Later that evening, we donned our rain gear and ventured out for some pub grub. Who knew light rain morph into torrential so quickly? By the time we arrived at O’Neill’s Bar & Restaurant on Suffolk Street, we were jeans-dripping, conversation-starting drenched, not very comfortable, but it led to instant camaraderie and some lively discourse with the natives. The next morning, we learned the torrents had caused record-breaking flooding in Dublin.
We spent the next day and a half with Dorothy O’Connell, a local guide provided for us by Tourism Ireland, one of the perks of being a travel writer. If you’re not lucky enough to procure a guide, opt for a taxi tour---one of our most informative cab drivers was working on his Ph.D. in history---or buy a two-day pass and ride the red Hop On Hop Off buses, which stop at most of the historical attractions you’ll likely want to see. Be sure to purchase The Dublin Pass, a package that gives you free access to visitor attractions, a tour book, special entertainment discounts and free airport transfer to Dublin City.
Dorothy first took us on a half-day’s walking tour, showing us the famed Famine Figures statues erected in honor of those who starved to death or emigrated to North America on what later became known as “coffin ships” because of the number of emaciated souls who perished in the overseas voyage.The full-sized replica docked next to the site was much smaller than I had even imagined.
There we also saw where the Vikings sailed up the River Liffey to pillage and conquer and eventually settle because they didn’t want to return to Scandinavia until spring. The original snowbirds.
We toured the impressive gothic Church of Christ Cathedral---there were bronze statues and castings above group coffins bookending the sides of the church, but we didn’t stay long enough to get the 411 on their clever nicknames; Trinity College’s Book of Kells “Turning Light into Dark” exhibit and Dublinia’s Viking & Medieval Dublin, a fabulous place if you’re into winding your way through black death carts, meeting Vikings face-to-face and learning they never did have horns on their helmets. It was a long and interactive multi-story tour that gave visitors the opportunity to try on Viking gear, which we didn’t because there were too many kids rooting through the wooden trunk.
We were more interested in the nearby hip, quirky boutiques and eateries, where trendy ethnic and “slow food” restaurants are juxtaposed with pubs that have been open since the 1850s. Cassidy’s Bar falls into the last category and it does indeed have live traditional Irish music, but if you tire of that, there’s jazz in the basement. Strolling along the narrow cobblestone streets in the Temple Bar area was a welcome respite from fast-walking worker bees and annoying, slow-moving, map-reading tourists like us that crowd City Centre streets.
The following day, our guide Dorothy O’Connell drove us to County Wicklow to explore the Powerscourt estate and its acres of meticulously manicured gardens. After that we rambed through the ruins of the medieval monastic settlement Glendalough, founded in the sixth century by St. Kevin, a hermit priest who lived in the trees behind the monastery because he craved even more solitude. Go figure.
Before heading back to Dublin, we stopped at the seaside village of Bray so I could stand on the shore get my much-needed ocean “fix”. Driving the back roads I realized why so many Irish immigrants settled in the Appalachians: the layered limestone road banks and seeping underground springs looked just like many parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.
That night as Pam and I cruised the streets looking for a local eatery, we spotted Carluccio’s Caffe on Dawson Street. It was teeming with locals, so it seemed like a pretty good bet for two starving Americans. The fifteen minute wait for a table gave us a chance to peruse novelty chocolates, olive oils and artisan pastas stacked on shelves near the entry. When we were finally seated and satiated with the obligatory vino, Pam ordered the wild boar ragu, while I stuck with a rustic Italian marinara sauce that bore no resemblance to my previous run-ins with the sauce. Both were beyond lip-smacking excellent; Pam said the ragu was the best she’d ever eaten.
Our last day in Dublin marked the beginning of the Halloween/Bank Holiday weekend, which it turns out is a major three-day celebration in Ireland. A few “ghouls” emerged about mid-day Saturday, and within a few hours, Grafton Street turned into a wall-to-wall party-ready mob. There were solo street musicians, local garage bands with amps and instruments, magicians, and my favorite: a man in traditional Irish working class garb, spray painted head-toe with bronze metallic paint to appear more “statuesque”. He stood on a short curbside and froze in statue-mode until his “marks”---usually teenage girls---strolled by right. Then he’d reach up, tip his hat and scare the bejeebers out of them.
The street parties carried on late into the night, but we had a 4 a.m. wake-up call the next morning. We had to bow out, even if it meant missing the fireworks.
On the way back to the Fitzsimons Hotel---we’d switched after our trip into the country, not because anything was wrong with the Westbury---I would stay there again in a heartbeat---but because we wanted to experience the Fitzsimons, contemporary boutique hostelry set on the banks of the River Liffey in the heart of Temple Bar.
We first stopped at Avoca, a gourmet food and gift shop and bought a pound of Durrus Farmhouse cheese, grabbed a pack of Irish Black Bread crackers, a small assortment of stuffed olives from the olive bar and a bag of Tayto’s caramelized onion potato crisps---perfect for snacking while we were packing.
The only regret of our Irish adventure? Not enough time. If we’d had more, we would have done genealogy research at the National Archives, sampled more of Ireland’s gourmet “slow food”, partied at more pubs and spent a few hours shopping. On our next visit---and I guarantee there will be a next time---we’ll spend a minimum of two weeks.
Footnote: not every Aron sweater “made in Ireland” is actually made on the Emerald Isle; some are made in China with a few stitches added by an Irish knitter. Shop at House of Ireland if you want the real thing.
For more info, log on www.discoverireland.com