At Trinity College, Dublin, Michael Portillo discovers one of Ireland's greatest treasures and learns how it became the symbol of the nation.
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For Victorian Britons, George Bradshaw was a household name.
At a time when railways were new,
Bradshaw's Guidebook inspired them to take to the tracks.
I'm using a Bradshaw's Guide to understand how trains transformed
Britain and Ireland,
their landscape, industry, society and leisure time.
As I follow its roots 130 years later,
it helps me to discover these islands today.
I am continuing my journey,
which began in Wexford in south-east Ireland
and will end in Westport in the Northwest.
Today I'm mapping my way across County Wicklow towards Dublin,
the capital, hoping to encounter on the way aristocrats,
knights and a prince, all harping on Irish history.
I embarked on my Irish journey at the port of Wexford.
As I move north to the capital and cross the country,
I hope to uncover the symbols and institutions of Irish identity
at a time of political tension,
before ending on the wild Atlantic coast.
On today's route I stop in Greystones in County Wicklow,
before travelling to Dublin, where I explore the fair city.
Along the way, I discover one of Ireland's greatest treasures...
This embodies the soul of the nation, this instrument.
I don't think that's an overstatement.
..I hear how Britain sought to calm relations across the Irish Sea...
So despite the political agitation,
using the royal family is a good card to play?
It's always a good card to play,
especially if they're young and good-looking.
..and test my mettle in a Dublin hostelry.
A few of those and you'll be having the craic all night.
I'm there for a bit of craic.
My first stop today will be Greystones,
where I will visit Powerscourt House,
which Bradshaw's tells me was sold in 1876 for £200,000
and is situated in a beautiful domain.
Victorian tourists love their gardens and an advantage
of the rainfall in Ireland
is that its stately homes are surrounded by verdant parks and
beautiful water features.
The 47 acre Powerscourt estate
is one of the best known stately homes in Ireland.
It proclaimed British power in Ireland
and, at the time of my guide, attracted the Victorian visitor.
I'm alighting at Greystones, a small seaside town.
Showing me around Powerscourt is assistant house manager
Justin, Powerscourt is an imposing house
and a rather beautiful one, too.
-What are its origins?
-Its origins, Michael, start around 1180.
The French Norman family La Poer settled here at that time,
around 1180, and they built one of the first castles
that were built on the estate.
But at some point that ownership changed?
That ownership changed over many times.
You had the La Poers, as I said, started off,
you had the Fitzgeralds and the O'Toole families
fighting over this area, and then from 1603,
Queen Elizabeth I granted the land here to the Wingfield family.
They had it all the way up until 1961.
And of course the British Crown had that sort of power over Ireland.
Ever since King Henry II's conquest of Ireland in the 12th century,
the British Crown granted prime land to Irish aristocrats as a reward for
loyalty or military service.
The houses that they built came to symbolise the power of the
British-backed ruling elite over the local population.
And many absentee landlords directed the income that flowed to their
estates in England.
Here at Powerscourt the owner at the time of my guidebook was the seventh
Viscount Powerscourt, Mervyn Wingfield,
an Irish representative peer
who played a very active role in his estate.
How would you describe the contribution
of this seventh Viscount?
Well, this gentleman really is responsible for everything
that we have around us. Apart from him building the house,
he also created the gardens.
This area that we're in now is the herbaceous border but it was the
Now, that's really important in terms of self-sufficiency
for the estate and also for the village that we have here.
And so how did you fare during the Great Hunger,
beginning in the 1840s?
Because we had this kitchen garden
and it was self-sufficient we were able to supply the village.
Everybody came here if they needed something.
They were really very well-respected around this area and they were very
helpful to everybody that came.
The gardens helped to feed the residents of the big house
and the local village and, like most estates of the 19th century,
they provided pleasure, too.
The seventh Viscount had travelled extensively and was inspired by the
gardens that he had seen at the Palace of Versailles and at castles
in Austria and Germany.
One of the most striking things about the park is the topography,
these beautiful slopes, the giant pond and so on.
How was all this created?
Well, this was a huge undertaking.
These terraces behind us were dug out by hand, horse and cart.
100 men it took ten years to dig out these gardens.
This is the Victorian period of a kind of mania for collecting species
and presumably the seventh Viscount participated in that, did he?
He undertook 400,000 trees a year for ten years.
That's four million trees throughout the park of the estate.
His idea was to bring a little bit of the world back to Powerscourt.
The Viscount brought many new species to Ireland,
including Japanese sika deer.
From his original one stag and three does,
numbers have risen today to over 20,000.
Within the old Deerpark is a beauty spot that Bradshaw's considers to be
the chief attraction,
and I agree.
There are very few illustrations in my Bradshaw's
but the Powerscourt Waterfall merits one.
