We’ve been in Dublin 6 days and it is in contention for our favorite place so far. It reminds us a lot of Seattle – especially the Belltown and Fremont neighborhoods. There are tons of Asian restaurants and Polish groceries, it has been cool and rainy, and we can walk almost everywhere. After 6 months in countries where English is not an official language, it is nice to be able to have small conversations at stores without worrying about mispronunciations or fumbling through transactions. Sadly, it’s more expensive than other places we’ve been, so our short stay represents more of a holiday than a residence.
Since our stay is short(er), we’ve been trying to cram as much into a week as we normally see in four. The National Gallery of Art had a (non-photographable) exhibit of da Vinci drawings. He really was interested in everything: making sketches of cats, studying river eddies and human bodies, and finding time to try his hand at poetry in between.
The National Archaeology Museum (photographable) had butter, clothes, and bodies preserved in the peat bogs, lots of weaponry, church artifacts, and even Egyptian mummies. One small pile of coins were actually tokens handed out by taverns as change and only usable at the same pub – maybe one of the earliest customer loyalty programs.
Just west of the tourist center are St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals. Kevin toured Christ Church and I went through St. Patrick’s. Both are made of gray stone and look similar from the outside. The exteriors are relatively plain, no soaring buttresses or gargoyles, just a few towers and arched windows. Inside, however, they are full of art. Brightly tiled floors and stained glass break up the dull stone. Statues, paintings and flags do the rest. Writer Jonathan Swift was Dean at St. Pat’s in the mid-1700s and is buried under a corner of the tile floor.
St. Patrick’s also has a tradition of receiving regimental banners as a way to remember soldiers killed in battle. Once the flags are hung, they are left to dissipate over time. The newest flags are still brilliantly colored and slowly darken over time before becoming mere tatters.
We’ve made sure to try Irish beer and whiskey. Guinness really is better here, as are local craft brews like McGargles. And they really must be better, because even I don’t mind drinking the beer.
Despite its reputation for whiskey, there is only one active distillery in Dublin, and it only opened only a year ago. Teeling Whiskey is very proud of the fact that they are the first new distillery to open in the city in more than 100 years. Though it takes more than three years to make a proper Irish whiskey, the Teelings inherited their father’s share from a distillery elsewhere and can sell it under their name. It apparently helps to have a starter stock when opening a distillery.
I was sure to make the pilgrimage to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and the library’s Long Room. Thankfully timed tickets we bought online allowed us to skip the line once we saw it stretched all the way around the courtyard. The Kells exhibit was a great reminder of the skills of illustrators and calligraphers and the intense work that would have gone into each page. Only two sets of pages are displayed at any time, so the actual book itself is a bit underwhelming, not to mention that it is quite crowded.
Upstairs is the main attraction, the Long Room. It’s one of the few tourist spots where photographs online and on postcards look just like the real-life version. It was absolutely as pretty as I’d hoped. It even smelled like a proper library. The sheer number of books on the shelves is mind-numbing. I’d happily move in tomorrow.
On display among a few showcased books is a 1916 Proclamation issued by the leaders of the Easter Rising. In another case is a 14th century Celtic harp that, according to legend, belonged to Brian Boru. This harp is literally the symbol of Ireland – it appears on Guinness beer and on government seals and the Irish euro coins. In any other place the harp probably would have been the centerpiece of its own museum, here it is overshadowed by the library’s towering shelves.