I wasn’t kidding when I said that May was a crazily busy travel month. Four days after I got back from Italy, I hopped on another plane to go to Dublin, Ireland. I arrived on a Thursday afternoon, made my way to my hotel, and stashed my stuff. Four hours after I set foot in Ireland for the first time, I was waiting for my first tour of the trip.
Normally when I start in a new city, I’ll either explore on my own at first or I’ll take a guided tour that gives me a good overview of a city. Hop-on/Hop-off bus tours are really good for this, because you can see a lot of major sites in one pass and decide easily what you want to spend your time on later.
Dublin was different though. About two months before my Dublin trip, I stumbled across the “Le Cool Dublin Experience” online. From their website: “Find out about DIY culture, street art, fashion, emerging music and literature, artists, hidden historical gems and the latest trends.”
In other words, you never know what you’re going to get when you sign up for a Le Cool Dublin walk. The route and stops are different each time. Only the date and time are announced in advance, so you get there and the rest of the walk is a surprise. “This continually evolving two-hour tour will reflect the now and engage with people behind initiatives which are reshaping Dublin city in vibrant and meaningful ways.”
My tour started with a Q&A session with Jean Butler, who was in preparations for her show, “Hurry.” I was unfamiliar with Jean Butler before this walk, even though I’m quite familiar with Riverdance, a show she helped to launch. If you’re curious, just go to Youtube and put ‘Jean Butler’ in the search box. She’s quite well known, just not to me before this tour.
The Le Cool tour moved on to this gentleman, a tailor who makes hand-made suits. Jude Hughes has been running a tailoring shop in the same location since the 1980s. (Interesting side note: I did some Google searches to find the best link to point to for Jude, and in every single picture I’ve seen of him, he’s wearing a green sweater. Possible the same green sweater in every photo. That’s a bold, Barney-Stinson move, don’t you think?)
Our tour also visited a pair of people who were rushing to open up a new restaurant with a grand opening less than two days later- they were still constructing the place, and had just put the walk-in refridgerator into the building. They spoke with us for a few minutes but couldn’t really stick around.
The final stop of our Le Cool tour was at the apartment of Kevin Powell and Robin Hoshino, the folks behind News Of The Curd, to talk about their suppers. They do a weekly two course supper for roughly a dozen people, using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients in the Temple Bar area.
The Le Cool Experience walking tour was a very interesting introduction to the city, before I got on with the more typical touristy tours I had on my plate for the trip.
After the Le Cool tour wrapped up, I walked around a bit in Temple Bar. Up until this trip, I thought that Temple Bar was a specific bar- I didn’t realize it was an entire part of the city until I got there. Lesson learned!
I thought this pair of street musicians had a neat gimmick going. the “invisible” drummer was pretty good.
On Friday morning, as I prepared to go out for a walking tour of Dublin, something terrible happened. Travesty! Suffering! Ragnarok!
I dropped my camera.
The UV filter (pictured below) took the brunt of the impact, and it was buried with full honors in the hotel room. The helicoil of the lens was not unaffected. It made a weird snapping sound whenever I adjusted the focus of the camera, and the autofocus was no longer quite so automatic. I was able to use the camera somewhat for the walking tour that lie ahead, but I noted the location of a good camera shop so that I could visit around lunchtime.
While I waited for the walking tour to start, I was suitably impressed by the full frontal advertising on the Savoy movie theatre on Upper O’Connell Street.
The walking tour itself covered a lot of interesting things. Dublin has a tremendous amount of old churches that have been repurposed into other things. This one is a bar and restaurant, for example. Naturally, it’s called “The Church.”
The walking tour also passed by Dublin’s castle. It’s not the biggest castle I’ve ever seen, but at least it looks like a castle. Some of the castles I’ve been to hear barely look like a castle at all. This one could have been the model used to sculpt the chess piece of the same name.
During the walking tour, we kept hearing rampaging hordes of screaming children, without really understanding why. It turns out they were all doing their part to be tiny vikings on the amphibious “Viking Splash” tour. With all the hats, this was actually too cute not to share.
The walking tour concluded in the main courtyard of Trinity College. This works out well for me, because I wanted to see the Book of Kells anyway. Near to the Book of Kells is the Trinity College bell tower.
It is said that it rings whenever a virgin walks beneath the arch. It was also a very quiet day around the bell tower.
The main chamber of the Trinity College library is called “The Long Room,” and it’s easy to see why. This place was massively cool to see.
The courtyard behind the bell tower is also where I stumbled across my second sighting of Sfera con Sfera. This one has a significantly smaller diameter than the one at the Vatican, but it seems to be otherwise identical.
Not far from Trinity College is Merrion Square, a small green area where you can find a statue of Oscar Wilde made out of different colored stone.
There were a lot of really interesting statues around Dublin. In fact, I missed a bunch of really good ones. I didn’t get to see the Phil Lynott (from Thin Lizzy) statue on Henry Street because I didn’t know it was there until I’d already left. I did see Jim Larkin, though. I love the outrage of this statue. From one of his noted speeches, “The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.”
Of course Dublin is also famous for being home to more literary greats than you can shake a stick at. Some of them even come with their own stick. For example, James Joyce.
All the famous writers give way to the current crop. This guy was offering poetry for change. I’m not sure whether it was original poetry or borrowed; I didn’t ask.
