Sunday, March 17, 2013

Celtic Design: A Story for Saint Patrick's Day

Detail on a building in Dublin.

On this St. Patrick's Day, when everyone in America feels kin with the Irish, it is worthwhile to raise our glasses--in this case our field glasses--to look across the Atlantic at the curious and creative Celts.

Ireland is at present trying to recover from the crash that followed its brief years of economic success in which it was known, with the aid of the European Union, as the Celtic Tiger. The Irish, used to being beleaguered, seem to be handling it all with a shrug. They've gone back to work--as they always have.

An iron marker on a Dublin Street, literally underfoot in Ireland's largest city.

Dublin, the economic heart of Ireland, is a great city for walking, and I did a lot of it during my visit last year. When you walk around a city you can, of course, see so much more detail than you can from a car or a bus. It also gives a visitor a chance to work off all those great Irish breakfasts.

A grate that covers the stone steps down to a restaurant kitchen in Dublin. 

Little surprises in and on many Irish buildings are witness to that nation's unique style. Alas, these little details also speak to Ireland's many centuries of poverty. It is a nation where hard work--for many centuries at least--did not raise up the average man. Working for the nation's wealthy landowners, Irish workmen might do princely work for a farthing. But time, at least, was plentiful. Each man found the best means he could to allow his spirit to soar.

A door on a Dublin building.

I'm writing this today as a reminder that Americans who turn Saint Patrick's Day into a caricature of green beer and leprechauns, are missing some of the most amazing things about these artistic, poetic people--millions of whom now live in the US. A thousand years before the Romans were in Ireland, the Celts were making stunning gold jewelry to hold together their cloaks. Literally tons of it has been unearthed on that little island.

The "Tara Brooch." Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland.

You could visit Ireland, take a metal detector, and go on a treasure hunt--there is certainly a lot more of these ancient valuables yet to be found and the Irish government pays a bounty for it. Or you could just go to Ireland and walk around and look at things. It is a nation in which art can be found everywhere. A feast for the eyes costs nothing, damages nothing, and takes nothing away.

To some, it may seem a surprise that Saint Patrick, who was a Roman Briton kidnapped by the Celts, actually returned again, after his escape from captivity. Yes, it is true, he returned as a missionary. But perhaps, like many of us, he just couldn't resist the pull of Ireland. 

The window of an old monastery in County Kildare.

All photos are ©Robin Chapman unless otherwise noted.

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1 comment:

Janet Grunst said...

I'm looking forward to visiting The Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland, where some of my ancestors come from, in a couple of months.

St. Patrick is indeed a fascinating character, not an Irishman by birth, but by his generous heart.