Travels & Traditions: Touring Ireland - #1102

BURT WOLF: Ireland’s geographic separation from the rest of Europe and the 2,000 miles of ocean between its western coast and North America has allowed Ireland to develop a cultural history that is both rich and independent. Its folklore ranges from little leprechauns sitting on their pots of gold at the end of rainbows to the stories of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland. Today Ireland is a modern European industrialized state but it has held on to much of its folklore and its traditions.

In the year 314, Christianity became the state religion of ancient Rome, and as the Romans spread across Europe so did Christianity. But Christianity in Ireland was different from Christianity in the rest of Europe.

Instead of being centered in a church within a city, the Christian communities in Ireland were located in remote monasteries --- monasteries that attracted scholars and artists. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Some of the world’s great illuminated manuscripts were produced here in the isolated monasteries of Ireland. And as the Ancient Roman Empire fell apart these monasteries became the keepers of Christian knowledge. Ireland slowly evolved into an island of saints and scholars.


BURT WOLF: In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I established Trinity College. On the surface it looked like a generous contribution to the intellectual life of the city. But in reality, it was an attempt to keep the Anglo-Irish nobles from sending their children to Catholic schools in Europe. The heart of the college is the great library.

The English Copyright Act gave the college the right to claim one copy of every book, pamphlet, map and periodical published in the British Isles. And this privilege has continued---the library receives over 100,000 books each year, which means that almost every work of value is permanently preserved for use by future generations.


BURT WOLF: The most valuable item in The Trinity Library, and the reason that hundreds of thousands of visitors come here each year, is the Book of Kells.

ROBIN ADAMS (ON CAMERA): The Drawing Room is an 18th Century building. 

BURT WOLF: Robin Adams is the University Librarian at Trinity College.

ROBIN ADAMS (ON CAMERA): The Book of Kells is often regarded as Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and as a symbol of its contribution to European civilization. Because it survived for 1200 years. 

It’s a copy of the four gospels in Latin written by Irish monks possibly on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland or possibly in the town of Kells which is about 40 miles from Dublin. Europe was in the Dark Ages. The monks of the time copied the text of the Gospels so they could bring the word back to the people who had forgotten or never heard of Christianity.

BURT WOLF: The book emphasizes the symbols of the Evangelists. Matthew shown as a man. Mark as a lion. Luke as a calf. And John as an eagle.

Each Gospel opens with an elaborate ornamental page in which the text is submerged in the design. Brightly colored animals and human figures are woven into the capital letters at the beginning of the text.

ROBIN ADAMS (ON CAMERA): The production of the manuscript was the work of a whole community in the monastery. We can see four different styles of writing. The community was involved right from the creation of the calf skin on which the text is written. And in the production of the pens used they would be goose or swan feathers. Some of the illustrations are very imaginative requiring the artistic skills and there would be specialists used to create those. 

The pigments were collected from this country, from else where in Europe and perhaps even from Asia. And one of the most colorful pages you find up to 30 or 40 different pigments. So it was quite a sophisticated society to bring those materials together to create the manuscript.

BURT WOLF: The book is filled with errors which are marked off with boxes and dots. It was difficult to produce a perfect page in the years before spell check.

ROBIN ADAMS (ON CAMERA): We believe that the manuscript would have been taken shortly after it was completed to Kells which was inland and safer from Viking attack. And it remained in a stone cell for about 600 years. 

BURT WOLF: The second manuscript of considerable importance in the Trinity Library is the Book of Armagh which was written in 807. It is the only example of the entire Latin text of the New Testament in the form in which it was used in the Celtic Church. The Book of Armagh also contains St. Patrick’s Confessions in which he tells the story of his life. THE STORY OF ST. PATRICK

BURT WOLF: Tim Campbell is an authority and scholar who has written some of the definitive works on the history and culture of Northern Ireland.

DR. TIM CAMPBELL (ON CAMERA): Saint Patrick was born in a place called Bannavem Taberniae. We don't know exactly where that is. Many people think he was Irish, but that's not true. 

TIM CAMPBELL: He was actually born in Britain. He was a son and a grandson of clerics, but when he was a teenager, he was a wayward minister's son. And, he decided he wasn't interested in his father's faith. He lived in a big estate and he was abducted when he was 16 and brought to Ireland to a place called Slemish Mountain.

Saint Patrick was a shepherd slave for six years on Slemish Mountain. He began to hear voices in his head, which he supposed were God's voice talking to him, and that gave him the strength after six years to run away from his master, probably to the southwestern part of Ireland, and jump onto a ship

Eventually he goes home to be with his people again, and he becomes a cleric because of his experience, and eventually a bishop. 

