Monday, May 09, 2016

From the Cowshed

Our last 2 days in & around Dublin were great. Contrary to what I anticipated (and despite the excellent marketing of which I was suspicious), the Guinness Storehouse was a super engaging experience for the whole fam. It went way beyond the typical cellar tour/tasting room that we’re familiar with – clearly no expense was spared. It also reminded me of the skill behind curation & interpretation, bringing the Guinness story into the context of daily life through the years. AND making that interesting for adults & children alike – the transportation display & Guinness marketing through the years’ floors were easy wins. We wandered through Dublin and found some lovely pockets, and some less-lovely areas (ironically, the most touristy Temple Bar neighbourhood was least friendly to our little fam). We took our first roadtrip (driving on the left!) to visit my uncle Allen (my Dad’s brother) & family in Rathnally. We were so warmly welcomed & feasted to our bellies content!

Allen, Margaret and their girls Charlotte & Serena

We also went searching for my great-grandparents’ home back in Dublin, where they raised their 9 children – my grandpa was the youngest. We found it, thanks to Tricia’s research & connection with our extended family. The family who lives there now kindly welcomed us to the home that they’ve since renovated, and suggested we also try down the street, where an elder still lives from the time she was a child. Doreen, 95 years old, remembers our family, and the hijinks her and my great auntie got up to. Remarkable. What really struck me, though, was learning about the history of the housing in that neighbourhood – East Wall.
Where my grandpa Boxwell was raised 
A clergyman, Canon Hall, was disgusted at the conditions of the tenement housing (slums) that arose as a result of a change in policies from London in the late 1800’s (I believe). A hundred people might live in a three story building in appalling conditions. I gather he had some architectural skills, and most likely some great advocacy and persuasive skills. He designed new individual family housing, with input from women (!). This initial movement became instrumental in re-homing families and in formulating future housing developments. Furthermore, though Canon Hall was protestant, the housing was for families regardless of either religious affiliation. Something that was pretty radical for the time, I gather. We might assume that my family was a beneficiary of this effort. That feels powerful to me.

I find myself becoming more and more interested in the sociopolitical context of the cities & communities that we visit. There’s a lot to learn here.

We’re now in Tomhaggard, in County Wexford, staying in a renovated cow-shed adjacent to Butlerstown Castle. Boxwells have lived in this Castle for 300 years – tomorrow we’ll meet with the current owners, Helen Boxwell and our hosts, Anna & Jim and we’ll see where we’re related. We’ll also go on the hunt for Ballymacane Castle – the land that my grandfather inherited, and then sold in the 60’s. I’m sure there’s so much nuance in here, I feel a little like a lumbering bear with my questions & curiosity. Fortunately, Helen is the local historian and is in the process of writing a book about the Boxwells! 

So – I’ll leave you with that. Slainte, and until next time! 

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