It is the largest falls in Ireland.
And in the picture there's what I take to be a little sika stag.
They didn't exactly "endeer" themselves with the local farmers,
who found them a 12-pointed pest.
Greystones is the southernmost station
on the Dublin Area Rapid Transit, or Dart, system.
This coastline and city network serves 31 stations.
One of my favourite passages in Bradshaw's,
"The entrance into the Bay of Dublin
"unfolds one of the finest prospects ever beheld.
"On the right, the rugged hill of Howth with its rocky bays,
"wanting only a volcano to render the scenery a facsimile
"of the beautiful Bay of Naples,
"whilst at the extremity of a white line of masonry, fringing the sea,
"the lighthouse presents its alabaster front."
The city was the second of the British Empire.
Some proud Dubliners might say the first in beauty.
Dublin became the capital of the English Lordship of Ireland
from 1171 onwards.
Built on the banks of the River Liffey,
it was during the 18th-century that many of the city's notable Georgian
buildings and streets were built.
I am arriving at Dublin's Connolly station,
opened in 1844, which retains its distinctive Italianate facade.
Bradshaw's guidebook encourages discerning Victorian tourists
to make a beeline for one of the city's most venerable institutions,
and it's my first stop.
This is the magnificent Trinity College Dublin,
founded, according to Bradshaw's, in 1591 by Queen Elizabeth,
"With a Grecian front," behind me, "of 308 feet,
"it's comprised of three quadrangles or squares.
"In Library Square is a fine room with 150,000 volumes,
"including the Book Of Kells and the harp of Brian Boru."
If Ireland is a church or temple, this is its altar or tabernacle.
Created in the ninth century, the Book Of Kells
is a richly decorated manuscript of the four Gospels.
It's generally considered to be the finest surviving illuminated
manuscript produced in medieval Europe.
It is kept here along with the other treasure mentioned in my Bradshaw's,
the harp of Brian Boru.
I'm meeting historical harpist Siobhan Armstrong.
Hello, Michael. It's nice to meet you.
Very nice to see you.
The library of Trinity College dates from the early 18th century
and is awe-inspiring.
Siobhan, what a stunning room. I think it's one of the loveliest
rooms I've ever seen, one of the best in the world, perhaps.
I'm so glad you like it.
Bradshaw's tells me there are 150,000 volumes here.
I think there may be even more.
Apparently there are 200,000 first editions
-in this part of the library alone.
-And the harp?
Ah, the harp, which is down here.
So, an extraordinary and, I believe, very hallowed object.
-Tell me about Brian Boru
and tell me about the harp.
Ardri Brian Boru,
otherwise known as the High King Brian Boru of Ireland,
was the High King who
successfully fought the Danes but died doing so in 1014.
This harp is traditionally said to have been his instrument but that's
quite unlikely because it's probably not that old.
It's presumably a late medieval instrument,
and if I were pushed I would say maybe the 15th century.
How on earth did the harp come to Trinity?
It was given to the college in 1782 by William Conyngham, who lived in
If you'd like to know the mythical version of how it got
from Brian Boru all the way to Trinity,
it's that Brian's son, Donnchad, made a pilgrimage to Rome in
1063 and gifted the harp to the Pope.
A later Pope then supposedly gave the harp as a gift to Henry VIII in
the 1520s, who was then Lord of Ireland,
so it would've been an appropriate gift.
And then it moves through various hands
until it gets to William Conyngham.
But 1782 is when we know it shows up here.
What a gorgeous thing. What a gorgeous thing.
What does it mean to the people of Ireland?
Oh, that's quite a question, Michael.
It's... I think this embodies the soul of the nation, this instrument.
I don't think that's an overstatement.
For the Victorian tourist visiting Ireland,
the treasures at Trinity College would've been top
of their Dublin itinerary. This harp is priceless and not to be played,
but Siobhan has a replica.
How does the harp become the symbol of Ireland?
We see it for the first time on an Anglo-Irish coin in 1534,
minted by Henry VIII, with a crown on top,
and of course this is a very deliberately placed there
since Ireland is becoming a colony of England at that period.
But of course the Irish always want to get the crown off the top
the harp, so we see it in the 1790s, in the prelude to the revolution
of 1798, being used by the United Irishmen without the crown.
This is a very significant moment.
And today it is an official symbol.
Yes, it became official symbol in the early 20th century. It's not
just a generic Irish harp, but it is this harp.
In fact, this is of course a replica of the one in the glass case.
The Trinity College Brian Boru harp
is the national emblem of Ireland now, very specifically.
And does that replica play?
It certainly does.
-You're so welcome.
The harp certainly produces a traditional sound of Ireland
but Dublin's fair city inspired a song which has become
an unofficial anthem.
