Sunday, 15 September 2013

Marino Casino


Stroke of genius. We set off for the airport early to take a detour around the Casino House, which Martine had wanted to visit for a while. I had no idea what it was until we arrived:

The Casino was designed by Sir William Chambers as a pleasure house for James Caulfeild, 1st Earl of Charlemont. It is one of the finest 18th Century neo-classical buildings in Europe. The Casino, meaning "small house", surprisingly contains 16 finely decorated rooms, endlessly rich in subtlety and design. It is a remarkable building - both in terms of structure and history.

It truly is a tardis. Outside, it looks like a monument. Inside, it's a beautiful house.

The urns are hidden chimneys.
Percy and Lion

Someone crocheted it a mane!

Everything in the house has meaning, from statues of Greek gods to the geometry of the floor. Above caught my attention: bull skulls. The day before, we drove past the back of The Custom House. Above the Custom House they have four bulls' heads, but full-flesh, rather than skulls.

Turns out the guy who designed The Custom House was the star pupil of the guy who designed the Casino. The skulls were a nod to the sacrifices of ancient Greece and the classical world, whereas the bulls were a nod the the rich beef exports of Ireland.


Oil cloths protect the floors, mirroring the colours and patterns below. They are made from woods from around the world: rosewood, pear wood, purple heart, mahogany, ebony, and one that's now extinct!



The door is deceptive. It looks unbelievably tall but it's a normal-sized door in a larger setting. It's made from grey oak to blend in with the stone.


When it was originally built, the sea was in further than it is now as they hadn't reclaimed the land. This view looked out across the coast, and then another lord bought the land in between. He had a row with James Caulfeild, who turned the road outside his property into a tole road so that he had to pay to get the building materials to his site. The second lord found a way around this by hiring a barge to transport the material across the bay. In retaliation, he built his house as tall and unsymmetrical as he could, to block Caulfeild's view and annoy him. It was known as Spite Crescent.

Caulfeild was himself an interesting character, having disappeared around the world for nine years, survived being poisoned by an Italian mistress, and marrying a local woman at the age of forty to prevent his brother inheriting his estate since he 'didn't like classical architecture' and threatened to change it.

Apollo in the Ceiling

Along with false windows on the outside that don't look into any rooms, the glass in the windows is curved to deflect sunlight. This makes it harder for people to see in, but also stops the sun's rays from fading the silk wallpaper at the back. We were amazed that they knew about this in the 1700s.

Our favourite room was the China Closet. It's the one room without an oil cloth, so you could see the real floor. It was designated the ladies' parlour, and reserved for entertaining Caulfeild's daughter-in-law and her friends. Anne Caulfield (nee Bermingham) was a celebrated artist and artists' muse of the era.

Hand-painted wallpaper.
Original Floor

Mice on the Stairs

Two chairs in the master bedroom.

Part of the original bed.

Plenty of Gold Leaf

A truly awesome end to my Dublin jaunt. Twisty, turny, hidden rooms and passages. I would never have thought to visit a casino. Thank you Martine!

Turning over a new leaf.
See you in Laos!


I need to pay homage to this chicken curry Ruairí made from scratch last night, and to this bowl of muesli and yogurt Maretine gave me for breakfast. I love these guys. It's never just food, it's more sort of a work of art...

Today was a day of attemptations. We attempted to do lots of things, some of which we achieved to some degree.

Actually, it was more of an afternoon. Ladies of leisure that we are, Martine and I didn't see daylight until midday.

Martine had heard about an air show happening over central Dublin, however I was less enthusiastic as it was blowing 60 mph outside and raining sideways.

We eventually settled on the Museum of Modern Art, which sits in a magnificent old hospital building with a grand courtyard.

(click to enlarge)

We walked straight in, marvelled at the extremely un-modern oil paintings of European kings and queens, and gazed upon the stained glass in the chapel before the care taker explained to us that the museum was closed, except for the café and gift shop downstairs. We weren't the only ones to have missed the non-existent signs explaining this, or to be pulled in by the smell of coffee and the opportunity to buy some rainbow coloured crayons... were we, Martine?

Passing the Liffey, we attempted to cross town at exactly the moment the air show finished, resulting in standstill traffic for about an hour. However, we did catch a couple of the final planes passing overhead.


Back of The Custom House

As we were heading out of town, Martine spotted this reflection, which I thought was rather cute.

Ruairí made a quick stop beside a dock to show us the boat he was named after! This used to be the ferry between the outer islands. When it was decommissioned it was moored in Dublin, and it's now rented out as housing.

Ruairí is Eanna Ruairí, and Eanna is the god of the Aran Islands, where his father's side of the family come from.

After town, we decided to attempt Johnny Fox's, a famous pub up in the hills (err, sorry Ruairí, 'mountains') of Dublin. It's more like a museum, with live folk music going on in the background. The problem is that it's so famous that tourists arrive by the busload, so we took a few pictures and went in search of somewhere quieter to eat.

Spitting Image Gerry Adams and Nelson Mandela!
This made news.

Toilet Door

The above reads:

This is a famine pot which was used to feed up to 800 people every day during the potato famine in Ireland between 1845-1848.

Famine pots and plague pits, the British Isles have seen some difficult times.

We attempted a couple of other pubs but they were all just as busy. Luckily, the last one we tried was right next to a superb Sichuan restaurant. The food was exceedingly scrummy: honey spare ribs, aromatic duck, duck in plumb sauce, garlic shredded pork, hot and sour soup, dumplings...

