The last two days have been in Ireland. We
flew into Dublin on Thursday night and spent
Friday in Maynooth and Saturday in Dublin.
The Maynooth position is very tempting, tenure after one year, access to large
grants for research, good pay and a role in moulding the direction of research
in the Institute
of Immunology. My big
concerns were that last time (due to HR gone mad) I wasn't allowed to meet the
faculty as my application had to be kept confidential (regardless of my
personal preference, or the way every other university operates, with open
interviews), and that mouse immunology was at a fairly low base in the
institute so it would take me a while to build up to the infrastructure I
needed for my research.
So it was a big relief to me to be able to return and talk to some people.
It really eased my mind that the HR issue
wasn't covering up some big problems. I was also impressed that they had Max
Cooper there that day to give a talk on the evolution of alternative adaptive
immunity in lungfish and hagfish, a fantastic talk. Lydia was less impressed with the opportunities
Maynooth presented for her to work, she wouldn't have difficulty in finding
work in administration or teaching, but nothing really jumped out at her. Walking
down the tiny high street of Maynooth, we both agreed that we didn't really
want to live in Maynooth either, so it'd probably have to be Dublin and commuting for me.
Saturday was to see Dublin.
We started out at Connelly Station and did a circular walking tour of the city,
through the main shopping district north of the river, crossing to Temple Bar
(despite the current status as a binge drinking centre, it is named after the
teacher and philosopher Sir William Temple, 1555-1627, Provost of Trinity College)
and Christ Church Cathedral, and then walking to Trinity College.
Trinity College was an unexpected
delight, and by the end of our tour Lydia was ready to sign up for
another degree. Trinity
College was founded in
1592 by Queen Elizabeth the 1st, on the site of an Augustine Monastery (closed
by Henry VIII). The College is built around four squares. The first square we
started at was Parliament Square,
so called because it was built 1710-1840 after being founded by the short-lived
Parliament of Ireland. The chapel on the square (designed by Williams chambers
and identical to the exam hall) was the first chapel in Ireland to be consecrated
for both Catholic and Protestant religions, but only alumni within five years
of graduating can get married there.
The scholars hall is also on Parliament Square,
it is here where the Commons Lunch is served everyday, which is actually highly
Students can chose to sit the scholars'
exam after their second year, and those who do very well become scholars, being
given a stipend to study, a scholarship for the rest of their degree and their
post-graduate degree, and a free lunch every day. Scholars are called to lunch
from the belltower, where school myth has it that anyone who walks under the
belltower will never gradate from Trinity
College with an academic
degree. Our guide tells us that no student would ever walk under there sober,
and he laughed when a group of school kids on tour did so. Next to the
belltower is a statue of George Salmon. He was head of the university when
there was a big push to allow women to join.
He held out as long as he could,
saying that women would enter "over his dead body". In 1904 the King
decided to allow women to join and forced him to sign, he did so but said
"I agree with my hand and oppose with my heart". He then made up a
bunch of rules restricting women once they joined, such as only letting them
enter by the back gate. By delicious irony, the old bigot had a massive
heart-attack and died before the first woman entered, in the back gate over his
The next square was Library Square,
which contained the Old Library and Oregon
maple trees planted in the 1820s, and New
Square, with a nice law that only the croquette
club are allow on. Since 1801 Trinity College has been a "copyright" library,
meaning that they have a right to a single copy of every book published in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
To house the enormous number of books they had to build a new library, which
was built in 1967 in horrible brutalist style and is called the giant concrete
photocopier by students. The last square was Fellow's Square, with the arts and
social sciences buildings, built by the same brutalist architect, and joining
onto the Old Library again. The Old Library was built in 1712, and is the
largest single room library in the world. The room is lined by busts of
scientists and philosophers, and all the books are arranged not by subject or
author, but instead by book dimensions, making it great for packing in books on
shelves and horrible to find a book unless you know its exact size. Within the
Old Library is the Book of Kells, which we then went and saw.
The Book of Kells is a partial bible with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all
heavily illustrated in Celtic style. It is these illustrations that the book is
most famous for. It was written about 800 CE in St Colum Cille on Iona, off the
west coast of Scotland,
by after raiding by Vikings was moved to Kells for safety.
It was then stolen
in 1007 from Kells, recovered two months later minus the heavy gold of the
cover. In 1653 it was sent to Dublin, and in
1661 loaned to Trinity
College, where it has
stayed. The book is written on vellum (calfskin immersed in lime or excrement
and scraped clean of fur with a knife), and took 185 calves to write. The 8th
century Book of Mulling and Book of Dimma are older, but neither have the
The illustrations required inks from around
the known world. The brown of the written was just crushed oak apples and iron
sulphate, but the colours had rare reagents in them. Blue was made by crushed
lapis lazuli from a single mine in Afghanistan
and by the plant indigo, native to northern Germany.
White was chalk and white
lead. Yellow was orpiment (yellow arsenic sulphate), while red was from the Mediterranean
plant Crozophora tinctoria. Kermes red was made from the crushed
pregnant bodies of the insect Kermococcus vermilio, only found in the Mediterranean. Green was copper and eggwhite.
We also saw the famous harp of Brian Boru, the last High King of Ireland. It is
featured on the currency of Ireland
despite being made a few hundred years after Brian Boru died in 1014.