Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Quick Look At Northern Ireland

The bulk of the time I was in Ireland was spent in the Republic of Ireland.  I did a day trip to Northern Ireland as part of an organized group.  It was a really long day but it was nice to be able to see a couple of sites in Northern Ireland. The tour included a visit to the Carrick-a-Rede island rope bridge, the Giant's Causeway, and short stop in downtown Belfast.

The Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge wasn't anything spectacular.  However, the views of the coastal region at the site and on the drive to the site were nice.  The rope bridge itself crosses a 20 meter gap, and is located in the spot that was traditionally used by salmon fishermen to cross to the island.  The original rope bridge used by the fisherman was much more rustic with only a single hand rail.  The bridge used today is fairly sturdy and wide.  The island and the pathway to the rope bridge have great views of the ocean and on a clear day you can see a portion of Scotland.

The Giant's Causeway is a UNESCO world heritage site made up of unique basalt rock formations which were created during an ancient volcanic eruption. There are a number of folk stories and legends surrounding the site and how it was formed.  One of the more well known stories suggests that the causeway is the remains of a bridge that a giant named Finn McCool built to cross from Ireland to Scotland.   The intersection of folk lore, natural heritage, and scientific explanations is interesting on this site, however very little signage is located near the actual site.

There is a formal visitors centre on site, however if you walk around the centre you can access the
causeway without paying a fee.  This resulting in missing out on some of the interpretative aspects but if you're on a budget or a time limit it might be the way to go. 

The Giant's Causeway is an extremely popular natural heritage site.  There are also very few restrictions on where visitors can explore.  There are a couple of different walking paths which approach the site and a number of shoots which climb up the surrounding rocks and hills.  Visitors are able to sit on the rock formations, climb up the honeycomb looking rock clusters, and walk freely along the rocky shore. 

Given how busy the site is and how unrestricted access is to the site I wonder about the long term impacts of turning the Giant's Causeway into a tourism destination.  The human element inevitably has some impact on the condition and maintenance of the site.  The Giant's Causeway is a beautiful piece of natural heritage tucked on the coast of Northern Ireland.  I could have easily spent a multiple hours walking around and exploring the site and the surrounding area.

Old Buildings and Equipment at the Kilbeggan Distillery

Water wheel
The most direct drive from Galway to Dublin takes you along a major motorway, which is pretty devoid of scenery.  But there are a number of small towns along the way if you decide you want to explore.  I ended up stopping at the Kilbeggan Distillery.  The Distillery offers both guided tours and self guided walking tours of the site.  I did a self guided tour and they provide you with an excellent guide that walks you through various well labelled buildings.

The Distillery located on the Kilbeggan river opened in 1757
Copper Pot Still
production on the site continued until 1957 when economic reasons forced the closure of the distillery.  Twenty five years after the closure the local community took over the site and turned it into a museum. The year 2007 marked the 250th anniversary since the establishment of the first Kilbeggan Distillery, in the same year whiskey production resumed on the site. By 2010 the site was working as a fully operational distillery once again. 

I loved the fact that this site combines a museum, historical buildings, and old distillery equipment with a modern day operation.  The site features a functioning water wheel and steam engine.  The old pot stills, fermentation vats, and processing rooms are also still on the site.  The interior of the structure is primarily wooden and the whole inside of the building had a creaky feel that reminded me of a barn.  Considering the fact that portions of the space were used for storage of grains I suppose the barn feeling makes sense.

Working portion of distillery
The self guided tour concludes with a visit to portions of the working distillery.  It was interesting to be able to compare the old equipment with the modern machinery currently being used -- the equipment looks very similar but is often made out of slightly different materials.  As part of the tour you also receive a complementary glass of whiskey and a small whiskey glass to take home. The variety of heritage features on this site, combined with the fact that the site wasn't very busy made the Kilbeggan Distillery an enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Exploring Galway on Foot

The city of Galway is very walkable.  It is a compact city with lots of walking paths and pedestrian only area.  A few of the places I explored on foot included the Eglington Canal, the Spanish Arch, and the Salthill promenade.  

