The ‘Dead Zoo’ – A Tourist in My Own City

Not long ago, we paid a visit to the Natural History Museum of Ireland which is known colloquially as ‘The Dead Zoo’!

The Natural History Museum AKA The Dead Zoo

“The Natural History building was built in 1856 to house the Royal Dublin Society’s growing collections, which had expanded continually since the late 18th Century.

The building is a ‘cabinet-style’ museum designed to showcase a wide-ranging and comprehensive zoological collection, and has changed little in over a century. Often described as a ‘museum of a museum’, its 10,000 exhibits provide a glimpse of the natural world that has delighted generations of visitors since the doors opened in 1857.”

Taken from Natural History Museum, Ireland

Stuffed Badger at The Dead ZooI remember going to this place as a child. I was filled with a confusing mix of excitement and dread. On the one hand, the museum appealed to my great love for animals. I was always fascinated to see the stuffed foxes and badgers, as well as the more exotic animals like the snow leopards and giraffes.

However, the skeleton of the giant elk loomed ominously in the entranceway, giving me a thrill of fear. And the scariest exhibit of all was the full-sized basking shark that hung from the ceiling. I would keep my eyes firmly to the floor and a tight grip on my Daddy’s hand as I skirted around the edge of that section of exhibits .

Stuffed Lion cub at The Dead ZooOur recent visit was filled with delicious nostalgia.  Not everything was how I remembered it, but the giant elk still stands majestically just inside the entrance. And of course, my nemesis, the basking shark remains suspended from the ceiling. Even now, all these years later, I still couldn’t bring myself to walk under it!

I would love to hear about your favourite childhood outings. Have you revisited those places as an adult?

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Russborough House and Hedge Maze – Staycation Ireland

Russborough House is a magnificent stately home situated in County Wicklow, Ireland.  It is one of those places that I have heard a lot about and even driven past many times, but had never visited.

Russborough House from russborough.ie

Russborough is a stunning Palladian mansion overlooking some of the most impressive views in Ireland. Designed in 1741 by Richard Cassels, it took 10 years to build what has been described as “one of the most beautiful houses in Ireland”. (Bruce Arnold, The Irish Times, 1997) With the Wicklow mountains and Blessington lakes just a stone’s throw away the setting is idyllic.

Sir Alfred and Lady Beit bought Russborough in 1952 to house their impressive art collection. They left this historic mansion, its collections and their fascinating life story to the Irish public in 1978.”

Taken from russborough.ie

We had been planning to go back to Powerscourt Estate without the dogs, so we could tour the house and gardens. I was googling the opening times and one of the hits that came up was Russborough House, which is closer than Powerscourt and has the added bonus of a hedge maze! Being the big kids that we are, the hedge maze was the clincher!

Unfortunately, photography wasn’t permitted inside the house, so you will have to make do with a bunch of shots of us in the hedge maze ‘acting the maggot’ (which is irish slang for messing around!).

The Hedge Maze

Wandering around the Hedge Maze

Having fun in the Maze

Mr Fluffytufts

A Tourist in My Own City – Blessington Street Basin

Blessington Street Basin is a secret garden right in the heart of Dublin City.  Despite having been born and raised in the city, I did not discover this hidden gem until we rented a house in the area.

Blessington Street Basin

This park is unusual as it is almost entirely made of water!  There is a path around the basin dotted with benches and lined with beautiful raised flower beds. It was renovated throughout 93/94, and officially opened to the public in November 1994.

There is a man-made island in the centre of the reservoir, and this has become an unofficial bird sanctuary.  In the summer months, you may be greeted with the peculiar sight of large hay bales floating in the water.  According to the park warden, they prevent the water from stagnating and keep the environment fresh and clean for the wildlife.

The basin has had a diverse history. It was built in 1803 and served as a reservoir for the city of Dublin.  When the Vartry Reservoir system was completed in the 1860’s, the water from the Blessington Street Basin was no longer needed for the city.  Instead, the water was used to supply the distilleries of Jameson and Powers.

Blessington Basin is an oasis of calm in the centre of a bustling metropolitan city.  It is situated just ten minutes walk from the Spire of Dublin.  It connects to the Royal Canal Linear Park, which in turn connects to walkway along the Grand Canal.  While in the area, you could also visit St Michan’s Church (which is famous for it’s mummies) and King’s Inn.

View of St Peter's Church from Blessington Basin

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A Tourist in My Own City – The Mummies of St Michan’s Church

St Michan's Church by ValbyDKSt Michan’s Church was founded in 1095 by Dutch colonists.  For 500 years, it was the only parish in Dublin that was north of the River Liffey. The present building dates from around 1685 and was designed by Sir William Robinson (Ireland’s Surveyor General 1670-1700).

Inside the church is a magnificent organ dating from 1724.  It is one of the oldest working organs in Ireland.  It is also believed to have been the organ that Handel used whilst he was composing his ‘Messiah’.

The most interesting feature of St Michan’s Church lies beneath the ground in the crypt.  The vaults are accessed by narrow stone stairway.  These stairways are steep and there are no handrails, so unfortunately the tour is not suitable for people with limited mobility. The vault tunnels are lined with limestone and mortar. There are large rooms off the tunnels that contain the coffins of many of Ireland’s historical figures.  These coffins are stacked on top of each other, and over time a number of the coffins have burst open to reveal that the bodies inside have been naturally mummified!

