A November 2003 trip
to Dublin by billmoy
Quote: Dublin has been anointed as a "hot" and a "hip" place to visit for a few years now, and it still feels that way .
Another new structure in central Dublin is the "Monument of Light" along O’Connell Street. Frankly this needle-like "Millennium Spire" is not too exciting, as the grand scale seemingly cannot be appreciated within the confines of this busy but still hemmed-in street. If someone stuck this 120m-high needle in a big park, then perhaps it would be a sight to behold.
A curious structure is the Chimney viewing tower of Smithfield Village. It is a small cylindrical observation deck stacked atop an old distillery chimney, with some decent panoramic views of Dublin.
Even if you do not quaff a pint of Guinness or do not take a tour of the popular Guinness Storehouse, look for the official brand of lovely chocolate bars that are "enhanced with the flavour of Guinness". Yum.
Note that the outlets in Ireland are different from those in North America and most parts of Europe. If you can help it, get a set of international travel adapters that have the countries clearly marked on them, including one specifically for Ireland and the United Kingdom.
There is one central bus terminal but several train stations, so check your listings if you are heading out of Dublin on a train. I found the bus to Belfast to be about half the price as the train, though the train does cut about an hour of travel time.
I would like to thank my friend, the always-smiling Carmen Anta, for allowing me to share a few of her photos and tips of Dublin.
If you are arriving by airport bus, you will need to walk south across the River Liffey to reach the Temple Bar area. The main structure has a charming Georgian-style exterior with a yellow and green color scheme, even if it does look like Ye Olde Giant Billboard or Ye Olde Irish Pub. You will see the pub on the main floor first, a fun place to hang out and listen to traditional Irish music. This establishment is named after one of James Joyce’s contemporaries, a fellow who was a poet, pilot, politician, and frequent imbiber here. The entrance to the hostel is a bit inconspicuous along the side street to the right. Take the lift to your floor or just walk up to your room.
I asked for a private room, and it went for about 33 euros per night (low season rate during November 2003). You can definitely go a bit cheaper if you stay in a room with up to 10 bunks. My room had a bunk bed with a single upper and a wider lower berth that could fit two people who like each other very much. You must turn on the heat yourself, but soon the room is reasonably warm. The very basic room has a writing table, closet, and a private bathroom with a shower stall, sink, toilet and liquid soap dispenser. You must bring your own towel, or you can rent one here. The bed linen is included though. The view from my window was not bad, although it was not quite soundproof. While I did not hear too much noise during my sleeping hours here (remarkable considering there is a popular Irish pub below…with music!), there would be the occasional disenfranchised drunk bellowing various obscenities at 3AM.
Hostel guests can enjoy a light complimentary breakfast in the kitchen area. You can have some toast, cereal, fruit, and coffee, tea or juice. You can use the kitchen during designated times as well. There is a TV and various magazines and brochures to entertain you here. There is also a commons area with a TV and sofas, but I found this to be more of a smoking lounge.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 3, 2004
Oliver St. John Gogarty Hostel
18-21 Anglesea Street
353 1 671 1822
Hotel | "Barnacles Temple Bar House"
The rate to stay at Barnacles starts at 14 euros a head. The hostel has a variety of sleeping arrangements ranging from one up to twelve beds in each room. Each of the bright but spartan rooms contains its own bathroom with toilet and hot shower; although I cannot imagine that the twelfth guy to wake up in one of the bunk-o-rama party rooms will be guaranteed a hot shower! The shower is a bit tricky to figure out the first time out, so having some extra roommates may come in handy if you have questions. The heat and the bed linen are provided free of charge, while towels and locks are available for rent. You can also request an iron, hair dryer and board games from the reception desk, though the bored may resort to other games. All doors are operated by key cards, a security measure not seen in hostels of lesser repute. Some rooms have balconies overlooking cobbled streets, while guests staying in rooms with skylights are sure to get a wakeup call from the burst of daylight overhead.
All guests get to enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast. This is light, definitely not one of those massive heart-clogging Irish breakfasts you might find at a bed-and-breakfast or local diner. The breakfast includes bread, cereal, and your choice of morning beverages. The sugar packets embossed with Irish witticisms are a cute touch. If you are still hungry, buy some groceries and prepare your own grub in the self-catering kitchen.