The canal is bordered by paths which take you through residential areas, parks, and eventually down to the quay.  The quay includes a large outdoor sports area, walking paths right on the coast, and lots of green space.  The quay area is actually a re-greened space that was previously used as a garbage dump, so it was interesting to see the area's new life and to find so much open space inside the city.

The Spanish Arch is located just outside of the Galway City Museum and is on the left bank of the
Corrib river.  The Arch was built in 1584 and is a portion of the city walls which once enclosed Galway.

Similar to the Spanish Arch, Eyre Square is home to the Browne Door.  Which is the original door from the Browne family homestead in Galway.  The door has been relocated to the Square from Abbeygate street.  Both the Arch and the door have a disembodied feel to them, they are portions of much larger structures and give a brief glimpse into Galway's past.

The Salthill promenade runs alongside Galway Bay and is a well maintained walking route.  It was
pouring rain for portions of my walk along the promenade, but the view of the bay and seeing parts of Galway that are less tourist and student centric was well worth a bit of rain. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Local History and Artwork at the Galway City Museum

It rained a lot while I was in Galway.  The rain seemed to come in bursts, it would rain for ten minutes and then it would be sunny, twenty minutes later it would rain for another ten minutes.  In my mind a rainy day is a perfect day for a trip to a museum.  The Galway City Museum located near the River Corrib by the Spanish Arch was a great way to spend a couple of hours.  Admission is free and the Museum is well worth a visit. 

The permanent galleries focus on the history of Galway, with the main floor's exhibitions focusing on prehistoric Galway and medieval history.   The mixture of explanatory text, historical photographs, and archeological artifacts was well done in this area.  This space concisely explains the geographical formation of the area and the early settlers.

In the large atrium of the museum is a Galway Hooker that was made for the museum by Pat Ó Cualáin and Micheál MacDonncha from An Cheathrú Rua.  The boat is named Máirtín Oliver in honour of the last King of the Claddagh village.  The boat is an amazing piece of craftsmanship and the placement of it makes it impossible to miss during any visit to the museum. 

During my visit there was a couple of temporary exhibitions that I particularly enjoyed.  The Derrick Hawker: An Islands' Retrospective exhibition was a great example of a city museum incorporating local artists into the space.  The exhibition focused on the paintings and sketches done by Hawker with an emphasis on his work showcasing the Connemara region and the Ballynakill Lake in Gorumna. 

The Hawker exhibition was complimented by an exhibition of ceramics and glass works on loan from the University of Limerick.  The exhibit contained works from around the world and the vast majority of them were practical ceramics such as vases or bowls.  The catalogue of the collection which was the basis of this exhibit can be seen here.

Other than the exhibitions I really enjoyed the physical space of the museum.  A number of the walls of the museum are glass which allows for great views of the city from the gallery spaces.  It was also interesting to see that most exhibition text was in both English and Gaelic.  I would be interested to know how many of the exhibition visitors read the Gaelic text over the English.

During my visit there was also a curatorial meeting doing on in one of the exhibition spaces that was under renovation.  The public historian and exhibition in installer in me couldn't help but listen in briefly.  It was neat to see staff actually collaborating in the exhibition space and actively considering how the space would work with the flow of the museum overall.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Cliffs of Moher and the Burren Region

The Cliffs of Moher located in County Clare are one of the most popular natural landscapes in Ireland with more than a million visitors visiting each year.  The cliffs are 8km long along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and are 214m at their highest points.  The rock formation that makes up the cliffs is almost 320 million years old.  The coastal location makes the area highly susceptible to erosion and there are numerous signs warning visitors to stay inside marked paths away from unstable edges. 

The visitor centre on the site explains the historical geography of the area, explore native wildlife, and
talks about the human history on the site.  There are a couple of educational videos included in the exhibit that are worth watching for the historical images and seaside vantages of the cliffs.  The Centre itself is an interesting structure, as it is an eco-structure that is built into a hillside.  It reminded me of a large hobbit house. 

