Tag Archives: Dublin

Seamus Heaney, Poet — 1939 to 2013

I had the rare and sad privilege today of being part of history, as a packed cathedral in Donnybrook, Dublin, said goodbye to a great man.

Irish poet and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney died Aug. 30 in a Dublin hospital, after a long battle with the effects of a stroke some years ago. He was 74.

I first learned about Heaney when Professor Fred Thompson at Peninsula College assigned his slim book of poems, “The Spirit Level,” as required reading for English comp 101. I remember discussing his classic poem, “Digging,” about how, while generations before him had used tools to dig for potatoes and turf, his “tool” was now the pen:

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

When I was trying to decide to come to Ireland last May, I took out that poem and read it for inspiration, and courage. Substitute “keyboard” for “pen,” but I thought, that’s my tool too. Where better to wield it than in the land that produced Seamus Heaney, and so many other great writers? I even named this blog after his inspiration.

But I was far humbled today. I took the bus from Wicklow Town and arrived an hour early for the 11:30 a.m. service at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, a posh suburb of Dublin where Heaney lived. The media was already thick outside, including live coverage on the RTE (Irish TV). Rather than mill about watching for celebrities, I went in and secured a seat, third pew from the rear, left side, best for people watching. In the next hour the church filled to capacity and then some. Many people lined the sidewalk outside, waiting for a glimpse of the poet’s last trip, and the many A-listers who came to pay their respects.

Heaney’s funeral drew hundreds of mourners, from all the major political figures including Irish president Michael D. Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, to entertainers including Bono, The Edge, Shane McGowan and Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains. (Although truth be told I didn’t see the celebrities.)

Members of academia and the Irish literati made up the bulk of the attendees that filled the cavernous cathedral. Wild white hair, rumpled black suits and plaid mufflers were the order of the day, as well as more than a few tweed jackets with leather elbow patches. My seatmate pointed out one distinguished gentleman, with his white hair pulled back in a ponytail and tied with a black ribbon, as a member of the Guinness family. I wondered how many people had one of Heaney’s books in their pocket. They certainly had them in their hearts.

Master Uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn played during the ceremony, including a haunting version of the slow air, “Port na bPúcaí” (“Song of the Fairies”). Heaney collaborated with O’Flynn on an album, “The Poet and the Piper,” on which O’Flynn wove the tune with Heaney’s reading of “The Given Note,” which was also read at the service.

Seamus Heaney was born in Northern Ireland, but to his great credit he is known as a poet of all the people of Ireland, not just those in the north. As his coffin was carried out, headed for his final resting place in his hometown of Bellaghy in Co Derry, O’Flynn began softly playing the traditional Irish tune, “Óró, sé do bheatha abhaile,” (“Hurrah, Welcome Home”). The tune has a long history as a rebel song, and was a battle hymn sung by members of the Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Easter Rising rebellion.

Hairs rose on my arms and my eyes welled with tears as the entire congregation began singing along softly. These were a people united, saying goodbye to a close friend.

Rest in Peace, Seamus Heaney.

People break into applause, saying goodbye to poet Seamus Heaney, as the hearse bearing his casket pulls out of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Dublin. ©Marcie Miller

People break into applause, saying goodbye to poet Seamus Heaney, as the hearse bearing his casket pulls out of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Dublin. ©Marcie Miller



Good-bye Bog, Hello Wicklow

My housesitting experience came to an end Sunday as my second hosts returned home, and I wasted no time putting the midlands of Ireland behind me on Monday morning. Good-bye soggy bogs, grey skies and same-same views. Hello lovely east coast, great coffeeshops and the sparkling waters of the Irish Sea.

My nearest neighbors in the midlands. ©Marcie Miller

My nearest neighbors in the midlands. ©Marcie Miller

Midlands review in a nutshell: It is a nice place to visit, on your way somewhere else. As a tourist, two days with a good list of things to see there would be plenty.  My two months of housesitting worked out very well; I feel lucky to have found both of them so quickly and I have no regrets there. But, if I do this again, I think I would look for appointments farther apart. Live and learn. But more on that in another post.

Wicklow Harbor - feels like coming home.

Wicklow Harbor – feels like coming home.

I moved on to Wicklow Town, a six-hour bus trip from Roscommon Town, and a world away. OK, well it is still Ireland, but Wicklow is set on green, rolling countryside running down to the sea, where sailboats mix with fishing boats, and swimmers in wetsuits maneuver around the boats at anchor in the harbor. The Irish have a passion for swimming in the sea all year, often without wetsuits. Keeps them tough I guess.

