You Can't Fight City Hall...
Dublin City Hall was also hosting a series of historical lectures on Clontarf. I was able to attend just one very interesting talk before yesterday's millenium. The lecture took place in the city hall chamber itself, surrounded by portraits of former Lord Mayors of Dublin. The lecture was titled Picturing the Battle of Clontarf: James Ward's Dublin City Hall Murals. In the main rotunda of Dublin City Hall, the one with the interestingly-dressed Irish Founding Fathers, a ring of murals circles the base of the dome.
The twelve murals were commissioned and painted from 1913-1918 by a Belfast-born Protestant by the name of James Ward. Today, Ward is a mostly-forgotten muralist and fresco painter famous for a small number of wall murals in Ireland and England. What is most interesting about the job is the years in which it was done. The 1910's was a turbulent decade for Ireland, and a Belfast man would certainly have reason to be nervous in Dublin, center of much of the fighting. Further, the Irish officials choosing the artist would have probably paused before hiring someone so connected with the English crown for their nationalist artistic work.
Sadly, the fun story that might accompany the job itself is lost, as neither Ward nor his Irish employers wrote much about the hot political situation. Ward just went about his business, taking his fine time with the job as the city and the rest of the country grew more dangerous.
One of the works is an image of the Battle of Clontarf. Brian Boru is pictured as an old man giving his troops a final inspiration before they charge into almost certain death.
|Boru on the Right|
The rest of the series of murals depict very Classical-heavy images of important historical events in Ireland, and the seal of each of the four historic provinces of the island of Ireland, including Ulster, what is now mostly Northern Ireland. It was a bit controversial to include Ulster in the murals at the time, as it was (and would be for years) the land most hotly contested.
Artistically they are interesting because they are in a throwback style, even for the early twentieth century. The artistic trend at the time was aiming for more realistic and plausible subjects. Ward, with suggestions from his employer, went for the well-entrenched Classical style so as not to offend the sensibilities of anyone in such an uneasy time.
After having absorbed so much new information in the historical talks about the Battle of Clontarf, Easter weekend was upon us, as were all the Viking-centric festivities. In Clontarf proper, The Battle of Clontarf Festival took over much of St. Anne's Park. We had a long journey to the park, much of it on a lovely seaside walking/biking trail, conveniently named the Battle of Clontarf Heritage Trail.
|Obligatory Cory-Looking-at-the-Water Shot|
At the park, we were just in time for the afternoon battle reenactment. Unfortunately, we were there too late to get a good viewing spot and had to take photos over the heads of other spectators. The running commentary was a hoot, though...
Oh no! He's just separated several bits of him from several other bits of him!
|All Dead. Ha!|
The Rest of the FestAfter the big fight, we were free to explore the rest of the sprawling festival. The park was jam-packed, no surprise with such nice weather on Easter Sunday. Families with kids and dogs explored the tents and demonstrations with us. We saw people demonstrating a variety of period activities and crafts. A particular favorite of mine without a good photo was the foot-and-live-treetrunk-powered wood turner. The craftsman pushed a pedal down, which pulled a leather strap to spin his lathe. The strap was connected at the top to a fresh-cut green tree branch, which flexed and pulled the lathe back up for the turner. While the skilled worker pedaled to spin the device, he gouged out bowls and other pieces with a sharp metal blade.
|Main Street of the Festival|
We also spent some time at a falconry demonstration and ogled the birds on display. The bird keeper brought around a falcon for the spectators to pet, but I was much more interested in the owl. Not sure if the owl was a trained hunter like the falcons of tradition, but it was enough just for me to watch the little one hop around on her tether.
After the raptors and the costumed demonstrator exhibits, we explored the "festival" part of the festival. Ya know, the real family entertainment. A large stage was assembled and live music was performed when a live reenactment wasn't on in the main arena. Food vendors ringed the area we dubbed The Food Court, which was nothing more than an acre of grass covered with straw. Perfect for a picnic. We decided to try a decidedly non-Irish food, a meat pie slathered in gravy. Pies are distinctly English, not Irish, so I counted the meat pie as ethnic food.
|English food Ain't Irish food, but I haven't found the difference yet!|
...And for the kiddies, a few rickety thrill rides with amazingly cheap and decidedly unlicensed airbrushed artwork.
After meat pies and demonstrations, it was time to make the long trek home. We had four miles to talk along the coast before picking up our bikes and riding three more miles home. The new Battle of Clontarf Heritage Trail is fitted with an interesting series of exercise and stretching machines. Each one is made of durable and appealing red and yellow metal, and comes with specific use and safety instructions.
We got great views of our own southern chunk of Co. Dublin from Clontarf, including the higher peaks of the Dublin Mountains which are screened by the lower peaks closer to our neighborhood in Donnybrook. The tide was coming in, covering the inevitable low-tide garbage and giving us a chance to watch the wildlife. We made it home shortly after it began to rain, cold, tired, and satisfied after a great day out.