The cozy communal lounge room has comfy chairs, large windows and even a fireplace. Barnacles is an appealing place for young travelers to stay and swap stories and suggestions. Hopefully your stay here will be peaceful and free from the sounds of fire alarms accidentally going off in the middle of the night.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 2, 2004
Barnacles Temple Bar House Hostel
19 Temple Lane, Temple Bar
353 1 6716277
Restaurant | "Gallagher’s Boxty House"
The exterior has a very traditional look to it, with a green color scheme. The interiors feature solid wood tables, a masculine wood bar area, and a roaring fireplace. This place can get crowded, but any wait is tempered by a lovely pint of Murphy’s stout. Oh man it was smooth and creamy, like a beer milk shake. Not as famous as the ubiquitous Guinness, but the Murphy’s deserves a shout too.
The boxty is a traditional potato pancake usually wrapped around a meat filling. A large boxty can look like an Irish burrito or enchilada. I ordered a sampler boxty appetizer with three miniature portions and three different sauces. The presentation looked like a painter’s palette, with the dabs of sauce arcing around the cigar-shaped boxty pieces. The spicy lamb sausage inside was tasty and flavorfully enhanced by the sauces. I also ordered a bowl of coddle, which is sort of a stew with potato, bacon, and sausage. The serving of coddle is accompanied by a nice thick slice of brown bread. The menu is also dotted with favorites like Irish stew, salmon, steak, bacon and cabbage, and even some vegetarian dishes.
I topped the meal off with an order of bread and butter pudding for dessert. It is quite a large and rich serving that may be comfortably shared by two diners. Apple pie looked like an enormous serving as well.
This is not a cheap place to eat, but if you want to try some old-fashioned Irish dishes in a tourist-friendly atmosphere, this is the place for you. Apparently visiting rock stars enjoy the food here, though they mostly order their servings for delivery.
Gallagher's Boxty House
20-21 Temple Bar
+353 1 677 2762
Have a look at the large chalkboard for some specials before you enter. The modestly designed modern interiors are comfortable backdrops for the young locals who splurge at this establishment, so that is a good sign. When the weather warms up in Dublin, the outdoor seats are very popular. The quality and freshness of the food and the service justifies the higher prices here, so do not expect a cheap meal here.
The waiters are very knowledgeable with the "contemporary European" menu items and they are more than happy to recommend a wine that will be compatible with your dining selections. The seafood is good here, with one of the notable selections being the grilled sea bass. Steak, chicken and pastas are some other prime listings along with salads, soups and juicy hamburgers. The appetizers can be funky, so you can have an adventurous starter balanced with a more familiar entree. The food is delicious, and the presentation is very elegant.
If you have enough room, try to share the enormous dessert combination plate. It has many delicious items that are artistically presented. There is a pear drenched in a white chocolate sauce, a dense chocolate brownie cake, a strawberry mousse, a sensational tree-like tower consisting of delicate caramel strands, and an assortment of delectable berries. Considering it is not really consumable by one person, the 14 euro price tag for the plate does not seem so exorbitant. I suppose this is the equivalent of ordering one of those enormous banana splits at an ice cream parlor, but for a group of two to four this signature plate is a "must do" for dessert connoisseurs and can very well be the sweet highlight of your dining experience at Fitzer’s.
50 Dawson Street
+353 1 677 1155
The bakery creates a lovely selection of homemade pastries, savouries, cakes, flaky fruit-filled pies and other treats. The chocolate ganache is a decadent cake that is served lip-smacking warm, so try to eat this baby at the shop. The raspberry tart bears a sweet taste that is fit for a queen, although it is definitely not as rich as the chocolate items. The raspberry scones are light and fruity, not hard and clunky. Take a look at the menu posted on the front window, or just peek inside and see what the customers are enjoying today.
The dining area has a few small cafe tables, with limited seating in the courtyard, so try to grab your seats when you have a chance. The chairs are not quite built for hours of casual lingering, but you can order a pot of tea or coffee and enjoy a light snack or treat. The ample portions of the Irish breakfast will satisfy those with well-rounded morning appetites. Savory tarts like ham and spinach are a big hit here. You can also order seafood items like salmon and crab cakes, which you may not expect to find here but are good nevertheless. There are super soups, salads and sandwiches served here too. Everything here is very tasty, a cut above the selections sold at the average pastry shop or tea room. The staff is well known to be quite courteous, but that seems to be prevalent in many Dublin establishments.
The Queen of Tarts is open every day, but note that it is not a dinner spot. It closes shop early in the evening so do not wait to purchase something sweet to take away.