Dublin is an hour train or bus ride to the north, with plenty of interesting stops along the way. The coastal stretch from Dublin to Greystones (approx. 10 miles north of Wicklow) is historically where the rich from Dublin used to come on holiday — back when 20 miles was a long way to go. The towns are chock-a-block with stately Georgian homes, and it really feels like stepping back in time as you stroll the promenade along the beach.

I’m staying in a historic Georgian house on Bachelor’s Walk, which runs along the Leitrim River, parallel to the shore. It’s now  Capt. Halpin’s Hostel. I thought it would be quieter and cheaper than staying in Dublin for the final 10 days. And there is only one other hostel between here and Dublin. The room I’m sitting in, the parlor, has an original marble fireplace, high ceilings, a crystal chandelier and upright piano. It smells musty, but that’s pretty much the smell of Ireland. It used be Leitrim Lodge and it’s claim to fame is that the town’s most famous citizen, Capt. Halpin, once lived here. I had to share a bunk room with three smelly, and I do mean smelly, boys last night, but for the rest of the time I’ll be in an all-girl room.

Enough for now — sun’s out, time to go strolling!

It Doesn’t Always Rain in Ireland

Case in point, today, my first day, the temp was topping 17 C, which is, um…62.6 F. OK, that doesn’t  sound hot, but it really is. It was a lovely, sunny day for exploring Dublin on foot.

Flower vendors on Grafton Street enjoyed a sunny June day in Dublin. ©Marcie Miller

Flower vendors on Grafton Street enjoyed a sunny June day in Dublin. ©Marcie Miller

As my funds are extremely, extremely, extremely limited on this trip, I’ve decided to make a game of it called “Ireland on the Cheap” (Look for the book on Amazon soon).  I’m starting with Dublin, which is known for being a pricey city. I’ve been compiling a list of things you can do in the city that are free or low cost. Some of those things today included sitting on a bench in Saint Stephen’s Green, watching the gardeners put in the first flowers of spring and the ducks paddling along on one of the many ponds; strolling through the grounds of Trinity College, trying to find the exit, then ending up down in the docklands at the Famine Ship and Memorial—sobering and beautiful; sitting in Bewley’s Oriental Café on Grafton Street, lingering over a pot of tea and reading the real estate ads (or adverts as they say here) while admiring the stained glass; walking some more, and sitting in the lobby of the fancy Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street. That last one, I figure that as long as I look like a tourist no hotel staff is going to harass me for sitting in their lobby, “waiting for my husband.” Hey I could be…

The Famine Memorial sculptures were presented to the City of Dublin in 1997 by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie. ©Marcie Miller

The Famine Memorial sculptures were presented to the City of Dublin in 1997 by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie. ©Marcie Miller

Tomorrow I think I’ll take the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) for a ride along the coast south of Dublin to see the James Joyce Museum at the Martello tower featured in the opening of Ulysses.  It’s an inexpensive commuter run, and the views over Dublin Bay are stunning. There are also numerous beaches to stroll and hills to walk up with panoramic views over Dublin. Although, I probably won’t feel up to that yet.

Food will be a large part of my budget, as it’s always more expensive to eat out every meal. Today I ate lunch at Subway, and before you say yuck, the tandoori chicken on flatbread with mint raita sauce was pretty darn good. And cheap at €5 including soft drink. Now to find the cheapest Guinness in Dublin…

My Dublin home—Mount Eccles Hostel. It's a big old beast of a building. ©Marcie Miller

My Dublin home—Mount Eccles Hostel. It’s a big old beast of a building. ©Marcie Miller

One reason I chose to stay in Dublin for seven nights is that I found a hostel for €20 a night (about $26),  on a quiet street lined with red-brick Georgian houses. Turns out it’s also one block from the Dublin Writers Museum and the same block as the James Joyce Center. And Bloomsday Week starts on Monday. Bloomsday, June 16, marks the day that Joyce’s classic novel Ulysses takes place, as the protagonist Leopold Bloom wanders Dublin with a non-stop stream-of-consciousness narrative. I’ll miss the actual day though, as I’ll be on the west coast at an Irish folk music festival in Doolin.

The hostel is pretty bare bones, and my six-bed all-girl dorm room is on the second floor (that’s the third floor for Americans), so I’ll be getting some much-needed exercise. I already made four trips just getting my laptop set up in the common room where there’s wifi. I would have posted this sooner but I forgot my camera patch cord and couldn’t face another climb. So far there are only two other bunkmates, both young Asian girls who are staying for a month. As long as a party group doesn’t move in this weekend I’ll be good.

One trick I’ve learned for creating some private space in a hostel situation (haha) is to bring a sarong to hang as a curtain from the top bunk (yes, bunks). It’s lightweight, colorful and clearly marks your territory. I’m actually using a kanga that I got in Tanzania in 1995. See, Mom was right: never throw  anything away.