“I go off into Dublin and two days later I’m spotted walking by the Liffey with a whole bunch of new friends.” – Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones)
Although we were staying on the west coast of Ireland we really wanted to visit Dublin and I was delighted to discover that the cost of a return rail ticket to the capital city was only €25 (£20) which was sort of surprising because I considered this to very good value compared to UK rail travel prices when most other things in Ireland seemed to me to be about 20% or so more expensive than in the UK.
It was an early start today so we missed breakfast at the Hotel Victoria and made our way to the railway station just a couple of hundred yards away to catch the seven-thirty Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) emerald green-liveried diesel powered 22000 class train service to Dublin which left exactly on time.
I have to say that the two hour journey wasn’t especially thrilling as we quickly left the dramatic scenery of the west coast behind us and travelled across the rather ordinary interior of the country with miles and miles of low lying land, livestock farms and the occasional stop at the various forgettable towns along the way and I was glad when we eventually arrived at our destination at Heuston station in Dublin.
We only had a few hours in Dublin so we thought that maybe a good way to see the city was to take the city bus tour which left from just outside the station so we purchased our tickets and climbed to the roofless top deck and as the bus set off rather wished that it was a little bit warmer as it drove towards the first stop at Phoenix Park (the largest public park in Europe by the way) and Dublin zoo and then back towards the city along the north bank of the river Liffey and then into O’Connell Street named after the nineteenth century Irish nationalist hero known as the liberator and not to be confused with Daniel O’Donnell the singer and TV presenter known as the imitator.
After an unnecessary change of bus when we told to get off but then got straight back on again we crossed the river to the more up-market and obviously affluent south side of the city and drove around Trinity College, Georgian Merrion Square and the birthplace of Oscar Wilde and then left the bus to start a walking tour at St Stephen’s Green, a large area of serene parkland and an oasis of green in the centre of the city.
From St Stephens we walked back to Merrion Square to photograph the red brick Georgian town houses and the famous coloured doors. These are all wonderful (although a little plain) buildings that until the 1950s were largely residential but which are too expensive to buy and maintain for that purpose any more and are now all business headquarters and public buildings.
Until 1972 the British Embassy was based here but following the Bloody Sunday riots in Northern Ireland an angry crowd marched on the place and burnt it to the ground.
The replacement building is about half a mile away, a modern purpose built building with a lot of security features. Hopefully they will never be any need to activate them!
In the grounds of the park at the centre of the square we found the jesters chair, a memorial to Father Ted actor Dermot Morgan and then a rather strange statue of Oscar Wilde lounging in a very unflattering pose on an uncomfortable looking granite rock which I didn’t care for a great deal.
It seemed to me to be somewhat inappropriate, the poor man clinging on like a piece of lichen to a boulder with his legs wide apart showing his crotch which was what got him into a whole load of trouble in the first place! Dubliners have christened it the ‘fag on the Craig’.
Leaving Merrion Square we continued our walking tour into Trinity College, one of the seven ancient universities of Great Britain and Ireland.
Somewhere in the bowels of the splendid buildings surrounding a perfectly manicured green is the Book of Kells which is one of the oldest and most important illuminated monastic manuscripts from the medieval dark ages and is regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. We would have liked to have seen it but there was a queue a mile long that was shuffling slowly forward at a pace as though people had their shoe laces tied together and we didn’t really care how important it was because we didn’t want to waste our precious time in Dublin standing in a line.
The sun was coming through now, it was approaching lunch time and everyone wanted a Guinness so we left the hallowed halls of Trinity College, pushed our way through the patient queue of people more determined than we were to see the Book of Kells and made our way to Temple Bar.
Narrow cobbled streets with beer bottle tops crushed for near eternity into the tarmac joints, winking like silver coins and capturing the memories of wild party nights and happy drinking, brightly coloured buildings decorated with hanging baskets with brassy flowers spilling over like floral waterfalls and street entertainers on every corner.
All along the main street a succession of pubs and restaurants with happy music leaking out of the open doorways like the song of the Siren’s enticing people to go inside and get wrecked and a lot of people were falling for it so they were!
There was still more of Temple Bar to see so after lunch we continued along the main street, diverted to the bridges over the river Liffey and then explored the side streets and looked for the statue of Molly Malone but when we arrived at the spot where she should have been singing about cockles and muscles she had been taken away for repairs and a clean.
After the castle we took a dangerous route along Grafton Street back to the bus stop at St Stephens Green; dangerous because it was lined on either side with shops and there was the constant fear that at any moment we might be dragged inside by Kim and Pauline. We were a little earlier than planned so we spent ten minutes in a curious place, The Little Museum of Dublin, which chronicles the modern history of Dublin through faded photographs and aged bric-a-brac.
We had allowed ourselves an hour to make the second stage of the bus tour and to get back in plenty of time for the return train journey and it was a good job that we did because it was Friday afternoon rush-hour now and the traffic was crawling at snail’s-pace away from the city centre.
We passed the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Guinness Brewery and then through the site of the original Viking settlement. Previously we have been to Haugesund in Norway where the Vikings started their sea journeys and it was cold, barren wet and miserable and I can only imagine that when they found this place they must have been delighted to find somewhere less (but probably only marginally) less cold, barren, wet and miserable.
On the return journey I reflected on Dublin, I had liked it but half a day was so not enough time to do it justice so I mentally added to my list of places to return to one day.