In the fall of 2017, I was privileged to spend 10 days in Dublin. I arrived a few days prior to my speaking engagement at Genetic Genealogy Ireland and planned to spend 4 days seeing Ireland, the home of my ancestors. Aside from losing a day to Hurricane Ophelia, I managed to stay on schedule, at least somewhat, with my preplanned tour schedule with my trusty tour guide, Brian O’Reilly.
Because of Hurricane Ophelia, no place, literally, was open on Monday and Tuesday was iffy and very wet. A hurricane is not a storm that ends shortly, but peters out as it moves on, which can take days. A few days later, the remains of Hurricane Brian (not to be confused with tour guide Brian) arrived too, but it was more like a normal (very) windy storm.
Therefore, I spent more time in Dublin itself than I had anticipated since a 12 hour roundtrip drive to either the Cliffs of Moher or the Giant’s Causeway didn’t seem terribly attractive in that weather.
Following the Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference, I spent another day in Dublin with a group of ISOGG volunteers and speakers. These are the folks who make this conference happen.
On our Monday ISOGG “day out”, among other places, we visited Trinity College at the University of Dublin including the Book of Kells and Dr. Dan Bradley’s ancient DNA lab before moving on to UCD (University College Dublin) where we visited a second ancient DNA facility, enjoying both tours and lectures .
I am combining these various adventures scattered over several days into one article.
I don’t know of any specific ancestors that lived in or near Dublin, but Dublin is a medieval city, established officially in 988, with humans having inhabited the area since before 140 AD when Ptolemy provided what is believed to be the earliest reference to a settlement where Dublin would one day be located.
In 841, the Vikings invaded followed by the Norman invasion of 1169, so needless to say, Dublin is a mixture of people that arrived from elsewhere.
Even the “native Irish” were a mixture beginning with Neolithic hunter-gatherers that settled and built the massive passage mounds more than 5000 years ago. Their descendants would have assimilated later with Celts who arrived about 500 BC as well as Anglo-Saxons who announced their arrival with a raid in 684 AD.
Dublin was the center of commerce and trade for eastern Ireland. If your ancestors lived anyplace in the area, they may well have traded here or transacted other kinds of business. One way or another, what happened in Dublin affected all of Ireland.
Ireland isn’t a large island. At its widest point, it’s 174 miles wide, 302 miles north to south and roughly equivalent to the size of the state of Indiana.
The Irish have a very different perspective of distance than people from the US.
Ireland may be small, but they have a rich and sometimes violent history – which makes genealogy research both enthralling and challenging. They also have some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, not to mention historical sites.
To preserve their heritage, Ireland has established the National Museum, which is actually a series of free museums, including The Museum of Archaeology where I discovered several archaeological and historical treasures.
The National Museum is chocked full of wonderful items from throughout Ireland’s history.
The front of the this carved flint mace head looks eerily like a face.
The side of the mace head had beautiful spirals, echoing the many spirals carved into the rocks at both Knowth and New Grange.
The bog bodies are in an incredible state of preservation, including hair. Much of Ireland, meaning the part not mountainous, is boggy.
Old Crogham Man’s leather armband survived.
This individual is nearly complete.
Unfortunately, DNA has not been able to be recovered from the bog bodies due to the conditions in the bog.
The Tara Brooch, in an incredible state of preservation, was found on a beach by schoolchildren and is believed by some, due to its incredible artistry, to have belonged to the High Kings of Ireland.
Just the day prior, I visited Tara, so finding the brooch in the museum was icing on the cake.
I enjoyed visiting Dublina, a recreated medieval village of Dublin adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral. This exhibit would be excellent for children, complete with an archaeology lab and re-enactors demonstrating various parts of medieval life.
The information at Dublina and at the National Museum is duplicated somewhat, but presented differently. I actually preferred the Dublina approach, as the display cards in the Museum were wall-mounted with small print, not displayed in the cases with the artifacts, so the overall experience in Dublina was more enjoyable. Of course, the National Museum has most of the national treasures. Two unique places, both worth a visit.
In 841, the Vikings invaded Dublin, adding their DNA to the Celts and the original Neolithic people who had already settled in Ireland millennia before.
Can you write your name in the runic language?
I cheated and you can too, at this PBS link.
Vikings both owned and sold slaves, which might explain how Viking mitochondrial DNA came to be found in the British Isles.
Even the Vikings were concerned about toilet paper. Maybe it’s in their DNA, given Dublin’s fascination with toilet paper. You’ll see what I mean later!
In medieval Dublin, life was often short, with an average life expectancy of only 30 years. As you might imagine, sanitation in cities was problematic.
No trip to Dublin is complete without a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, a very popular tourist attraction. This wasn’t my favorite, but I can see why it is for many people.