Despite being late in the season the Cliffs were still one of the busiest sites we visited during our trip. It was also extremely windy and a bit on a chilly side.  However, it was also a clear day so you could see a number of the surrounding bays and islands.  The views of the rocky shore are wonderful however it is worth taking a longer walk on one of the walking paths to get away from the masses of people.  There is also an free audio-tour app that visitors can download (there is free wifi at the main visitors centre) that describes the landscape. 
Burren in the distance.

Following my visit to the Cliffs of Moher we drove through the Burren region to reach Galway.  The change in landscape was remarkable in this region.  The vibrant greens that had been almost everywhere were replaced by vast areas of limestone rock that is devoid of soil coverage. This area is one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe.  The views on this portion of the drive were unusual and memorable in their distinctive appearance.

Photographs by Andrew Mackay

“Hurry Hard!” Community Connections to Curling in Canada

Approximately 653,000 Canadian's are curlers and many more have connections to the sport.  My most recent post looks at the history of curling in Canada, the community driven nature of curling, and curling's impact on Canadian identity.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Natrual Landscape of the Conor Pass

The Conor Pass is the highest mountain pass in Ireland and is located on the North side of the Dingle Peninsula.  The drive through the Conor Pass was breathtaking, beautiful views and very narrow twisty roads on the side of a mountain. The Mountain Pass runs through the Brandon Mountains which is the second highest peak in Ireland at 3127 ft.

There is a great lookout point at the top of the pass which allows you to overlook Dingle, the valley and lakes below, and Brandon Bay.  There are some educational panels at the lookout the explain the geographical historical of the area and talk about how ice ages and natural changes to the area shaped the landscape.

I was lucky to visit the pass on a clear day, as a few locals indicated that if the weather is foggy it is nearly impossible to see anything from the lookout or on the road.  After reaching the top of the Pass the road becomes much more rustic.  The road is for two way traffic however the width of the road can only accommodate one car at a time -- so if you meet another car one of you needs to back up along the twisty to a spot that has a wide shoulder.  The driving experience was a tad hair raising but the views of the area were well worth it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seaside Heritage on the Dingle Peninsula

Dunbeg Fort
The Dingle Peninsula was one of my favourite areas of Ireland.  The sea side town was homey and the surrounding country size was awe inspiring.  The Slea Head drive in particular offered some great views of the the coastline, natural heritage, and a handful of built heritage sites. 

The Dunbeg Fort was the first place we stopped on the Slea Head route. The Fort overlooks Dingle Bay and is located on a rock promontory that has eroded substantially over the years.  The view alone is well worth the admission price to the Fort.  The Fort structure is dry stacked rock and only a small portion of the original Fort still exists, portions of it were lost to erosion. The date of the Fort is contested with some dating the structure from the Iron Age, 500 BC, or 800 AD. 
View at Dunbeg

The Dunbeg site also includes a small visitors centre.  The Centre features an audio-visual presentation room where there is a ten minute video describing the history of the area, the archeological studies that have been done at Dunbeg, and the type of building material used in the Fort.

A short distance away from the Dunbeg Fort there are a grouping of clocháns, also known as beehive huts.  There is little signage around the huts but visitors are given a brief information handout when they arrive that dates the site around 1000 AD.  The rounded roofs of the huts reminded me of igloo construction, particular when viewed from inside.  The few clocháns on the site are all relatively small in height and size but were neat to explore.  The site is located on the side of a hill and the view provides a different vantage point of the area. 

Beehive Hut
Following the Dunbeg Fort and beehive huts the road continues towards the Blasket Island and nearby beach.  The Blasket Island is only 2 km away from shore, but in the 1950s the Irish government had the island evacuated and the 170 residents were relocated to the mainland.  The reasoning being that the island was deemed unsafe for habitation.  The Blascaoid Centre located on the main Dingle Peninsula is dedicated to the heritage of the island and its inhabitants. 

