The Dublin Flea Market, Merrion Square and “Slán go fóill“ Ireland
The Dublin Flea Market, Merrion Square and “Slán go fóill“ Ireland
Dr. Jamil and The Twin Doctors Travel Bag spend the final day of their Ancestry.com inspired “Heritage Tour” of Ireland exploring the Dublin Flea Market, the Merrion Square Art Exhibition and the Dublinia interactive living history museum.
The Dublin Flea Market
So folks I have a confession to make today, and this really is difficult for me to say. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually said this before; but here goes. In addition to me being a shameless over-consumer of Irish Soda Bread; and in addition to me being someone who is powerless over his addiction to Irish Soda Bread, I am also an antique loving purveyor of all things bric-a-brac and junk. Some might call me a shameless debris picking, refuse and rummage sifting junk addict. But I personally chose not to use those adjectives to describe myself. I find those adjectives to be hurtful and judgmental, and frankly people they do little for my self-esteem. So I would prefer to call myself a “Purveyor of All Things Antique, Vintage and Slightly Worn”. Quite a title I know, but it does have a ring to it you must admit. And know that if there is a flea market or an estate sale to be visited, then no matter the day, no matter the time and no matter the location, I am there. And I will rescue all things antique, vintage and slightly worn!!!! And so on my final day in Ireland it should come as a surprise to no one that I took a few hours out of my day to visit the Dublin Flea Market.
Taking place on the last Sunday of every month, the Dublin Flea Market first opened its doors in November of 2008. Since then, the flea market has become a favorite spot for Dublin’s vintage and antique loving hipsters. It has also become a favorite spot for Dublin’s bric-a-brac loving bargain hunting aficionados and for independent travelers alike; all hoping to score a good deal while enjoying the flea market’s signature DJ’s and its live bands. The flea market also features a number of food stalls that sell a variety of sundry morsels. From Greek food to Italian food to Arab food to various tasty pastries, there is something for every palate at the Dublin Flea Market. In addition, what gathering geared towards hipsters and towards the offbeat amongst us would be complete without coffee, lots and lots of coffee? Not one that I can think of. And so yes, at the Dublin Flea Market you can also find a number of stalls that sell various types of coffee. The Dublin Flea Market takes place at Newmarket Square, and when I arrived there, I found that the party had already begun. The streets and the buildings that housed the various vendors were already full with buyers, sellers and people watchers alike. All milling about and enjoying the market’s atmosphere. An atmosphere made even more enjoyable by the warm sunny Sunday Dublin weather.
Many unique vintage, antique and off-beat items were available for sale during my visit to the Dublin Flea Market. And I felt a true twinge of hurt in my heart when I realized that I could not buy many of those things. After all, anything that I bought I would have to lug back home on a transatlantic flight with overhead bin and under-seat storage space being at a premium. But then my friends, undeterred by what some of you might call “logic” and by my momentary lapse in dedication to all things bric-a-brac, I did find a vintage item to “rescue” from the Dublin Flea Market. And for a travel loving person like myself, I must say that the item (or items) that I rescued were absolutely perfect. Perfect enough in fact that they’ve since found a prominent place in my home office. What I rescued I originally thought was a single vintage blood red travel suitcase. Now I’m a travel blogging doctor, so could I reasonably have been expected to leave something behind that was “blood” red and a travel suitcase to boot? I mean come on, the universe left me no option but to purchase that bag. The Universe, she was talking to me that day. And I, well I was listening.
After purchasing the vintage blood red travel suitcase I found that the one suitcase that I had purchased contained within it a second identical looking, but smaller blood red vintage travel suitcase. Two for the price of one I thought!!! Score!!! But then, wait for it, wait for it………I opened the second smaller vintage blood red travel suitcase. And what should I find hiding with in that second vintage suitcase? That’s right, the second identical looking but smaller vintage blood red travel suitcase contained a third even smaller identical looking vintage blood red suitcase. Well hallelujah, to the Victor go the spoils!!!! And I was definitely the Victor, having found and rescued this little three-in-one vintage blood red suitcase set. Three pieces of vintage bric-a-brac for the price of one. And three pieces of vintage bric-a-brac with an interesting story to tell no less.
Normally when I buy a vintage or an antique piece, I will ask the person selling it to me to tell me “the story” of that piece. When I asked the gentleman who sold me the blood red three-in-one travel suitcase set what the story was behind it? He told me that the set was manufactured in the 1950’s. He then continued by telling me that he had bought the set from a Frenchman while visiting London. So, as it turned out, I was able to rescue a cool vintage set of blood red travel suitcases that I had bought while in Ireland at a local flea market from an Irishman who bought them in England from a Frenchman. So I’m the American who bought the vintage French suitcases in Ireland from an Irishman who bought them in England from a Frenchman. That all makes for a pretty good, if not slightly convoluted story, wouldn’t you say?