# Cockles and mussels
# Alive, alive-o! #
The folktale of fishmonger Molly Malone is beloved by tourists
coming to the city.
And the song is no doubt often heard at the end of the night in one of
Dublin's other attractions, its public houses.
-Good evening, barman.
-Good afternoon, sir.
May I complement you on your lovely old pub?
-How old is this?
-This pub is about 300 years old.
I have a guidebook here that's only about 130 years old,
tells me that local products are Guinness and whiskey.
Which of those should I have?
Well, to be honest, I reckon you should have both.
And have the two together?
Well, you're in Ireland so you have to have the two together.
Right. Thank you.
This will probably kill me.
Now, one stout and one single whiskey.
So, a good sup of the black stuff.
Mmm. Which is lovely and creamy and cold.
And then a drop of whiskey.
Let it move around the mouth.
A little bit like fire.
And, of course, a few of those
and you'll be having the craic all night.
I'm there for a bit of craic.
It's a new day and I'm staying in the glorious city of Dublin,
as my guidebook has much more in store for me.
Bradshaw's has directed me towards St Patrick's,
or the National Cathedral,
"An early English cross with spire and buttresses
"thoroughly restored 1861-1865 by Sir Benjamin Guinness."
"Here, the Prince of Wales," that would be the future King Edward VII,
"was installed Knight of St Patrick in April 1868."
A protestant Prince in a Protestant cathedral set amongst a largely
Catholic population -
the politics must've been tricky.
Dublin's Protestant population is very small,
yet St Patrick's is one of two Anglican cathedrals in the city.
I'm meeting 19th-century specialist Dr Ciaran O'Neill.
Ciaran, St Patrick's is an impressively ancient
and beautiful cathedral.
Bradshaw's talks about a refurbishment in the 1860s
by Benjamin Guinness.
-Tell me about that.
-Yeah, it's a very controversial refurbishment.
We're standing in the side of a 13th century cathedral,
but really we're standing in a cathedral that Benjamin Lee Guinness
built in the mid-1860s.
The refurbishment was near total.
There really isn't much of the medieval cathedral left,
so from 1860 to 1865 the Guinness family paid a huge sum of money to
rebuild this in their own vision.
-Guinness as in the black stuff?
-Yeah, very much.
Yeah, absolutely. Of the brewery fame.
And what might he have hoped to get from that?
His motivations aren't entirely pure,
so in one sense it's a beautiful gift to the people of Dublin
and to the Church of Ireland,
in another sense it's part of a long-term Guinness
project to buy their way into the aristocracy.
And he eventually is rewarded in that way,
he becomes a baronet, which is one of the lower levels
but nevertheless begins the process.
Now, what about those references in Bradshaw's to the Prince of Wales
and the Order of St Patrick?
The Order of St Patrick are an order set up in 1783,
really at a moment after the French Revolution
and the American Revolution
where there's a need to shore up the loyalty of the Irish nobility.
So the King, George III, creates an order that is on a par,
at least symbolically, with the Order of the Garter, much older,
and the Order of the Thistle in Scotland.
And these banners, these standards, represent those families?
Yes, these are the original 15 families.
Now, it's decided to give it to the Prince of Wales,
the future King Edward VII.
He's not short of titles.
No, but this one is an important one to give him.
This is about the Irish people being able to celebrate a monarch taking
their premier order but it's also about the monarchy
and the royal family showing a willingness to really
be part of Ireland.
The Prince of Wales' visit in 1868
came at a time of strained Anglo-Irish relations.
The previous year had seen a failed uprising by so-called Fenians.
Affection for the Queen was on the wane.
She'd withdrawn into mourning after Prince Albert's death in 1861
and radical Irish nationalism was growing.
The Prince of Wales was sent to repair the damage.
The Prince of Wales, Bertie as he was often known,
was quite a popular fellow.
-Did he do well here?
His visit is a massive success.
Tens of thousands of people line the streets on his way here and they
played it in a very savvy way.
When the Prince of Wales arrives, he's wearing shamrock,
his wife is wearing poplin and other Irish produce.
They shake Catholic hands for the week that they're here.
They make a big effort and it's a success
and not only do the Irish people take to Bertie,
but they really fall for his wife, Alexandra of Denmark.
She's the real success story of the week they spend here.
At a time of political agitation,
a Protestant prince in a Protestant cathedral,
is that not a bit offensive to the Catholic population?
Yeah, that was a very carefully managed aspect of the ceremony.
They wanted to make it as ecumenical as possible, so they didn't hold a
Protestant service, not only that,
they invite lots of Catholics into this cathedral.
It's a ticketed event and there are a huge amount of Catholics present
-here on the day.
-So at a time of political tension,
using the royal family is a good card to play?
