15 March 2013

To Dublin and Back Again

Our brief e-silence the past few days is due to our weekend trip to Dublin, and in lieu of our regular IKEA Vrijdag, we're providing a recap of our trip (since I know there is no way for me to write up both in a reasonable amount of time).

Seeing Ireland has been a lifelong dream of mine. Like a lot of Irish Americans, I felt a calling to "the motherland" and a wish to see part of where my ancestors came from. After our brief layover in Dublin when we flew back to the States for Christmas, I decreed (yes, my decrees have weight) that we would be visiting Dublin in short order. And so we did.

We flew on Ryanair for the first time - which was an experience in and of itself. In a way, the airline is like the Southwest Airline of Europe, but there are some stark differences. Ryanair can have ridiculously cheap airfare when you buy on a sale, but you're only allowed 1 carry-on per person (strictly enforced to the point that a small bag with the Little Man's milk cup was rather rudely assessed as unauthorized additional baggage until I said we'd shove it into another bag) and the charges for checked bags are rather high. For the first time in a very long time, we got to walk on the tarmac to the plane since Ryanair doesn't pay for gate walkways. The flight attendants are also selling something (cosmetics, raffle tickets, gross reheated airline food) for what feels like every 10 minutes.

The flight to Dublin left around 9:00 pm our local time and landed just before 10:00 pm Dublin time. We got through customs and out to a cab in good time - and made it to the hotel in about a 20 minute drive. Our cab driver was actually a Londoner who married an Irish woman and stayed in country, a little interesting that our first lengthy interaction was with someone who was not even Irish. From the driver, we learned that it was Six Nations Rugby tournament weekend and France and Ireland were playing in Dublin. This explains why the hotel/hostel prices in city centre seemed high for the weekend (we stayed in West Dublin, on the outskirts of the city). And why we saw more French speaking people than one would expect on a typical March weekend in Ireland. While walking around the streets of Dublin, there were more berets and tri-color scarves than we would have expected, though at 5 o'clock game time, they all disappeared into the pubs or the stadium. The good-natured rivalry between French and Irish fans was fun to watch, though we did pray for an Irish win - better to have a happy hometown crowd than and angry one (the game ended in a 13-13 draw).

Since our late arrival on Friday evening meant that Little Man (and his parents) needed a rest as soon as we got to the hotel, we started out on our sightseeing nice and early on Saturday morning. First, a trip on the commuter line to a trolley closer in town, and the trolley to what I thought during my planning was central to the city. As it turns out, the website for the Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) is not that clear as to how one would jump from the commuter rail to city centre, but we figured out more about the system through our trial and error.

We made our way through some historical sights and notable locations. We started at the General Post Office (GPO), the sight of the 1916 Easter Rising that ultimately led to the final push for Irish independence from Great Britain. The Irish rebels declared an independent Irish Republic, took over the post office, and declared war on Britain. The rebellion itself was quashed, though not after significant damage to the city of Dublin and near total destruction of the GPO itself. The average Dubliner did not participate in the rebellion and was angry with the rebels for the destruction that was wrought on the city; but after sweeping arrests, terrible prison conditions, and executions of the leaders (including James Connolly, who was dying of his wounds but was tied to a chair in order to be killed by the firing squad), Irish public opinion swung in support of the rebels and the Sinn Fein party whose members were primarily responsible for the rebellion. The rest led to the very messy path of an independent Ireland. The history nerd in me was awed to stand in the same place as James Connolly, Padraig Pearse, and others, and amazed that the GPO (later restored) continues to exist as a regular post office with the monotony of the "every day."

The General Post Office, O'Connell Street, Dublin

After the GPO, we made our way to Trinity College's Book of Kells display and the Old Library. The Book of Kells is a highly illustrated book of the four Gospels, written by monks in the 9th century. The detail and amazing good condition of the book make it one of the wonders of Ireland. Unfortunately, during our visit the college was having problems with the climate controlled protective case and the book was not available for public viewing. But it wasn't a wasted trip as we still got to see the Long Room Old Library, a gorgeous oaken sanctuary and display for over 200,000 of the library's oldest books.

The Long Room of the Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin

Next up, the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology. Here, the museum hold all sorts of artifacts from ancient Ireland, including "bog mummies," medieval weapons and religious artifacts, and "every day" items (fishing nets, pots, pans, capes) from across the timeline. From the museum we took a stroll through St. Stephen's Green, a beautiful public park in city centre with a rich history and memorials to commemorate great persons and events in Irish history.

Fusilier's Arch - A grand entrance in honor of the fallen Irish soldiers of the British Army during the Second Boer War

St. Patrick's Cathedral was the next stop on our walking tour. The Cathedral is named for the patron saint of Ireland who is credited for bringing Christianity to Ireland. It's believed that St. Patrick may have used a well at the site of the Cathedral to baptize new followers. The existing building has been standing since construction started in 1220, though a St. Patrick's Church is known to exist on the site since at least 890. 

