Dublin’s Grand Canal
We’ve done the bus tour and we’re back to Dublin.
Glendalough was our last stop before returning to Dublin. We drove out of the bad weather and through some pretty valleys on our way to Dublin. The sky was clear and blue by the time we reached our hotel, the Burlington. This is a top class hotel not far from the Grand Canal in the south east of Dublin in the Ballsbridge section, within walking distance of the city center. We have booked an extra night here as we’re not flying out until Sunday.
Bill never mentioned leprechauns all week. This afternoon, one of the group asked him why. He delayed answering so long that I imagined he must be thinking “Damn, and I nearly got through the tour without someone bringing that up!” Bill told us that the word “Leprechaun” means “little people” who were shoe makers or cobblers. The origins are hazy but one theory goes that when the tall, dark, warlike and aggressive Celts invaded, the natives were small, peaceful folk who lived in ring forts which probably became the fairy rings of legend. These people seemed to disappear at will through perhaps they just fled the intimidating invaders. The cute little leprechauns we see were invented for the English tourists and it just got out of hand. Now they are out of fashion and considered tacky, Bill informed us. I agree. Ireland to me is not the cartoon pot of gold and frisky, naughty little men in green coats. It’s a place of Celtic origins, of shamrocks and a people who are easy going, traditional and open and friendly. And the beer ain’t bad either!
A little more Dublin
Carole wanted a rest since she hadn’t slept well the night before but I had lots of energy and I wanted to go for a walk. I headed out, keeping in mind to look for a drugstore for a couple of things, stopping at the front desk to register our voucher for the Saturday night. The hotel seems full of conventioneers this weekend.
I walked across the Canal and ended up on Bagot Street, which seemed to have a lot of shops so I thought I might find a drugstore there. While walking I spotted a green antique freestanding letterbox, the kind you would have outside your own house for mail delivery, not the kind the post office collects mail in. The post boxes in Ireland are green, by the way, not red as in the UK. Anyway, the letter box was standing outside a small shop absolutely packed with … Stuff! Some of it antique, some of it collectible, some of it memorabilia. I spent 20 minutes in there just looking at the eclectic assortment on shelves, tables and hung on walls.
Dublin Georgian Door
I continued walking, soon coming into Fitzwilliam square in the Georgian part of Dublin and gawped at some gorgeous architecture. Dublin is famous for it’s decorated and painted doors with their fan lights above and iron railing decorations on balconies and window dressing. The most elaborate door is black but has windows and a fan light that seems to have iron and wood work that looks like white lace covering it and ivy covering the brick surrounding the doorway.
Further down the road I realized as I looked a few blocks ahead of me, that I was at St. Stephen’s Green. I could see the glass enclosed shopping center on the far corner of the park. I knew there would be a Boots in there so I headed over, purchased what I needed and sought out a camera store on Grafton street to replace the lens cap that seems to have gone walkabout today.
We have signed up for the drive along Dublin Bay to a nice restaurant. We left early but the traffic was really heavy leaving the city. We did finally get off the main road and followed the one that follows the waterfront through Dun Laoughaire, formerly called “Kingstown”, where the ferries dock from the UK.
Sandy Cove is our stop, just past DL. There’s a martello tower at the end of that cove where James Joyce lived and wrote Ulysses. It’s a museum now apparently. The restaurant was a modern decor. There was a woman playing the piano during our meal and she took requests. The food was superb! The sun was starting to go down when we left there, which made the view across the bay glow with the last bright light of the day.
The tour is over and we’re on our own again. After a week of getting up early, we slept in just because we could! The Burlington Hotel had a lovely buffet breakfast and we lingered over it, enjoying our pot of tea. It’s another sunny day and we’ve decided to have a walk around Georgian Dublin and then take the DART out to Howth at the north end of the line.
We set out about 11 and walked the two blocks to the little bridge across the Grand Canal. I was planning to find that antique store on Baggot Street again but I guess I got turned around and we ended up missing it and turned into Fitzwilliam Square. This is the square where the house with the most elaborate door “lives”. I had seen it yesterday on my travels if you will recall. We admired it and walked on, looking for Merrion Square which is only a few streets away. The attraction here is mainly, for me, the Oscar Wilde connection in addition to the lovely architecture. We saw a few lovely old buildings turned into hotels and the American College on the corner. That’s the house where Wilde lived before moving to London.
Greene’s, Dublin’s oldest bookstore
On that intersection, diagonally across and in one building is Greene’s Bookstore, an establishment of some 200 years standing. There are display bins of books and postcards outside to browse through and inside the shop has several floors lined with old wooden shelves and display tables scattered around. The shop had the kind of atmosphere where you could almost imagine men in stovepipe hats and Victorian whiskers and women in shirtwaist dresses with floor length skirts browsing and climbing the staircase, a leather bound book or two under their arms. I’ve since been reliably informed that it is no longer open and that’s a damn shame!
We had a look on the main level where I found a small pocket sized hardcover biography of Oscar Wilde. It wasn’t his story in any great detail but it was a very good overview. We also found more of the bookmarks that were decorated with individual Celtic alphabet letters as inspired by the Book of Kells. I had bought one at the bookshop in Trinity and Carole wanted a few for souvenirs but she couldn’t find a “W” for her mother’s name. The young clerk said it was because there was no W in the Irish language. But, wasn’t the Book of Kells written in Latin? (it was) I thought so, and there is no J or K in Latin yet there were J and K bookmarks. Oh well, I commented wryly, you could get the M and tell her to use it upside down! *snicker* I crack myself up sometimes! Bookmarks and postcards purchased, we walked across the road to the square.
Just inside the wrought iron fence of Merrion Square is a statue of Oscar Wilde, depicting him somewhat more slender than is usually seen, dressed in bright colours, languidly lying back on a rock and holding his trademark flower against a face twisted in a sardonic smirk. The bright colours are all different kinds of marble I guess, it’s not painted. The statue was only erected and dedicated about 5 years ago. I won’t go into biographic details of Mr. Wilde but I’ve always found him a very interesting, flawed and tragic man, ruined in part due to his own impulsive and stubborn decision to sue a man for libel which in turn brought out admissions that destroyed his reputation and his life.
We walked a little way into the park and saw an area off one path that seemed to be a little arboretum with different kinds of trees scattered around a greenspace. The sun kept dipping behind a cloud and we lost patience waiting for it to beam down through the trees. It just seemed like that photo *needed* sunshine and shadows.
Along the outside of the fence on the North side of the square were works displayed by artists, something you are seeing more of lately. It’s a good place to set up on the weekends with lots of pedestrians walking past. We walked along the little gallery, chatting to one artist who was trying very hard to sell us a rather large and ungainly framed painting. A bit too tricky to carry on the flight as nice as the painting was.
Side trip to Howth
After consulting our little pocket map of Dublin we set off to find the DART station nearest, Pearce station. We joined the queue for a return ticket and made our way to the platform. The trains go fairly frequently so we didn’t have too long to wait. We were, however, disappointed because the train didn’t follow the shoreline of the bay on its’ way north like it does on the southern route.
Howth is at the last stop. You arrive in an old, small train station with a pub called the Bloody Stream underneath! We walked down the block towards the waterfront, consulted a large “you are here” map and walked along the busy road looking for a suitable place for lunch. The first two places that appealed were either too crowded or too small. We did find a little place that did ice cream takeaway but had a light lunch menu in a little room to one side, filled with families. It was a bit noisy but we found a table and ordered a sandwich. We did have a little translation problem with the server who was Chinese. The menu said “Pastries… please ask for what is available” so we did. Blank look. Pastries… Pastries…we pointed to the menu item. Ah… “Ham and cheese, tuna…” No, no… Pastries! Point again. Oh right. Got you now. Scones and apple pie. Now we’re cooking… Carole ordered pie and I ordered ice cream. A few minutes later an Irish server came over to ask what it was we had ordered. She must have had a translation problem too!
Howth is a fishing town and there weren’t a lot of touristy type shops at all. A few postcards outside a newsagent was the extent of it that we saw. It’s a working seaside town with a large marina filled with pleasure craft. It’s a good place for hiking around the outskirts and has a nice sea wall where you can walk out around the harbour. There’s a rocky little island just off the coast here called Ireland’s Eye.
We walked around the seafront and then headed up into the village further to see if we could find the ruins of Howth Abbey. The street we chose had a couple of nice restaurants including one that advertised Russian food. There was a small sign at the entrance to a narrow alley of stairs that pointed the way to a restaurant with the promise of a craft/gift shop which was across from the abbey so up we ascended. The craft shop wasn’t to our taste but the Abbey was. There was a little cemetery filled with flower covered graves beside the roofless ruins. There’s a great view over the harbour from here. We poked around the grounds for a little while taking pictures and then descended back through the village to the main road again.
The map seemed to indicate that Howth Castle was a bit out of town on the main road so we started walking. It was about a mile away I guess and still there was no signs to which road we should turn in. There was a sign indicating where the Transport Museum was so we headed up that way, remembering from the central map that they were close to each other. There was a pretty church that we passed and then the road turn and we saw a stone tower. There was the castle! There were quite old parts, that I believe date from Norman times and some newer parts. However when we were walking around one side, I spied a propane barbeque in a courtyard which seemed to indicate perhaps that someone lived there and that it was private property.