After begrudgingly leaving the Dublin Flea Market, I next made my way by taxi to Dublin’s Merrion Square. Merrion Square, located on the Southside of Dublin, is what is referred to as a “garden square”. In fact, Merrion Square is one of Dublin’s oldest surviving garden squares. A Garden square is a park or a green space surrounded on all four sides by buildings. In the case of Merrion Square, the garden’s green space is surrounded on three sides by old red brick Georgian townhomes. On the fourth side, the square is surrounded by government buildings, the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery. Many notable residents of Dublin at one time or another have called the red brick ivy lined townhouses of Merrion Square home. These notable residents have included poet, author and satirist Oscar Wilde (a statue of whom can be found in Merrion Square) and Dr. Robert James Graves. Dr. Graves, a Surgeon by trade, is credited not only with having been one of the first doctors to describe the thyroid disease that today bears his name (i.e. Grave’s Disease), but he is also credited with being one of the Fathers of the “Bedside Rounds”. Bedside rounds, which involve Doctors, Doctors in training and Medical Students all going together as a group from patient bed to patient bed, examining the patients and discussing their cases in an effort to both better understand and treat the patients are still used today as a teaching tool throughout hospitals worldwide.
While the history of Merrion Square itself and some of its former nearby residents is reason enough to visit the square, it just so happens that since 1985, Merrion Square has also been the site of Dublin’s only free year round open air art exhibition. From 10AM to 6PM every Sunday, the fences surrounding Merrion Square feature paintings created by local artists who come to the square to exhibit and sale their works. The exhibition is organized and overseen by the Dublin city council, and the city council only allows local artists to display and sell original works. So anything an art lover buys while at the Merrion Square Art Exhibition is guaranteed to be an original one of a kind work. And because exhibiting artists are selling directly to the buyer, no middleman and no galley commissions means that wonderfully unique original pieces of art can be had for very reasonable, oft-times negotiable prices.
Before entering Merrion Square, I walked the entire perimeter of the square twice; not wanting to miss any of the paintings on display. Then, after some careful consideration, I decided to purchase an 8 x 12 watercolor of Dublin’s Trinity College. The painting itself was simple enough, but the colors used in the piece caught and kept my attention for some reason. The artist who painted the watercolor was Edward Tomkus; and he told me that he was from the “Village Weir in Lucah County”. He also told me that he made his way to Dublin and to Merrion’s Square every weekend by bus, just so that he could display his works. Having made the journey to Merrion Square earlier that day, and not having sold anything up to the point that I came across him; before I purchased the painting Edward told me in a very solemn and humble voice that if I bought one of his paintings “it would just make [his] day”. I liked the piece that I ultimately did decide to buy, a painting that Edward named “Campagnile”. So the opportunity to both pick up a one of a kind Irish watercolor at the awesome price of 50 Euros while also “making the day” of the affable elderly Irishman with the rosy cheeks was simply too much to pass up. Like my blood red set of vintage Irish-English-French travel suitcases, my Campagnile now has a prominent place on the wall of my home office.
After buying Campagnile I entered Merrion Square. From there, I went in search of the Irish author, playwright, satirist and poet, Oscar Wilde. Obviously I was not in search of “The Oscar Wilde”, as “The Oscar Wilde” has been dead for close to 115 years now. But I was in search of Oscar Wilde’s statue, and in no time I found it. Or should I say that I found him, perched upon a rock; starring out wistfully towards the garden square house that was once his home? Just in front of Mr. Wilde I also found two black stone pillars with sculptures atop them. Written up and down the pillars were some of Mr. Wilde’s more famous, humorous and poignant quotes. And if I do say so myself, these quotes made for some good, if not brief, reading. While Oscar Wilde is legendary the world over, many people may not be aware of the fact that his father, Dr. William Wilde; a man with whom he shared his Merrion Square home for 21 of the 23 years that he occupied it, was also an Irishman of great accomplishment. Dr. William Wilde was an Ear and Eye Physician. He was also a Fellow of the Irish College of Surgeons. He in fact was so well respected as a physician in Dublin that he was able to establish and successfully manage his own ear and eye hospital. The hospital was named the St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital for Diseases of the Eye and Ear. Riding high on his success, in 1853 Dr. Wilde was honored by being named the “Oculist-in-Ordinary” to the then reigning British monarch Queen Victoria. In this role, Dr. Wilde functioned as one of the Queen’s personal physicians. In a fitting culmination to his career, in 1864 Dr. William Wilde was knighted by the British Monarch.
