Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dublin Castle

Originally posted on Posterous, May 10, 2012

The site of Dublin Castle has been occupied since the Vikings were here. The castle has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, though you'd never guess to look at it: the current version of the Chapel Royal, for instance, is actually a Victorian rebuild. The only remnant of the Norman castle is one tower; the rest was destroyed by fire.

Yes, I know fire alone doesn't have much effect on stone. The fire that destroyed current castle's predecessor apparently set off the powder magazine. (It could happen to anyone, right?)

Whoever built the Royal Chapel viscerally understood perpendicular Gothic architecture—it's perfect in every detail. So much so that I spent more than an hour soaking it up (yes, this is how Tom has, over the years, perfected his skill in cat-napping). It's small in physical size, but enormous in intent: the whole point of the Gothic style is to use its soaring grandeur to create in those experiencing it a sense of the infinite—in the case of a church, that of God; in the case of secular buildings, that of the owner. Shrewd barn-yard (or castle keep) psychology, really, and it makes for a thoroughly satisfying sightseeing experience.

It was so awe-inspiring I found I required a restorative before I could even consider the official tour. Thus, I can report that I heartily approve of the brownies served in the castle's café. The Irish share one of their most endearing culinary traits with the Austrians: a tendency toward serving warm desserts 'mit schlag', or with a good-sized blob of whipped cream.

Official tour next, we were shown the State Apartments and the Undercroft by the very knowledgeable and amusing Jennifer. Next year, the EU heads of state will all be meeting at Dublin Castle, in the rooms we've just gawked through. The intimate scale of the State Apartments should surely be conducive to productive meetings—my only question is, how much of the rest of the city will be overrun by their flunkeys and security staffs?

The Undercroft, left to the end of the tour, is particularly fascinating. Dug out at the foot of the Norman tower, you can see some of the tower's massive footings, and part of the original city wall, with an early-Gothic gateway that was later filled in.

Left again to our own devices, we explored the garden behind the castle. Built atop what used to be a black pool—dubh linn—for which the town is named, it was a bulge in the River Poddle, now flowing beneath the city. At one side of the main garden is a small sculpture garden, dedicated to those who have lost their lives keeping the peace.

Lovely floral plantings add to the air of peaceful contemplativeness—similar in intent to the chapel, but very different in execution, this was a garden in which I could happily spend some serious time. A hungry husband isn't conducive to contemplation, though.......

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