(NATIONAL MUSEUM OF IRELAND)
His head was spinning with a myriad of impressions, smells, textures and emotions.
Simon had just finished a gentle amble through the museum and he had been aware throughout of the sensation of being screamed at by the inanimate objects on display. Walking past the perspex cabinets, crammed too full with gold, faded bronze and rotted wood; it was as if the spirits of the fashioners of these ancient artefacts were imprisoned together with their creations, within the humidity-controlled, cubed confines. The disingenuous information labels with their bland, “safe” explanations of these sexy reminders of Ireland’s colourful prehistory, appeared as anaemic, awkward interlopers – like royal visitors at a soccer match.
Simon continued in apparent calm meditation, yet swooning internally beneath the claustrophobic pressure of “things”. Thousands of things, silently protesting – proclaiming their lost histories and absorbed destinies.
More than any museum he had ever visited, the National Museum of Ireland epitomised the inherent schizophrenic quality of such institutions. But, whereas places like the Louvre, the British Museum and the Met, by reason of their vastness achieve a dilution of the unavoidable coarseness in juxtaposition of exhibits, Dublin’s national house of treasure was box-like by comparison. Boxes within bigger plastic boxes, all within a greater box of stone. A sarcophagus writ large. And thus, Simon’s sensation of walking through a huge coffin among smaller coffins and his subsequent feeling of suppressed panic.
After having made good his escape out into Merrion Square he reflected on this Irish snapshot of itself; prehistory, Celtic, Christian, Viking, British, Independence and – Ancient Egypt.
As he made his way briskly along damp streets, he fancied that for a brief moment he had grasped in this incoherent arrangement the mystery of Ireland. A past whose pagan sexuality is wilfully ignored, obscured by its dazzling horde of fabulous gold. And a present whose intellectualism, violence and misery form the lifeblood of the modern state. In the middle stands the Cross – a stern and conditional bridge linking Ireland’s ancient, gilded and rural mysticism with its modern legacy of blood and books. And above all of this hover Ra and Amun in their sombre recess, as if to remind the present-day Irishman and Irishwoman of their pagan souls.
He thought that in this museum was the eternal, painful and glorious contradiction that is Ireland, laid out and entombed in restless stasis.