In Dublin, Ireland’s national pride is on display, alongside the story of the young nation’s painful birth. But while Dublin honors the past, it teems with vibrant, modern life. The Dublin area was where we spent the last four weeks of our three months in Ireland. In this post we visit Dublin city. In the next post we’ll take day trips to some of eastern Ireland’s other treasures.
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Old Dublin lives right alongside new Dublin. The green-domed Customs House and the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship and Famine Museum (the latter undergoing restoration) are framed by modern buildings.
The River Liffey bisects the city, and helps give Dublin its distinct identity and charm. It also helps orient visitors to the location of the streets and neighborhoods they want to visit.
The modern and the historic blend in Dublin. The 19th century church in church in the center of this picture is now Dublin’s Tourist Information Center.
Stately monuments and classical buildings remind us that Dublin is a European city.
The Georgian style reflects centuries of British domination.
In Dublin, Ireland’s national heroes, like Daniel O’Connell, known both as the Great Liberator and the Great Emancipator, are given their places of honor. See more about O’Connell later in this post.
The darkest chapters of Ireland’s history are also memorialized. These life-sized sidewalk sculptures hauntingly depict the Great Famine of the 1840s.
This statue of James Joyce is just one of Dublin’s delightfully whimsical homages to Ireland’s rich literary heritage.
St. Stephens’s Green
St. Stephen’s Green is one of the world’s great urban parks, an oasis of natural beauty in the heart of Dublin.
There is always something interesting to see in St. Stephens’s Green.
Modern life thrives in old and new Dublin. Grafton Street is a famous shopping destination.
Here in the holiday season, Grafton Streeet is gloriously lit at night.
Bewley’s on Grafton Street is a delightful Dublin institution. Despite several floors and seating for hundreds, it somehow manages to convey a cozy feeling.
Modern Dubliners continue the tradition of taking tea at Bewley’s.
The Abbey Theatre
The Irish tradition of fine drama is alive and well at the Abbey Theatre. This National Theatre of Ireland was the first state-subsidized theatre in the English-speaking world.
This is a self-portrait of me in the Abbey’s lobby, seen through the fisheye lens of an ornate, beaten bronze mirror.
National Museum of Ireland
Dublin is also the site of the National Museum of Ireland. The Cross of Cong is an early 12th century processional reliquary, once said to contain a fragment of the True Cross.
A vast display of Ireland’s ancient artisitc treasures are on display here. This chalice is from the ninth century.
These gold collars are circa 800-700 BC.
Here too are some of Ireland’s bogmen, accidentally preserved for centuries and then discovered as peat was harvested. Clonycavan Man is from the Early Iron Age, 400-200 BC.
Old Croghan Man is also from the Early Iron Age, 400-200 BC. His leather armband survived the journey down the centuries.
The old and the new also come together in Dublin’s pubs.
There are hundreds of pubs in Dublin.
A visitor will feel welcome – and likely make a friend – in each and every one.
Dublin’s pubs are justly famous for their music, for grand refreshments, and for good times. This is Oliver St. John Gogarty’s.
It’s a wild party every night In the neighborhood known as Temple Bar.
This is the pub in Temple Bar called… The Temple Bar.
Most of the pubs in Temple Bar feature live music almost every night.
The crowds are mostly young and always friendly.
Elsewhere around Dublin one can find more low-key pubs.
The Cobblestone is one of Dublin’s showcases for traditional music sessions.
Literary Pub Crawl
Dublin’s pubs have been gathering places for many of Ireland’s preeminent literary figures. For an entertaining and memorable evening, you can’t top Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawl.
Talented actors tell the stories of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Brehan, and Dublin’s other literary legends, by performing or reciting their works…
…while leading their audience to the pubs where these writers hung out.
Each pub on the tour had at least one famous writer associated with it.
Along the way, the actor/guides visit famous sites, such as Trinity College shown here, to tell about how these places figured into the lives of the writers.
Of course, at each pub, time was allotted to allow the participants to sample the offerings.
As much as we enjoy romanticizing pub culture, some people point to it as a contributor to alchohol abuse. That may be true, but in the dozens of pubs we visited in Ireland, we only saw this one instance of serious stumbling drunkeness.
Dublin’s Living History
Dublin was the site of one of history’s great revolutionary acts, the Easter Rising of 1916.
