Wanting to escape London and get in touch with my grandmother’s homeland, I took a short flight over to Dublin from London, for all the fun this city has been promising tourists for decades.
I stayed in the 4* Ashling Hotel and had a reasonably priced and decent stay. The hotel had particularly good links to local attractions – including the Guinness Factory, Phoneix Park and city centre which is a great help to me (directionally challenged!).
Keen to get a sense of the history of this city (not just drink it dry!) my first stop of the trip was the Kilmainham Goal Museum. This is not for the faint-hearted, being a former prison used by British, dating back to 1796. For an insight into the wars that were fought for Irish Independence, I can think of no better place to learn about the struggle under British rule. Leaders of the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848,1867 and 1916 were detained and in some cases executed here and it is possible to stand in the courtyard where the shots from firing squads rang out. Perhaps even more shocking was the number of people detained here, in filthy conditions and for petty crimes. Reading the prisoner log-book you can see entries for interned children whose crimes were simply stealing food, this during a time of great famine in Ireland. Despite it being slightly spooky and a bit cold and damp, this was the perfect introduction to Dublin’s history, as it references many other areas of the city (such as the Post Office) where rebellions and uprisings were fought on the streets.
After a morning immersed in Dublin’s sad and gritty history, it was time for fresh air. I headed to the city’s largest open space – Phoenix Park to take a wander amongst some of its 707 hectares (1752 acres). It’s size actually makes it the largest open space in any European Capital City and there is lots to keep visitors entertained, from Victorian Tea Rooms, a deer park, people’s flower gardens, and Dublin zoo, and there are many ways to get about – either by bus, bike or simply on foot as I did.
Heading back into the centre of town with pangs of hunger, I made my way to Fallon & Byrne, a restaurant, wine bar and food hall all in one. Taken up to the second-floor dining room which is flooded with natural light, I enjoyed a delicious meal of Irish lamb, with great service. Would highly recommend!
Still keen to squeeze in, even more, culture, I booked late tickets for a theatre production of The Field at the Gaiety Theatre. The theatre dates back to 1871 and has even been host to a Eurovision Song Contest – in 1971 when the competition came to Ireland for the first time. The Field, written in 1965, tells the story of the hardened Irish farmer “Bull” McCabe and his love for the land he rents and is based on the story of the 1959 murder of Moss Moore, a bachelor farmer living in Reamore, County Kerry. As Irish as Ireland gets!
Needing my fill of Irish sausages and black pudding, I headed to Wuff Bistro for a full Irish breakfast. I was not disappointed. Wolfing down potato farls reminded me of visits to my late grandmother’s house and filled me up for another day exploring the city.
This time, my destination was the city centre, to see up close the General Post Office which was the headquarters of the Easter Rising of 1916 and still pockmarked with bullet holes. From here I walked down the embankment of the River Liffy and crossed the iconic Samuel Beckett Bridge, before wandering down past monuments to more literary greats – including Oscar Wilde’s House on the corner of Merrion Square and taking in the James Joyce memorial at St. Stephen’s Green. Dublin’s literary history is one of the greatest in the world, being home to four Nobel Prize winners, and there are plenty of museums and tours to the haunts where these writers, poets and authors (such as Yates, Bram Stoker, C.S.Lewis and George Bernard Shaw to name some) wrote their award-winning work.
Feeling particularly learned, it was time to see Ireland’s premier university, Trinity College. Here, you can see the Book of Kells – illuminated illustrations of the Christian Gospels dating from 800AD, as well as the Doulas Hyde Gallery – a space for Irish and international small exhibitions as well as ethnographic and craft artefacts.
The college is located opposite the old Irish Houses of Parliament, an imposing classical building built in 18th-century, but by this time, I was all cultured out and it was time for a pit stop and a pint of Guinness in O’Neill’s bar. The bar has a great atmosphere – warm, cosy, traditional with nooks and crannies to tuck away into and live music to boot. A great way to end an enriching visit to a place steeped in my own family’s history but somewhere I previously knew very little about.
And, in terms of finding some Irish luck – well it didn’t rain and that was pretty lucky!