TIM CAMPBELL (ON CAMERA): One night in his sleep the angel Victoricus comes. I call him "Victor the Mailman" because he came with this great big bag of mail, one of which was addressed to Patrick, and it said, "Vox Hibernicus, the voice of the Irish". 

TIM CAMPBELL: More or less, "Dear Patrick, please come back and save us", which he decides then to do. 

BURT WOLF: Throughout the island, altars, idols and elaborate rituals had been in place for hundreds of years. Patrick’s only hope for success was to befriend the chieftains and adapt his message to the structure that had been set up by the Druid priests.

The Celts worship the sun which Patrick accepted, but then he pointed out that some days the sun was around and some days it wasn’t and at some point in the future it might disappear forever, on the other hand, Christ was an everlasting sun. 

It was a powerful argument and very persuasive.


BURT WOLF: A few miles away from St. Patrick’s first church is the ancient hill of Down and the Down Cathedral. It was built in the 12th century and has been a place of pilgrimage for over 1500 years. St. Patrick is probably buried somewhere beneath the Cathedral. The date of his death is given as the 17th of March and each year during the month of March people come here from all over the world honoring his memory. 

Joy Wilkinson is the manager of the Cathedral.

JOY WILKINSON (ON CAMERA): Well, this cathedral was originally built in 1183 as a Benedictine monastery by John de Courcy who came, that when the Normans invaded Ireland in the 12th century. But its history goes back many, many centuries before that because this was where the early Celts used to worship before Christianity came.

JOY WILKINSON: The Coats of Arms are the families that paid for the restoration in the 1700s. These box pews were family boxes. People paid rent for them. It was very important to be seen to be going to church, and it was even more important when you got here to have a good seat.

The columns that hold it up are the original 12th century columns of the original building with medieval capitals on the top. And the molding around the east window is the original 12th century molding.

So it's just a mixture of all the different people that have been responsible for looking after it since it originally was built. 


BURT WOLF: As is often the case, fame arrives just after your funeral, and so it was with

St. Patrick. As soon as he died, the legend of his deeds began to grow and by the middle of the 600s he was on his way to becoming Ireland’s national apostle.

In the year 807, the Book of Armagh directed all monasteries and churches in Ireland to honor his memory on March 17th in what was a spiritual ceremony. By 1607, March 17th was marked on the Irish legal calendar and was officially St. Patrick’s Day. Today it is celebrated throughout the world, though there appears to be a greater emphasis on revelry than religion.


BURT WOLF: For over 700 years, Ireland lived under foreign domination. But in 1921, it became an independent Republic and Dublin became its capital. In 1973, Ireland joined the European Economic Community and Dublin became a center of international commerce. Irish immigration, which had seen the departure of over a quarter of the island’s population, went into reverse. Irish men and women started coming home. Today, Dublin is also fashionable destination for tourists from all over the world.

For over 7,000 years. Celtic tribes inhabited Ireland and to this day, Gaelic, which is one of the ancient Celtic languages, is the second language in Ireland.

The Celts built their Dublin settlement at the point where the Poddle River joined the Liffey River. The spot was marked by a dark pool of water or black pool which in Celtic was called dubh-linn.


BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): During the 7th century, the population of Scandinavia expanded so rapidly that the land was no longer able to feed the people who lived on it. The Scandinavians solved the problem by raiding other communities and one of their favorite spots was Ireland. Eventually the raiders became famous as the Vikings.

BURT WOLF: And they loved raiding the Irish Monasteries.

It’s not that the Vikings had anything special against Christian monks; it was simply that the Irish monasteries had all the good stuff. The hit and run raiders who specialized in the Dublin area came from Norway. They enjoyed the hitting part, the running part was really not that interesting.

Over the years, the Viking warriors married local Celtic women and blended their Nordic gods into Christianity. The craftwork of the period shows the interaction of both Christian and Celtic symbols.


BURT WOLF: Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral was founded in 1191 and is one of the oldest Christian sites in Ireland. The land where it stands was originally an island where two branches of the Poddle River came together. 

GAVAN WOODS (ON CAMERA): Well this Cathedral and the current building we’re in is 13th Century Old English Gothic. And it was built on the site of an older stone church. The first Norman church here dated back to around 1190. And before that there was a small timber church there that predated the Norman Conquest – a native Irish church.

It’s associated with St. Patrick, the site; apparently St. Patrick used water from a well nearby to baptize locals and convert them to Christianity back in the 400’s.