Patriots comandeered this building, the General Post Office (GPO), in hope of sparking a national rebellion that would free Ireland from British domination. Overwhelming British force put down the rebellion, but the event ultimately succeeded in hastening the end of British rule.
The Republic of Ireland was proclaimed that Easter week from the steps of the GPO. Many Dubliners were at first angry that the rebels had created such havoc. But then the British began to systematically execute the leaders of the revolt, including all seven whose names appear on the proclamation. This so outraged the Irish that the tide of public opinion turned irrevocably against the British.
Numerous bullet holes and other battle damage from the Easter Rising are preserved outside the GPO to this day, as reminders that Ireland’s independence was won at great cost.
This is Kilmainham Gaol, where the rebels who participated in the Easter Rising were taken, and where the executions were carried out.
The prison was built in 1796 to house all manner of criminals and enemies of the state, including men, women, and children. It was decomissioned by the Irish Free State in 1924. It remained virtually untouched for nearly 50 years, until a group of volunteer citizens worked to preserve it and open it to the public as a museum in 1971.
The tour of Kilmainham is a grim but fascinating telling of the horrible tale of this dark, cold place.
As you might imagine, conditions were brutal and inhumane. This is a view into a cell through the guard’s peep hole.
The prison was restored to its state at the time of the Rising in 1916, The hand-lettered inscription above the window reads, “Beware of the Risen People that have harried and held, Ye that have bullied and bribed.”
The tour then takes visitors to the yard where the executions following the Rising were carried out. The plaque behind the tour guide lists the names of the 15 patriots who were executed here in May 1916.
A small cross stands on the spot where each condemned man stood before the firing squad.
After the tour, visitors are free to walk among exhibits containing artifacts of the prison…
…and the personal effects of many of those who were killed or imprisoned here.
These religious tokens were worn by Michael Collins, who survived the Rising and went on to help lead the nation to independence. He would later be gunned down in an ambush by other Irishmen during the country’s Civil War in the 1920s.
Prior to 1832, when Glasnevin Cemetery was established, repressive British laws forbade Catholic ceremonies and Catholic cemeteries. Glasnevin is now the final resting place of about 1.5 million Dubliners.
Not unlike Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, a visit to Glasnevin is a beautiful way to discover history.
Our guide did an excellent job of bringing the dead to life, so to speak. We highly recommend the guided tour.
Ireland’s heroes are honored in Glasnevin. This great stone marks the resting place of politician, reformer, and agitator Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891).
The graves of other famous Irish have humbler monuments, such as that of Cathal Bruga (roughly pronounced Ka-hel Brew). An Irish song about the Easter Rising, called The Foggy Dew, contains these lines lamenting those Irishmen whose bodies are buried in faraway lands after being killed, not fighting for Irish independence, but fighting beside their opressor, Britain, in World War I. “Had they died by Pearse’s side, or fought with Cathal Bruga, their graves we would keep where the Fenians sleep, ‘neath the shroud of the foggy dew.” Glasnevin is where many Fenians sleep.
The grave of Michael Collins, “The Big Fella,” is given a special place of honor.
But the greatest honor goes to Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847). His tomb and the monument that towers above it are prominently placed near the entrance to Glasnevin.
O’Connell is known in Ireland as “The Liberator”for his success in achieving Catholic Emancipation and gaining other civil rights for the Irish. He did much to lay the groundwork for the eventual Irish independence from Britain. He is held in the same kind of high esteem that Americans have for Washington and Lincoln.
Charlie waiting on the Dublin train. Click this picture to see a very short video of the view of the train from our Portmarnock apartment.
We actually stayed not in Dublin city but in a suburb, a little beach town on the Irish Sea called Portmarnock. Dublin itself was easily accessible by the commuter train that stopped just a short walk from our apartment. In 20 minutes the train could whisk us to central Dublin. But we also had our leased car for most of the four weeks we stayed in Portmarnock, so we took some memorable day trips.
In our next post, the last one from our European adventure, we’ll visit the ancient, historic, and beautiful sites of Newgrange, which predates the pyramids; Tara, the hilltop home of the High Kings of Ireland; and Glendalough, a 6th century monastic settlement set in a magical valley. And we’ll explore more of Dublin’s suburbs.