Monday, October 10, 2016

A crash course in recent Irish history

Not so long ago I read an article about how more and more people add to their travels destinations mandatory stops at places that tell a dark-side of human history. Places like Auschwitz or even Chernobyl. A mix of dark curiosity and a want to better understand the good and bad of other cultures (past or present).

We felt that ourselves when we visited Prison 21 in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. Even after knowing most of the Khmer Rouge history, it was a shocking, intense and moving experience. Especially as it was as recent as it was.

This weekend we came to Dublin. I came here 7 years ago in what was one of the first times I travelled alone. I came for a conference in Maynooth and decided to stay for an extra day in Dublin just for some unplanned walk-arounds. Since then the changes in the city are notorious. And this time we actually planned ahead and investigated places where we would like to go to. Advised by an Irish friend that has lived in Dublin, we booked a tour in the Kilmainham Gaol Museum (i.e. Kilmainham prison). A famous place that, amongst other things, had a relevant role in the recent history and independence process of Ireland herself (we also learned Ireland is a she :)).

Coming in I was not really sure of what to expect. But what we experienced, surpassed my expectations.

First, it was the crash course on the story of the birth of Ireland as an independent state, a story of resistance and political persecution, with all the blood and sacrifice behind it.

The hearing room
Waiting f or the tour
The old West wing section
"Beware of the risen people"
The flag of Ireland in the yard where many prisoners of war were shot to death

Then, the building itself, in particular the newest part - the East wing - is quite incredible. Being such an impressive place and no longer in use (it was closed in 1924 as it was attached to so many bad memories) it has been used as the set of numerous movies such as "In the Name of the Father" or the "Italian Job" (the old one).

The West wing
The East wing
An image from the "Italian Job"

And finally, our tour guide. As Andre called him, a true story teller that let his powerful words reverberate in the air, and his stories sink in along with the images they created in our mind. And every time he told us "You can walk around, take pictures and explore before we move on. Please meet me by that gate/door" he actually meant "You have the time that it takes me to slowly reach that gate/door to do whatever" - this was about 30 seconds in total!

Our storyteller/guide
I don't know if it was solely the advise from my friend that convinced us, or if the above mentioned morbid curiosity for the darkest moments of a country's history helped. But coming out of it, it was the sensation of being richer with the knowledge of all the events that happened between these walls and outside of them that made this such an extraordinary experience. Thanks CS for the tip :)

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