While the Guinness Storehouse is now a museum, of sorts, Guinness brewing continues among a series of interconnected buildings. The Guinness family owns most of this portion of Dublin and has a 9000 year lease, issued in 1759 to Arthur Guinness who then established the brewery at St. James Gate. And no, that’s not a typo – it’s really 9000.
The Guinness Storehouse tour is self-guided, taking you through the history of beer-making in general, and of Guinness in particular.
I didn’t know that the word beer originated in the Anglo-Saxon language.
Nor had I ever seen hops before. In one area, the flavors in the beer are discussed and you can sniff each one, before tasting the Guinness itself. I always enjoy the science portions of tours.
The best part of the Guinness Storehouse is the top floor Gravity Bar with a panoramic view of all of Dublin where you’re also served a…wait for it…a Guinness. It wasn’t crowded when I visited, but be aware that the lines are often long and the top floor is glassed in and VERY HOT in the summer. Air conditioning is uncommon in Ireland.
The panoramic view is absolutely amazing.
The Wicklow Mountains are the source for the water used to brew Guinness.
If you thought that potatoes were the staple food of Ireland, it’s not. It’s really soda bread, which is served with just about everything. You can always find soda bread along with tea. Sometimes soda bread, “just like grandma used to make,” is enjoyed with nothing, sometimes with butter and often with butter and some kind of jam.
Soda bread and tea just make everything better. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself.
Dublin is the city of colorful doors.
Because much of Dublin is historic in nature, owners can change very little of the outside façade, but they can customize their door color, and they do.
When you don’t have a large canvas, you have to be creative in a small space.
There’s an entire store devoted to door jewelry.
Door of the home of the Guinness family, founders of the Guinness empire.
Dubliners tell you about their doors, and stop so you can see either outstanding or remarkable doors, or the doors of the houses of famous people.
Dublin is also a city of pubs.
Pubs are generally neighborhood establishments, local places, where people gather to eat, drink and socialize. After all, these people are Irish.
My flight arrived at 9 in the morning, on Sunday, and the hotel couldn’t get me into a room for another 6 hours. What was I to do? Take the hop-on-hop-off tour, of course. These tours are fun. You can stay on the bus and listen to the guide, get off and back onto a later bus, or whatever combination suits your fancy.
As luck would have it, the bus stayed in the starting location for about 40 minutes, parked immediately outside of a pub, Madigans. I know. I know. What luck.
I was hungry and needed to find a restroom, so I decided to have bowl of soup. With soda bread, of course.
Hence, I was introduced to the Irish pub in the nicest of ways. My only regret was that I wasn’t able to return for the traditional Irish music or the Irish step dancing at the Arlington Hotel, recommended by Brian.
Pubs are literally everyplace, on every corner, and often in-between too.
Think you might want to drive in Ireland? Think again! Look at those road signs. Merges, roundabouts and unusual traffic patterns are everyplace. And remember, the cars are coming from the opposite direction you expect when crossing the street.
If you can make it across the street, there’s a pub on the corner where you can take refuge!
Another historic pub that’s also a B&B, the Ferryman. If crossing the street is dangerous sober, think about it with a couple Guinness under your belt. Aye, better to stay in the pub or at the B&B!!!
Pub grub is the best.
The food in every pub is unique and I failed miserably in my attempts to sample it all!
Some pubs are named after owners, former owners or something in the neighborhood. This pub, The Horse Show House, is located across from the Royal Dublin Society, an area devoted to rugby.
This small village pub in the Wicklow Mountains was extremely unique with its painted ceiling.
And then, some pubs are portable.
I so wanted to ask, but then…perhaps some things are best left unknown!
Dubliners are obsessed with toilet paper. Seriously. Remember the Vikings and their moss – I think that trait has descended to the current day population.
In particular, Dubliners are obsessed with getting a good price on toilet paper – to the point that there are pop-up toilet paper markets along the street and on corners. Thankfully I had Brian to explain this phenomenon to me, because I would have never figured it out otherwise.
Brian says that a Dubliner will save $5 on toilet paper and then go the pub and spend $100 the same night bragging about what a good deal he got on toilet paper. We saw a man carrying a large package of TP on his shoulder into the bar across the street. I kid you not.
I love experiencing the culture of different places. I mean, I can hear the negotiations now.
“But that’s only one ply and me fingers break through…”
“Well, yes, I could give it for Christmas, but only for half the price of the Charmin over there….”
Old, new, large or small, Dublin has them all. Like all early settlements, Dublin was founded on a river which continues to be the city center. I was lucky to be graced with a beautiful rainbow as we crossed this bridge.
Even the older bridges are beautiful, but one of Dublin’s bridges is famous and shaped like a harp.
The harp is the much beloved national emblem of Ireland. The Brian Boru harp, having nothing to do with Brian Boru, bearing the O’Neill coat of arms and dating from the 14th or 15th century is displayed in the Long Room at Trinity College.