The Slea Head drive was a great mixture of country side, rugged coast line, and heritage sites.  You could easily spend an entire afternoon or day enjoying the sites along the route and in my mind the drive was fare more enjoyable than the more well known Ring of Kerry. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ring Forts and Castles in a Farmer's Field

The Ring of Kerry was one of the low points of the trip for me.  Yes, the landscape was beautiful but it was a lot of driving and there were definitively other natural heritage sites that I thought more impressive.  However, part way through the Ring of Kerry I visited the Ballycarbery Castle and Ring Fort located near Cahersiveen.  Both of these sites were located in farmers' fields and were amazing ruins to explore.

Ballycarbery Castle is thought to have been built in 1560s by the MacCarthy family. Portions of the castle have fallen down, walls are missing, many of the staircases drop off in the middle of nowhere, and the much of the stone is covered by vines.  The Castle is located right by the sea and for the more adventurous it is possible to climb up to the second story and explore some of the small rooms.  This was probably one of the most rustic sites I visited and because of the out of the way location there were no other visitors while my partner and I were exploring the site.  There are some small directional signs pointing the way to the Castle, however the actual site doesn't have any signage.  It would have been nice to be able to learn more about the history of the site and the building. 

A short distance from the castle is the Cahergal Ring Fort. Like the name suggests the Fort is circular in nature and the interior of the Fort looks like a tiered amphitheater. The rock that makes up the Fort is all dry stacked without any visible adhesive and given the age of the structure it is only natural that in some spots the rocks have started to come loose.  During my visit, one section of the Fort was blocked off because of preservation efforts to the structure. It is possible to climb up the circular fort to the top of 'Ring' and view the surrounding countryside -- lots of sheep and some cows. Similar to the Ballycarbery Castle there was no signage at the Ring Fort and the site was unstaffed. 

The town of Cahersiveen was fairly unremarkable but a five minute drive off the main road towards the beach was well worth it.  The Castle and Ring Fort and great examples of the excessive number of heritage sites, old castles, and stunning views in Ireland.  The sites are in such an abundance that many can be found in the middle of nowhere, with little signage and fanfare.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Midleton Distillery: Built Heritage and Whiskey

I went on a number of great guided tours during my visit to Ireland but the award for most cheery tour guide definitely goes to the Jameson Experience at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork.  The enthusiasm and friendliness of the guide reminded me a lot of Mary Poppins.  It was clear the guide was reading from a set script, but she also took time to interact with everyone in the group and answer individual questions. 

The Midleton Distillery tour takes visitors through the old distillery buildings, some of which date from the late 1700s.  The tour focuses on the history of the Jameson family, brand, and the whiskey making process.  Featured on the tour are mills, water wheel, maltings, stillhouse, warehouses and kilns.  The distillery which is featured on the tour is no longer actively used and the newer Midleton Distillery can only be seen at a distance from the tour route.  The old brick buildings included in the tour were interesting and a variety of the old equipment such as steam engine and pot-still were still located in their original locations.

Prior to this tour I knew very little about the whiskey distillation process and the history of legislation
Whiskey at different stages of maturation. 
around whiskey.  Apparently, in Ireland whiskey needs to be matured for a minimum of three years to be called whiskey -- if it is sold prior to the three year mark it can't use the title whiskey and can only be sold as a 'spirit'.  This requirement was introduced following a number of upstarts which attempted to sell products which were not 'pure' whiskey and hadn't been matured for as long.  The tour clearly explained all the steps involved in making whiskey from the growing of the raw ingredients to the bottling process.

At the conclusion of the tour a handful of members from the tour group participated in a tasting test. The tasting compared American, Scottish and Irish whiskey and explained the differences in the production process of each country.  I found the Jameson tour less focused on the Jameson family/corporate history than the Guinness experience.  Granted, the very nature of the tour means that it was closely connected to the history of the Jameson product but overall the experience didn't feel as though the brand was being forced upon you. 