The Crypt at St Michan's by Chris Halton

Experts are unsure as to what exactly caused the bodies in these particular vaults to mummify.  Our tour guide explained that it was likely to be a combination of a number of factors:

  • high concentration of lime
  • dry atmosphere
  • high methane levels
  • the vaults lie low and are near to the bed of the River Liffey

There are a number of mummies on display including a 400 year-old nun, a reformed thief and ‘The Crusader’ – a giant of a man whose legs had to be broken in order to fit him in to the coffin.  Legend has it, that “shaking the hand of The Crusader” will bring you good fortune and luck. I have done this tour a number of times and only recently finally plucked up the courage to shake his hand.  It was a very macabre experience as The Crusader’s spine and internal organs are partially visible. The hand itself felt wooden and was dry and dusty. I can’t say that I noticed any change in my fortunes, but I am glad that I had the courage to do it!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, so these photos are not my own.

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Spring has Sprung (In Ireland Anyway!)

DaffodilsYesterday was the 1st of February.  Not exactly an important date around the globe, but here in Ireland it marked the first day of Spring.

It was only very recently that I found out that Ireland is the only country in which Spring begins in February! I made the discovery while working as a teacher for children who had English as an Additional Language.  Most of these children were born in Ireland, but their families hailed from many countries across the globe.

While teaching months and season, the children were quick to ‘correct’ me!  They thought it was hilarious that, in their eyes, the teacher didn’t know the months of each season.  It happened enough times that I went online to check and lo-and-behold discovered this:

“In terms of complete months, in most North Temperate Zone locations, spring months are March, April and May… …In Ireland spring traditionally starts on 1 February, St Brigid’s Day.”  [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_(season)]

The Celtic/Gaelic Calendar

It would seem that Ireland’s traditions are firmly rooted in the ancient Celtic calendar.  There are eight highlights of this calendar: Yule (Winter Solstice), Litha (Summer Solstice), Ostara (Spring Equinox), Mabon (Autum Equinox) and the four ‘quarter-days’ Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain (marking the points between the Solstices and the Equinoxes).

Celtic Wheel Calendar

St Brigid’s Day/Imbolc

St Brigid’s Day (or Imbolc) marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.   It is an Irish festival celebrating the beginning of spring and the returning of the light.  Children in primary schools all over the country make St Brigid’s crosses out of reeds or rushes.  According to tradition, a new cross should be made for the household each year.

Here is an Irish Traditional Blessing that honours St. Brigid’s Day:

“May Brigid bless the house where you dwell, 
every fireside door and every wall;
every heart that beats beneath its roof,
every hand that toils to bring it joy, 
every foot that walks its portals through. 
may Brigid bless the house that shelters you.”

More Information

I have only scratched the surface, but if you would like to know more, I have come across some interesting sites that go into greater detail!

The Real Celtic Spring: The Festival of St Brigid

The Light Returns…Imbolc

The Festival of Imbolc and St Brigid

The Religious Foundation of Groundhog Day

How to make a St Brigid’s Cross

A Tourist in my Own City – Part Two: National Botanic Gardens

After our visit to Glasnevin Cemetery, we continued on to the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland.  They were founded in 1795 and are now home to 20,000 living plants. The gardens act as a type of ‘Noah’s Ark’ for plants. Over 300 endangered plant species are housed here, including 6 that are already extinct in the wild.

We spent a peaceful hour or two wandering through the various Victorian glasshouses.  I had fun playing around with my new camera (my Christmas gift from Mr. Fluffy Tufts)!

Here are a few of my favourite images:

Leaf

Cactus

Jungle in a Glasshouse

Wooden Owl

Terracotta Display

A Tourist in my own City – Part One: Glasnevin Cemetery

Yesterday, myself and Mr. Fluffy Tufts decided to play at being tourists in our own city! Unfortunately, Dublin is not very dog-friendly so that meant the four-legged creatures had to stay at home.  They enjoyed a morning walk and by the time we left, The Lads were snoozing on the couch in the living room.  Shelli likes to potter around the rest of the house, and can usually be found curled up at the end of our bed.

Glasnevin Cemetery

It seemed a bit morbid to think of a cemetery as a tourist attraction, but I had heard that there’s a very interesting visitor’s centre, so we thought we’d check it out.  On arrival, we chose the option of a walking tour and entrance to the Glasnevin Museum for 10 euro.  There is a walking tour with a real-life guide once daily at 2.30pm or alternatively, you can take a self-guided mp3 tour.

Glasnevin Cemetery was opened in 1832 and is the final resting place for 1.5 million people.  Sadly, we learned that over 700,000 of these were buried in unmarked pauper’s graves.

Watchtower built in 1842 to prevent body-snatching from Glasnevin CemeteryWe set off with our mp3 guide.  The tour was interesting and informative, however, the map wasn’t very clear, so at times we found ourselves searching in vain for the graves being described!

Highlights of the tour for us was seeing the very first grave at the cemetery and hearing about the grave-robbers who attempted to steal freshly buried corpses for anatomical use at medical schools.

At one time, grave-robbing was so prolific at the cemetery that a watchtower was built.

Watchtower at Glasnevin CemeteryArmed guards were instructed to shoot any potential ressurectionists!  Ironically, the bodies of those shot were more than likely sold to the very medical research facilities that they had been stealing corpses for in the first place!

Many of the older graves have sunk and their headstones have become damaged and displaced.  There is an extensive project taking place with the view to restoring these to their original state.

Whilst we were suitably impressed with the walking tour, we found the museum itself to be quite disappointing.  It was laid out well but almost all the information had already been given to us on the walking tour.

We did enjoy reading about the different customs and beliefs surrounding death and the after-life.  There was also a display of artefacts belonging to some of the people buried at the cemetery.

The museum only took about fifteen minutes to work through and we would have been very disappointed had we not also chosen to take the walking tour.

I do think that Glasnevin Cemetery is worth a visit (we certainly enjoyed our few hours there), though I would probably advise that visitors just take the walking tour.  More information can be found here: Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum

Check back tomorrow for Part Two of this post which will be about the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland.