By Robert McGarvey
Suddenly Dublin is an “in” capital again, in part because of Brexit worries among the London monied set (many are weighing Dublin as a safer harbor) and specifically for this readership because Joe Brancatelli has found for subscribers a special Aer Lingus business class fare to Europe that includes free stopovers in Dublin or Shannon.
The stopover isn’t mandatory – you can choose to fly on to Rome or Milan, Italy; Madrid or Barcelona, Spain; and Paris, London or Amsterdam. Word of advice: do plan to spend a couple night in Dublin. If you haven’t been before, it’s a must. And if you’ve been before, know that Dublin has been in continuous, sometimes wrenching change over the last 30 years as it transformed from a bucolic capital of an impoverished agrarian state into a hubbub of tech and real estate deals which led to an epic meltdown but now the capital again rises as an approachable, also unique city.
Size matters. Dublin is small. Here’s a list of EU cities ranked by population. Dublin comes in 49. that’s behind Cologne, Leipzig, even Bremen, tho it does nose out Lisbon among EU capitals.
That’s a key to its charm. This is a town that can be readily explored and enjoyed in a few days. Walk the City Centre. Stroll along the River Liffey. Dublin is a charming, very old place and just being there is fun.
The key to enjoying Ireland is to do uniquely Irish things. Treat Dublin as a small London and, well, you’ll be bored because London it isn’t.
Mainly proudly so. That’s what to focus on. How?
Drink a pint. Joe Brancatelli recently snorted to me about pint prices in Dublin topping five Euros and he’s right — expect to pay near six in the trendy Temple Bar neighborhood. But two things: you don’t tip the barman in Ireland and this will be the best Guinness you have ever tasted.
Personally I despised the stuff – tarry bitter swill, I thought growing up in northern New Jersey. In Dublin it just tastes grand, sweet in fact, always does but no need for more than one or two. It’s the first that taste like nectar.
Where to drink? Not in a hotel. Pick a pub frequented by locals in whatever neighborhood you happen to be. Personally I’d point you to John Kavanaugh’s near Glasnevin Cemetary in north Dublin. Michael Collins, Brendan Behan, Maude Gonne, Parnell, O’Connell, a who’s who of important Catholics in Irish history are buried there. Stop in the cemetery, say a prayer, be Irish. Then toast the departed with a Guinness.
The Book of Kells. I never go to Dublin without seeing the Book of Kells at Trinity College, itself a delightful, oldtime – Elizabethan – college (and still a credibly good institution of higher education). The illuminated manucript is believed to have been created around 800 A.D.; it’s often said to be Ireland’s finest national treasure.
National Gallery of Ireland. Call me ignorant but I had no idea the Nobel laureate poet William Butler Yeats had a brother Jack until I visited the National Gallery and saw a grand collection of his art. That is exactly the beauty of this museum: the emphasis is on things Irish so rather than having minor works by minor 17th century Dutch painters, it has extensive holdings in artists who really get Ireland because they are Irish.
James Joyce. The other much celebrated Irish writer in my mind is James Joyce and Dublin was a city that figured large in his literature, especially Dubliners and Ulysses. There’s Davy Byrnes pub where the thing is to order a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of red wine. There’s Gresham Hotel, now Hotel Riu Plaza, a central place in “The Dead” short story. There’s Sandymount, a stop on the DART lightrail, and a setting for important action in Ulysses. You could spend days retracing Joyce’s Dublin and the surprise is that much is still in tact.
A full Irish breakfast. Don’t tell your cardiologist – I won’t tell mine – but a trip to Dublin is not finished until you start the day with a full Irish breakfast at a no frills place like TJ’s in north Dublin but near City Center. Again, get out of the hotel and look for a neighborhood place that dishes up the real deal with fried eggs, toast, bacon, bangers, potatoes, black pudding, a few spoons of baked beans and, yes, have a cup of tea with cream and sugar. Wherever you eat don’t spend over 10 Euros for it. That’s plenty for a real breakfast, pay more and it’s too fancy.
A Night at the Theater. What I love about Dublin theater is it’s easiness. Usually I have bought same day tickets. Typical price: about 30 Euros. You can’t dream of doing similar on Broadway, not even off Broadway. My usual haunt is the Abbey aka the National Theatre of Ireland. It opened in 1904. Great history including W. B. Yeats and G. B. Shaw. The Gate also is worth a look.
L’Ecrivain. People often ask where to go for a gourmet meal in Dublin – a city that’s had a culinary renaissance – and I still point them to chef Derry Clarke’s L’Ecrivain in City Centre, where the unexpected – deer, partridge – are there with the expected (local prawns, wild turbot). A perennial Michelin star winner. I still recall my first visit, maybe a dozen years ago, when the chef-proprietor joined me at my table after I’d finished my meal with a bottle of Midleton whiskey in hand and introduced me to what I believe is Ireland’s finest tipple. I can’t promise he will do the same for you but the Midleton is on the menu at 22 Euros a shot. Taste it.
What about a hotel recommendation? Nah. I have never stayed in one I’d rave about, and I’ve not stayed at one I hated either. The TripAdvisor ranking is a good starting point. Set your budget, select a neighborhood – I recommend City Centre, posh Dublin 4, or grittier Glasnevin – and you’re off.
Tiocfaidh ár lá.
Robert McGarvey has visited Dublin since 1989. He holds Irish citizenship and lately admits to thinking about relocating there.