Queen of Tarts
4 Cork Hill
+353 1 670 7499
The food at Gruel is openly prepared in the busy front area, where you can order to take away if you wish, and many people do so. A hodgepodge of artwork and posters decorate the walls to add a bohemian touch to the interior spaces. The clientele seems to draw mostly from the young locals who have given Dublin a hip reputation in recent years. They seem trendier and more artsy than the comfort food served here.
My dinner here was a big plate of bangers and mash, a traditional Irish-English dish if there was any. A pile of plump and tasty sausages was heaped over a bed of mashed potatoes (there you go with the potatoes again!) and edged with a delicious garnish of red onion. This is definitely not cutting-edge cuisine, but it is traditional, it is good and it is filling. Yes, meat and potatoes are what I would expect to eat in Ireland, and they are solidly delivered here.
Other menu favorites served here are meaty sandwiches, pizza, and hearty soups. Daily specials are popular here too. I drank an orange soda with my bangers and mash, and there is an interesting selection of beverages at this classier-than-average diner. The food is not terribly expensive, but it is not for penny-pinchers either. Gruel is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, though it closes relatively early in the evening. I am not sure if it is cool to eat at Gruel, but it is not a bad joint for a bite.
68 Dame Street
+353 (0)1 670 7119
A somewhat haphazard series of additions have sprung up here over the centuries. The fine 13th Century Norman Tower (or Record Tower) actually has the look of some rugged part of an old castle. The tower has walls with a thickness of 5 meters, and was rebuilt in 1813. It was used as a prison, then as a storage facility for official documents, and is now the Garda (Police) Museum. The Chapel Royal of 1814 (also the Church of the Holy Trinity) abuts its eastern side, but its neo-gothic design by Francis Johnston is a relatively handsome match since he also rebuilt the tower’s upper section.
On the southwest flank, the most obvious feature of the State Apartments is the pastel colors shelling their exteriors. This lends the castle complex an unfortunate "Disneyland in Dublin" look to it. Try to check out the castle foundations, which offer a more authentic experience to your visit. The Bedford Tower of 1761, north of the great courtyard, has a charming Georgian exterior design. Modern office structures have attached themselves to the castle in recent years.
The Dubhlinn Gardens, a beautiful landscaped area just south of the castle complex, was the original spot of the "dubh linn" (black pool) that gives Dublin its name. The Chester Beatty Library, just west of the Gardens, features a famed collection of Asian art as well as sculptures and illustrated texts. The Dublin City Hall, which originated as the Royal Exchange in 1779, is also nearby.
+353 1 677 7129
Attraction | "Trinity College (Book of Kells)"
Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I of England, the University of Dublin is the oldest and most famous university in Ireland. Trinity College, the one and only college of the University of Dublin, consists of about forty acres of comfortable collegiate architecture, stoic statues, green gardens and contemplative cobblestone spaces within a set of old walls. The main entrance to the campus is on the west side.
The Book of Kells is located in the Old Library of Trinity College. Dating from about 800 AD, it is one of the oldest books in the world. It is a remarkably preserved Latin manuscript of the four gospels of the New Testament, revealing a beautiful level of craftsmanship throughout its pages of colorful illustrations and transcripts. The 680-page book was bound into four volumes in 1953. Only two of the volumes are on display at a time, with usually one layout showing an illustrated page and the other showing text. The pages are usually turned every month. There is an admission fee to see the Book of Kells, so you had better want to see an old book if you are paying up. Dating from about 1400, which makes it one of the oldest surviving harps in Ireland, the harp of Brian Boru is another treasure that can be found at the Old Library.
There is something called the Dublin Experience, a multi-media show playing during the summer months at the Arts and Social Sciences Building, which reviews the history of Dublin.
A walking tour of the campus can be arranged with a student tour guide if you want a more formal experience. If you are visiting during the summer, student dormitory rooms are available for overnight stays.
+353 (1) 608 1000
The original neoclassical entrance is along Merrion Square West, while the new entrance along Clare Street introduces you to the exciting modern addition designed by the architectural firm Benson and Forsyth in 2002. You can wander aimlessly amongst the 54 gallery spaces, but try to get a floor plan to smooth your way through the different wings and levels. The original gallery (now the Dargan Wing, designed by Francis Fowke) debuted in 1864. The Milltown Wing by Thomas Newenham Deane was added in 1903. Frank du Berry then designed the Beit Wing in 1968. Each wing’s spaces are color-coded to help your way around. Look for the glass elevator to facilitate your way up the levels.
