Right on the heels of Fasnacht we flew off to Dublin, Ireland!
I have been so excited about this trip. I was last there in 1997 with Shaun! (who else?) We had seen the sights, gone to expensive estates, had High Tea, and eaten some steamer mussels that gave me and Uncle Bobby food poisoning. It was so bad it warranted a visit from Dr. Paddy O’Connell (that is actually his name). It is safe to say that I would not be having mussels this time.
The flight and customs was nothing much to speak of. Even though we had a long layover in Frankfurt we made it through everything lickity-split and with only one “oh crap” moment when I thought I had left my Swiss residency card at home. Turns out that I’m going to need that every time I go abroad.
We were welcomed to Dublin by the most overcast skies and the most sunny of cabbies. And once he found out my grandmother was from County Cork he was even more jovial and gave us a small tour of the city. Mark suspects he was also from Cork.
He toured and chatted us by quite a few Dublin sights – some significant and others merely interesting – and when we passed the gothically imposing Holy Child Catholic Church he turned to E and said, “Now that’s where we be sendin’ ya, eh?” And E said, “I don’t know if I can go there. I’m only one-quarter Holy Child.” Our driver laughed for blocks and I’m sure that over his nightly pint he told his cronies about the one-quarter Holy Child he met that day.
We stayed at Jurys Inn Christchurch which was exactly across the street from Christchurch Cathedral. In fact, it was our view.
I highly recommend the hotel. The rooms are comfy, the location is ideal, and the breakfast is delicious. And huge. Oatmeal, sausage links, black pudding, white pudding, eggs any way you want them, roasted tomatoes, roasted potatoes, beans, scones, croissants, toast, yogurts, fruits, and cold cereal. As much as we could hold. We pre-paid when we booked the room so breakfast was only $5/person. A total score! E ate 6 croissants slathered in butter every morning. H, of course, was disappointed there was no Nutella, but consoled himself with OJ, sausage, and dried apricots.
Among the tips and “must sees” our cabbie told us about, he also gave us a tip on a great fish and chip shop. Burdock’s Fish and Chips. It’s a hole-in-the-wall take away place decked out in Irish green and with walls covered by the names of all the famous people who have eaten there. Among them are Bobby Flay, Anthony Bourdain, Patrick Stewart, U2, Senator Patrick Kennedy, and Snoop Dogg to name only a few.
Everyone behind the counter looked like the same guy at different ages and stages of life. Clearly a family shop. We were just beginning our order when the guy stopped us and said, “Is it just the 4 of ya?” We looked around to make sure that it was just the 4 of us. Yes, just the 4 of us. He replied, “Then 2 will do ya.” And he was right. We ended up an entire cod, breaded and fried, and enough fries to fill a basketball and then some. I had to suppress a squeal of glee when they wrapped up our orders in actual paper instead of shoving it into a Styrofoam box. A real fish and chipper!
When we unwrapped our dinner the inner paper layers were gloriously grease-soaked. We ate until we were stuffed and there were still plenty of chips left. Even E, the bottomless pit, was full! The kids begged to go back for the next two nights.
The next day, incredibly well fortified with a good night’s sleep and ample breakfast, we started our hike around the city of Dublin. The first stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
St. Patrick’s was built in 1220 and then granted “cathedral status” in 1224. It’s an incredibly impressive building designed in the Gothic style, complete with flying buttresses (which made our 9 and 5 year old boys snort and chortle with glee).
There is a wonderful park next to St. Patrick’s, called (creatively) St. Patrick’s Park. Legend has it that at around 450AD, St. Patrick would baptize the locals at a well that was around there somewhere. Archaeologist think they found it, but they can’t be 100% sure. The lore has kept the park beautifully pristine. No one wants to sully St. Patrick’s Well.
St. Patrick’s started out a Catholic cathedral and then became Church of Ireland during the Reformation. It is beautiful. The park is peaceful, yet has a play area for children. The Guinness family paid for the restoration of the cathedral and grounds in the 1860s.
Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, is buried there and was actual the dean of the church at one time. They proudly show off copies of his books and his death mask in a glass cabinet by the front door and close to the gift shop area.