In 2009, a harp shaped bridge was designed for central Dublin in honor of Irish writer and poet, Samuel Beckett. Along with the contemporary design came unwelcome traffic restrictions which inspired an unpublishable Irish ditty about the bridge and inconvenience introduced by the bridge in a high-traffic and already congested area. Let’s just say that some of the words rhyme with Beckett and in Ireland, words are pronounced differently. For example, an equivalent sounding word for Beckett in the US would be Buckett.
You can view the bridge opening ceremony in 2014 in this You Tube video as water through firehoses “plays” the bridge cables like harp strings. It’s truly amazing and probably one of the most unique bridges on the planet.
Through the harp bridge, you can see Dublin’s new conference center which looks like it’s a bit tipsy and had one too many Guinnesses – a fate that has befallen more than one Irishman!
Royal Dublin Society
Genetic Genealogy Ireland was held at the Royal Dublin Society, known as the RDS, for three full days.
The schedule was chocked full of great speakers. The sessions were live streamed and can be seen in the Facebook group, Genetic Genealogy Ireland. The sessions, except for a couple that can’t be posted pending the publication of a paper, will all be available on Genetic Genealogy Ireland’s YouTube channel thanks to Maurice Gleeson. In the meantime, you can watch the sessions from the last 4 years. What a wonderful resource.
ISOGG volunteer, Emily Aulicino, at left, assists a visitor with which Family Tree DNA tests would be best to purchase for which relatives. Emily also had her book, Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond available for purchase.
My two presentations went very well, even with a challenging environment in terms of the acoustics in the facility.
If you’re a member of the Facebook group, Genetic Genealogy Ireland, you can see Autosomal Tips and Tools at Family Tree DNA and the second presentation, Autosomal DNA Through the Generations – but I’d actually suggest that you might want to wait until the Genetic Genealogy Ireland YouTube videos are released, because the audio will be better – or I surely hope so.
However, I just have to share something fun with you. This is me, just before my session, Autosomal DNA Through the Generations, where I compare the DNA of my granddaughters through three ancestral generations – including 3 of 4 grandparents and one great-grandparent. (Very big thank you to my family and my daughter-in-law’s family!)
Do you spot anything remarkable? Hint – the dress. Now do you see it? If not, I’ll have an upcoming lighthearted article. Yes, yes, I know I’m very much a geek at heart!
Let’s take a quick look at a couple slides from other presentations that I found quite interesting. As you probably know, I’m fascinated by ancient DNA, and we were extremely fortunate to have two presentations by scientists who work with ancient DNA in the lab.
I particularly enjoyed the ancient DNA presentations. Here, Dr. Eppie Jones from Cambridge University and Trinity College discusses Ancient DNA and the Genetic History of Europeans.
Dr. Dan Bradley from Trinity discussing Prehistoric Genomics at the Atlantic Edge.
You can see a few more photos of Genetic Genealogy Ireland, courtesy of Gerard Corceran, at this link.
I was so looking forward to visiting both Trinity College and UCD, including the genetics labs, so let’s go!!!
Trinity College, University of Dublin
One of the highlights of my visit was Trinity College, founded in 1592, and in particular, the ancient DNA lab. The wooden gate, above, opens into the plaza, below.
First, we had a delightful tour of the University of Dublin campus by this delightful philosophy professor, Joseph O. Gorman, sporting a charming green waistcoat making him appear something of a leprechaun.
If Joseph Gorman had been my prof, I might have paid more attention. He was excellent, a font of knowledge with a way of making everything interesting.
Here, the group of volunteers and speakers gathers, listening in rapt attention in the plaza inside the college gates. The wooden doored gate through which we entered is in the background, just to the left of professor Gorman’s head. The various college buildings on the campus are entirely inside the area walled by buildings and surround the plaza, an area once the location of the Priory of All Hallows where monks resided.
Come on, let’s walk around the campus!
If it’s called a buttery, it can’t be bad. I love campuses with history!
The Trinity campus is just beautiful, with gardens polka dotted from place to place like living jewels.
Along with old trees growing in what was the cemetery from the monastery originally located here.
I could hardly wait to see the Book of Kells, created about 800 AD and eventually stored in the monastery in Kells, not far from Dublin and from where the book received its name, up close and personal.
Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed, although I certainly understand why.
On the second floor, above the Book of Kells exhibit on the main floor, we find is the infamous Trinity Library Long Room. I don’t think I’ve ever been in such an incredibly beautiful library.
In the library long room, this beautiful spiral staircase is still in use.
This amazing room is full of artifacts as well, some of them books, some busts and just this incredible room itself. Just look at that ceiling!
Taken from across the green, the old Trinity Library building is actually very long, unheated and uncooled. Translated, it is very hot and very cold, depending on the time of year. The actual “long room” is on the second floor, with the Book of Kells exhibit on the bottom floor.
