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“I hope they say ‘grand’. I hope they say that word a lot.” Said one of my accomplices at the beginning of our whistle stop tour of Dublin. A lovely Welsh reporter whose talon like nails and fear of the rain belied her family’s farming background. However she was obviously made of strong stuff as shown by her Guinness enthusiasm and eventual amazing accounts of work on the farm. She also wasn’t alone, her desire for Irish stereotype fulfilment was matched by everyone on the trip.
Now, I’ve met many an Irish, in fact there are barely any places in the world where I haven’t met at least one Irish person and they always exceed my expectations, in both joviality and contrasting, dramatic melancholy. It’s like they are all playwrights, dancing round a merry glass globe. I’m happy to place yet another sweeping generalisation in here and say that most Irish people also have sparkling eyes and an excitable spirit. One such spirit that all of the trip attendees, including myself, were more than happy to embrace.
My expectations of the city were less clear however. I’d not been to Dublin before, but I am proudly one quarter Irish and previous visits to Ireland had always struck me with its feel and spirit. The powerfully green hills, icy clear streams and long stretches of wistful sandy beaches, visited throughout my growing up, have had a lasting impression on me. The times I’ve been enveloped by trees and sat in a sand dune considering deep and fantastical nature, history and landscapes, all in varying tinted glows. I would write my thoughts in my precious notebooks, sometimes burning the words later, through fear my brother on discovering them would destroy me on the school bus, with my own vulnerable scribe. In summary; I think Ireland’s a very beautiful and imaginative place and I thought Dublin might not be the same. I had preconceptions of spinning through old buildings, past rivers of alcohol drenched bars, raucous singing and steamy lead detailed windows. I think I must have thought I was travelling back to 1853.
In reality, Dublin is an extremely cool city, full of fascinating stories, museums, boutiques and enormous plates of delicious food. Every person we met was a delight. The relatively small size of the city gave it a fantastic community feel. My time there was also just as poetic as every other visit to Ireland. Here follows a diary of events.
The morning was spent at Trinity College, built in the late 1500s after a collection of Irish people appealed to Queen Elizabeth I to build them a university. We wandered around the stunning grey, gothic buildings with bicycles tied to the railings, cobbled stones and a wide demographic of people stretched out on the grass. “It’s a sanctuary here, when you just want to get away, you come here and it’s so peaceful.” Said Aoife, our Dublin guide. I noted a poster advertising a Shakespearian play to be acted out at the College. I imagined the buildings illuminated, a beautiful setting indeed.
I took a multitude of odd angled photos, before we went inside to walk around the Book of Kells Exhibition. A lavishly decorated manuscript containing the four Gospels in Latin based on Vulgate text, written on vellum (prepared calfskin), in a version known as ‘insular majuscule’. After this we moved on to the 18th century library, which is musty, serious and full of ladders scaling the aged texts. The walkway is full of journals, books and strange medical artifacts, such as an amputation saw, a mean looking surgical pump and an the enormous skeleton of Cornelius Magrath, the seven foot, ‘Tipperary Giant’. I loved the library and kept everyone waiting as I visualised people using the instruments and writing at their desks.
We crossed a couple of streets and stepped into the visitor centre where we heard all about ‘Arthur’s Fest’, which lands on the last Thursday of September. A musical and cultural explosion, the two days celebrate the Anniversary of Arthur Guinness signing the lease on the St James Gate Brewery. The festivities begin in Dublin at 5.59pm with a toast to Arthur Guinness, then continues into the night, with up to 30 live music events across Dublin. Apparently it’s a real hoot and not too many people are aware of it. In fact I discovered Ireland has a huge amount of quirky festivals and they’re all small and friendly little occasions. Worth getting involved in. I also found out about surfbus.ie, which is a company that will take you and your surfboard scooting about Ireland in the search of waves. I left the information centre yearning to go to Galway, Lahinch and Cork which sound extremely idyllic.
Naturally whilst in Dublin, we went to the Guinness Storehouse. A Chicago styled, metal and dark brick construction. The light blue, chic restaurant was like something from my book of dream spaces, very open, fresh and stylish. There we had lunch and devoured a delicious round of Guinness bread. I had a salad with Guinness in the dressing, but if I had been more hungry, I would have had one of the hearty stews. I can imagine that as excellent on a cold, blustery day. We enjoyed a lively tour of the Storehouse, before pouring – and getting a certificate for our efforts at pouring – a perfect of Guinness ourselves. We then hitting Gravity Bar, which boasts 360 degrees of the city. Just past the array of different colour and building styles, were the green hills in the distance, hugging the city.
After marvelling at the Guinness ‘effects’ walkway on the way out of the storehouse and getting out onto the street, I had about one hour of proper free time. I used it to see a friend I used to live with in Australia, Shona. An actress, Shona is a straight talking, feisty girl, with a French feel about her. I asked her to show me ‘her Dublin’ which led to us scurrying through back allies, past delicate and brash independent shops, through crowds of arty strollers, and a host of wonderful looking eateries. We landed after half an hour, at a cafe packed with silver tables and pouting, animated smokers outside. We both had strong coffees and caught up with the last eight years at a rapid pace, before sitting back for ten minutes, whispering and cackling. Just like before.
I sprinted back to the Trinity Capital Hotel and swanned about my purple and red Georgian room for an hour before dinner at The Church. I adore Church buildings and The Church managed to strike the balance between impressively stylish and openly friendly. The food was beautiful and the Irish coffee was gorgeous. Feeling a little merry, we hot footed to the Brazen Head pub, which dates back to 1198. There we enjoyed some classic Irish entertainment. Full of fairy lights and tightly packed pictures nailed to the walls. It filled all our stereotypes in one hit, splendid. We moved on to another bar, where Shona joined us and danced in circles before heading home for some rest.
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