Dublinia and One Last Walk Around Dublin
After leaving Merrion Square there was one final stop on my itinerary, the Dublinia museum. Dublinia is a living history museum that first opened in 1993. The museum chronicles Dublin’s Viking and medieval era history. It is located in Christ Church Cathedral’s Synod Hall, and it features interactive exhibits and live actor reenactments. The museum also holds a number of special events throughout the year that are open to the public. The highlight of any trip to Dublinia however is St. Michael’s Tower. St. Michael’s Tower is a late 17th century viewing tower that was once part of the church of St. Michael the Archangel. The church of St. Michael the Archangel once stood where Dublinia now stands. To reach the top of St. Michael’s Tower you have to climb 96 stairs. But once you’ve reached the top, you are afforded spectacular views of the entire city of Dublin. I ultimately spent about an hour at Dublinia, and being a history buff, I enjoyed the exhibits and the historical events that they chronicled. There were in fact some exhibits that were so life like, you actually felt for a moment as if you had been carried back to the Dublin of yesteryear. Because most of Dublinia’s exhibits are interactive; children are allowed to touch, feel and truly “interact” with them. A privilege that is not afforded them at most other museums. This makes Dublinia a very child friendly stop on the itinerary for anyone travelling to Dublin with small children.
After an hour at Dublinia, and with the sun starting to set; I decided to take one final walk around Dublin. I wanted one last opportunity to commiserate with the people and the places of one of my new found ancestral homelands. With the sun setting both literally and figuratively, I found myself feeling a little bit homesick. Not homesick for Chicago, or for my family, or even for my patients and my “normal” life. But instead homesick for Ireland. And while I knew that I would be returning to Chicago the next morning, I silently resolved that it would not be long again before I set foot on Irish soil.
The next day American Airlines flight number 93 left Dublin after a “brief” 4 HOUR AND 30 MINUTE delay. In all fairness to American Airlines though, they did handled the delay as well as they possibly could. Rather than just letting me and passengers like me get to the airport bright and early in the morning only to find that our 9AM flight would not be leaving until 2PM; American made automated calls at 2AM informing passengers of the delay. Having been informed of the delay well in advance, I was able to sleep in a little bit and to then enjoy one final Grand Canal Hotel breakfast. A breakfast that included all of the Irish Soda Bread I could fit into my greedy little mouth, and pants pockets, and luggage, and shoes and socks. After breakfast, I then made my way by taxi from The Grand Canal Hotel to Dublin International Airport; arriving there in the early afternoon. At check-in American Airlines offered a mea culpa of sorts in the form of food vouchers that were handed out to each of the passenger on flight number 93 as they checked in. The vouchers could be used to purchase food at any of the airport’s restaurants.
One really awesome thing about flying to the U.S. from Ireland is that you actually clear U.S Customs in Ireland. The U.S. Border Patrol stations U.S. Border Patrol Agents at the international airports in both Dublin and Shannon. This allows passengers flying from Ireland to the U.S. to complete the entire U.S customs process BEFORE boarding their flight to the U.S. I’ve cleared U.S. Customs now in both Shannon and in Dublin, and both times the lines at these off-site international U.S. Customs and Border Patrol locations were basically non-existent. This results is an immigration clearance process that can easily exceed 60 or more minutes at busy U.S. airports like O-Hare in Chicago, LAX in Los Angeles and JFK in New York being completed in Ireland in fewer than 10 minutes. And if you haven’t guessed by now, being able to avoid standing around in a loud and busy Custom’s hall in the U.S. after a 7 or more hour international flight is a real treat. Because all passengers on flights from Ireland to the U.S. have cleared U.S. Customs before the flight departs Ireland, these flights are basically treated like domestic flights when they arrive in the U.S. Therefore, they frequently arrive in domestic terminals. So after deplaning, you can immediately retrieve your bags and leave the airport.
For people who tend to fly One World Alliance partners take note. At the time of this writing Aer Lingus, the national airline of Ireland will soon be rejoining One World. This means that when travelling to, from or through Europe, One World Alliance passengers can utilize Aer Lingus for their transit to the U.S. This will allow them to clear U.S. Customs in Ireland saving both time and hassle spent by avoiding mainland U.S. Customs.
7 hours and 50 minutes after taking off from Dublin, American Airlines flight number 93 broke the clouds over Lake Michigan; revealing to those of us seated on the left side of the aircraft that familiar lakeshore and skyline of my Sweet Home Chicago. As the flight neared completion, I began to recall a few ole Irish sayings. “If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, well then you’re lucky enough” indeed and “there are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were”. And I felt a twinge of pride as I silently thought about the 10% of me that is Irish. And as an honorary Irishman, I’d like to add one more new “old” Irish saying to my repertoire. You can of course feel free to use this one if you like. It goes a little something like this; “Man can’t live by bread alone, even if that bread is Irish Soda Bread. But let him try, for at least then he will most certainly die a happy man”. I miss you Irish Soda Bread, God how I miss you!!! So from me and my fellow Irish lads and lassies to you and to yours, “Slán go fóill“, or “goodbye for now”. Until we meet again friends remember, always keep your bags packed, your passport in hand and your sense of adventure alive. Live for a living, don’t work for a living!!