Photographs by Andrew MacKay

Military History and Stunning Sea Views at Charles Fort

Kinsale, County Cork was one of my favourite spots in Ireland.  The quaint seaside town had small narrow streets, delicious sea food, and a number of local attractions.  Charles Fort located 2km outside of Kinsale is a 17th century star shaped fort.  The distance to the Fort is walkable from the town and the views on the hilly walk of the harbour below are fantastic.

Charles Fort was built by William Robinson, the same architect who built the Royal Hospital Kilmainham that I visited while in Dublin. Designed in the shape of a star, Charles Fort was built to be highly defensible from the water and resistant to cannon fire. However, because of budget reasons the fort was not completed according to Robinson's original design and the land facing side of the fort was not as defensible as originally planned.  A land based siege during the Williamte War (1689-1691) was successful in defeating the meager land side defense and highlights the flawed nature of Charles Fort.

Mosaic map of Charles Fort
Given how small Kinsale is I was surprised by how busy Charles Fort was during my visit.  There were a couple tour buses and a school group at the site when I arrived.  The site is expansive with layers of fortification to explore, so even though the site was busy there was still lots of room to walk around and not feel crowded. 

There is an exhibition space in what was once barracks that describes the history the area, the building of the fort and the main battles faced by the fort.   The space contains artifacts, text, and audio-visual material that highlight the different occupants of the Fort and the experience of the soldiers who stayed in the Fort. There is also a small photo exhibition in the former power magazine which shows how the power magazine operated and other aspects of military life at the Fort. 

One of the more visual features of Charles Fort is the 'blast wall' construction that exists around the perimeter of the Fort.  The thick exterior walls of the fort are surrounded by sections of earth, which are followed by another interior wall.  The sections of earth were included as a means of making the fort stronger in the face of cannonballs.  The earth would absorb the shock of cannonball fire and not crumble in the way that stonewalls typically do.  This practical measure resulted in the present day advantage of an area of land which visitors can walk on and see right to the edge of the fort and into the sea. 

This site wasn't even on my radar until the owner of the B&B I was staying at recommended a visit to the Fort.  I'm glad I listened to her suggestion as the views from the fort, the history of the site, and the expansive remaining battlements make Charles Fort well worth the visit.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gardens and Sculptures at Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone are some of the most well known Irish landmarks.  The Castle was built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, the King of Munster and was one of the more rustic 'castles' I saw on my trip.

The staircase up to the top of the Castle was twisty, cramped and not for those who are claustrophobic or afraid of heights.  There's a rope for visitors to hold on to as they transverse the curvy, narrow stairs but otherwise there isn't much in the way of support during the climb.   As the stairwell winds upward there are a number of small rooms which visitors can explore.

The bedrooms, kitchen, and dinning room are only identifiable by the signage as
nothing but rock remains in the space.  The views from the top of the castle were pretty remarkable as the Castle overlooked the entire Blarney estate, including the Blarney House and gardens.

I enjoyed the grounds of the Blarney Castle more than the Castle itself.  There were a number of different styles of gardens on the grounds to explore.  The well manicured lawns were contrasted with the wild Rock Close and bog gardens.  The Rock Close area provided a peaceful walk through the woods on a trail lined with modern art sculptures.

In the Rock Close
The Poison Garden and the Irish Garden had added educational elements which aimed to teach visitors about a range of plants.  The poison garden was an interesting concept, it contains poisonous plants from around the world.  The plants are well labeled and describe the nature of the poison, the historical uses of the plants, and how the plants are used today.  The garden is well signed to warn visitors and parents of small children of potential dangers (eg. don't touch or eat the plants).  The Irish Garden was relatively small but provided an opportunity to see and learn about some of the area's native plants.

The expansive grounds at the Castle are what made the visit to Blarney worthwhile for me.  The Castle was a fun touristy experience and had a rustic old feel to it.  But, I could have spent hours wondering around the gardens and grounds as there were so many walking paths, sculptures, and variety of flora to see.

