After spending a week in Dublin, I’m convinced its citizens are blessed with extra genes for hospitality and humor.
My weeklong visit unrolled like a feel-good movie. The charming city is ever so easy to stroll —more compact than many a European capital, though you can purchase a hop on-hop off bus pass if you like.
Plus, they all speak English. Well, sort of: It’s puzzling how “five” can turn into a three-syllable word.Dublin Castle sits in the heart of historic Dublin and houses magnificent state apartments (used today for state functions such as presidential inaugurations), a royal chapel and a Medieval undercroft (the underground foundations of a previous castle).
Literature and liturgy
Next I hit the cozy Dublin Writers Museum, also on the campus, saluting Ireland’s homeboys Sheridan, Stoker and Swift, Wilde and Joyce, and Nobel laureates Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney.
Speaking of Jonathan Swift, you can see his grave with a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he daylighted as dean.
At the nearby Christ Church — the city’s oldest building — you can see the space in which Handel debuted his now-famous Messiah, using the choirs of both congregations and an organ he had shipped in for the performance in 1742.
Next I toured the formidable Dublin Castle and, anchoring its gardens, the Chester Beatty Library, blazing with a bevy of religious texts, including the Winnes handwritten Gospel of St. John from 300 A.D., precious ancient Torahs, Qurans, and fanciful Hindu tomes.
Art and archeology
Art lovers, speed to Dublin City Gallery– The Hugh Lane on the River Liffey’s north bank for glimpses of Monet and Mondrian and the studio of figurative painter Francis Bacon, looking like the aftermath of a tornado due historians’ meticulous relocation of 7,000 items just as he left them in his London studio before he died in 1992.
Next hit the National Gallery of Ireland and National Museum of Ireland to discover archaeological wonders, including treasures from a longboat dating back to 2,500 B.C. and mummified human sacrifices like Clonycavan Man, preserved since the Iron Age in a bog and found by a peat harvesting machine in 2003. His torso and head, including a stylish gelled pompadour, are still intact.
St. Patrick’s bell is on view, too, out-shone by hordes of gold and Viking swords.
Next up: You can’t miss Merrion Square, once the Duke of Wellington’s turf and now bearing a statue of Oscar Wilde, stretched out in dissolute splendor.
St. Stephen’s Green also lures strollers to this, the city’s playground (thanks to the benevolence of the Guinness family), festooned with a swan- decked pond and, in spring, the blazing gold of daffodils.Local favorite, the Temple Bar has traditional Irish music daily
Beer and architecture
Speaking of Guinness, the city’s most-visited attraction is its brewery. Tours unfold the process behind Ireland’s “mother’s milk,” ending with a pint at its rooftop Gravity Bar and a 360 view of the city.
If architecture is your passion, Martin Dalton of Architecture Tours Ireland is your man. He led us on a freewheeling romp that started with the serene symmetry of St. Stephens Square.
We ogled fanlights above the famous painted doors, then trotted past the Castle and City Hall toward Temple Bar — the city’s SoHo — and the remains of an ancient Viking Wall.
A bubbly food writer, Aoife McElwain, led us on a Fab Food Trail tour, including eight tasty stops, starting with Sheridan, a cheesemonger who extolled the excellent quality of Irish milk as we munched on samples.
Pepperpot, in the posh Powerscourt shopping mecca, offered farm-smoked salmon.
After a swig of Powers whiskey in the ultra-Victorian Swan Bar — original marble and brass — we were off on to the George Street Arcade for a hearty sausage roll, a “guaranteed” hangover cure.
Cocoa Atelier provided 20 varieties of handmade chocolates; then we threw a raw oyster down the hatch at Temple Bar’s Market.
Next it was time for some serious eating, and the Shelbourne Hotel was a super place to start, celebrating house-cured salmon and Kilmore Quay cod.
Avenue By Nick Munier, an up-tempo Temple Bar cafe, swears by its famous dry-aged beef, Hartys oysters (oh, yes) and scallops with citrus foam.
The lively Fade Street Social does wonders with scallops, too, with a smoked salmon and butter mousse. And its deconstructed granny’s Irish stew stars balsamic-baptized fillet with puddles of potato mousse.
You can end the orgy with bread-and-butter pudding embellished with salted peanut ice cream.
Farm, celebrating all things organic, features Irish crab cakes, sea bass on cauliflower puree, a charcuterie board and fish pie.
Bang makes a bang, indeed, with its modern takes on Irish classics, such as lamb rump and slow-cooked shoulder and salt march duck breast.
Where’s the fish and chips, you ask? It’s batter-coated at pubs like Wuff on one side of the River Liffey and Davy Byrne’s on the other — the pub where Leopold Bloom hangs out in Joyce’s famed Ulysses.
If it’s time for music, O’Donoghue’s is the place, featuring a nightly changing lineup of whatever musicians walk in (think guitar, banjo, squeeze box, whistle).
Warning: It’s even more addictive than the free-flowing Guinness.Christ Church Cathedral (founded in 1028) features a beautiful interior and a fascinating medieval crypt, including a mummified cat and rat known locally as Tom and Jerry.
Carla Waldemar is an award-winning travel writer. She edits the annual Zagat Survey of Twin Cities restaurants and writes food and travel articles for publications around the world. She lives in Uptown.
The 1916 Rising Remembered
The story of Ireland is a story of conquerors — Vikings and Normans alike. But it was domination by the British — the 1 percenters of the day — who caused the most hardship. Just as American Revolutionaries fought their British rulers for independence in 1776, in Dublin during Easter Week 1916, Revolutionary patriots revolted against British domination, too — but with a far more tragic outcome. After six days, badly outnumbered, the rebels surrendered and their bold leaders were shot.
This year, the Rising of 1916 Centenary is hailed throughout the city with special activities, exhibits and museum launches, focused on “reflecting on the past, re-imagining the future.” Back then, public opinion aligned with the Brits, for many Irish served in the British Army during World War I. But after a firing squad brutally executed the Rising’s 14 leaders, sentiment swung to the rebels’ cause, paving the way for the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922. The Rising has become what some call “the most analyzed seven days in Irish history.”
Learn more with extensive a 1916 Freedom Tour. See 1916tour.ie for more information.