It's always a good card to play,
especially if they're young and good-looking.
Within Dublin's city centre is this huge and beautiful sanctuary
of Phoenix Park.
Bradshaw's tells me that the, "Vice regal lodge is in Phoenix Park
"on the west side of Dublin." In 1882,
as the British government's Cabinet Minister for Ireland
and his top civil servant approach the house,
they were set upon and stabbed to death
in an event that caused horror throughout Britain and indeed much
of Ireland. At the time, 80 Irish members of the British Parliament
were arguing for home rule
and the Phoenix Park murders indicated that some Irish
had already lost patience with constitutional reform
and believed that independence could be achieved only through violence.
Today the lodge is the official residence
of the President of Ireland
and is one of several historic institutions in the park.
Bradshaw's tells me that here in Phoenix Park, "The Mountjoy Barracks
"is the depot for the great Irish Ordnance Survey,
"which extends to 1,600 sheets."
That work is still done here.
I'm interested to know how the topography of this green island was
committed to paper and why it was so important to do so.
During the 19th century, the national ordnance office
was involved in an extraordinary undertaking.
I'm meeting one of today's team of mappers, Andy McGill.
What role does Ireland play, do you think, in the history of map-making?
Well, Ireland were the first country in the world to be mapped at
large-scale, six inches to one mile.
What's the importance of six inches to one mile?
It's a large-scale map,
so it was large enough to actually define properties and property
boundaries but it was also, I suppose,
getting that balance right between the efficiency of not having
too many map sheets covering the country,
but yet getting the detail that was required in the mapping.
The British government wanted accurate maps of Ireland
so that they could tax it.
In 1824, a team of surveyors led by the brilliant Colonel Thomas Colby
began to create a record of the landscape
with a precision never seen before.
In this box we have a bar known as Colby's bar.
Colby invented this bar
and what was unique about it was it's made up of two
different metals, brass and iron - so in varying temperature,
the bar will never change its dimensions.
And what they did was they measured a baseline along Lough Foyle,
eight miles long using a number of these bars.
So they would set them up on wooden trestles in a straight line,
they would put tents over them to give them
some protection from the elements.
It took them approximately 60 days for about 70 people to
measure this line with extreme accuracy,
and that was the basis for all of the mapping in Ireland.
So he establishes a baseline.
What is the point of that?
Mapping in general for any nation is based on triangulation.
The idea behind this was that we would create triangles
all over the country, and these would be points on top of mountains
and people may recognise trig pillars,
concrete pillars on top of mountains around the country.
This was the first baseline for the first triangle.
Once you have your first triangle you build a series of triangles from
that, until you cover the entire country.
It's amazing, so actually all the triangles are subsidiary
to the first line.
Correct. They're all based on this very first line and all the mapping
of the country to this present day
started with the bar that's inside this box.
To calculate the angles,
the team used an instrument known as a theodolite.
This is a Troughton Simms theodolite
and this would have a horizontal circle on it to measure horizontal
angles. It also has a vertical circle on it
to measure vertical angles.
We set up the theodolite on both ends of that baseline
and measure the angles to the third point
and therefore you've created your first triangle for the
mapping of Ireland.
The survey of Ireland was unprecedented.
The methods were replicated in the rest of the British Isles and across
the Empire to create maps that were essential to planners and engineers
in the new era of railways and imperial power.
You're a professional in this field,
how do you feel about Colonel Thomas Colby and his team?
I think what Colonel Thomas Colby and his team achieved back in 1824,
when I compare it to the methodologies that we use today,
using satellite technology, field equipment such as GPS technology,
I think what they achieved still stands up today.
I think it's mind-boggling.
The bonds between Great Britain and Ireland where thick and ancient.
Queen Elizabeth I had founded Trinity College Dublin
and the future King Edward VII had been invested
as a Knight of St Patrick, while the English Wingfield family had owned
Powerscourt for many centuries.
But an increasing number of Irish saw the relationship
as purely colonial.
Tired of providing accompaniment to the British,
they longed to hear the Irish harp loudly playing solo.
Next time, I get up to speed with modern archaeology...
-That was excellent.
-That was perfect.
-Do you really go at that pace?
..discover a glorious hidden wonder...
This is the best chapel in Ireland by a long shot.
You can't come to Ireland and not see this, can you?
..and get my marching orders.
If you're going to join them, beat.
At Trinity College, Dublin, Michael Portillo discovers one of Ireland's greatest treasures and learns how it became the symbol of the nation. There is a chance to sample the black stuff in a Dublin pub before Michael learns how Victorian royals were deployed to calm rocky relations between Britain and Ireland. He explores the magnificent house and gardens of Powerscourt in County Wicklow. Finding an angle on triangulation helps Michael to understand how Ireland was put on the map - and why.