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Dublin, Ireland

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In Dublin's fair city where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying 'Cockles and mussels alive, alive-o'.

- 'Molly Malone', traditional song
St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.

So go the words of the old song. You won't find cockles or mussels on sale anymore, but there are plenty of other things to see and do in Dublin. Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland. It is the biggest city in Ireland by far, with more than one quarter of the total population of the country living in or around the city. It has grown to this size only in the last 70 years, so the centre of the city is still quite small. It is surrounded by vast suburbs which are of no interest to anyone except the residents.

First Impressions

  • It's low! Dublin does not go in for high-rise buildings. Most visitors expect the buildings to be much taller. Liberty Hall, Dublin's only skyscraper, is a mere 17 storeys high. Most of the buildings do not exceed five storeys high in the centre.

  • It's dirty! Dubliners are notorious for throwing litter on the streets, despite constant nagging from the authorities.

  • It's full of traffic. All the routes into Dublin are blocked by stationary traffic every morning as the number of cars in Dublin has been growing exponentially for the last ten years.

  • A lot of it is falling down. Just five minutes' walk from the city centre you will find derelict buildings. Much has changed in the last ten years, however, since the value of such sites as building land has skyrocketed.

  • There are lots of pubs. These are great places to have a drink and chat with your friends. Much more so than other countries, social life in Ireland revolves around the drink in the pub. All pubs and restaurants in the Republic are non-smoking, so you'll see gangs of people standing outside smoking.

  • Dubliners have only two topics of conversation: the price of houses (which has gone through the roof) and how bad the traffic is (see above).

While some of these points will give the visitor a bad impression, Dublin is still an interesting place to visit. This entry will list some of the major sights which may be of interest to tourists.

Old Dublin

Dublin was founded by the Vikings in about 800 AD, on the south bank of the River Liffey, in the area that is now Christ Church Cathedral. The name Dublin comes from Dyflin which is thought to mean 'Black Pool'. A tributary of the Liffey formed a large pool as it met the river. It was here that the Vikings set up their camp. The pool is long gone but the name remains. The original city was walled and very small. There is still one section of the wall remaining. The main things to see in Old Dublin are its two cathedrals.

St Patrick's Cathedral

St Patrick's Cathedral is the main cathedral of Dublin and the biggest church in Ireland. It belongs to the Church of Ireland, a protestant church closely related the Anglican and Episcopal churches. You can wander around the cathedral, except during services. There is a small admission fee.

The cathedral was built in 1200 - 1270, but many parts were added over the centuries and it was completely restored at the end of the 19th Century.

There are monuments in the cathedral to many rich and famous people who either were buried or had their funerals in St Patrick's. Look out for Jonathon Swift, the author of Gulliver's Travels, who was the Dean of St Patrick's in his day. There are also monuments to Douglas Hyde and Erskine Childers, two presidents of the Republic of Ireland, and to Turlough Carolan, the last of the Bardic harpers.

Marsh's Library

Marsh's library is next door to St Patrick's Cathedral. The library was founded in 1701 and most of the books date from around that time.

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral is the smaller of Dublin's two cathedrals. It is at the top of Patrick Street.

Dublinia

Dublinia is a modern exhibition on the history of Dublin. It is located in the building across the road from Christ Church Cathedral, connected to it by a bridge.

Temple Bar

The area between Dame Street and the River Liffey is known as Temple Bar. This area was scheduled for demolition to make room for a bus depot in the 1980s. Instead, it was decided to refurbish it as the nightlife centre of Dublin. The area is a maze of tiny streets, many of them for pedestrians only. It is full of pubs, cafés and restaurants, as well as shops selling art ranging from cheap knick-knacks to high-quality sculpture. There is a gourmet food market on Saturday mornings in Meeting House Square.

The Halfpenny Bridge

Leading from Temple Bar across the river is Dublin's most famous landmark, the Halfpenny Bridge (pronounced 'hape-nee'). This is a single arch pedestrian bridge, made from cast iron in 1816. It is very picturesque and a common subject of tourist photographs. The original toll for crossing the bridge was one halfpenny. This was half a day's wages for a working man. Only the aristocracy could afford to cross the bridge. Now the bridge is free and thousands of Dubliners cross it each day. At the north end of the bridge, watch out for the bronze statue of the two women taking a rest from their shopping expedition.

