DUBLIN & Environs

(These pages are under construction)

WALK 1 starts in College Green. First check out the rather splendid C18th Irish Parliament, now the headquarters of the Bank of Ireland, where you can see the former Irish House of Lords. Tucked away beside it is Foster Place, home of the quaint Irish stock exchange.

Proceed through the Front Gate of my university, Trinity College, founded in 1592 and featuring buildings of almost every architectural period since then. A very pleasant stroll through lovely old Georgian squares (en route, check out the beautiful Chapel, the impressive Exam Hall and Dining Hall, the Book of Kells in the Old Library, see what’s on at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in the modern Arts Block, and step into the splendid Victorian Geology Building) takes you to the College Park playing fields and past the Science End (somewhat unprepossessing, but there are several fine old lecture halls, e.g. in the Zoology Dept., and some of the newest buildings are interesting) to emerge in

Lincoln Place / Clare St., (check out Green’s bookshop, especially upstairs!), admire the new extension to the National Art Gallery. While not in the same league as the Prado or the Louvre, there is some excellent work in the permanent collection, including several Old Masters, and the temporary exhibitions are often very good. The main building adjoins Leinster House, originally built in the C18th for the Duke of Leinster, now home of the Oireachtas (modern Irish Parliament, comprising the Dáil and the Senate), and both face onto

Merrion Square (classic Georgian – find the statue of Oscar Wilde, opposite his childhood home; the park railings are used by local artists to hang their paintings on summer Sundays). Pop into the Natural History Museum (worth seeing as classic Imperial Victoriana at its most morbid!) next-door to Leinster House; then (enjoying the view of the pepperpot church in the distance) walk up Merrion St. past the former Royal College of Science (opened by King George V in 1911, now housing various government departments) on your way to

Upper Baggot Street (have a pint for me in Dohenny & Nesbitts!), where it’s well worth taking a couple of quick detours, one to admire nearby beautiful Georgian Fitzwilliam Square, and another if there is an exhibition of paintings on at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in Ely Place; then proceed back along Merrion Row to the rather splendid Shelbourne Hotel (have a drink in the famous Horseshoe Bar, or take tea and cakes in the gracious foyer); as a child, I was always scared of the Nubian lamp-bearers outside. There is an interesting old Huegenot cemetery next to the hotel. The monument across the street commemorates Theobald Wolfe Tone, leader of the 1798 Rebellion, and is nicknamed Tonehenge.

St. Stephen’s Green is in my opinion one of the world’s loveliest city parks (say hi to the ducks, and find the monument to James Joyce). Emerge through the Boer War Memorial Arch at the top of Grafton Street, Dublin’s premiere shopping street, and walk down past the Provost’s House back to College Green.

 

All the streets within and many of the streets adjoining the rough rectangle described by this walk are interesting, with lots of beautiful old buildings and many good shops, hotels, pubs, clubs and eateries. Around St. Stephen’s Green, The Royal College of Surgeons is a curious institution. Iveagh House is a magnificent mansion, now occupied by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Nest door, the former Catholic University Church is high Victorian rococo, while the nearby Unitarian church is pleasantly austere. Weir’s is a particularly interesting establishment on Grafton St. itself, and Neary’s and McDaid’s are good pubs on short side streets. I particularly like the Wicklow Inn on Wicklow St. The Dublin Civic Museum on Clarendon St. is very interesting, and Powerscourt Townhouse is a splendid old city mansion now filled with trendy shops and eateries. Grogan’s Castle Inn is a fun pub near the entrance of the George’s St. Market Arcade (say hello to Mac the record-seller for me!). The Long Hall is the best pub on George’s St; and The Stag’s Head in Dame Lane is atmospheric. Dawson Street features the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House (the first Dáil met in the adjoining Round Room in 1918), the headquarters of the Royal Irish Academy, several good bookshops, and a period reproduction bar called Le Café en Seine. Nassau Street, overlooking College Park, is notable for Hanna’s Bookshop, and the Kilkenny Design Centre used to have a good café. The Kildare Street side of Leinster House is flanked by the National Library (restricted access) and National Museum; well worth a visit. You can take a bizarre tour of the Masonic Hall on Molesworth Street.