Plus a very important ingredient...

Let's not dissect the morality of talking about so much food after showing a picture of a famine pot.

It was a lovely, if somewhat random, day. We headed home to continue with the house clearance. Over the past decade or so, Ruairí has amassed an unusual collection of exotic spirits, some with names we can't even pronounce. As they're leaving, and nobody likes waste, it's important to re-home as much of this as we can - in our bellies.

Recognise that bottle of Waragi?

The one on the right was some delicious pear liquor.
The one on the left tasted of meths.
We did our best between us, finishing most of the gin, some whisky, the apricot liquor and most of the pear one. Then we proceeded to giggle our tits off until 2am.

A lovely, if slightly dangerous, way to spend my last night in Dublin.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Newgrange & Knowth

I almost died of excitement when Martine asked if I wanted to see Newgrange. It had been at the back of my mind, but I wasn't sure how far it was from where they live. Silly me, given the size of Ireland, everything is relatively close.

Today, we left Ruairí with football and beer and had a girl's day out. Martine drove us over there in Sunny, newly named for the fact it was such a perfect day: bright blue skies, warm sunshine and still winds.

It must be towards the end of the tourist season. Martine was worried there would be long queues, but there was hardly anyone there. We walked straight through and onto a bus.

Well, not quite. We stopped to admire the artwork on display in the Visitor's Centre. It was absolutely incredible but, although each piece had a title, it wasn't clear who the artist was. If anybody knows please drop me a line below.

There were intricate depictions of ancient sites, Irish legends (including The Children of Lir - my favourite, check out Michael Scott's retelling) and the four seasons. Truly stunning.

We also continued the theme of good food in the slightly pricey but deliciously well stocked café. I opted for chicken vol-au-vent with coleslaw and, um... fruit salad.

Meanwhile, Martine went for the healthy option...

There was enough cream to fill both our coffees, so life was most certainly decadent and good.

From there, you walk across a bridge to get to the buses.

Gorgeous Day

We went on both tours, starting with the bus to Knowth. I must admit, for a megolithomaniac, I hadn't done much reading on this place, and didn't know anything about it before I got there.

We had a brilliant guide, Mary, who was completely into her subject. I took so many photos of the site, so I'll try and narrow it down to some of the best, or most interesting. For more on my standing stone obsession, check out the Standing Stones tab on this blog, and my mate Paul's website: The Northern Antiquarian.

Knowth Panoramic
(click to enlarge)
One of several serpent stones.
My favourite rock art picture of the day.

This one above didn't come out very well because of the light, but it is fascinating. Unlike any of the others. Google Image 'knowth calendar stone' for a better view.

Image from National UFO Centre

Posts marking site of wood henge, predating settlement of site.

Quartz and granite eggs.
Reminds me of the lump of quartz at Dundurn (3rd pic down)
and the quartz on the saint's grave there.

Earth Boob

Below are two panoramics from the top of Knowth. You should be able to enlarge them by clicking on them.

Newgrange from Knowth
(that green bump in the middle)

This is taken from the top of Knowth, looking West. That hill in the centre just struck me. Prime location for a hill fort, perhaps? Mary, our guide, said that it was an oak wood, the ground covered in shamrock. Wish I'd had time to investigate.

Entrance Stone

The rock art at Knowth is absolutely incredible, try a Google Image search for 'knowth rock art' to see more. It's between four and five thousand years old, yet it's so well preserved that it is hard to believe it's even a few hundred years old.

Talking to an American at the gift shop afterwards, we both agreed that if you only had time to do one, Knowth would be the one to see, though everybody comes here for Newgrange. It's like Stonehenge and Avebury (or better yet, Castlerigg). You come to see the landmark, but miss the hidden treasure.

On finishing our tour of Knowth, we headed over to Newgrange. After Stonehenge, this is perhaps the best known prehistoric site in the British Isles, although it's the older of the two.

Panoramic of Newgrange
(click to enlarge)


The wall has been reconstructed using the original materials found at the site.

Some more panoramics, click to enlarge:

Newgrange from the Back
Not so much funky art here, but one particularly impressive owl stone, and an incredible entrance stone.

Daud and Percy were certainly impressed.

You can't take photographs inside Newgrange, but luckily someone else has taken one of the ceiling, so I've nicked theirs. It's impressive because it's the original, undisturbed ceiling and central capstone, which has been standing for up to five thousand years!

There are some incredible carvings in there, including the famous triskele, and a couple of large bowls, possibly for death rites, birthing or offerings - probably all of the above.

The guide turned out the lights in the chamber and used a single bulb to recreate the effect of the sun illuminating the chamber on Winter Solstice. It was really impressive. When you enter the door behind the entrance stone (pictured above), you go uphill along the corridor, although it doesn't feel as though you are. By the time you get to the centre, you're level with the window above the door, and perfectly aligned with the winter sun, which lights up the chamber for seventeen minutes each year before plunging it back into darkness.

There's a lottery you can enter to win an invitation to the site at Solstice. It's open to everyone, so long as you can get there on the day.

Wonderful place.

Not entirely sure what this is, but it's in the field beside Newgrange. Someone has suggested it might be a smaller reconstruction?

There were also some unexcavated  tombs over the road, which reminded me of Kilmartin.

Nice closing touch as you returned to the Visitor's Centre. Someone had drawn the outline of the owl stone and everyone stuck their used stickers to it. Colourful and creative.