16-18 November 2017
Ireland had been high on the travel list for as long as the (virtual) list had been in existence, but it was probably the Guinness drought at our new local, The George, in Umhlanga (we’d temporarily relocated to Durban for 6 months starting in September) which raised its priority.
We patched together a roadtrip map, booking our rental car and accommodation but otherwise setting off with an unusually thin plan – thanks largely to a crazy work schedule (which is neither the stereotype for Durban nor the lifestyle we’d envisioned for our coastal relocation) – and rationalised our relaxed agenda with Ireland’s notoriously temperamental (read: miserable) weather. We figured there was no point wasting time planning things that we might not get to / want to do if the weather was foul. Besides, everything looked lovely in the pictures anyway and, no matter what, we’d have some solid loggings for our Guinness Index, where we note the price of a pint of Guinness in (Irish) bars around the world.
Thankfully our flight landed at 11h10 so we had the kindest possible acclimation, emerging from the airport into the 8 degrees midday ‘high’ in Dublin; bracing to say the least. But it wasn’t raining, so thank heavens (literally, in this case) for small mercies!
We’d specifically chosen our hotel because it was (cheap and) central to the sights and the airport Airlink bus stops right outside. The airport is also only a few miles from the city so it was an easy commute to get to where we needed to be. Right in the thick of all we needed to see!
With such a quick ‘n easy process, we were at our hotel just after 12 so too early to check into our room. We stowed our bags in the luggage room (uneasily, being South Africans, which means always assuming someone is going to steal your stuff!) and headed out to see what we could see.
True to form, maps give great direction but little perspective and everything was much closer than we thought it would be.
Our little orientation circuit took us down Henry Street (a wide pedestrian shopping street), along to the Liffey River and over it on one of the many bridges into Temple Bar (the famous pub district) back over the Liffey on the Ha’Penny Bridge, along the renown O’Connell Street, back down Talbot Street (another pedestrian arcade) and back to the hotel, just passed 2 o’clock check-in!
The first of our only 2 pre-arrangements was a Guinness Storehouse tour (an obvious must for anyone’s trip to Dublin, or Ireland for that matter), booked for 5pm. We’d pre-booked the last entry for the day because it’s half-price online (€17.50) and doubled nicely as Welcome sundowners. We’re also flash-tourists so didn’t see the 7pm closing time as a risk to not having enough time to take in the full experience.
That left us enough time to freshen up, do some basic research (internet, Google Maps, the magazine guide in the room and my brother on WhatsApp since he happened to be in Dublin as well and had spent a few weeks there already so knew the lay of the land) and grab a quick bite en route. We wanted convenience food but local, so ate at a Supermac’s – a “100% Irish” (according to every piece of branding) burger chain with a branch every time you blink – with a carb bomb tasty and filling enough to be The Meal For The Day.
We got to the Guinness Storehouse a bit early, which didn’t seem to matter as nobody checked our (bargain 5pm) tickets and we were welcomed and ushered through to start our tour on the light side of 4.30pm.
It’s an impressive set-up, with the intro conducted at the base of the 7 storey circular atrium designed to look like a pint glass – that if filled would hold 14.3 million pints (the equivalent of 3 pints per person in Ireland!). After the intro, guests are set free to enjoy a self-guided tour at their own pace, which really appealed to us.
Each floor tells a different story through larger-than-life displays, videos, interactive exhibits and bitesize chunks of info displayed on walls, floors and ceilings to keep things interesting and entertaining.
The recipe is shared in painstaking detail: Barley… Hops… Yeast… Water… And, the secret ingredient, Arthur Guinness.
Arthur and his wife Olivia had 21 children, but they lived in difficult times and only 10 survived to carry on the family name. The business was family run for several generations, but is now owned by alcohol brandhouse Diageo, which is a bit of a shame.
The tour ends with a free pint in the top floor bar, Gravity, which has spectacular 360 degree views over Dublin with etched blurbs on the glass so you know what you’re looking at.
It seemed only natural that our next stop would be the Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub, dating back to 1198. A quaint patchwork of a pub with a series of adjoining rooms, with lots of nooks crannies crammed with tables and chairs / stools. Very festive and lots of hearty food being served.
My brother came through and joined us for a pint of Guinness which led to a bit of a pub crawl that included Oliver St John Gogarty (Temple Bar classic with live traditional music and a pricy pint) and Mulligan’s (a “no-nonsense 18th-century pub with a cast of regulars and lack of modern pomposity”; more down-to-earth and €1.30 cheaper per pint!)
It’s been a worthy innings for Arrival Day and we welcomed a good night’s kip in a warm bed!
The second (and last) of our pre-arrangements was a free walking tour departing from City Hall Square at 11am.
We had a very leisurely start to our first holiday-day, languishing in the not-having-to-get-upness of it all and appreciating the soft and warm duvet before having to suit-up with all the layers to take on the elements.
We left our sanctum just after 10 and picked up a banger and bacon baguette en route to the tour meeting place.
