Dublin: Tales of one city
I recently discovered that Dubliners are avid storytellers with a lyrical lilt, humour and a lot of poetic licence.
For instance, all I did was ask for a pint of Guinness at O’Donoghues pub on Georgian styled Merrion Square and before long regulars were explaining how popular their pub was with celebrities like Bruce Springsteen and that every evening there’s live music. In fact musicians The Dubliners and Joe Heaney hailed from this very bar. And oh, this is where they say the best pint of Guinness in the city is served.
There was also a lot of juicy gossip to be had at Doheny & Nesbitts in Baggot Street, about the politicians and “suits” who drink there. It’s not for nothing that the pub is called “The Doheny & Nesbitts School of Economics”. And naturally, their’s was the finest pint in the city.
It was the same at Dawsons — the smallest pub in Dublin — cosy with just 25 people propping up the bar.
But it was the tales about the Book of Kells that were the most outrageously diverse. This is a 1,000 year-old Christian bible that’s held at Trinity College, Dublin’s most prestigious university.
I heard the first story when I went on an excursion with Wild Wicklow tours to the gorgeous Wicklow mountains that lie just beyond the city.
It’s a great excursion that passes one of the martello towers (round towers built along the coast as defences during the Napoleonic Wars), at Sandycove, where James Joyce once lived. I had time to pop in and see the very room in which he penned the first chapter of Ulysses.
The elevation into the mountains is called Military Road, so-called thanks to the British army camp that was once stationed there and Jo, the driver, had much to say about that. He also had a lot to say about the lake on the Guinness estate (of beer fame) at Glendalough that made its debut in the blockbuster movie Excalibur and the hills where Braveheart was filmed.
When he had run out of spiel, Jo asked “How long are you staying”. I told him it was a weekend break. “In that case you won’t have time to read it all, but go see the Book of Kells. It has 600 pages and every day they turn one page”.
Not so, says Sean who runs Dublin’s VikingSplash tours. His tour, in a worse-for-wear World War II truck, takes in the city landmarks such as the two humongous cathedrals, Ha’Penny bridge and the tall stainless steel Spire on O’Connell Street. It then becomes amphibious as it sails along the city’s dividing river, the Liffey.
As we passed Trinity College at the edge of the Dublin’s famous thoroughfare, Grafton Street, he told me they turn a page every two weeks.
Yet according to random person I met whilst taking a peaceful stroll in the 1752-acred Phoenix Park where the American Ambassador’s residence and the zoo are located, they turn a page at every full moon.
Intrigued, I took myself off to the college museum and was told by the curator that it is not a single book but a series of four gospels and only two are on display at any one time. The truth is that they swap them every three months. Trinity is also home to a dark, stately, wooded long room (64 metres) hemmed by 38 marble busts of men who are “eminent for learning” such as Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Homer and Shakespeare. It’s also library with 45 million books at the last count.
There’s more to the capital than literary greats: Guinness and Jamesons. Even teetotallers would enjoy a visit.
At the Hollywood-style Guinness Visitors Centre I did the tour, read the literature that revered the founder Arthur Guinness, and learned to pour the perfect pint. The latter may sound easy but there is a technique and I found myself tapping my fingers on the bar while I waited 119.5 seconds before for it was ready to drink. Eventually, I was supping a pint while enjoying the magnificent 360 degree views over the city from the Gravity Bar on the centre’s top floor.
But I had a niggling query — how can a pint of Guinness differ from one pub to the next? “It’s to do with how they store it — it’s a temperature thing and just one degree changes the taste.”
I decided to keep that nugget to myself when I went on a recce of the city’s nightlife which is mostly clustered around Temple Bar. The area, on the south bank of the Liffey in the centre, is pretty much a tourist trap but fun nevertheless. Music oozes out of doorways, restaurants are full and I marvelled at the collection of wannabe musicians looking for Open Mike opportunities.
Another smooth operation is Jameson’s visitor centre. I met the manager and he asked “So what’s your tipple?” I answered “I don’t drink but it used to be Jack Daniels”. He laughed and patted me on the back. “Well, we all have to start with a college education”. By the end I was awarded a certificate as a master taster.
It was in Dublin’s Little Museum that I learned Irish history and about Irish born and bred pop star, Bono. The museum comprises two rooms: the first floor is laden with pictures and artefacts that tell the Irish story and the second floor is dedicated to Bono.
Bono and President Barak Obama were awarded the keys to the city, allowing them to graze their sheep at St Stephen’s Green, a beautiful park in the city centre. Barak declined but Bono on the other hand, went along with Edge, each holding a lamb.
Well, you couldn’t make it up. But that’s Dublin. Full of tales.
The Jewish Museum celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The aim is to tell the story about Jews, Judaism and the Irish Jewish community. It stands on the site of the former Walworth Road Synagogue in an area was once known as “Little Jerusalem” because it had a densely populated Jewish enclave off the South Circular Road. At that time it was filled with kosher butchers, bakeries grocery stores, tailors and other businesses owned by Jews. In the 70’s the Jewish population moved to the suburbs and the synagogue fell into disuse. Ten years later there was a fair of Jewish memorabilia in Dublin. Not knowing what to do with the exhibits they refurbished the synagogue and it became the Irish Jewish Museum. At its height, there were 5,000 Jewish citizens living in Ireland. Today, its just over 1,000.