A lifetime isn’t long enough to enjoy the pleasures of Ireland, but 48 hours might just be long enough to taste some of Dublin’s finer delights. The birthplace of Irish Nationalism is a wonderful combination of ancient charms and cutting edge culture, as well as a treasure trove of historical finds and some of the finest restaurants in Europe.
THE CITY CENTER
Start with a stroll along O’Connell Street, the city’s primary artery. Here, my wife and I passed the famous statue of James Joyce, one of Ireland’s famous sons. The author was born in the southern Dublin suburb of Rathgar on February 2, 1882, and irrationally remains one of the country’s national literary heroes, despite a distinct underlying criticism, especially of Dublin itself.
Mind you, Joyce even called Dublin the “center of paralysis.” However, that does not stop the city from commemorating Bloomsday every year on June 16, which finds celebrants retracing the steps of Leopold Bloom, the main character of Joyce’s famous work, Ulysses.
Participants reenact scenes from the novel, such as stopping off for a glass of burgundy and a Gorgonzola sandwich at Davy Byrne’s Pub on Duke Street, just as Bloom did. The Ormond Hotel (Ormond Quay), just a two minutes walk from O’Connell Street, is the place for a pint in the afternoon. Here, Bloom was tempted by the barmaids in the Sirens chapter. But what you won’t see during these celebrations are readings of Joyce’s work, which have been barred by the author’s infamously litigious grandson.
An impressive stretch of O’Connell Street is occupied by the General Post Office, a legendary landmark in Ireland’s history. It was here that in 1916, the Irish Proclamation of Independence was read by poet Patrick Pearse during an unsuccessful rebellion against British rule. Labour Leader James Connolly and his Citizen Army occupied the General Post Office during the Easter Rising. One of the seven signatories of the Proclamation, Connolly was severely wounded in battle and later executed by the British.
Arguably Dublin’s most famous writer, James Joyce famously claimed that the city could be rebuilt from scratch using his descriptions of it. His statue is a prime stop on a walking tour of Joyce’s Dublin.
Today these events are regarded as a key point on the road to Irish independence. The sacrifices of the Irish nationalists for the country’s independence can still be seen today: Bullet holes pock the columns of the building, which is still an operating post office today.
Just outside the General Post Office is the newly constructed Dublin Spire. At almost 400 feet (120 m) tall, the Spire is easily the tallest landmark in Dublin and was built to replace the old landmark of Nelson’s Column, which predated the one in London’s Trafalgar Square.
However, the old landmark was blown up by the Irish Republican Army in 1966. While the Spire is almost 10 feet (3 m) wide at its base, it rises to a beacon of only a six-inch (15 cm) width.
Greater Dublin, with a population of about one million people, is the capital and largest metropolitan area of the Republic of Ireland. The city is located near the midpoint of Ireland’s east coast, right at the mouth of the River Liffey. The best place to cross the river into Southside Dublin is the picturesque Ha’Penny Bridge. The cast-iron bridge was officially dubbed the “Liffey Bridge” in 1922 (after officials renamed the Wellington Bridge, built in 1816.) But the half a penny toll charged early in the last century is the name that has stayed on with Dubliners.
TRINITY COLLEGE AND THE GOSPELS
We ended up at the entrance to Trinity College (College Green), founded by charter of Queen Elizabeth I in 1592 and today home of The Book of Kells, perhaps one of Dublin’s most popular attractions. It was written around the year 800 AD and is a lavishly decorated Latin text of the four Biblical gospels with prefaces, summaries and canon tables or concordances of gospel passages.
The college library has recently put together an extremely well presented introduction to the manuscript called, “Turning Darkness Into Light,” which adds a great sense of context and history to the visit. The library visit is worthwhile at US$ 9 (€ 7,50) for the atmospheric Long Room alone, a 213 feet (65 meter)-long collection of more than 200,000 of the library’s oldest books, including an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
There is also a 15th century harp on display – long but incorrectly associated with Ireland’s high king Brian Boru – as well as a fine collection of marble busts of writers and thinkers such as Jonathan Swift.
