THERE ARE 850 PUBS in Dublin — down from a peak of 4,000 in centuries past, when every other home, thanks to enterprising beer-brewing housewives, became a ‘public house.’ That’s one of the fascinating factoids I learned on my first-ever visit to Ireland’s capital city.
My cousin Susan and I visited quite a few of those pubs, with an emphasis on the historic, and sampled their fine products. I’m now a fan of Irish whiskey, neat (Red Breast, Yellow Spot, Teelings) and of Guinness, which I thought I wouldn’t like, but after a day of tromping around Dublin’s cobblestone streets and mingling with the Christmas-shopping crowds, I found it just the revivifying, delicious thing.
When it’s on draft at an atmospheric, 300-year-old Dublin pub, where they pull it at just the right angle and let it sit for a specified length of time before topping it off, and serve it at just the right temperature, one can easily begin to understand why Guinness is a national obsession.
Three-and-a-half days in Dublin — a place I’d long wanted to visit — was all good. The city is civilized, safe, friendly, easy to navigate. We had several outstanding meals without half trying. Our hotel, Staunton’s on the Green, in a Georgian townhouse, was centrally located, gracious and comfortable.
Days are short in Dublin this time of year, with the sun coming up just before 8:30AM (!) and setting at 4. but we packed them full.
We toured Trinity College, top, with its 400-plus-year-old library, The Long Room, surely one of the world’s great interior spaces, and saw the Book of Kells, a millenium-old illuminated manuscript, as well as the original harp that became Ireland’s national symbol.
We saw hoards of Bronze Age gold jewelry at the national archaeology museum; took a gleefully touristy nighttime “literary pub crawl” led by a pair of funny and talented old pros; heard live traditional Irish music with fiddles and flutes; visited the small Irish Jewish Museum, poignant in its modesty; got a sense of Oscar Wilde’s posh childhood on Merrion Square and George Bernard Shaw’s working-class birthplace; tried on hats in millinery stores; ventured to Dublin’s medieval Christ Church Cathedral; found ourselves on the main shopping drag of Grafton Street (not especially interesting) all too often, and on the main drinking drag of Temple Bar just once, which was enough.
On Day 1 of our visit, when the bright, low winter sun cast long shadows on the manicured lawns of St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin was uplifting. On subsequent days, when the sky was bleak and gray and damp (exactly the weather I expected), it wasn’t quite as, though the city’s over-the-top holiday lighting goes a long way toward making up for the hours of dark.
I enjoyed the streets lined with late 17th and early 18th century flat-fronted brick townhouses with tall paned windows, and especially their multicolored doors under arched fanlights. There’s a goodly amount of spectacular Victorian commercial architecture in Dublin, and an unfortunate amount (well, any amount would be unfortunate in my book) of brutally misguided 1960s and ’70s building, with which the city is now stuck.
Is Dublin a beautiful city? Yes, though a visit at another season would probably make me even more emphatic on that point. Have a look at my photos below, and see what you think.
Festive lighting in the shopping district compensate for the long hours of winter dark
Above, our elegant high-ceilinged digs
Above, St. Stephen’s Green, the city’s largest park, on Day 1
Above: Trinity’s campinile; our cute tour guide in the gown once required wearing for all students; the college’s awe-inspiring, wood-vaulted Long Room; the legendary ancient harp that is Ireland’s national symbol (more prevalent than the shamrock, even)
Below, a sampling of Dublin’s old-school pubs, including Kehoe’s, Toner’s, O’Donoughue’s
Late-day walk past Dublin Castle to the Cathedral, below
The River Liffey, by day and by night:
Weird scene near an illuminated statue of Wolfe Tone, leader of the 1798 Irish Rebellion, below
Classical Revival doors galore, with columns and fanlights, below
Single-story 19th century rowhouses in the Portobello neighborhood, below, and the birthplace of George Bernard Shaw, one of four Irish Nobel laureates in literature
Funky storefronts I couldn’t resist photographing:
There are numerous independent bookstores in Dublin, including the beauty below.
We twice tried to get into the 1920s Bewley’s cafe, below, never succeeded. Long lines.
Oscar Wilde’s plays were performed at the 1871 Gaiety Theatre, above, still operational.
There’s Wilde reclining on a rock in Merrion Square, below, and a Victorian fountain in Iveragh Gardens, right behind our hotel.
We had the requisite Irish breakfast a couple of times, and Susan sampled Irish stew in a pub, but mostly it was fancy foodstuffs in a ‘modern Irish’ vein. Butternut squash seems to find its way into everything.
Above, at the canalside Locks restaurant, recommended by a self-described foodie we met, a precious one-inch fried fish ball in a butternut squash “velouté” (sauce), on a 12-inch plate, as a starter, plus an exquisite cod and mussel main.
Below, the lunchtime scene at Fallon & Bryne, Dublin’s answer to Dean & DeLuca but with a wine cellar and upstairs restaurant as well as a gourmet food hall and cafe. Note the chunks of butternut squash in the green salad.
Hearty Irish breakfast, vegetarian edition, at Taste Food Co., below.
Below, Etto, a chic storefront restaurant near our hotel, where they were able to squeeze us in at the bar without reservations because it was 5 o’clock. That’s butternut squash risotto with chanterelles, extremely comforting with red wine.
Below, the grandly sited archaeology museum, one of four segments of the National Museum in Dublin. We marveled at the modernist-looking 3,000-year-old gold jewelry, skipped the mummified “peat bog men.”
A museum on a considerably smaller scale, below, dedicated to Ireland’s ever-dwindling Jewish community. The upper level was a synagogue, closed since the 1970s.
More festive lighting, nighttime scenes, a random building and your goofy blogger, below. That hat is just so me — too bad it cost 300 euros.