We were again lucky (and delighted!) that it wasn’t raining in a city that according to our tour guide, the delightful Jack Redmond, gets an average of 270 days of rain per year.
Jack started us on our tour with a summary of Ireland’s illustrious history, with the fitting backdrop of Dublin Castle, built by King John (the bad guy from Robin Hood).
In a nutshell:
10,000 years ago, in the Ice Age, Ireland was connected to Britian by a land bridge… until the ice melted and split the two. (Our guide was openly elated about that!)
Then, some time later, the Romans came to Ireland and set up trading posts and whatnot… But buggered off when they experienced the weather, naming it Hibernia “The Land of Eternal Winter”.
In 841 Ireland got its first Viking invasion. They (who probably found the weather quite balmy compared to the fridge they lived in) thought it was a fabulous place and did a great job of establishing a whole bunch of towns, including Dublin in 988.
Almost 350 years after the Vikings invaded, the Normans arrived in 1169, invited by the Irish King Of Leinster who had been driven out of his kingship by a rival Irish King. But then he didn’t have enough soldiers to win Ireland back from the invaders he’d invited in. This marked the beginning of almost 800 years of British rule.
The Irish and the English actually got on pretty well until Henry VIII, who broke away from Catholic Church, which didn’t suit the Irish commitment to religion.
As if enemies and invasion weren’t enough, proper disaster struck in the 1840s and 50s. The 8.5 million people succumbed to the failed potato crop, the staple food – and, in most cases, almost only food – of the majority of the population and only half survived. More still emigrated and wilted the population down to a couple of million. It’s taken over a century to recover and Ireland still only has 6.7 million people now.
The North/South split came about from the Easter Uprising in April 1916 when a group of Irish nationalists staged a rebellion against the British and proclaimed an Irish Republic. It lasted 6 days and resulted in self-governing parliaments for Northern Ireland (the six north-eastern counties) and Southern Ireland.
In 1922 Ireland got its independence for the first time in 750 years. 210 or so wars in Irish history… And they only won 1. The last one. The War of Independence. Which explains the commitment to Isolationism, including remaining neutral in the World War.
Ireland’s independence left deep political division. Catholics wanted a Republic (IRA); the Protestants appreciated what England had done for them and wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom. It was a bloodthirsty battle that spanned decades and took thousands of lives. 1998 saw the Good Friday Agreement which ended the formal bloodshed almost overnight.
The economy enjoyed a heyday called the Celtic Tiger at the end of the 20th Century, but then the economy collapsed – and again a lot of people emigrated to find jobs and opportunities – and the country is only now starting to recover from the recession.
To finish off the story of the Irish/English, Queen Elizabeth only visited Ireland for the first time since Independence in 2011. It was apparently a solemn occasion that was observed in quiet contemplation from home… In stark contrast to the 100,000 or more people that had lined the streets for Obama’s visit. The Queen, bless her, wore a bright green dress, started her public address with a warm opener in Gaelic (nice touch) and did a good job of humanising herself on the visit by taking in the tourist sights, including the Guinness Storehouse (where she didn’t fancy her pint, but Prince Philip polished it off for her, after gulletting his own).
By now we’d walked around the Castle and were on the outside, next to the Charles Beatty Library, which Jack told is is one of the best places to visit in Dublin (and is free to enter).
Dublin Castle is 800 years old but only the tower has survived the full duration and now has extentions of Georgian architecture, for which Dublin is famous, and a Gothic church that hasn’t seen a service since 1990. We could now see, on the other side the historic building, it has been painted in bright colours – according to our guide, who called it ‘Legoland’, an embarrassing hangover of the Celtic Tiger mania but too expensive to reverse.
The tour then moved on to the Christ Church Cathedral, which has had its fair share of mottled past, including being home to a brothel for 30 years… to add insult to injury, run by serial-killer madam, Darkey Kelly.
We were by now 2 of the 3 hours into the tour so Jack gave us (and himself) a break at Bad Bob’s Bar in Temple Bar, which was already festive and I suspect where every day is St Patrick’s Day. While the others popped to the loo, we necked a quick pint of Guinness, well entitled since it was well past noon and, with 751 pubs in Dublin and only 3 days to enjoy them in, we’d have to take every opportunity afforded us!
As an interesting aside, until 1978 it was illegal in Ireland to sell alcohol on St Patrick’s Day. It was supposed to be a day spent in church or in quiet contemplation, appreciating the Saint – who was actually Welsh and only visited Ireland twice – bringing Christianity to Ireland.
Hardly the case anymore!
Jack regrouped us and walked us through Trinity College‘s beautiful campus and on to the National Library, where he sat us on the steps while he concluded his story with insight into modern day politics.
He then advised on good places to eat and drink in Dublin and invited us to join him at O’Neill’s, which we did… For a lot longer than expected!
Four pints, four hours and a whole lot of stories later, we parted ways with the world’s best tour guide, Jack Redmond, and went for a very necessary traditional Irish dinner at O’Shea’s, comprising traditional Irish Stew and Beef & Guinness Pie. Obviously.