 

 

WALK 2 also starts at College Green. Dame Street features pompous Victorian buildings, each almost grotesquely different from its neighbour. The splendidly restored City Hall partially hides Dublin Castle, the seat of English rule for 800 years. The complex now houses disparate elements, from modern government offices and touristy shops and eateries to the medieval St. George’s Chapel and the State Apartments, well worth a tour, and the superb Chester Beatty Library, an extraordinary collection of ancient Middle Eastern and Oriental religious Art & Design.

Christchurch Cathedral, (mid-C11th & late C12th, Anglican since 1536) is very atmospheric, and contains the tomb of Strongbow, leader of the 1169 Norman Invasion. Look for the niche with the urn containing the ashes of the Hereditary Standard Bearer of the Royal House of Montenegro (!) The fascinating crypt once partially housed a collection of stalls and taverns arrayed along disreputable passages, one called Hell, another Paradise. The old city tumbril stocks sit surrounded by noble tombs and a mummified cat. An English army officer was once locked in the crypt by mistake after a funeral, and was devoured alive by rats. The Dean of Christchurch has always been regarded as a powerful figure.

Nearby are the remains of St Audoen’s one of many mediaeval parochial churches of Dublin, dedicated to the great patron saint of the Normans, Audoen or Ouen, Bishop of Rouen in 640 AD, founded by Archbishop Henry de Loundres in 1219. The ruins incorporate part of the old City Wall. The hideous modern Civic Offices were built, despite massive protests, on top of the archaeological remains of the original Viking town.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral (late C12th, also Anglican since 1536, seat of the Archdiocese of Dublin and Glendalough and principal site of worship of the Church of Ireland in the Republic, nowadays often used for Ecumenical services) was founded just outside the then city walls in 1190 by the Archbishop of Dublin ,John Comyn, apparently in a fit opf pique after a failed Templar plot to assassinate the Dean of Christchurch. It is the largest church in Ireland, and contains the tomb of its former Dean, the famous C18th satirist Jonathan Swift. There is also an excellent crypt.

The park (known informally as the Beano) is a popular venue for open-air events in summer; it was the site of the Cathedral cloister, which housed a rather sporadic university from the mid-C13th until its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1536.

The Cathedral Choir School is across the street from the public entrance to St. Patrick’s; it is amazing to see these kids transformed into angels when they sing! Ussher’s Library, beside the Cathedral, is an C18th jewel, and claims to have been the first library in the world open to the general public.

The two Cathedrals were somewhat over-restored in the C19th by the Guinness family. They are in one of the oldest parts of Dublin, known as the Liberties since the time when it enjoyed various medieval privileges. In the C19th this district was largely rebuilt as terraced houses for workers in various local industries, notably the Guinness Brewery, the aroma of which still permeates the area. High St. (where John’s Lane Augustinian church, designed by Nicholas Welby Pugin in 1874, features a spectacular white Carrara marble altar) leads to Thomas St, where Guinness has a Visitors’ Centre and a lovely art gallery and restaurant in the old Hop Store.

 

{Citizen: Didn’t the Guinness family do great things for the people of Dublin?

{Brendan Behan: Didn’t the people of Dublin do great things for the Guinness family, more like!}

 

The district is interesting to wander around, but keep your wits about you, and avoid the area at night. Although becoming increasingly yuppified, the Liberties have a recent history of social problems and drug abuse. Many of the street names are interesting; e.g. the Coombe was the banks of the river Poddle (now covered), Cork St. was the main road to Cork (7 days away by coach), and Meath St. commemorated the Lord Reginald Grey, Earl of Meath, who named several of the surrounding streets after himself too. Francis St. has some interesting shops, pubs and eateries.

