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Chester Beatty Library and some whiskey

As I mentioned in my last post, at the end of August I traveled to Ireland with MJ for the second time. My first visit there in 2010 was pure tourism, and I hit all the major tourist attractions and historical sites and was able to visit with a local friend to learn about the Vikings, go to the Dublin zoo, see some Leprechauns, tour the Wicklow Mountains, take part in Guinness and Jameson tours, check out the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle and a couple cathedrals and visit Malahide Castle after feeding some seals in Howth. I even went to an Ubuntu release party. It was a whirlwind week, but I had a wonderful time and fell in love with Ireland on that trip.

It took me seven years to return and one of the first things I noticed was how much construction was going on this time. When I was there in 2010 the area was immersed in an economic downturn, but things had picked up considerably since then. The basic historic points of the city remained untouched, but between them were cranes and building of all kinds, particularly out where my husband’s office is down by Dublin Bay. Still, it was the Dublin I knew and loved, and my first order of business upon arriving on Tuesday morning off of an overnight flight was to visit some sights I hadn’t seen before. My jet lagged day began by making my way to the Chester Beatty Library, recommended to me by my friend Walt.

The Chester Beatty Library is now one of my favorite places in Dublin. As explained on their website:

Manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books and decorative arts complete this amazing collection – all the result of the collecting activities of one man – Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968). Egyptian papyrus texts, beautifully illuminated copies of the Qur’an, the Bible, European medieval and renaissance manuscripts are among the highlights on display. In its diversity, the collection captures much of the richness of human creative expression from about 2700 BC to the present day.

Admission is free, photos are not allowed inside (though their online image gallery is nice), and it’s not a large museum, but it’s meticulously laid out to take you through a tour of what is largely a collection of religious manuscripts of various faiths. The illuminated manuscripts across various faiths were breathtaking, their Witness to the Word: Chester Beatty Library New Testament Papyri exhibit was fascinating, and I enjoyed seeing the mid-18th Century Astrolabe. However, the two things that stood out for me were the Qibla compass and the Mughal-era Indian collection of composite images. Walt told me about the Qibla compass so I made sure I specifically sought it out, I’m glad I did, I would have missed it if I hadn’t been on the lookout for it. As wikipedia explains, “a Qibla compass is a modified compass used by Muslims to indicate the direction to face to perform ritual prayers.” It’s a simple, yet clever device, which works, again consulting wikipedia, as follows:

To determine the proper direction, one has to know with some precision both the longitude and latitude of one’s own location and those of Mecca, the city toward which one must face. Once that is determined, the values are applied to a spherical triangle, and the angle from the local meridian to the required direction of Mecca can be determined.

I wish I had jotted down some notes about it while I was there, but just-off-a-plane brain wasn’t interested in taking notes. I have sent a quick note to the library through their contact form to learn more, fingers crossed that someone will get back to me with even the most basic details that accompanied the display.

Qibla compass at the Chester Beatty Libraryimage source (I wish I could be more specific as to source)

EDIT: They got back to me! Details:

Universal Qibla Finder
Made by Barun al-Mukhtari
Turkish text
AD 1738 (dated AH 1151)
Istanbul, Turkey
CBL T 443

Depicted on one half of this device is the Ka‘ba in Mecca and various near-by sites associated with the pilgrimage. On the other half is a map of Europe, Asia and Africa (regions north of the equator only), with numbers indicating the location of almost 400 cities, the names of which are provided in a colour-coded, numbered list beneath the map. A long pointer is attached at one end to the city of Mecca and at the top of the map is a small compass.

To determine the direction of Mecca and hence the direction of prayer from one’s current location, find the city in the list beneath the map, rotate the pointer until it points to the number (and colour) of that city on the map, and move the device until the compass needle points due north-south. When correctly aligned, the pointer will indicate the qibla, the direction of prayer.

As mentioned, the composite animal images (creatures whose bodies consist in whole or in part of human and animal figures) were the other thing that grabbed my attention. Specifically there was one of “A Peri Riding a Composite Lion” that captured the imagination. I knew nothing about the Indian tradition of composite animal art before visiting this museum, but seeing a collection together was really something. I stopped at the gift shop on my way out specifically to see if I could get a post card or a book with the composite lion image, and they didn’t disappoint, €7.95 later I came home with a coloring and postcard book of the images in their collection, including the lion!

“A Peri Riding a Composite Lion” circa 1700, Kashmir

I now consider the whole museum a must see when visiting Dublin.

Cultural enrichment behind me for the day, my next stop was a new whiskey distillery that I heard about, Teeling Whiskey. I learned there that the current iteration of the business launched in the 2015. However, the background of the brand, discussed on the wikipedia page and recounted during the tour, is interesting. In short, the Teeling family founded a whiskey distillery in 1782, but it sold and eventually shut down as a series of unfortunate events caused the entire Irish whiskey market to crash in the early 20th century and whiskey production move out of Dublin. After our history lesson, we were able to get up close to their on site distilling setup, including their big pot stills that the whiskey goes through for the traditional three-phase distilling process for Irish whiskey.

As we were tasting some of “their” three+ year old whiskey at the conclusion of the tour I joked about being pretty good at math when I asked “how can I be drinking a six year old whiskey when you were founded less than three years ago?” The history of their family explains, the current batches being sold under the Teeling brand actually came from the father of the founders, who founded the Cooley Distillery north of Dublin in 1987 and gave his sons a large collection of minimally aged whiskey. The results of these older barrels under the Teeling branding have already made their way stateside, but I’ll be keeping an eye out over these next few years for the ones with vintages older than 2015.

Teeling tasting

Teeling I did on my own, but a few days later was the final full day MJ and I spent in the Dublin area itself found ourselves concluding the evening with a stop at the Bow St location of Jameson. They have long done their distilling elsewhere, even in 2010 when I did the tour for the first time. However, this location is a nice tourist attraction that has a large bar and a tour. During my last trip it was more tourist-y and a bit kitschy, but I actually enjoyed it. We learned that week that they had recently redone their whole building and the tour, a perfect excuse to go back!

Fancy redone bar at Jameson

The tour is simplified now, much more refined with a greater focus on history and how the whiskey is made. They’ve also added several other tours for people who are more into Irish whiskey. I admit missing the old style tour a bit, but I’m a sucker for tourist stuff. The concluding tasting was enjoyable though, everyone gets to sample an American whiskey, Scotch, and some Jameson, to compare the styles and become our own experts at telling the difference. It was fun, and afterwards we all had a drink ticket for one final drink on the way out. Contrary to my typical “on the rocks” preference, my day called for a nice bit of Jameson, neat.

Our Ireland trip wasn’t all museums and whiskey though! Our trip to a transit museum and the long journey to the Cliffs of Moher are due in my next posts.