This giant spike on O’Connell Street is called the Monument of Light, or the Spire of Dublin. The locals have more colorful names for it, because they really don’t like it very much. (The one I can remember right now is “The Stiffy on the Liffey.” Yeah. ) It was built to replace Nelson’s Pillar, which was destroyed by a bomb in 1966.
Not far from the end of O’Connell Street is the Liffey Bridge, known coloquially as the Ha’Penny Bridge. This is a pretty famous landmark, and is featured in movies and television quite often when Dublin turns up.
More street musicians. Music is everywhere in Dublin. Most of it is even good.
Dublin is a city with a lot of interesting random things going on. For example, I think this was a bachelor party. The gentleman in the yellow and green top was dressed as a leprechaun. Four seconds after I snapped this picture, a random girl ran up and hugged him. I rather wish I’d gotten that picture instead of this one.
There was also a sporting event going on all weekend while I was there, a rugby final between two French teams. As a result, I kept seeing people dressed in the team’s colors.
That last picture was a group I spotted when I was on my way to Kilmainham Gaol. This famous prison is often featured in movies and television. It’s the location where members of the 1916 Easter Rising were imprisoned and, in many cases, executed.
This is the interior cell wall of the jail cell occupied by Grace Gifford Plunkett. She marreid Joseph Plunkett hours before his execution for the uprising in 1916, and was later jailed for her activities with the IRA in 1923. She spent three months in Kilmainham Gaol, and she painted pictures on the walls of her cell, including the Virgin Mary and Christ as seen here through the cell door’s round peep-hole.
This section of the jail has appeared quite often in films and television.
This courtyard is where many of the executions were held by firing squad.
Touring Kilmainham Gaol is very interesting, to be sure, but it’s also sobering and oppressive and the best way to counter that effect is to swing by Leo Burdock’s afterward for some famous traditional fish and chips.
If you luck onto a sunny day, there’s lots of nice things to see. This “Garden of Remembrance” in Parnell Square is pretty and quiet.
There are lots of green spaces in Dublin, and on a sunny and warm day, the flowers are fantastically eye-catching. By this point in the day, I had acquired a new camera lens, and this was actually one of my test shots to see how the new lens was working out. Pretty good, I’d say.
Then there’s Phoenix Park. On more than 1700 acres, this is one of the largest walled city parks in Europe. The Dublin Zoo is actually inside Phoenix Park. So is the Wellington Monument, seen below. The monument is the tallest obelisk in Europe. I like tall things.
This building is Christ Church Cathedral. I only saw this one from the Hop-on/Hop-off tour bus. It sure is neat looking though, isn’t it?
Look, random street art!
There are three more things that you should not visit Dublin without trying at least once, even though they’re incredibly touristy. The first is the Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl. This starts in a pub, moves to another pub, and then wraps up in yet another pub. You sit, you drink, and you learn about traditional Irish music. You learn about the instruments, the styles, the structure. You learn about reels and jigs and lock-ins. And it’s all fabulous. Mine was run by these two guys.
The second must-do in Dublin is to attend a show of traditional Irish step-dancing. This is often done as dinner-and-a-show, and in that regard it reminded me a great deal of the flamenco show that we saw in Barcelona.
If it were me, I would totally crack my head on those stage lights.
Last, but definitely not least, in my list of must-do items for a visit to Dublin is the most touristy of the three. I don’t care, it’s still worth it. Visit the Guinness Storehouse. This is a giant facility attached to the Guinness Brewery. It’s not a brewery tour, but it does teach you a great deal about the making of beer.
Here’s a fun fact about the Guinness Brewery. See the cláirseach, the celtic harp in the Guinness logo? That’s facing with the curve on the right. Compare that to the image used officially by the Irish government on buildings and coins. The reason for this change of direction is that the harp was trademarked by the Guinness corporation in 1876, so when the Irish government started using it in 1922, they had to turn it around.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the Guinness Storehouse.
Outside of the Guinness Storehouse, the horses that pull the carriages are forced to suffer the indignity of tiny hats. They manage, though.
Embedded in the floor at the center of the main hall is the original 9,000 year lease signed by Arthur Guinness in the 1700s. That made made absolutely sure that he would be able to keep making beer in the same place for a good long time.
The experience is mildly educational, and full of interesting factoids.
Partway up, there’s a place to stop for a snack. I highly recommend the Guinness Chocolate Muffins. I cannot overstate how delicious these were. I wish I had one right now, in fact.
There’s a section called The Guinness Academy, where you can learn to pour the perfect Guinness. You get a certificate and everything.
Finally, there’s the reason that I wanted to go in the first place- The Gravity Bar. At the very top of the Guinness Storehouse, there’s a few more stairs.
They lead to the Gravity Bar. This giant glass walled bar overlooks the surrounding countryside. Your admission to the Storehouse includes a complimentary pint of Guinness, and this is the best place in Dublin to drink it.
For the record, Guinness tastes very different here then it does elsewhere. I’m not sure why this is. Some people say it’s just because it’s fresher. My personal theory is that bottling a beer for export changes the flavor in subtle ways. This is why German beer in America doesn’t taste quite the same as German beer in Germany, in my opinion.
I’m no expert though. I just think it tastes better in Dublin.
Here, have a pint.
Do you like Guinness? Do you like chocolate muffins? Do you think I missed something fantastic on my Dublin trip that I didn’t picture here?