There were no signs about entrance fees or hours so I don’t know if any of the interior can be visited. There wasn’t anyone around so we didn’t try to find out. Never did see the Transport museum but I think it was a little further up the road. There’s also quite a breathtaking rhododendron garden a little farther on but we were too early for most of the blooms Carole said.
We were getting tired by now so decided to walk back to the train station and go back into the City to find some place to eat. We got off the train at Tara street station, which is close to the Liffey and walked down to the river. I wanted to have a look at the huge domed Custom House building which is on the North Side. We went across the wide O’Connell Street bridge where we stopped to look at some jewelry and leather that a vendor had on display. Up O’Connell Street, where there are many statues of Irish Independence leaders, and lots of shops and a large department store, Clery’s where we stopped in for a look at the jewelry counter inside the main door.
The General Post Office building is just there as well, with its tall pillars, some of which still bear the bullet holes from the 1916 Easter uprising. There’s another pedestrian shopping area that crosses O’Connell Street, Henry Street. We didn’t get there today but Carole was there last week browsing. We also bought some doo-dads in a tourist souvenir shop. This is a good shopping district for tourists but we really didn’t spend a lot of time here. By this time we had been out and walking all day and were footsore and ready for a rest. You lose your enthusiasm for experiencing the ambience of a place when you can hardly put one foot in front of the other!
We found a fish and chip shop that wasn’t filled up after trying a few larger restaurants first. We sat and had our dinner and a restorative cup of tea. Shall we get a taxi from here or walk across to Temple Bar and get one from there? The taxi rank on O’Connell street had a long queue so walk we did. We ended up near Trinity College, thinking we could get the bus as there was a stop right by the hotel but we waited for about 15 minutes and none of the route numbers that we needed passed us by so we walked a little further and realized we were at the other end of Grafton street. We knew there was a taxi rank at St. Stephen’s Green so we went through Grafton street where many of the shops were now closing for the day. We made our way up to St. Stephens, got a taxi and arrived back at the hotel where we arranged with the concierge for a taxi to the airport tomorrow morning. After consulting his expertise, we realized the airport shuttle bus wouldn’t be practical and he’s going to get a taxi to come for us about 5:30 a.m. URGH!
Back to our room for an early night. It’s odd that some of the nicest hotels we’ve been in had no tea and coffee making things in the rooms! We repacked out suitcases to distribute our clothes and souvenirs. I managed to get everything to fit so I didn’t have to use the extra fold up carry on bag I brought.
I knew the time I had in Dublin wasn’t going to be enough. 2 full days and a few hours of 3 others. The first few days in a city I always seem to spend walking around covering a lot of ground and seeing the major sights where possible. But mostly I don’t actually spend extra time at each place. For instance, although we did go into Christchurch, we didn’t try to investigate which parts of Dublin Castle were open to the public nor spend time really browsing in Greene’s bookshop. I wanted to “see” as much as I could which gives me a “lay of the land” feel. Strictly tourist.
If I have more time, then I know I can spend a morning in a gallery or a museum or browse through lots of market stalls instead of just 2 or 3. I can spend a few hours just poking around alleys and churches in just one small corner of a city. I do start off with a list of sites I hope to get to see but along the route to the destination, one always comes across interesting shops or a pretty church or an unexpected market in a courtyard that needs investigating, especially if you end up going the long way around because you took a left instead of a right at that intersection back there. So the next time I come back to Dublin, I want to browse markets, gape in a gallery, find a small obscure museum, breakfast at Bewleys and prowl around the O’Connell Street area in more detail. And whatever else the wrong turn at the intersection reveals.
We had set the clock for something unGodly and you might know, a few of the conventioneers seemed intent on having a party in the hall outside our room. We had tried to go to bed early, about 9, but they were hollering and laughing. At one point Carole peeked out the door and saw a middle aged man on the floor with another one trying to drag him along! There were a few more as well and they had the doors to their rooms open or were parading back and forth banging on each other’s doors and hollering. Finally Carole called down to the desk and they sent someone up to ask them to at least keep their doors shut. It helped some and eventually they settled down or went out or something.
We managed to get to the airport and away the next morning. Carole was flying home via London and I was stopping over in Manchester for a last visit with some friends, flying to Canada from there, via Toronto. As always it’s good to sleep in my own bed surrounded by my own things. I hate to come home in a way because I so enjoy seeing new places and spending time with friends that I don’t see very often.
Ireland is another place I want to go back to and a quandary, what about seeing new places? We are thinking it might be a good road trip some day. You never know!
Tour Part 1
Tour Part 2
Tour Part 3
Tour Part 4
Tour Part 5