Ireland Stories and Tips

Dublin's Fair City

Grafton Street flower sellers, Dublin Photo, Dublin, Ireland

We caught the train under gray skies. We got to Dublin about 2:30 and took a cab to the Harcourt Hotel. (review) Great Hotel! I think it was a former home of George Bernard Shaw. It's expanded into a building next door as well, where our rooms were. The hotel is just a couple of blocks south of St. Steven's green. There's a pub where they lay out the buffet breakfast in the morning, a small restaurant and a dance bar as well. There is a resident's bar called Barney Google's where trad Irish music is played most nights as late as there are patrons to play for. We took advantage of that!

I met up with my friend Carole who arrived a few days ago. Our room in the hotel is very cheerfully decorated in bright yellows with a burgundy carpet. Two friends had checked in and the others were flying from Manchester later. We set up a time to meet in the hotel pub for 7 tonight. In the meantime, there was Dublin to get a first look at. Three of us headed out and down Harcourt Street that led right into Grafton Street. Lunch was a priority and we ate in a cafe in the St. Stephen's Green shopping center, a lovely glass roofed structure with lots of light streaming in.

Grafton street is a pedestrian shopping area with some lovely stores, an upscale department store, Brown Thomas, Marks and Spencer, and lots of cafes and restaurants including the famous Bewley's. We found a cashpoint and continued along, window shopping and popping up side streets. We went over to examine the lovely St. Anne's church which seems to have associations with a number of famous former Dubliners including Bram Stoker! The church didn't seem to be open so we walked onwards.

Next stop was a gawp at the Mansion House, former home of the Lord Mayor but now used for civic functions. We headed back south and came to St. Stephen's Green which is really lovely. It was an ancient common land but enclosed in the 18th C. and laid out in it's present form as a Victorian park in the 1870s. There are ponds, gazebos, flower beds, lots of ducks, statues and lots of trees, bushes and memorials.

Back to the hotel to freshen up before meeting the rest with hugs and renewals of acquaintances all around. We made reservations at TGIFridays, by Stephen's Green so we walked down en masse. They were really busy and even though we had reservations they weren't ready for us for over 3/4 hour and we didn't end up getting food until 10! Luckily they have an extensive cocktail menu.

We all relaxed and enjoyed ourselves just the same, once the very loud and rambunctious French hockey team finally took their leave. Back to the Harcourt and the resident's bar. We got stuck in to drinks and later an old friend of Rose's arrived. I didn't mention that Rose is a singer, and has sang in bars and pubs for many years on and off. She and her friend Martin entertained us with some traditional Irish melodies and her voice is absolutely stunning! It really topped off the evening. I went to bed about 2 though I believe some of the others went on a few more hours.

Today it looks like the weather is going to cooperate. Breakfast was the usual full cooked fare. We all scattered around 11 to pursue our own interests, planning to meet back at the bar for 6 tonight.

Carole and I planned to walk around the city to see some of the major sights, as much as our feet can stand! Down to Grafton Street, we paused to watch some buskers performing. One was particularly inventive, covered head to toe in silver. He had a cart with a sign on it "Coin Operated" and a broom as if he was a street sweeper and sprang into action when someone put a coin in his box or even if someone just walked close by. Then he'd stop again for a minute or two.

We walked west of Grafton and came upon a huge old building that may have been a treasury building perhaps but which contains a covered market now. It's very hip, funky, with books, records, cd's, clothes that were gothic and flowing, lots of inventive jewelry and organic food kiosks. I bought a small bag of Turkish Delight, amazed that it actually comes in so many flavours! Carole purchased some dried lavender so her suitcase will smell lovely!

Again we walked, looking for Dublin Castle but we came upon Christchurch Cathedral first and as that was on our list, we navigated across the busy corners to the cathedral close. The cathedral has the most marvelous tiled mosaic floor, in dark cinnamon reds, terra cottas, black and white and which matched quite the loveliest baptismal font I've ever seen. Inset into the cobbled surroundings are paving stones imbedded with ancient brass artifacts discovered in architectural digs and there's the foundations of an old chapter house. There's a footbridge across a street to Synod Hall to Dublinia which is a museum on the history of medieval Dublin. That would have been fun to see but we wanted to cover more ground.

Leaving there we headed down Lord Edward Street and stopped for a cup of tea at a small cafe called Munchies right next door to a very unusual craft shop called Whichcraft. The items are unique, modern art and are all made by Irish artisans.

We found Dublin Castle near the city hall. The castle is now mainly offices though I think you can go into a few of the buildings to see the paintings and ceilings. There's an old Norman tower, a gatehouse tower, an old chapel and state apartments in the compound. On the other side, where we discovered some edifices of the castle painted shocking colours like blue and yellow and green was a circular lawn with a celtic knot tiled into it and then a cafe built in a castle looking structure which I guess was built to reflect the real thing. There's the Chester Beattie library that has some lovely paintings in it as well.

We headed down a side street on the edge of Temple Bar towards the river and noticed a sign pointing to an enclosed courtyard hosting an organic gourmet market! Cheese, meat, baked goods, pies, fruit and veg on offer.

Down to the Liffey which looked desperately filthy with a lot of debris floating in it. It's lined on both sides with brightly painted buildings alongside some large official edifices like the Four Courts and Custom House. The river has a number of bridges, both vehicle and pedestrian, including a very pretty white painted wrought iron one called the Ha'penny bridge, which is how much the toll used to be. We headed into Temple Bar, an old quarter of Dublin, now filled with restaurants, pubs, and lots of tourist shops. Streets are narrow and cobbled, buildings have bright signs and murals on the walls. Temple Bar is also near Trinity College so there are a lot of students here. We wandered awhile then found a cyber cafe and shared a terminal and then decided to get a taxi back to the hotel because our feet hurt.

Dublin looks a little run down around the edges but it's very colourful and vibrant. There are startlingly large ornate buildings and churches which look all the bigger because most of the buildings aren't that high. There are some leafy parks and squares and more cobbled streets than I expected. We've seen the formal St. Stephen's Green but not Trinity Campus or Merrion Square and a lot of the famous Georgian architecture.

The late diners went down into Temple Bar and the rest of us walked to Grafton street to try our luck. We ended up at Captain America, which looked like a version of Hard Rock Cafe with music memorabilia all over. We had a wait at a very crowded bar but were able to sit all together. The food was really good and the service was excellent!

On the way back, four of us decided on a horse and buggy ride and the rest headed back to the resident's bar. We had a half hour tour, with an enjoyable running commentary by the driver. We saw the Georgian squares with the lovely famous Dublin doors, the large museums and government buildings, and the Grand Canal. We even got a ride right to the door of the Hotel! It really did feel magic, wrapped in a blanket against the cold night air, with the echo of the horse's hooves on nearly empty streets.

The musicians on tonight at Barney Google's were especially talented but we were shattered with all the walking and fresh air and didn't stay up long.

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