The Millennium Bridge

In the year 2000, a new pedestrian bridge was opened upstream from the Halfpenny Bridge. It is known as the Millennium Bridge. Built in a modern style, it has not been very favourably received as a work of art, but it serves a very useful function of uniting the pedestrian areas on the two sides of the river.

Guinness

Dublin is home to Guinness, the famous black beer which is consumed in vast quantities in this country. Guinness is technically known as Extra Stout Porter, but is usually just known as 'stout' or often just 'a pint'. Pouring a pint is a fine art, requiring patience and skill. Certain pubs get a name for a good pint. It is often said that the best pint (of Guinness) in the city is to be had in Mulligan's of Poolbeg St.

The Guinness Brewery is situated at St James's Gate in the west part of the city. Here they brew 2.5 million pints of the black stuff every day. Unfortunately, the brewery is no longer open for guided tours. The public are restricted to the Guinness Museum where there is an audio-visual presentation and a well-poured pint at the end, in the Gravity Bar, a rooftop glass-sided bar overlooking the city.

Theatres

Dublin is famous for its theatre scene. Going to the theatre is considered a very normal way of spending an evening. The Gate and Abbey theatres are world famous, while there are many other theatres, both bigger and smaller, including the Gaiety, Olympia, Project, Tivoli and Andrew's Lane.

Once a year, Dublin hosts a Theatre Festival, with a vast array of different plays performed.

Guided Tours around Dublin

There are two main types of guided tour where you are driven around Dublin. A few companies offer tours of Dublin in open-topped buses, including Guide Friday.

A different type of tour is provided by the Viking Splash Tours, which are in World War II amphibious vehicles. Participants are provided with Viking helmets. The ride culminates in a 'splash' as the vehicle takes to the water. This ride will be familiar to anybody from Boston, Massachusetts, as it is exactly the same as Boston's 'Duck Tours'.

There are also plenty of walking tours available.

Shopping in Dublin

In the centre of the city, there are two main shopping areas. One is centred around Henry Street/Mary Street on the north side of the Liffey. The other is centred on Grafton Street on the south side. Both of these are pedestrian areas. At the top (south) end of Grafton Street you will find St Stephen's Green, a pleasant park with a lake and ducks. At the bottom (north) end of Grafton Street at the junction with Nassau St, make sure to see the bronze statue of Molly Malone, the famous fishmonger of the song. Nassau Street has a large collection of shops catering for American tourists, with products ranging from shamrock-encrusted mugs to high-quality woollen garments.

Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells

Trinity College is a university situated in College Green, right in the heart of the city. It is pleasant to stroll through the grounds of the college, away from the traffic.

Trinity College's most prized possession is the Book of Kells. This is a transcription of the Bible's Four Gospels, dating from the year 800. It was written by Irish monks in the monastery of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. It is the greatest example of Celtic Art in existence. Almost all the pages are highly decorated with drawings, knotwork and intricate designs.

The book has been rebound into four volumes. All of these are on display in a special exhibition beneath the Long Room of the Library. A page is turned in each book each day, so you can see a different four pages if you come back another day.

Georgian Dublin and the Museums

Dublin underwent great expansion around 1800 and many elegant new streets were built in the style now known as 'Georgian'. These houses are brick-faced, with tall narrow windows, three to five storeys and elaborate front doors with arched fanlight windows and decorative pillars. Many of the Georgian houses still stand, particularly in the area around Fitzwilliam Square and Merrion Square. Most of them are now used as offices, but there are still many which are lived in by real people.

Number 29

The house known as Number 29 is situated in Fitzwilliam St. It was owned by a wealthy widow in 1800 and is now a museum. It has been redecorated to match as closely as possible the way it would have been then, with period furniture, hand-made wallpaper, original children's toys and so on. Guided tours will explain the life of a wealthy Georgian Dubliner as well as the servants who kept the house running.

Merrion Square

This elegant Georgian square has houses on three sides and Leinster House on the fourth side. This enormous building now houses the Irish Parliament, the Dáil. In the centre is a pleasant park with grass and flowers. In the north corner of this park is an interesting statue of Oscar Wilde, the well-known wit and playwright. Unlike most statues, this one is in colour! It is made from different coloured types of marble. Oscar lolls on a rock, surrounded by pillars inscribed with some of his more famous sayings, and gazes across at the house where he lived.

Every Sunday morning, artists exhibit their wares along the railings of Merrion Square. It is possible to get some very nice original paintings at reasonable prices.

