjoyed it. I wouldn't mind learning more about it and picking a team and maybe even heading over Croke Park for a match or two. One of the refreshing things about the game is that it's an amateur sport. I don't think any of the players make a living at it, which means that fans don't have to put up with egotistical celebrity athletes like those of American pro sports and European football.

As for tonight's big event, I'm hoping for an exciting game. Kick-off is at 23.25 here in Ireland and I'm hoping it's a contest worth staying up until 2.30 in the morning to watch.

(Click here for the Gaelic Athletic Association wiki or Google.ie it.)

03 February 2007

Dublin's Enigmatic Music Scene

Over the last several months that my wife and I have lived in Dublin, I've been very impressed with Dublin's music scene. The great song writers, bands, and intimate live venues all contribute to some great energy in that realm of Dublin culture. In fact, tonight we're headed off to see The Decemberists at Vicar Street, which I'm really excited about. Paste Magazine listed their latest project, The Crane Wife, as the top album of 2006. Seems that some of the greatest American acts in the categories "Under the Radar" and "Blog-Generated Fan Base" want to stop in to Dublin, including Sufjan Stevens a few months back. The brilliantly talented Josh Ritter has even acheived iconic status in Ireland, whereas he's relatively unknown in his homeland. And then there's the recent Oxfam Ireland compilation, The Cake Sale, which has a good share of soulful genius in both song writing and performance.

Having said that, I'm still trying to decide if Hot Press magazine is brilliant or a complete waste of €3.50. Depends on the issue I guess. And what's with this West Life crap? It's bad enough that they're trying to extend the curse of the "boy band" sub-genre. Now they've titled their latest tour "The Love Tour." . . . *long pause to let that sink in* . . . . I just can't think of anything more lacking in creativity and offensive to the art form.

02 February 2007

W.B. Yeats Exhibition

On Wednesday I popped into the National Library of Ireland to have a look around and ended up spending a good hour in the current exhibition on William Butler Yeats. It’s a brilliant exhibition blending creative multi-media presentations and personal affects of the world-renown poet/playwright. (Click here for an online presentation on Yeats poem “Sailing to Byantium.”)

One of the things that fascinates me the most about Yeats was his preoccupation with the spiritual realm, primarily in the form of the occult. One of the documentaries being shown in the exhibition mentioned that his search for the spiritual was in reaction to the ostensibly empty forms of religion and rationalism that he saw in the late nineteenth century. Of course, throughout Ireland’s history “religion” has always been inextricably linked to political agendas. For Yeats, there had to be something more. And if there was, it was certainly not found in Christianity. Interestingly enough, he turned to Celtic paganism instead.