“Being born in a stable does not make one a horse”.
Arthur Wellesley (better known as 1st Duke of Wellington), a prominent English politician and a military commander renowned - among other things - for his role in defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, was born in Dublin, Ireland. Judging by the above quotation, Wellesley was not exactly happy about or proud of his birthplace.
Jonathan Swift, a scholar who served 32 years as Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, and a famous writer who penned “Gulliver's Travels”, sounded even more bitter, if less rude, when it came to his native country: “I reckon, no man is thoroughly miserable, unless he is condemned to live in Ireland”.
James Joyce - arguably Ireland's most famous and most enigmatic writer, a man who singlehandedly perfected, if not created, a whole new genre in literature (stream of consciousness) - might have not lashed out at Ireland publicly but he literally voted with his feet instead. Joyce left the country when he was 22, returned for several brief visits over the next 10 years, and never set foot on Irish soil again for the remaining 30 years of his life. And yet, every word in Joyce's books was informed by sights and sounds of Ireland, by people he had known and buildings he had come to or passed by as a youth. In other words, all Joyce ever wrote about was Ireland.
There are other “yets” and other dignitaries whose feelings towards and opinions about Ireland are strikingly different from those of Wellington or Swift. Barak Obama who, by his own admission, came to Ireland “in search of that missing apostrophe”, believed that “Irish blood was spilled on our battlefields. Irish sweat built our great cities”, while “our spirit is eternally refreshed by Irish story and Irish song…”. Finally, St. Patrick's Day paints green hundreds of cities around the world, many of them located thousands of miles away from Ireland.
So, what is it about that little island, squeezed between the Atlantic and the Irish Sea, that fills both its admirers and its detractors with so much passion while sparking their imagination and inspiring their eloquence? As the country itself can't tell its own story, it needs facilitators - knowledgeable and passionate people who would help to do justice to it and to unlock its secrets for the world to see and admire. Some of those facilitators tell the story of the country as a whole, others concentrate on a particular city, district or even a single (but truly historic) building. Together, they make sure that the Emerald Isle is better understood and appreciated by the rest of the world. And not all of them are even Irish.
An American from Buffalo, he came over to Ireland to study at Trinity - one of the oldest Universities in Europe - and he stayed after his graduation to teach there. He combines teaching with running a museum devoted to James Joyce, and he guides tours offering insights into Joyce's life and personality thus sharing his passion for Irish literature with people from all over the world.
Another American - from Seattle - a mercurial actress in chaplinesque attire, and with a ready Gioconda smile, she participates in a unique program called “theatre for education”. By relating about 300,000 years of Dublin history in 29 minutes, she provides a truly unforgettable experience for every visitor of a museum with a fully descriptive, unique name - the Little Museum of Dublin.
Unsurprisingly, most facilitators are Irish but at least some of them have strong international connections.
She has been guiding tourists all over Europe and as far as the Great Wall of China but her main commitment is to the “Irish Stonehenge” - the neolithic tombs in Irish “Ancient East”. The main tomb, Newgrange, is bigger and possibly older than its more famous English counterpart, Stonehenge, and there is an utterly fascinating history behind its creation.
A full-time professional tour-guide, he offers 2-3 free walking tours a day, and he relies on personal charisma to befriend his guests, and on his vast and easy knowledge - to engage them. He seems to be equally comfortable talking about German politics, Australian football, Portuguese wines - you name it! - and that makes every guest in the group feel privileged…and even more interested in the main topic of the tour, Ireland.
There were many others, of course - and featured wonders over many following weeks will be based on and inspired by their stories. If Ireland comes alive in this blog, it will happen due to their efforts - and that turns those facilitators into a wonder in their own right, because sometimes it takes a wonder to do true justice to another wonder!