Some of Europe’s ‘great’ capital cities seem to have an inexhaustible supply of top tier visitor attractions, London, Paris or Rome. Others have at least one instantly recognisable iconic image that instantly identifies them, Berlin, Athens, or even Copenhagen. Then there’s another group who seem to perform very well in the treasured weekend break market, but which at face value don’t seem to have any great depth to their visitor offer, Riga, Lisbon and Dublin. At Faraway Fairways we’ve periodically found ourselves writing about Dublin and sometimes been left struggling to explain that the city’s post office might be its apex attraction. It’s taken us a long time to realise that we were looking in the wrong direction. Dublin, we concluded, isn’t a place, it’s a person. When you see this, the apparent success of Dublin and people’s enduring fondness for them, makes a lot more sense. Like any gregarious individual, Dublin needs to be embraced. You really need to jump right in and be willing to go with the flow. If you retreat from it though, you can be left feeling a little bit under-whelmed.
Having suggested Dublin needn’t have the depth of visitor attractions as some capital cities, it would be wrong to leave you under the impression that it has nothing. One of the oldest is Dublin Castle, which was first founded as a major defensive work on the orders of England’s King John in 1204, shortly after the Norman invasion of Ireland of 1169, when it was commanded that a castle be built with strong walls and good ditches for the defence of the city, the administration of justice, and the protection of the King’s treasure. Largely complete by 1230, the castle was of typical Norman courtyard design, with a central square without a keep, bounded on all sides by tall defensive walls and protected at each corner by a circular tower. The castle also has a comparatively grizzly chapter as those leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising who survived and were captured were taken here to be variously interrogated, tortured, and executed.
The city’s troubled past is never that far away from its list of attractions. The central Post Office on O’Connell Street is where the rebels of the ill-fated Easter Rising made their headquarters. As just about the strongest building in the city that wasn’t in English hands. It was from outside this building on the 24th of April 1916, that Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The problem however is that it was a Post Office, not a bespoke defensive building. As English troops began to organise a counter-attack it was perhaps inevitable that the uprising would fail, albeit the legacy would pass into mythology and inspire future Republican leaders to take up the baton. Chipped stone from bullets can still be seen in the magnificent doric columns and other masonry.
Fortifying a Post Office was probably never going to work, but the ramiications of the Easter Rising were profound and far reaching
One of Dublin’s newest monuments is the Spire of Dublin, officially entitled the “Monument of Light.” It is a 121.2-metre (398 ft) conical spire made of stainless steel, located on O’Connell Street where it meets Henry Street and North Earl Street. It replaces Nelson’s Pillar a monument to the English Admiral which nationalists equipped with dynamite decided wasn’t necessarily appropriate for Ireland in the 1960’s.
The Old Library of Trinity College, Dublin, holds the Book of Kells, and is one of the city’s most visited sites. The Book of Kells is an illustrated manuscript created by Irish monks circa 800 AD. The Ha’penny Bridge, an iron footbridge over the River Liffey, is one of the most photographed sights in Dublin and is perhaps considered to be one of Dublin’s most iconic landmarks. Before the Ha’penny Bridge was built there were seven ferries, operated by a William Walsh, across the Liffey The ferries were in a bad condition and Walsh was informed that he had to either fix them or build a bridge. Walsh chose the latter option and was granted the right to extract a ha’penny toll from anyone crossing it for 100 years. The toll was dropped in 1919.
The ha’penny bridge over the Liffey
It would be a betrayal of Dublin of magnitude enough to make grown men weep into their Guinness were we not to pay testimony to the incredibly rich literary history. In fact, there can’t be anywhere on this planet that has produced more writing talent from such a comparatively small pool. Notables include Nobel laureates William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot). Other influential writers and playwrights include Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) and the creator of Dracula, Bram Stoker. It is also the location of seminal works of James Joyce, including Ulysses, which is set in Dublin and includes much topical detail. Other renowned writers include J. M. Synge, Seán O’Casey, Brendan Behan, Maeve Binchy, John Banville and Roddy Doyle.
If you wanted to combine Dublin’s other traditional past-time (drinking) with an appreciation of her literary heritage then it is definitely worth taking the ‘Dublin Literary Pub Crawl’. The pub crawl meets upstairs at the Duke Pub at 19.00 most evenings (9 Duke Street, off Grafton Street).
You’ll be whisked through Dublin by your guide who effortlessly quotes from Dublin’s great writers, regaling you with anecdotes and introducing you to string of pubs along the route with noted (and authentic) literary connections. You will of course be expected to consume as you go along, well why wouldn’t you, you’ll never make up to being an Irish poet if you don’t! Just to add to the confusion, you’ll usually be met by actors in role, so if you think you’ve bumped into James Joyce, (usually sign that perhaps you’ve drunk too much) needn’t be seen as the early warning system that it usually would be!
“…A highly enjoyable evening which gives you the pleasant notion of simultaneously replacing brain cells as you drown them..” – – In Dublin Magazine
“Informative, friendly and thoroughly entertaining. [The actors] led me on a tour that was personal, humorous and always interesting. I learnt about the history of some of Dublin’s most illustrious pubs. I heard stories about the writers of Ireland’s best-known literature. I laughed at their jokes. I marvelled at their antics. And I raised a glass to their memory…” – Irish American Magazine
Dublin has a vibrant nightlife and is reputedly one of Europe’s most youthful cities, with a higher percentage of under-25’s than any other capital. There are many pubs across the city centre, with the area around St. Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street, especially Harcourt Street, Camden Street, Wexford Street and Leeson Street, the location of many nightclubs and pubs. The best known area for nightlife however is Temple Bar, a discreet district south of the River Liffey and similar in legend now to London’s Soho. It was developed as Dublin’s cultural quarter and does retain this spirit as a centre for small arts productions, it might equally stand accused as having lost a little bit of its authenticity over the last decade however as tourists have replaced locals, and more exploitative pricing policies have been adopted. It’s possibly fair to reflect that the local population has tended to gravitate to the venues around Leeson Street, Harcourt Street, South William Street and Camden/George’s Street. If you’re looking for the sit down in-house musicians and a better of genuine criac, you might find it here.
Temple Bar has perhaps become a little bit touristy now, but it still won’t let you down for a drink (or three)
Live music is popularly played on streets and at venues throughout Dublin, and the city has produced several musicians and groups of international success, including The Dubliners, Thin Lizzy, The Boomtown Rats, U2, The Script, Sinéad O’Connor, Boyzone, Kodaline and Westlife. OK, there’s a few in there we wouldn’t necessarily endorse!
We said Dublin was a person, our advice would be to make friends!