Past more gardens and on to the Smurfit Institute of Genetics.
Yes, I think this building should be blue!
Of course. Whoever thought we’d come so far from pea pods in 1866 to the discovery of DNA in 1953 and on to the human genome being sequenced in 2003. And today, we visit the ancient DNA lab.
We didn’t get any closer than the hallway. They aren’t being rude. Contamination is the bane of genetics, and especially ancient genetic extraction when samples are already contaminated and scientists have so little to work with in the first place.
However, we could peek in.
I think this is the neatest lab I’ve ever seen.
Irish humor is everyplace.
Ok, I can’t leave my trolley in the plants, but you didn’t say anything about my mops.
Not the ancient DNA lab where chances are few and mistakes are catastrophic, but geneticists in training in a more traditional lab.
James Watson, greeting students every day at the top of the stairs. Just think, this field is new enough that I bet Dr. Bradley knows James Watson.
Dr. Dan Bradley explaining how genetic research was done with gel plates when he first began. I think these are antiques now!
Dan explaining the discovery that the Petrous bone in the skull contains by far the best preserved DNA in ancient specimens. This groundbreaking research came out of this lab. The skull that Dr. Bradley is holding is a plastic model, not a real skull.
Here, a bovine Petrous bone with Dr. Bradley in the background.
Dr. Eppie Jones, the face of the future in genetics. All I can say is that I hope bright young women stay in STEM focused education and sit up and take notice of Eppie’s accomplishments!
On the way from Trinity to UCD (University College Dublin), we passed this wall art. DNA is finally mainstream.
You can view additional photos of Trinity, courtesy Gerard Corcoran, here.
University College Dublin (UCD)
UCD has an ancient genetics lab too.
The ancient DNA lab is vacant today.
We were treated to a presentation about the analysis of DNA, ancient and otherwise. With the advances in both DNA extraction and the analysis of those results, the science of genetics has now morphed into two segments, the actual technical part of the extraction and processing, and the subsequent analysis.
The Insight Center for Data Analytics specializes in the analysis process.
Now that we have the ability to gather huge amounts of genetic information, what can we do with the data, how we advance science and at the same time, make the results understandable?
In the genetics lab at UCD.
New, super fast, super expensive sequencing machine.
Dr. Sean Ennis with the Genomics Medicine Ireland project discussing the Irish Genome initiative. How are the Irish alike and different from others? What defines the Irish, genetically?
The Irish are 95% lactose tolerant, reaching nearly 100% in Western Ireland.
What more can we learn in the future? The project is undertaking sampling DNA of the Irish who have a disease and those who are healthy as well.
Genetic pathways, art in the UCD genetics building.
You can view additional (lovely) photos of UCD at this link, courtesy of Gerard Corcoran who arranged the day’s festivities.
The Irish Folklore Collection
While UCD is a tremendously modern research facility, that’s not all it has to offer. The library hosts the Irish Folklore Collection which has recently undertaken to digitize oral histories recorded in the 1930s, which reach back into the mid 1800s.
At this link, you can search the catalog by name, surname, location or keyword.
You can search by surname here as well.
In the schools collection, you can search by surname or location. It would be worth looking to see where your ancestral surname is found in the early 1900s because the same family may be found in the same location much earlier.
Our day ended at a Chinese restaurant where the walls were literally tiles with quarter inch tiles, arranged in the shape of flowers.
This entire restaurant was tiled in this manner. Absolutely amazing!
And since we’re on the subject of art, let’s visit take a side trip!
Quilts, the Universal Language
When possible, I always try to find a quilt shop. Brian and I found 4 in or near Dublin. Two were closed, one was relatively small, although I did find a souvenir fabric, but the last shop, Apple Tree Crafts, held two beautiful quilts.
These stylized trees are each hand embroidered – putting thread to fabric in the creation of art.
Of course, these poppies spoke to me and said, “Take me home,” so I did! Not the whole quilt, just the poppy fabric.
If you’re looking for quilt shops in Ireland, check out this link from the Quilter’s Guild of Ireland and always, always call ahead.
Around the corner from the quilt shop, we found a florist decorated for halloween.
I guess it’s evident that Ireland celebrates Halloween too.
Bye to Dublin
Dublin is a wonderful city. I barely scratched the surface in my 10 days. Of course, I was distracted by the conference and the hurricane. Minor details.
I never realized before my visit how genuinely nice and helpful the Irish are. The language is delightful, both Gaelic and English with that wonderful brogue. I can hear some of that brogue in Appalachia where so many Scots-Irish were transplanted.
The Irish have a wonderful and charming sense of humor as well as being very difficult to upset. They have a permanent lemonade out of lemons attitude. Or more specifically, a trip to the local pub can fix anything, along with Guinness, soda bread and some cheap toilet paper.
How does life get better?