(The River Liffey flows placidly through Dublin under O’Connell Bridge)
“Dublin is just delightful”, pronounced Chriselle, who had explored the city two summers before Llew and I arrived there. “It pulsates with life. It has a charming rhythm that is energetic ,yet old-world”. We couldn’t wait to make similar discoveries.
Upon arrival at our charming bed and breakfast in Dublin, named “Cul Aoibhain”, (pronounced “Cully Veen”) which, in Gaellic, means “Quiet Corner”, we stashed our stuff away to explore the city on foot. Like most great cities of the world, Dublin stands astride a river—in this case, the Liffey, which flows gently by. Punctuated with bridges, many of which we walked over (such as the O’Connell Bridge which is just as wide as it is long;
Ha’Penny Bridge (left) with its intricate metalwork and the newest Millennium Bridge named in honor of James Joyce, Dublin’s beloved novelist), the city is very walker-friendly. We strode the length of O’Connell Street, taking in the statues of patriots and freedom-fighters Charles Stewart Parnell and Daniel O’Connell, the Anna Livia Fountain (referred to jocularly as “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi”) and the Millennium Spike (“the Stilletto in the Ghetto”).
That afternoon and evening, we covered buzzing Jervis Street with its enticing British chain stores such as Marks and Spencer, and the throbbing ambience of the Temple Bar area, location of The Bad Ass Café (left), where singer Sinead O’Connor once waitressed. On Grafton Street, we posed for a picture by the Statue of Molly Malone (“The Tart with the Cart” or “The Dolly with the Trolley”)–below right.
That evening, we paused for pub grub at O’Neill’s, one of Dublin’s best-loved pubs where the food was traditionally Irish (think big steaming bowls of Irish stew, thick slices of Corned Beef and cider-soaked, baked Limerick Ham). Dublin pulses with vitality, statues of patriots and writers adorn every street corner and it felt good to be a part of that vacation energy. No wonder Chriselle told us that Dublin was one of her favorite European cities.
The next day, we took the Hop On, Hop Off city sightseeing bus that allowed us to explore its more far-flung reaches while treating ourselves to the wicked humor of the bus driver who also doubled as tour guide. Our first stop was Trinity College (right), Ireland’s oldest university, set right in the heart of the city but occupying many valuable acres of campus real estate.
After taking in the grandeur of the beautiful old buildings, we headed off to see The Book of Kells, an 808 AD manuscript written by anonymous Irish monks which makes it one of the world’s oldest existing books. The intricacy of the illuminations on every page was breathtaking, but what also impressed us enormously was the climb up to the Old Library where we entered The Long Room and gasped at the sight of countless antiquarian books stacked from floor to ceiling. The Library’s sense of knowledge-acquisition was emphasized by the collection of marble busts that line the sides of the room featuring personalities as old as the Greek Trinity of Philosophers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) to more contemporary writers and humanists. The space was a Bibliophile’s Paradise which explains why Llew felt as if he had died and gone to heaven!
Our next stop on the bus was St. Stephen’s Green (left), a lovely park in the heart of the city where the flowers were in full bloom amidst the life-size statuary that abounded everywhere. Around the statue of W.B.Yeats, Nobel Literature laureate, we paused to watch an open-air performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Next we headed off for the one thousand year old Christ Church Cathedral built in Anglo-Norman days and whose crypt contains a magnificent gilt plate altar set that was presented by England’s King William III to the cathedral in celebration of his victory at the Battle of the Boyne. It is little wonder that Dubliners chose to celebrate the arrival of the new Millennium at this venue, linking hands and encircling the vast church at midnight. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, at a well in whose grounds Ireland’s patron saint is said to have baptized the faithful, we saw memorabilia pertaining to Gulliver’s Travels’ author Jonathan Swift who was Dean there for several years and who is buried in this church. Interestingly, both these bastions of religion are Anglican in a country that is fiercely Roman Catholic. As our bus tour continued, we saw the Guinness Storehouse that manufactures Ireland’s creamy Black Gold in a Glass; but we did not stop to take the tour. At Phoenix Park, three times the size of New York’s Central Park, we passed by the Dublin Zoo.
That evening, after strolling through the pulsating Temple Bar area with its street entertainers, mobile musicians and buzzing pubs, clubs and bars, we made our way to the Abbey Theater, perhaps the most famous theater in the world, founded by Yeats and his beloved patroness Lady Augusta Gregory to showcase the work of Irish dramatists. The show featured Irish playwright Oliver Goldsmith’s Restoration Drama She Stoops to Conquer and the performance was one of the highlights of our trip. A rambunctious Comedy of Manners that had us rolling in the aisles, we loved every minute of the production from the incredible acting to the elaborate sets and costumes. Best of all, we were thrilled that despite having made trans-Atlantic phone reservations, our seats were marvelous.
Before we got back to our hotel to rest from our day of exciting, if wearisome sightseeing, we walked the length of O’Connell Street passing by the sculpture of James Joyce, Ireland’s beloved novelist, who set all of his major work in the city of his birth (left).
Our first taste of Irish charm had not disappointed and we looked forward very eagerly to the rest of our discoveries on the Emerald Isle.