Ireland 2015: Day 2 – Scholars and Prisoners

After sleeping for almost 11 hours last night, I woke up to the sun reflecting directly into my face off the wall mirror in my hotel room this morning.  It was time to get up and explore Dublin some more!  My first stop of the day was Trinity College.  My walking tour was slightly delayed, as we had to wait for John Boehner’s entourage to clear out.  The tour

Long Room - Trinity College Library
Long Room – Trinity College Library

was fascinating.  Would you believe that for a €3,000 registration fee per year, a student from any country in the European Union can attend Trinity College?  Another interesting thing I learned was about the scholarship program.  At the end of their freshman year, students can choose to sit for an examination. Those who score first honors (70% or higher) become Trinity College Scholars.  This includes free tuition, room, board, etc. for the duration of their bachelor’s degrees, plus an additional 5 years to complete a Ph.D. if they choose.  Only about 65 to 70 scholarships are awarded per year (out of 17,000 students).  The library at Trinity College is most known for holding the Book of Kells.  While this was interesting to see, the mobs of people surrounding it made it nearly impossible to get a close look.  The library is also a legal deposit library for Ireland and the U.K., meaning that Trinity College has a copy of every book published in Britain, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland (a total of about 4.5 million books!).  My photos don’t do the Long Room justice, but this 360 degree panorama certainly gives an idea of the space.

Next on the agenda (after a stop at Starbucks!) was a visit to Dublin Castle.  While it doesn’t really resemble what you might imagine a castle in Ireland to look like, it has evolved over the years from the original Norman fortification to a royal residence to what is now a series of government offices.  The tour was not quite as interesting as Trinity College, but I’m glad I had the chance to visit.

My final stop today was Kilmainham Gaol (Jail).  Having long been a fan of Irish music, I am familiar with the song “Grace” (click on the link to hear Anthony Kearns’ version of the song) and the story of Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett, who were married on the eve of his execution after the Easter Uprising of 1916.  Sitting in the chapel where they were married, visiting his cell, and seeing the mural Grace had drawn in her own cell years later gave new meaning to the lyrics of the song.  The jail was designed to hold 140 prisoners, each in individual/separate cells.  During the period of the Irish famine, more than 9,000 were held prisoner there, some having committed crimes purposely to be put in jail so they could be guaranteed a basic diet.  The final stop on the tour was the execution yard where 14 of the 16 leaders of the Irish rebellion in 1916 were executed by firing squad.  Two small crosses mark the spots where the criminals stood.  One criminal in particular, James Connolly, is noted as inspiring a legacy of rebellion.  He was injured so badly in the Easter Rising that he was held in a hospital and was brought to the execution yard by stretcher.  People were so outraged by his treatment that it furthered the cause of the rebels fighting for Irish independence.  Overall, the jail was a very moving visit, and by far the highlight of the day today.

Kilmainham Gaol
Kilmainham Gaol

On that “happy” note, it’s time for me to rest up for tomorrow’s big day.  I’m heading back to the airport first thing to pick up a rental car for the remainder of my trip.  On tomorrow’s agenda is Powerscourt Gardens and Glendalough before heading to Kilkenny for the next two nights.