With the sun setting on Trinity Green, we set out towards Temple Bar, a cultural, historic and small business neighborhood in the heart of Dublin. We ended up at The Auld Dubliner (24/ 25 Temple Bar), a traditional pub with dark corners to meet friends and better-than-friends. Although the pub is sometimes maligned for its pursuit of the tourist dollar, our visit found it full of students, local business people and a friendly staff that served what was quite possibly the best pint of Guinness I have ever had. Cold and smooth with that slash of genius between the white and the black, it went down just right.
The Oliver St. John Gogarty, at the junction of Fleet and Anglesea Streets, offers traditional music sessions along with the perfect pint.
A minor misadventure on the way to dinner took us by Christ Church Cathedral (Christchurch Place), built in 1172 on what was once the center of medieval Dublin. Although the church has competed with nearby St. Patrick’s for much of its history, both Church of Ireland cathedrals are somewhat disused by the city’s overwhelmingly Catholic population, but make lovely places to stop and reflect.
The next morning, we charged up with a hearty, if temperamental, Irish breakfast of a rasher of bacon, white pudding, black pudding, fried egg and toast. Equipped with a day’s worth of protein, we decided to make the best of an unusually warm day with a trip to Ireland’s coast. At Tara Street, we hopped on the DART, Dublin’s suburban rail line that runs north of the city to Dundalk and all the way south to Arklow. We disembarked at Dalkey, a scenic seaside suburb.
Dalkey has received more attention in recent years for its famous residents, including members of the rock band, U2, than it has for its attractions. Our rambling day hike from Dalkey to Dún Laoghaire took us by the remains of the 12th century Bulloch Castle, Goat Castle and Archibold’s Castle, as well as the barren beauty of the Irish coastline along Glengeary and Sandycove.
Dún Laoghaire, once a small fishing village, has grown out of some of its 19th century charms but is still a pleasant place to walk along the sea on a warm day, where large waves signal the arrival and departure of ferries to England.
The huge harbor is sheltered by two piers that date back to the 1850s and stretch over 3280 feet (1,000 m). A walk along the eastern arm takes the visitor past several interesting historical artifacts, including a 150-year-old anemometer measuring wind speed, a lighthouse, the functioning East Pier gun battery and a memorial to the crew of a Dún Laoghaire lifeboat, who drowned during a rescue at sea.
Following a quick snack of garlic mushrooms and a pizza at Mia Cucina, one of the better offerings along the fairly dull length of St. George’s Street, we were back on the DART and in Dublin by nightfall.
Back in Temple Bar, the music was already pouring out of the pubs and into the streets. The city is a touchstone for music lovers, having produced not only the overwhelming success of U2, but also Sinéad O’Connor (who used to waitress at the nearby Bad Ass Café, Crown Alley), Bob Geldof, Elvis Costello, and Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, as well as countless traditionalists like the Wolfe Tones, the Chieftains and Christy Moore. Their legacies live on in the dozens of fine street musicians who dot Temple Bar and Grafton Street.
In a strange twist, dinner was composed of some of the finest Cajun cooking I have encountered outside of Bourbon Street, New Orleans. Tante Zoe’, tucked quietly down Crow Street in the Temple Bar district, offers fantastic modern Cajun and Creole dishes including jambalayas, gumbos and other southern treats.
While street musicians are to be found in any large city, the players of Dublin offer a much higher quality and fevered pace than their European contemporaries.
The prize at the end of nearby Grafton Street is the lovely St. Stephen’s Green. Although its dark history includes long stretches as common land where public hangings and burnings once took place, today the park is a popular escape from the busy center of Dublin.
The park’s picturesque structure comes from the Guinness family, beginning with Sir Arthur Guinness, who founded the company in 1759 and whose statue still adorns the park today. The 18th century Georgian architecture immediately outside the park is also worth a look, including 16 Harcourt Street, where Dracula author Bram Stoker once lived.
The easiest place to pick up a ride back to the airport is the Dublin Tourism Centre on Suffolk Street, where the bus stops every 15 minutes. It was a sad thing to leave this wonderful city, both comforting in its old-world solidity and fascinating in its modern-day approach. Dublin is alive with possibility, not only for the weekend tourist, but in the vibrant and friendly nature of its citizens.
IF YOU GO