St. Patrick's Cathedral, a view from the park

The building hasn't had it easy - while suffering from the usual stories of damage by storms and accidental fires, the church was claimed as an Anglican church during the Tudor Dynasty and was stripped of much of its ornamentation and fell into horrific disrepair until the building was given assistance by the Guinness family in the mid-19th century. Today, the Cathedral is the National Cathedral for the Church of Ireland. Interestingly, the author Jonathan Swift was Dean of the Cathedral and is buried within the building. (As a general observation, the official website of the Cathedral is fantastic - it's worth checking out for the history and virtual tour.)

Sanctuary of St. Patrick's Cathedral

Appropriately, we visited the Guinness Storehouse at St. James' Gate after going through the Cathedral. The site has a self-guided tour explaining the brewing process, though you don't see any of the brewing at this location. There's also a load of different floors explaining the history and other aspects of the Guinness establishment. But really, the best part of the tour is the complimentary pint of Guinness.

After a walk back towards city centre, we popped into The Gutter Bookshop in the Temple Bar neighborhood, a fantastic independent book store where we picked up a book of classic Irish tales for the Little Man and a telling/memoir/historiography of the 1798 Irish rebellion for me. Since the rugby match was in progress, all the pubs were packed, but we managed to find space to sit down at the Czech Inn's pub and watched the Ireland-France game and then a Boston Bruins' hockey game all broadcast in Czech. However, the fish and chips and Guinness were just as good as anywhere else. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to rest up for the next day's adventures. 

To get a good view of the countryside, Sunday was set aside for a tour of County Wicklow and the mountains. Starting from the city centre, the mountains are just a half hour drive by a coach bus, though you have to watch out for cyclists and wild goats on your drive up.

Little Man on the bus, awaiting the promise of country sheep sightings

The first stop on the tour was the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, on the site of a former British military barracks built to deal with Irish rebels in the early 19th century. Over the years the buildings have been used as a boys' reformatory school and as a refugee center for German children helped by Operation Shamrock after the Second World War. Now the non-profit organization, founded in response to the "Troubles" in Belfast during the 1970s, works with groups to promote peace and find conflict resolution. Conveniently for tourists, there is also a cafe on site for snacking on the way into the mountains.

The Armoury Cafe at the Glencree Centre, County Wicklow

Next,we stopped at Lough Tay, one of the most photographed places in County Wicklow. The small lake is between mountains and is a gorgeous view. Apparently, the Guinness family also has a lakeside estate that has hosted all sorts of celebrities over the years in part because of the view and seclusion offered by the terrain.

Lough Tay, County Wicklow

After Lough Tay, we made our way to Glendalough, a site of St. Kevin's 6th century Christian/monastic settlement and a large round tower built during the 10th century. (one of several around Ireland used as landmark for travelers, a bell tower for the calls to prayer, and sanctuary during Viking raids).

The Round Tower, Glendalough, County Wicklow

The settlement is in ruins, and much that was built with wood that has long since rotted away. Surrounding the area is several graves that were being placed well into the 19th century. Among the ruins is the old monastary building (known as St. Kevin's Church or the Kitchen), and the Cathedral. The sight is quiet and pleasant and fun to explore.

St. Kevin's Church, Glendalough, County Wicklow

After Glendalough, we stopped in Fitzgerald's pub for some lunch and a pint before moving onto Avoca Mill, the oldest running woolen mill in Ireland. They create all sorts of colorful weaves, though no weavers were on duty during our visit.

Acova Mill, County Wicklow

After a quiet ride home, we managed to find a good spot in a city centre pub for dinner before heading back to the hotel for the evening. We had one last night and our flight mid-afternoon on Monday. After getting up early, we made our way back to city centre to get a traditional Irish breakfast at the Merchant's Arch. The food was fantastic (it's hard to go wrong with bacon, potatoes, and a good thick toast, among other things), and the service was great. The Little Man even came away with a key chain of crossed American and Irish flags. We finished up our breakfast, spent a little extra time in the GPO (there's a small museum tucked to one side of the building), and caught the shuttle bus back to the airport.

Merchant's Arch Pub, Dublin - view from the Ha'penny Bridge

The trip back was uneventful (the best kind of travel), though from the Eindhoven airport there was some crazy traffic that took us 45 minutes just to get out of view of the bus stop. Luckily, things moved much faster once we got off the street in front of the airport.

While it was a short trip, it was an enjoyable one, and definitely recommended as a vacation destination. We'll be going back another time, but next time we'll stay longer.


  1. Looks like you packed a lot in your short weekend! Glad you finally made it to Ireland, Ace! Did Mark remember all the St. Kevin stuff? I remember seeing that on our trip to Ireland with him.

    1. So... I just found this...
      But we enjoyed it thoroughly! And no, Mark didn't remember if it was the same place, but he felt like it might be.


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