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Irish Spirit: Sports, Literature, and Independence

Dublin, Ireland

The spirit of Irish independence is seen and felt in its sports (hurling), its literature (Joyce, Yeats, Wilde), in its bullet-pocked General Post Office, and at the Kilmainham Gaol (jail), where the patriots of the Uprising of 1916 were executed.

Complete Video Script

The strength of Irish culture is particularly evident in the country’s love for its national sports. The Gaelic Athletic Association tells why. The GAA was founded in the 19th century as an expression of an Irish cultural awakening. While created to foster the development of Gaelic sports such as hurling or Irish field hockey and to ban English sports like cricket, the GAA played an important part in the fight for independence.

Hurling matches are on Sundays — and actually seeing one, surrounded by incredibly spirited Irish fans, is a memorable experience. But you can relive the greatest moments in hurling history here any day of the week. Hurling — like airborne hockey with no injury timeouts — has long been recognized as an Irish national pastime.

After a peek at Ireland’s top pitch, you can pick up a stick and give the game a whirl…

For many, the most endearing aspect of Irish culture is their love of language both oral and written. Whether you’re into Yeats or U2, the written gift of gab is an Irish form of high art.

Dublin, around the turn of the 20th century, produced some of the world’s great modern writers — like James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, and Oscar Wilde.

Wilde was a Dubliner, attended Trinity College, and walked this park. He wowed Dublin and London alike with his quick wit, outrageous clothes and flamboyant personality.

In his humorous plays he satirized upper-class Victorian society. His characters spoke very elegantly about the trivial concerns of the idle rich.

James Joyce used to wander the back streets of Dublin, observing its seedier side, which he captured in a modern stream-of-consciousness style.

His famous novel Ulysses is set in a single day — June 16, 1904. In it, he follows Dubliners on a one-day odyssey through the city’s markets, hospitals, brothels and pubs.

Tourists gather for the Literary Pub Crawl, which leaves almost nightly from the Duke Pub. Tickets are cheap…just show up. Two actors take a gang of tourists on a witty walk, stopping at pubs and historical sites along the way — it’s Irish lit 101 filled with entertaining banter, which introduces the novice to the high craic — that’s conversation — of Ireland’s great writers. It’s the perfect finish to a day in Dublin: Enjoying a pint and the great Irish storytelling tradition.

O’Connell Street — leading from O’Connell Bridge through the heart of north Dublin — is lined by statues celebrating great figures in Ireland’s fight for independence. While it’s been Dublin’s grandest street for 200 years, it was renamed after this man, Daniel O’Connell, only after the Irish won their independence in the 1920s. Daniel O’Connell, known as “the Liberator,” was that strong voice for Irish Catholics in the British Parliament back in the 1800s.

Dublin’s General Post Office is not just a place to buy stamps. It’s a kind of Irish Alamo, still pockmarked with bullet holes. Murals inside tell its story. It was from here that Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence in 1916 — the one we saw earlier. This kicked off the Easter Rising, which ultimately led to Ireland’s independence from British rule. This was the rebel headquarters and scene of a five-day bloody siege that followed that proclamation.

After 300 were killed and the rebel leaders realized that no national uprising would follow theirs, they surrendered. While they had little public support at first, after the British tried and executed the leaders, public sympathy rose and they became martyrs….this stirred the public. British control began collapsing and by 1921 Ireland was independent.

Here at Dublin Castle the British formally handed power over to the Irish in a stirring ceremony in this courtyard.

It was from here that the Viceroy enforced the will of British royalty. This place was the much feared and disdained seat of British rule in Ireland for 700 years.

Today, it’s used for state functions and tour guides take visitors through this most ‘English’ of Irish palaces.

Kilmainham Jail, opened in 1796 and considered a model in its day, was used as a political prison by the British. Many of Ireland’s patriots — its Nathan Hales and Patrick Henrys — were held and then executed here.

Guides take visitors through the prison and give it meaning.

Guide: Fourteen of the leaders of the rebellion were to be executed in this very yard. The very first to be executed, Patrick Pearse, Thomas Clarke and Thomas MacDonagh, were taken down here separately in the early hours of the third of May. They were taken down to where that cross now stands. Their hands were tied behind their backs, a white marker was placed over their hearts, and they were blindfolded

The prison museum personalizes the inspirational story of the leaders of the Easter Rising. The “Last Words 1916” hall displays the poignant farewell letters the martyred leaders wrote to loved ones just hours before facing the firing squad.