In Ireland they describe this weather as “soft”, their Celtic neighbours the Scots call it “dreich”. Whichever way you look at it, the rain is pouring down and the wind is howling. This is Dublin on a wet Wednesday. I pull the collar of my overcoat up around my neck and push on head down into an icy blast. An umbrella would be a liability today as O’Connell street has become a funnel for the wind whistling up from the Liffey.
Dublin and more specifically Trinity College has provided a base for a longitudinal research study that I have been conducting with Irish colleagues into special educational needs provision throughout the country. I have made many friends here and have visited schools in virtually every one of the twenty two counties. I have seen teachers working in both the English and Irish tongue in the coastal cities of Cork and Limerick and in the moorland villages in counties Donegal and Mayo.
So it is that for the past four years I have been a regular visitor to Ireland’s capital city and have a great affection for its people and culture. Dublin is a beautiful city, small enough to explore on foot, close to mountains and the sea and furnished with some of the finest Georgian architecture. A great centre for the arts, where the names Swift, Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, Bacon and Orpen have passed into legend and continue to attract tourists and students by the score. The Old library at Trinity College stands as a symbol of the city’s long time treasured commitment to learning, and the twin statues of Oliver Goldsmith and Edmund Burke stand sentinel at the entrance to the college casting a contemptuous glance at those of us would be scholars passing through the portals to the inner sanctum of learning within.
Whilst Trinity undoubtedly provides a great seat of learning it is to another part of the city that I often direct first time visitors to Dublin. Whenever I have a brief period of leisure in the city I head for the Chester Beatty Library, an archive of the most splendid and beautifully displayed manuscripts and artefacts. The library, though it is far more accurately described as a museum of international importance, is founded upon a collection donated to the city by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, a mining engineer born in New York who was an avid collector of illustrated manuscripts, beautiful calligraphy and other richly decorated materials from across Asia. Much of his considerable wealth was directed to the conservation of artefacts and especially ancient texts which are now lovingly displayed in the eighteenth century Clock Tower Building adjacent to Dublin Castle.
The library has won national and international awards both for the quality of its displays and for its important work in conservation. I never tire of visiting its galleries and gazing in awe at the magnificent collections which are freely on view to the public.
What Chester Beatty has bequeathed to the world is a great insight into the lives of peoples from around the globe. Here for all to see is a wonderful celebration of all the world’s major religions, a cornucopia of arts, crafts and design from the cultures of every continent. Each section of the library draws to the attention of the discerning viewer the skills, knowledge and passions of people from the most populous cities to the remote regions of deserts and mountains. The message clearly articulated within this collection is one of creativity and ingenuity. Beatty built his collection upon respect for the creative genius he saw in the inhabitants of every land and leaves us in awe at the mastery of craftsmen from all walks of life. This is a true celebration of the differences that exist across cultures and of the opportunities that these differences provide for learning from one another. Anyone who visits with an open mind and a thirst for learning has an opportunity to gain insights and new understanding of the importance of diversity and the true meaning of a shared learning.
Many of the artefacts on display were in all probability produced by craftsmen and women whose formal learning may have been limited. I always come away from visits to this collection renewed in my belief that I have much to learn from people whose cultural, religious and philosophical heritage is very different from my own.
Some of the wonderful artefacts on display at the Chester Beatty Library can be seen at http://www.cbl.ie/