Photographs by Andrew MacKay

Friday, October 18, 2013

Religious History at the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey

Cathedral at Rock of Cashel
Following a great evening in Kilkenny I traveled to the Rock of Cashel also known as St. Patrick's Rock in Tipperary County.  The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster until 1101 when the site was transferred to the Catholic Church in Ireland. The majority of the ruins remaining on the site are from the 12th and 13th centuries during the Church's ownership of the site.

I participated in a guided tour as part of my visit the Rock of Cashel.  The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the site and did a good job of contextualizing the numerous structures with the political and social movements of the period.  She also did a good job of interjecting humor into the tour through Irish folk stories and jokes.

Cormac's Chapel is one of the larger ruins on the site and was completed in 1134.  The Chapel was undergoing exterior preservation work during the time of my visit as the sandstone which makes up the majority of the building has been susceptible to water damage.  Despite this exterior work visitors are still able to enter the chapel and see the vaulted ceiling and the small pieces of Irish frescoes which survive on the ceiling.  The interior of the Chapel has a musty damp smell which makes sense given the water damage of the stone.

View of Hore Abbey from Rock of Cashel
The majority of the other buildings on the site are made from limestone, as the Rock of Cashel is located on a huge outcropping of limestone. These buildings mainly date from the 12th and 13th century and include a round tower, a cathedral, castle, and a newer Hall of the Vicars Choral that was built in the 15th century.

After the guided tour and exploring the site I visited the ruins of  Hore Abbey which is located within walking distance of the Rock of Cashel.  Like the Rock, the Abbey is maintained by the Office of Public Works.  However, the Abbey is not staffed and is located in the middle of a farmers field.   The Abbey dates from the 1200s and I found it interesting that the Rock of Cashel gains so much attention when the Abbey sits looking somewhat abandoned. Granted, the Rock of Cashel does look more imposing but the character and history behind the Abbey is just as interesting.

Photographs by Andrew Mackay

Kilkenny Castle: Architecture and Design Through the Ages

The Kilkenny Castle located on the River Nore in Kilkenny City was built in the early 13th century.  Throughout the history of the castle the building was renovated a number of times as the building changed owners, making the site today a mixture of architectural styles and time periods.

There are guided tours available at the Castle, however I arrived in between tours so the staff provided a map and sent me off on a self-guided tour.  The layout of the castle was a bit confusing at times, mostly because of the numerous renovations and additions that the building as undergone.  Resulting in the walk through the space feeling disjointed.

This disjointed feeling might also come from the fact that because the Castle was occupied for centuries the interpretation of the site tries to include elements from different time periods.  So the medieval period is seen in the basement of the castle where there are arrow loops, defensive rooms, and a wicker style ceiling. This is contrasted with a dinning room that reflects life in the castle during the 1860s and the library which is decorated in late 19th century style.

Perhaps the most striking architectural addition to the Castle is the Picture Gallery Wing which was added to the building in the early 1800s by architect William Robertson.  The high painted pitched roof is remarkable and the Gallery contains many of the portraits and paintings that were collected by former residents of the castle. 

The Castle is surrounded by gardens and parkland that is open to the public.  Elements of the older gardens have been maintained including a rose garden, sculptures, and walking paths.  Though many of the trees have been removed to provide open park space.

Former Carriage Building
Across the road from the Castle are the former carriage buildings and stable yard which were built in 1790.  The former stable buildings are now owned by Kilkenny Civic Trust and feature a number of craft studies, the Kilkenny Design Centre, and the Crafts Council of Ireland. The buildings are beautiful with a number of rounded arches, circular windows, and copper-domed tower being highlights.  The Design Centre also has a variety of handmade Irish crafts, which I could have spent hours looking at -- I ended up buying a hat that was made locally. It was great to see the stables buildings being used and the exteriors of the buildings being preserved.