The National Museum, Kildare Street

This museum concentrates on archaeological finds. Here you will find the Ardagh and Derrynaflan chalices. These are supreme examples of Celtic art, with intricate knotwork ornamentation made from filigree gold. There is also Celtic jewellery with golden torcs and brooches.

There is a small but nicely presented exhibition of Egyptian treasures.

The National Gallery, Merrion Square

The National Gallery is a wonderful collection of fine art. Watch out in particular for:

  • St Francis of Assisi by El Greco
  • The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife, an enormous painting
  • Paintings by Jack B Yeats
  • Watercolours by Turner, only on display in January.
  • The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio.

The Museum of Natural History, Merrion Square

This museum is amazing. The entire building should be put into a museum as an exhibit. It is totally unchanged since around 1900. Wood and glass cases filled with stuffed animals mounted in dramatic poses fill the building. Watch out in particular for the Dodo skeleton, one of the few in existence.

Smithfield

The area around Smithfield on the north side of the Liffey has been falling apart for many years. Houses have been demolished and replaced by scrap heaps. Shops have closed and been boarded up. Now a campaign of urban renewal is changing this into the latest place to be. Smithfield market has been converted into a giant pedestrian square which will be used for outdoor concerts. Apartments are being built around the square which will bring some life back into the area. Soon this area will be as vibrant as Temple Bar has become on the south side.

Ceol - the Irish Traditional Music Exhibition

Located in Smithfield, Ceol is a fascinating multimedia exhibition of Irish traditional music. Guaranteed to have you singing along and stamping your feet.

Beside the Ceol exhibition is a chimney which once belonged to the Jameson Whiskey distillery. You can travel up to the top of this in a glass-sided lift. Don't attempt this if you suffer from vertigo. The view from the top is good, but of a fairly run-down area of Dublin.

O'Connell Street

This street is officially the main street of Dublin. It is wide, with some impressive buildings, and is dominated by Ireland's tallest sculpture, the Spire of Dublin. This massive steel spike looks huge, and is actually taller than it looks, being 120m high.

The rest of O'Connell Street is a bit dilapidated; once the night-life centre of the city, there's not much here now. The Spire is the latest attempt to bring some life back to the main street of the city.

After the Spire, O'Connell Street's most impressive structure is the GPO (General Post Office), which was the site of a failed insurrection in 1916. The rebel leaders were executed, thereby guaranteeing their status as martyrs to the cause of Irish freedom. The front porch of the GPO is still seen as a meeting place for some of the more reactionary proponents of Irish nationalism.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle was originally a castle but has been added to so often that very little of the original building is left. This has been the head office of the Irish Civil Service for years and most of the castle is not open to the public. Dublin Castle is home to the State Apartments and the Chester Beatty Library.

The State Apartments

These are a set of rooms in the castle which were originally laid out as living quarters for the Lord Lieutenant, when Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. Now they are used for the inauguration of the president and for other state occasions. They are ornately decorated and are worth a visit.

The Chester Beatty Library

The Chester Beatty Library is a priceless collection of Early Christian, Islamic and Oriental manuscripts, donated to the state by the millionaire, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. The collection includes the earliest copy of the Bible's New Testament in existence.

The Phoenix Park

The Phoenix Park is a huge park which is entirely surrounded by the city. With an area of over seven square kilometres, it is said to be the largest enclosed park in Europe. Most of the park is laid out in grass, with small coppices of trees. Herds of deer wander around, always keeping out of reach of the visitors. The park contains two very large monuments. The Wellington monument is a 62m obelisk, the tallest in Europe. It commemorates Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, an Irishman who fought and won many battles in the 19th Century. The Papal Cross commemorates the visit in 1979 of Pope John Paul II, when he celebrated mass on that spot in front of one million people.

Dublin Zoo

Situated within the Phoenix Park is Dublin Zoo. Founded in 1830, it is one of the oldest zoos in the world. It is nicely landscaped with many interesting animals. Like most zoos these days, Dublin Zoo is actively involved in the preservation of endangered species. Dublin Zoo has been particularly successful in breeding tamarins and marmosets.

Related BBC Links

  • Ireland holds a special place in many people's hearts and nothing epitomises this more than the international celebrations for St Patrick's Day. Read on to find out more on The Day the World Turns Green.

  • The shamrock may well be an emblem of Ireland, but it is also a Gardener's Nightmare - even though it does have pretty pink flowers...


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