The museum houses the National Portrait Collection as well as major works of the Irish School artists, featuring Jack B. Yeats. See if you can hunt down works by Caravaggio (The Taking of Christ) and Vermeer (Lady Writing a Letter), two artists whose works you would not expect to find in Ireland. There is now a bit of ongoing controversy as to whether the Caravaggio is indeed a Caravaggio, but one would like to believe in the affirmative. Here are also many interesting works of Western European masters to be enjoyed throughout the maze of galleries. A contemporary artwork depicting U2 frontman Bono was an unexpected sight.
Admission to the National Gallery of Ireland is free (except for designated special exhibitions), but a donation is suggested. Thursday is the late night, while there are abbreviated hours on Sunday. Photography is officially not allowed, although if you are nice to a guard you may snap a shot on the sly of the cool Millennium Wing interior. The bookshop and café are popular places to spend your spare time and money.
National Gallery of Ireland
Merrion Square West
+353 1 661 5133
Attraction | "Sights along the River Liffey"
Phoenix Park is an enormous park that is the largest enclosed park in Europe at 1760 acres. It was groomed into a park in 1671, but was opened to the public by Lord Chesterfield in 1747. The park includes an incredible variety of attractions, including the Dublin Zoo, the President’s residence (Aras an Uachtarain), the Ashtown Castle, a police museum, grounds for the sports of cricket, hurling and polo, and much more. There are red deer in the park that are tame. Landmarks include the Corinthian-style Phoenix Column, the Wellington Monument obelisk, the Magazine Fort, and the Papal Cross. Supposedly the park is unsafe at night, as one can imagine a huge urban park may be.
Just a bit east of Heuston Station is the beautiful James Joyce Bridge, designed by the great Spanish architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava and finished in June 2003. The curving, tilting modern bridge contrasts with the quaint and colorful older bridges that span over the river.
The Four Courts building was designed by James Gandon, one of Dublin’s most prolific architects. Supposedly Gandon bypassed the opportunity to be the state architect of St. Petersburg in order to be an established architect in Dublin. The building was started in 1785 and was finally completed in 1802. It was damaged by shelling and fire in 1922, and was rehabbed in 1932. The central block is fronted by Corinthian columns and is flanked by neoclassical wings. The whole ensemble is capped by its prominent copper-topped rotunda drum. The original Four Courts (Exchequer, Common Pleas, Chancery, King’s Bench) surround this central rotunda.
The popular Temple Bar area along the south bank of the river is linked to the northern side by the Grattan Bridge (1875), two footbridges (Millennium Bridge of 1999, and the Liffey or Ha’penny Bridge of 1816), and the O’Connell Bridge (1880). The Liffey Boardwalk lines the north bank of the river in this area.
The Custom House was also designed by James Gandon and is generally regarded as his finest architectural design. It was constructed from 1781 to 1791. The building was gutted by a major fire in 1921, and its last major renovation was completed in 1988. It enjoys perhaps the most dramatic setting along the river, with a symmetrical neoclassical facade. The frieze features carved figures that represent the rivers of Ireland. Gandon’s grandest gesture is the tall Venetian-style copper dome that is capped by a statue of Hope. The Visitor Centre features historical displays on the building and other buildings by Gandon.
+353 1 605 7700
The complex is a healthy half-hour walk west of the city center, but much of my stroll was along the River Liffey so this only enhanced the journey in my eyes. Walk along the country lane that leads to the grounds, which are marked by interesting outdoor art installations. The gallery spaces show a constant juxtaposition between the modern artwork and the “old” spaces surrounding them. Walk around the courtyard and look at the mansion-like exteriors.
Even if thought-provoking contemporary art is not your cup of tea, it has bucolic grounds that include a manicured formal garden, meadow and medieval burial ground to please your old-fashioned sensibilities. The formal garden, featuring a fountain and a few rustic statues, is a great place to relax, unless the gardener is trimming the hedges loudly. Across the way is the gigantic Phoenix Park, which is about twice the size of Central Park in New York.
The museum is lauded for its Education and Community programs as well as its notable Artists’ Work Programme. Young artists work and thrive in former coach houses adjacent to the main Museum building.
Admission to the Irish Museum of Modern Art is free except for designated special exhibitions. The museum has shorter hours on Sunday and is closed on Monday, though the Grass Roots Café here is open every day of the week.
Irish Museum of Modern Art
+353 1 612 9900