 

If you are feeling energetic, continue just beyond the Guinness Brewery, and you will come to St Patrick’s Hospital, the world’s oldest psychiatric institution, founded with funds bequeathed by Jonathan Swift. From there, you can walk down towards the river, past the renovated Dr. Steven’s Hospital, which now contains government offices, or you can follow the signposts for Kilmainham Royal Hospital, a beautiful C17th edifice designed by Sir Christopher Wren set in park grounds, originally a geriatric veteran’s home comparable to Chelsea Hospital in London or Les Invalides in Paris. It now houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), and often hosts interesting temporary exhibitions. Also well worth visiting is the nearby Kilmainham Jail, of grim historical notoriety. From here you are within striking distance of Farmleigh House, an aristocratic residence recently restored by the government as accommodation for visiting dignitaries, occasionally open to the public. You are also near the Islandbridge War Memorial Park, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, commemorating the many Irishmen who died fighting in foreign wars (mostly for the British army). This is a pleasant place to stroll beside the river. Cross the bridge to Phoenix Park, and return to the city centre by reversing Walk 4.

 

Walk 3 starts at O’Connell Bridge (originally Carlisle Bridge) and proceeds up O’Connell St. (formerly Sackville St., originally Drogheda St.).

Cleary’s department store. When the machines used to erect the Millennium Spike were finally taken away, a spontaneous wave of song went up on O’Connell St: “I can see Cleary’s now the cranes have gone“. The shop has been in financial difficulties for some time, but may be rescued by an American consortium.

This wide thoroughfare was once very elegant, but is now rather tawdry. During the daytime, the street features several good shops (notably Cleary’s Department Store), and the GPO is worth visiting for its historical significance. The Gresham Hotel is attractive. Some of the statues and monuments are worth a look. My favourites are Larkin and Parnell. The newest addition is the Millennium Spire, nicknamed the Spike, inaugurated a year late; when the machinery was removed, people sang “I can see Cleary’s now the crane has gone”! It is worth making a small detour to see the mock-Egyptian Roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral and Tyrone House, now housing the Dept. of Education on Marlborough St.

The Hugh Lane gallery of modern art on Parnell Square is excellent, and now houses the legacy of Francis Bacon. The Garden of Remembrance in the square itself is worth a look, as is Findlater’s church (Presbyterian) on the corner. There is a beautiful rococo chapel in the Rotunda maternity hospital on Parnell St, and The Eagle is an atmospheric pub just across the street. The buildings on North Great George’s St. (including the excellent Joyce Centre) and around Mountjoy Square have in many cases been restored to something of their original early Georgian elegance. The Black church on Werburgh St. is elegant, and associated with several early urban legends.

Henrietta St. is worth a visit for the same architectural reasons. This early Georgian street is dominated by the King’s Inns, Ireland’s quaint school for barristers (that I attended for two irritating years). There is a lovely library housed in an exceptionally handsome building before you reach the rather grim portal of the main edifice housing the magnificent Dining Hall (where I ate my 32 regulation dinners) and the Registry of Deeds, designed by Gandon, (who was also responsible for the Four Courts and the Customs House). The interior is painted in surprising pastel shades. Visit the park on the other side, with its famous bench-eating tree.

Walk back towards the river down atmospheric Capel St. The busy streets between this and O’Connell St. are good for shopping, especially Henry St. There is a good library in the otherwise rather soulless ILAC Centre. The market on Moore St. can be fun. The lovely C18th church on Mary St. is now Orthodox.

 

WALK 4 starts at, in front of or opposite the C18th the Customs House; go upriver along the quays beside the Liffey (Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabella), criss-crossing the bridges (especially O’Connell Bridge, the widest; the Ha’penny bridge, Dublin’s symbol, and the new pedestrian bridge, christened the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge – you’ll see why if it’s windy!), admiring the new Boardwalks and the renovated hotels (the Clarence is owned by Bono of U2) and pubs (don’t miss the bizarre interior of Zanzibar!), to the Four Courts (where I worked as a barrister from 1983 to 1988. Most courts are open to the public. Check out the Law Library). It is well worth making short detours up the streets off the quays on both sides of the river. St. Michan’s Church (c. 1095, dedicated to a Norse saint, “restored” 1828) on Church St. has a fascinatingly creepy crypt, where you can shake hand with a 13th century crusader. Continue on the North side to recently redeveloped Smithfield, admire the Law Society’s premises in the old Bluecoat School in Blackhall Place, and pop into Ryan’s of Stonybatter for a pint of Guinness and a plate of stew at lunchtime. A visit to Collin’s Barracks, converted into an excellent National Museum extension, is highly recommended. From here you will see (and smell!) the Guinness Brewery on the south side of the river, but stay on the north side and you will arrive at a street leading to the gates of Dublin’s main park. Ryan’s of Parkgate Street is the Mecca for drinkers of good pints of Guinness (which is, of course, how you judge a good Irish pub).

 

Phoenix Park claims to be the largest city park in Europe, if not the world. Originally the Vice-regal hunting ground, it is largely composed of flat expanses of grass, grazed by a resident herd of deer and sometimes cattle or sheep brought in to assist, and dotted with stands of trees, patches of woodland and small glades and miniature glens. There are various clubhouses and sometimes spectator stands beside rugby, soccer, hockey and cricket pitches, GAA football, hurling and camogie fields, running tracks, athletics installations, tennis courts and polo grounds, and an equestrian centre provides riding facilities and excursions within the Park. The principal buildings are the Presidential Residence (Aras an Uchtarain), the American Ambassador’s Residence, a police barracks now used as Garda headquarters, several military edifices and a couple of geriatric homes. The Papal Cross where Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass with a million congregants in 1979 is prominent, as is the monument to the Dublin-born victor of Waterloo (known as the Wellington Erection, for obvious reasons). The People’s Gardens are pretty, but the main attraction is the second oldest public zoo in the world (recently extended and very pleasant, if you like zoos as much as I do).

 

Walk 5 starts at the Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green. Walk along Baggot St. to the pleasant late 19th century / Edwardian residential area of Ballsbridge. Stroll down Wellington Road to the American Embassy; beside the river, Herbert Park is a jewel. From there you can walk along the bank of the Dodder to Sandymount; there are a couple of excellent pubs on charming Sandymount Green. A pleasant place to stroll is Sandymount Strand, especially when the tide is out, and its Martello Tower was immortalised by James Joyce in Ulysses. You can catch the DART back into town at nearby Sydney Parade station

 

On the South Side, Temple Bar, an extension of Fleet St. running parallel to the river, is the main artery of the touristiest part of Dublin. Many “real” Dubliners affect to despise it, but it actually features some good shops, pubs, clubs and eateries. Unfortunately, it tends to get very crowded, especially at night, and is particularly popular with young English hooligans on weekend stag parties. The best pubs in the area are The Palace (especially the backroom) and The Norseman. I also like the Temple Bar bar, and the Auld Dubliner does a nice traditional Dublin Coddle lunch.

Other very good pubs in the south city centre include O’Neill’s on Pearse St. and Hartigan’s in Hawkins St., just off Tara St. at the river end.

The area around Grand Canal Basin (where juvenile delinquent swans often congregate in gangs) and the formerly working class areas of Ringsend and Irishtown are being rapidly gentrified, as evidenced by the trendy pubs at the Beggars’ Bush Barracks crossroads.

The Grand Canal itself provides several pleasant stretches for strollers and joggers, particularly on either side of and beyond Leeson St. Bridge and Portabello. Around Baggot St. Bridge, the canal bank is a traditional haunt of prostitutes at night.

 

On the North Side of the Liffey, it is probably not a good idea to walk around the city centre by yourself at night. Lower Abbey St. has an excellent café called Susie; Wynne’s Hotel is quite good, and the Abbey Mooney is bizarre. There are a couple of reasonably priced good eateries in Earl St., Talbot St. and around Beresford Place. Just east of the Customs House is the modern International Financial Services Centre, the focal point of massive redevelopment of the North Docks, now the fashionable address for thrusting new enterprises.

 

The most expensive restaurants in Dublin are usually French in inspiration. If you want Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Nepalese, Iranian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Algerian, Moroccan, Turkish, Russian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Swiss, Greek, Mexican, Guatemalan, Columbian, Peruvian, Chilean, Argentinean, Brazilian, Portuguese, or Belgian (!) dishes, there are some very good and reasonably priced establishments. Japanese noodle, sushi and sashimi and Spanish tapas places are currently very fashionable. Indian and Pakistani restaurants tend to be pricier than their counterparts in Britain. Like the more numerous Chinese establishments, they vary hugely in quality, from superb to atrocious. And of course there is the usual range of American style eateries, pizzerias etc. Avoid pretentious Italian pasta restaurants.

