Dublin in Detail (2002)

Dublin, St. Stephen's Green

Dublin, St. Stephen’s Green

Continuing on my adventures for my first visit to Ireland in 2002, we’re setting out from Cobh, near Cork, to Dublin this morning by train, under gray skies.  We got to Dublin about 2:30 and took a cab to the Harcourt Hotel in Harcourt street. Great Hotel! I think it was a former home of George Bernard Shaw, or  has Shaw connections anyway. 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 and right across the street from the Garda headquarters (police). They have 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 traditional Irish music is played most nights as late as there are patrons to play for. We took advantage of that!

My friend and cow0rker, Carole, has spent the last couple of days on her own in Dublin and met us at the hotel when we arrived. Through the rest of the day, 6 other friends were arriving from various locations in Ireland and the northwest of England. We set up a time to meet in the hotel pub for 7 tonight for drinks.

In the meantime, there was Dublin to get a first look at. Carole and I and Eoin, the first of the others to arrive, headed out and down Harcourt Street that led right into Grafton Street. Lunch was a priority and we ended up in a cafe in the top floor of the St. Stephen’s Green shopping center, a lovely glass roofed structure with lots of light streaming in.

Dublin, St. Stephen's shopping centre

Dublin, St. Stephen’s shopping centre

Grafton street is a pedestrian shopping area with some lovely stores, an upscale department store called Brown Thomas, and lots of cafes and restaurants including the famous Bewley’s. I suppose we should have gone there for lunch but as we really are unfamiliar with the city, what did we know? After a bit of window shopping along the street, we went over to Dawson street, which is parallel, to examine the lovely St. Anne’s church which seems to have associations with a number of famous former Dubliners including Bram Stoker of Dracula fame! The church didn’t seem to be open so we walked onwards.

Next, a look at the Mansion House, former home of the Lord Mayor since 1715 but now used for civic functions. Also on the grounds is a lovely looking and probably expensive restaurant.  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 at 7 with hugs and renewals of acquaintances all around.  We made reservations at an American restaurant, TGI Fridays, just across from Stephen’s Green so we all walked down there en masse. The restaurant was 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 our food until 10! Luckily, they have an extensive cocktail menu. Ahem.

We were all relaxed and enjoying ourselves just the same then back to the Harcourt and the resident’s bar. We got stuck in to drinks and later an old friend of Rose’s arrived. A musician. 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.

Saturday’s weather is going to cooperate again today, a bit sunnier than yesterday too. Breakfast was a buffet in the pub of the hotel, the usual full cooked fare. We all scattered around 11 to pursue our own interests, planning to meet back at the bar for about 6 tonight.

Carole and I planned to walk around the city to see some of the major sights. Well, as much as our feet can stand at least! The centre of Dublin is not that large and it’s flat so walking is easy. Down to Grafton Street, we paused a couple of times to watch some buskers performing.

Grafton Street, Dublin

Grafton Street, Dublin

We walked down Exchequer Street 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. I think we ended up walking around the back of the compound that houses the castle and a few other buildings but we came upon Christchurch Cathedral first and as that was on our list to investigate, we navigated across the busy corners to the cathedral close.

Dublin- Christchurch tiled floor

Dublin- Christchurch tiled floor

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 foot bridge across a street to Synod Hall where the Dublinia attraction is. This is a museum on the history of medieval Dublin. That would have been fun to see as well 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 (I’ve Googled it and it looks like it might still be there). The items are unique, modern art and are all made by Irish artisans. There’s a larger showroom across the road and down a side alley but that had all the really upscale more expensive things. Far above our budget though the first shop was reasonable.

Dublin Castle Bedford Tower

Dublin Castle Bedford Tower

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 (ugh!) 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 (and public washrooms and some benches of which we availed ourselves to rest our feet again)

We headed down a side street on the edges of the Temple Bar area towards the river and noticed a sign pointing to an enclosed courtyard hosting a gourmet market! Most goods were organic, with cheese, meat, baked goods, pies and quiches, fruit and veg on offer. People were milling about eating things like pancakes with fresh cream, bananas and Bailey’s Irish Cream poured in!

Down to the River Liffey which looked desperately filthy with a lot of debris floating in it. It’s lined on both sides with brightly painted buildings along side some really large official edifices like the Four Courts and the Custom House. The river is crossed by a number of bridges, both vehicle and pedestrian, including a very pretty one with white painted wrought iron decoration called the Ha’penny bridge, which is what the toll to cross it used to be.

Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge

Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge

Pictures taken and then we headed into Temple Bar proper, an old quarter of Dublin, now filled with  restaurants, pubs, a few hotels, and lots of tourist shops. Streets are narrow and cobbled, buildings have bright signs and murals on the walls. Temple Bar is also very near Trinity College so there are a lot of  young people in this area of the city. There are squares with performers and street vendors. We wandered awhile then  decided we would get a taxi back to the hotel even though it wasn’t all that far to walk. Our feet hurt and we wanted a rest and a cuppa before the evening’s get together.

Dublin looks a little run down around the edges in places but it’s very colourful and vibrant. There are startlingly large ornate buildings and churches that spring out at you as you come around a turn in a street or glance down a side road or alley. They look all the bigger because most of the buildings aren’t that high. There isn’t a lot of green around but there are some large leafy parks and squares around. There are more cobbled streets than I expected, not just the pedestrian areas. We’ve seen the more formal St. Stephen’s Green but have not been on Trinity Campus or Merrion Square where Oscar Wilde’s former home is and a lot of the famous Georgian architecture stands.

I know there just is not going to be enough time to take it all in. We don’t want to exhaust ourselves though we’re pretty tender this afternoon! I don’t know if we’ll get to the north side of the Liffey where there is more Georgian architecture but the Globus orientation tour next weekend will probably takes us around some of O’Connell Street at least.

Rose made a reservation at a restaurant in Temple Bar but not until 9 o’clock and most of us didn’t want to wait that long because likely *if* we got sat down then, we still might not have eaten until a good while later. She, Mal and Rosalind decided to go there anyway and the rest of us walked down into Grafton street to try our luck. This isn’t always recommended because the restaurants and pubs in Dublin of a Friday and Saturday night are usually heaving and difficult for larger groups to get tables. We ended up at Captain America, another American restaurant but this one looked like a version of the Hard Rock Cafe with music memorabilia all over the walls. We had a little 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 there, at the corner of Grafton by St. Stephen’s Green there was a bank of horse and buggies. Annie and I looked at them and then at each other with the same idea and on the way back, about 10:30, we broached the idea of a buggy ride to the others. Eoin and Carole decided to join us and the rest headed back to the hotel for a spot in the resident’s bar.

We opted for a half hour tour around the area, with an enjoyable running commentary by the youngish driver. We saw the area around Merrion and Fitzwilliam 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! Can’t beat that and 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 though didn’t sing as much. We had a comfy corner with sofas but the only down side was that the smoke didn’t circulate very well (this was before the smoking ban in pubs and restaurants) and it settled over us. Rose, Mal and Rosalind got back later after midnight after having a blast at a pub in Temple bar. Dancing was involved, I gather.  Not long before Carole and I decided to head to bed, Rose’s friend Martin from the night before arrived along with some others carrying instruments so I think they were settling in for another stretch but we were shattered with all the walking and fresh air. (and Guinness! Did I mention I have developed a taste for Guinness? It’s lovely, really!) Annie came upstairs with us for a visit and to clear her lungs of the smoke as well before bed.

Most of us made it up for breakfast for our last morning together and then five of us made our way around the corner to the antiques fair which was in the old gymnasium of Newman House. That was part of the old Catholic university of Trinity and now the University college. We had seen a sign at the intersection all weekend advertising the sale for Sunday morning and we were not disappointed!

Oooh it was lovely! Lots of linen, jewelry, china and other odds and sods of memorabilia packed into the two aisles and what looked like the stage area. I bought some old linen and a really interesting ring and Carole bought some jewelry as well.

We all converged back at the bar in the hotel at 1:00 p.m. for a goodbye drink and a Show And Tell for our morning’s purchases and activities.  We had lots of laughs, hugs, tears (that would be me!) and a group photo taken. We scattered in taxis, some to the airport, train stations and Carole and I to the Jurys Montrose which is out in a posh suburb of Donnybrook opposite the Royal College of Dublin. We were going on a bus tour and due to join the included orientation tour of the city at 3:00 and we just made it with about 20 minutes to spare once we got checked in.

That afternoon and the rest of the week were spent with the bus tour and that’ll be posted in parts soon.


More Begorrathon posts.

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