“I dread a sunny day, so I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates. Keats and Yeats are on your side.” – The Smiths (Cemetery Gates)
It’s a bit of a stereotype but yes, most goths appreciate cemeteries and ancient architecture of all sorts. There’s something timeless in these places that speak to our souls. So it was that recently, I found myself coming from college on a sunny spring day with time on my hands. Seeing the towering Gothic spire of St Patrick’s Cathedral ahead, I decided to take shelter from the big bright eye in the sky within its hallowed walls.
Entry to the cathedral is through the side door, and for a small fee (Five euros for a student ticket), you are free to explore the interior for as long as you wish. A friendly guide will give you a visitor leaflet in the appropriate language and, if you really want the full tourist experience, a guided tour runs twice a day.
For myself, I prefer to take everything in at my own pace so I happily wandered around, drinking in the distilled history that seems to seep right out of the stones.
St Patrick’s cathedral is built in a classic cruciform shape, with a long nave, soaring arched ceiling and glorious stained-glass windows filtering the sunlight into the quiet interior. It’s refreshing to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life for a little while and appreciate the solace of this hallowed place.
As if the beauty of the building itself isn’t enough, the cathedral is stuffed with a huge assortment of monuments to the great and good of past centuries. The harpist, Carolan (the Stevie Wonder of his era), Johnathan Swift, Dean of the cathedral and author of Gulliver’s Travels’, along with various other scholars, lawyers and philanthropists.
The cathedral is also the repository of memorials to those who have fallen in past wars. Tattered flags, marble plaques and statuary all pay tribute to those who gave their lives in service. One can’t help but feel humbled in their presence. Most poignant, is the ‘Lives Remembered’ exhibition which explores the cathedral’s connection to World War One. It’s an exhibition recounting the effect the war had on the parishioners of the cathedral, remembering those who went off to defend their country but never returned home. A must-see is the Tree of Remembrance. A sculpture of a barren tree surrounded by barbed wire. Visitors can take a paper leaf from one of the bowls provided around the sculpture and write the name of a loved one or ancestor involved in or affected by the conflict. These leaves are deposited on the ground at the bottom of the tree. My great-grandfather, a lance corporal in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, died on the first day of The Somme. His name joined the others beneath the tree and I stood silent for a moment, remembering a man I’d never met but who had given his life for his country.
Moving on, I took in the altar with its surround of rainbow-coloured stained-glass windows, the enclosed choir (sadly, not open to the public) and an exhibition all about the building of the cathedral. Ancient statues of St Patrick rub shoulders with a bell cast to commemorate the coming of the Huguenots to Ireland. A selection of artefacts belonging to St Patrick’s most famous Dean, Johnathan Swift, are on show (including his death mask!) and of course, there’s the ubiquitous gift shop.
Outside the Cathedral, you can view various monuments to the dead buried in the grounds, including one Benjamin Lee Guinness. You might have heard of him, his grandfather started a little brewing business just up the road.
On the other side, is St Patrick’s park, a public park adjoining the cathedral where you can take a breather and digest all that history.
Dublin is most fortunate in that it has not one, but two Cathedrals. So if you’re thirsty for more, stroll on up Nicholas Street and check out Christchurch, home of Strongbow’s bones.
If you’re simply thirsty, hit the pub. 😉