Of those restaurants serving Irish food in the city centre, I can only remember Quo Vadis on Suffolk St. and Gallagher’s on Temple Bar as being any good. The only two Irish eateries I can confidently recommend are curiously juxtaposed: the traditionally best fish restaurant in Dublin is the Lord Edward on Christchurch Place, and the traditionally best fish’n’chips joint in the city is Burdock’s, downstairs in the same building. Beshoff’s on Westmoreland St. is also worth a look.

Many of Dublin’s best Irish restaurants are in the suburbs or in isolated country spots even further afield. Roly’s in Ballsbridge has an excellent reputation. The Restaurant na Mara in Dunlaoighre and the King Sitric in Howth are good fish establishments.

Tragically,Bewley’s Oriental Cafés on Grafton St. and Westmoreland St. closed at the end of November 2004.

 

To find out what’s happening on the entertainment front, consult the Evening Press or In Dublin magazine.

 

Dublin has a strong theatre tradition, so check out what’s on in the old Olympia, Gate and Gaiety theatres or the relatively modern Abbey or Peacock Theatres. The Project is also worth a look, as are new places like Andrew’s Lane. The annual Dublin Theatre Festival in September is usually excellent.

 

I believe the Gaiety is now the main venue for informal Friday and Saturday night concerts, having taken over from the Olympia, where singers such as Mick Jagger, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan just wandered onstage and sang and played acoustic instruments on various nights I was there.

 

The main classical music venue is the National Concert Hall on Earlsfort Terrace off Stephen’s Green, formerly the main University College Dublin (UCD)site and now home of the Irish National Orchestra. Live chamber music, song, violin, piano and harp recitals etc. are also performed there and in other lovely settings, both indoors and out, around the city. Choral music is popular, appropriately in the city where Handel composed The Messiah in 1724. St. Patrick’s Cathedral has an excellent boys’ choir, and the Pro-Cathedral and several other churches also have good choirs, as do amateur groups such as the Dublin University Choral Society in Trinity College. Operas are performed sporadically, usually starring visiting divas. Gilbert & Sullivan operettas are annual events. Christchurch and several other churches also host excellent organ recitals.

 

I am not au fait with the current music scene in Dublin, but I believe the trendy club and rave zone is now the Docks area. Expect heavy bouncers. Many pubs around the city and suburbs have live music, ranging from rock, rythme & blues1 and jazz through latin and country & western to traditional. There are several excellent pub venues for Irish traditional music, the most famous of which are O’Donoghue’s on Merrion Row; the Brazen Head (Dublin’s oldest pub) near Christchurch Cathedral, and Kennedy’s on Westland Row.

 

The biggest concert venue is the Point Depot in the renovated downriver North Docks area. The Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Ballsbridge hosts various rock concerts, both indoor and outdoor, throughout the year, in addition to the annual Spring Show in March and the Dublin Horse Show in August, as well as other events such as the St. Patrick’s Day Dog & Cat Show (only Licensed Premises in Dublin on 17th March!).

 

Major Gaelic Games events are held in the magnificently refurbished Croke Park. International rugby (and sometimes soccer) matches are held in the IRFU stadium at Lansdowne Road, while the traditional home of Irish soccer is Shelbourne Park. Greyhound racing at Ringsend or Harold’s Cross is also entertaining, and special public transport facilities are laid on for Horse Races at Leopardstown, Fairyhouse, or any of the other race-courses near the city motor racing events at Mondello Park in Co. Kildare.

 

1 If you like Blues, check out the Mary Stokes Band

mkoThe Cross Gallery is based at Number 59 Francis Street and is one of The Few Buildings that retains a complete historic shopfront. It is a really beautiful building and The original old brick work with it’s yellowisg colour gives a real feeling of history to the building.