Photographs by Andrew MacKay

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Natural Landscape and Monastic Ruins in Glendalough

On the way to Kinsale, in Cork County I stopped at the Glendalough Monastic Settlement in Wicklow County.  The Glendalough monastic site is located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.  I imagine the drive towards Glendalough from Dublin would be beautiful on a clear day as it takes you through the mountains.  It was foggy during my drive so the views were mostly of mist and a few sheep.

It was pouring rain during my visit to Glendalough but there were still a number of visitors exploring the 6th century Christian monastic site. There is a small visitors center located at the site with an attached exhibition space.  I didn't go into the museum space during my visit but I did go into the center to get maps of the site which outlined the monastic ruins as well as the walking trails on the site.  Having a description of the monastic ruins was helpful as there is very little signage near the ruins themselves. 

There are a number of monastic ruins on the site including: an arched gateway, a round tower, cathedral, church, and smaller out buildings.  The round tower is the most visible from a distance  and is still in surprisingly good shaping considering portions of the other buildings have collapsed.  The tower is around 30 meters high and served as a landmark, a storehouse, and a safe space during times of pillaging.  The monastic ruins are surrounded by graves and memorials to the brethren who occupied the site.

After exploring the monastic ruins I walked towards the upper lake on one of the walking paths.   The walk was nice though probably would have been more enjoyable in better weather.  The walk did provide a nice glimpse at some of the natural landscape encompassed by the National Park and extensive efforts that have gone into creating trails, walking paths, and nature walks. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Corporate History at the Guinness Storehouse

Brand or corporate museums have never been high on my list of places to visit.  But, while in Dublin I did visit the Guinness Storehouse.  The Storehouse is really more of a corporate museum than a traditional brewery and the visitor experience has more in common with a museum visit than a brewery tour.

Visits to the Storehouse are self guided and well labelled routes direct visitors to displays about Guinness ingredients, the brewing processing, the Guinness family legacy, worldwide distribution, and past advertising campaigns.  Many of the displays had interactive video or audio components and the shear size of the operation was pretty amazing.  

While some of the displays were educational, the whole experience reminded me a bit of the Biff Tannen Museum from the Back to the Future II movie -- where the museum is really just a form of promotional advertising.  Given the corporate nature of the attraction I guess I shouldn't be that surprised.

Made from old wooden Guinness barrels
Despite the corporate undertones there was some neat components of the visit.  Upon arrival in the main atrium visitors get to see the well known 9000 year lease that Arthur Guinness signed for the St. James's Gate Brewery site.  One floor also contains an optional tasting experience.  During the tasting experience visitors are directed into a room that has four stations of what looks like dry ice (there is billowing white mist everywhere).  The stations turn out to be different Guinness ingredients and visitors are given the opportunity to smell the 'smoke' and guess which ingredient is which.  It's a neat visual experience and if nothing else it's worth doing just to see how excited children get at the prospect of a room filled with mist.

With the price of admission visitors are given the opportunity to 'cash-in' their ticket for a pint of Guinness.  Visitors have the choice of their enjoying a pint in the Gravity Bar that overlooks Dublin or learning to pour a 'perfect' pint of Guinness in a bar on the fourth floor. 

My partner and I opted to learn to pour a Guinness -- it was a fun interactive part of the tour which I'm
View from Gravity Bar
glad we decided to do.  And at the end of the pouring experience everyone receives a slightly cheesy certificate that denotes their ability to pour Guinness.  We still went up to the Gravity Bar at the conclusion of our visit and there was some interesting views of the city.  Popular landmarks and heritage sites are labelled on the glass windows in the Gravity Bar so visitors can tell what they are looking at.  The only downside to the spectacular views was how crowded the small Gravity Bar space was.

The Guinness Storehouse was about what I expected it to be, an interesting experience but definitely not one of my favourites.  The building the Guinness Storehouse is located in part of the original brewery site and is quite old.  But the experience doesn't really touch on any of the built heritage features of the site and focuses more on the "Yay Guinness" experience.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Royal Hospital Kilmainham: Modern Art and Heritage Site

Following my trip to the Kilmainham Goal I visited the nearby Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) that is located in the former Royal Hospital Kilmainham building. Unfortunately during my visit the main Hospital building was closed for renovations and only a small new gallery space was open.  Despite this closure the grounds are beautiful and the small exhibition I had the opportunity to see was well done.

The Royal Hospital opened in 1684 as a home for retired soldiers.  The building continued to be used for this purposed for 250 years.  In 1984 it was taken over and restored by the government.  In 1991 the building opened as the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

The IMMA gardens are done in a classical style that reflects the heritage of the site.  This traditional 
atmosphere is contrasted with outdoor sculptural art.  The contrast highlights the usage of the space in a modern purposeful way while still maintaining elements of the long history of the site.

During my visit the only exhibition that was open was "Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist" located in the Garden Galleries.  The exhibit was framed as a retrospective of Carrington's work and featured over 80 examples of her work in a variety of mediums including paintings, tapestries, works on paper, and sculptures.  Some of the works exhibited refer to Irish and Celtic lore while others explored the influence of Mexican culture.  Her artwork was also accompanied by a number of examples of her written work and journals.  It was interesting to see a mixture of archival material on display alongside the art exhibition.

The exhibit was organized thematically and was had interesting signage explaining the different styles and influences on Carrington's artwork.  However, the exhibit space is fairly small.  During my visit there was a number of students in the building as part a formal class visit.  The shear number of students seemed overwhelming in the tight space, with many of them sitting on the floor sketching as there was very little gallery seating. 

Photographs by Andrew MacKay

Friday, October 11, 2013

Irish Political History Intertwined with Built Heritage at the Kilmainham Gaol

New cell block.
The Kilmainham Goal was by far my favourite heritage site in Dublin.  The Goal was built in 1796 and was built in the 'new style' of the era, a style which moved towards a model of separation of prisoners into individual cells. In the previous local jail the inmates all mixes together in a form of chaos, the new Kilmainham Goal promoted a structured environment that allowed for the maximum number of prisoners under a minimum number of guards.

Access to the Goal is by guided tour only.  Visitors can take in the museum which chronicles the history of the Goal, Irish social movements, and Irish political history while they wait for their guided tour to leave.  The museum also includes a small section on the Goal's restoration and community support for the restoration project. 

The walking tour of the former jail was extremely well done.  The tour began with an audio-visual

Goal chapel
presentation in the former chapel of the jail.  The presentation provided an overview of the history of the Goal and contextualized the Goal within larger social and political trends in Ireland.

Throughout the tour different cells, rooms, and former prisoners were mentioned and connected to the history of Ireland's struggle for independence.  From the opening in 1796 until the closing in 1924 many notable Irish nationalist leaders were incarcerated in Kilmainham and a handful of them were hanged on site.  The tour highlights the role the Goal played in the Irish rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1967, 1916, and the Irish War of Independence. The tour guide did an excellent job of explaining aspects of Irish history that many visitors may not be knowledgeable about.  The tour also includes the opportunity to stand inside cells, visit the dead-man's row style room, and learn about developments in prison architecture.

At the time of my visit there was also an art exhibit installed in the new cell block (bottom right of the third photograph).  Christina Henri'sRoses from the Heart exhibit featured bonnets representing the 25,566 convict women transported to Australia from Britain and Ireland from 1788 to 1853.  Each bonnet was hand stitched with the name of a former inmate.  This installation provided the opportunity to learn and think about the women and children inmates.  According to our guide, the youngest inmate in Kilmainham was five years old and there were many children incarcerated for food related crimes.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Kilmainham Goal.  It's a bit of a walk from the Dublin city center but is well worth the trek.  The Goal is also right near the old Kilmainham Hospital which has beautiful grounds and now houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Photograph credit: Andrew MacKay