BURT WOLF: By the middle of the 1800s the building had became rather dilapidated. It was restored by Sir Benjamin Guinness of the Guinness brewery. Inside there is a stained glass window---a gift from the Guinness family. At the bottom of the window are the words, “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink.”--- Clearly a reference to the role of religion, but not a bad thought for the owner of the world’s most famous brewery.


BURT WOLF: St. Patrick has a very special relationship with Guinness. During the 5th century St. Patrick marked a series of wells as holy and used their waters in his rituals. The one called St. James’s Well fed into the Grand Canal which was one of the sources of water for Guinness. Its unusually pure water was believed to be the secret ingredient in Guinness.

The St. James’s Gate brewery opened in 1759. Arthur Guinness was only 34 at the time but he signed a lease that ran for 9,000 years.

Today, Guinness is available in 150 countries and 70 million glasses are sold every week. And they still have over 8,750 years left on their lease.

The Guinness Storehouse, a museum devoted to the story of Guinness, has become the number one attraction for visitors to Ireland. There is a detailed explanation of how Guinness is brewed. How it came to be a world-wide export. And the story of Arthur Guinness.

The tour concludes on the top floor, where the bar offers a 360 degree view of the city and a pint of what is probably the world’s best tasting Guinness, having made the shortest trip possible between production and consumption.

ORLA HANRATTY (ON CAMERA): There are six steps to pouring the perfect pint.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Six steps, ok.

ORLA HANRATTY (ON CAMERA): Yes sir. So the first step being you have to take a nice cool clean glass. Ok. So if you hold it at a 45 degree angle you don’t have to fill it the whole way and it takes about two minutes for the pint to settle.

BURT WOLF: What causes all that smoke in there?

ORLA HANRATTY: That is the two gasses which is carbon dioxide and nitrogen. So this is the two gasses forming that lovely creamy head on the top of your pint. 

ORLA HANRATTY (ON CAMERA): And then when it goes a dark color - which isn’t black, in fact it’s dark ruby red – you’ll know then it’s ready to finish off. Get it just above the rim so you’ve got that lovely dome shape on top of your pint. And that’s your perfect pint.


BURT WOLF: The places where people come together are divided by sociologists into three categories. The first is your home, the second is the place where you work and the third is a neighborhood hangout where people from the area come to talk, to reduce the stress of daily life and to be together with other people.

In Ireland the third group is made up primarily of public houses commonly known as pubs. Very often the local pub is a focal point in the community---the secular counterbalance to the church. Of course, the spirit one confronts in a pub is considerably different from the spirit you find in a church but the sense of group can be similar.

This is the Temple Bar district, a maze of narrow winding streets that run up from the bank of the Liffey River. And this is the Auld Dubliner, an authentic Dublin pub. It’s known for its music.

Next I walked over to the Stag's Head. It opened in 1770 and is a perfect example of a Victorian pub. The Stag’s Head is very much about people “hanging out”. And if you look around you see a lot of old furniture and it’s authentic. The place is loved by Dubliners.

Pubs are at the heart of where Irish people like to meet. You come here and you share your stories and meet your friends. You know that if you go to a pub where you’re known you can go on your own and instantly be welcomed. It’s a place of warmth, of music, of humor, and a perfect place to tell your most exaggerated stories.


BURT WOLF: The 18th century was a great time for Dublin, especially when it came to architecture. It was a period known as the time of the Four Georges---a reference to the four kings of England all named George who ruled from 1711 to 1830. The area around

St. Stephens Green, Marion and Fitzwilliam squares, dates to this time. Georgian architecture was a reaction to the ornamental design of the baroque---it was a return to the simpler styles of classic Greece and Rome.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): In 1756 the government of Dublin established the Wide Streets Commission. It was one of the first modern government bodies to deal with town planning. And it had the right to purchase any building that it deemed essential to its task. And if the owners of the building did not cooperate the commission would send their workman over during the middle of the night and unroof the building. 

BURT WOLF: The Georgian architects who worked in Dublin were unusual---they not only built private homes like the Georgian architects in England and the American colonies, but in Dublin they also designed magnificent public buildings. The Customs House was built in 1791 and is considered to be a magnificent example of 18th century architecture.

It was also a golden age for music. In 1742, the composer Fredrick Handel arrived in Dublin and presented his Messiah. It was first offered at the Charitable Music Society’s Hall. Because so many people planned to attend the first performance, and the space was so small, a public announcement was made, requesting ladies not to wear hooped petticoats, and gentlemen to leave their swords at home.

Dublin has become one of the most important cities in Europe and is more attractive for tourists than ever before. The food is excellent. The social life is compelling. And Irish hospitality is as welcoming as ever.