The interior architecture of the church was equally peaceful and exquisite.
Then we trekked over to Trinity College, home of The Long Room and The Book of Kells.
Trinity College was founded in 1592 to help solidify the rule of Queen Elizabeth I of England in Ireland. Both Catholics and Protestants were allowed to go and several Princes of Ireland were compelled to go there to become more “English.” The Catholics that went there were often required to meet with their Bishop in order to received a letter of approval to attend the college. It wasn’t required for admission, however. It was make sure the Catholic students were of strong enough moral fiber that they wouldn’t slip and end up marrying Protestants or even consider *gasp* converting.
These ceramic pig statues were all over Dublin as part of a city-wide art installation. Each pig had a different theme or was painted to reflect a pig pun or joke. This one was smack in the middle of Trinity College and it was E’s favorite! Meet Stormtrotter!
To see The Book of Kells and The Long Room you have to go through a small campus book store loaded with trinkets and souvenirs. You pay a fee, get your ticket scanned, and head into a whole exhibit room telling the story of The Book of Kells. I don’t remember this being here back in 1997 so it was a pleasant distraction while we waited for crowds in the next room, around the actual Book, to thin.
As you might expect, we were not allowed to take pictures of The Book of Kells. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels written in Latin. It is extremely ornate. More so than other illuminated manuscripts of that time. It was named for the Abbey of Kells, where it was housed for centuries. You can click here to see parts of the book that they have scanned and put online.
After we ogled the beauty that is the Book of Kells we climbed the stairs and went to The Long Room.
Mark has agreed that we can build this into the next house we buy.
The Long Room is the Old Library at Trinity College. It is sumptuous in there. The warmth of the dark wood and the height of the arched ceilings makes me feel like I’m in a forest. I sat on the one of the benches for a long time just breathing in the comforting smell of the old books.
Each of the shelves of books is guarded by a marble bust of a philosopher, writer, or other man who supported the college. Most of these are “one name” figures like Aristotle, Plato, Homer, and Shakespeare.
I was so taken by the aura of the Long Room I forgot to take many pictures. The library has an exhibit about different genres of literature that changes almost monthly. In our case it was myths and and legends. The cases along the length of the library hold books that are perfect examples for the theme of the exhibit. I had to snap a shot of this first edition The Hobbit.It wasn’t too bad out walking around. A little windy, but we were sure that Saturday would be very cold so we grabbed two stocking hats from the campus book store for the boys. I can tell the hats were helping knowledge just flow into them.
We started looking for lunch. And said a hello to Molly Malone.
We found a neat cafe called “Meet and Meat.” With a name like that how could I resist? And then they had Irish lamb stew! A total score!
Something else you might not know about Dublin is that it was founded by Vikings. That’s right! Vikings! It was known as Duib Hlinn, or Black Pool, and was an important trading port. It remained a Viking settlement until the Normans (led by Strongbow) invaded in 1169. There is a wonderful, kid-centered museum about this era called Dublinia that explores Viking and Medieval Dublin. That is where we went next.
The kids absolutely loved it. There was a ton of hands-on experiences for them. They got to try on helmets, lift chain mail (that stuff is heavy), and do rubbings of Nordic runes. We spent hours in there and the kids did NOT want to leave.
However, we had one more stop to make before we collapsed into our dinners.
The Guinness Brewery!
I was excited to take Mark there. He is an amateur brewer and I knew he’d love to hear about the hops, grains, and roasting techniques. Also, I have always maintained that the Guinness they serve in Ireland is nothing like the Guinness they serve in the States. It is thicker, less bitter, and less watery. After a few debates about this phenomena I was itching to prove it.
But first I took him to the famous St. James Gate of Guinness. What I jokingly think of as “The Black Gate.” (No Ringwraiths were harmed in the taking of this photo.)
The complex is absolutely massive. From the St. James Gate we walked another block, went around a corner, and walked another block to the get to the front doors of the tour area, which was still only in the middle of the complex.
These are the gates right by the tour area. That Guinness name and harp logo are all over Dublin. You cannot possibly overestimate how much the Guinness family and the industry means to Dublin.
This is the view from the tasting room. All those buildings, including some of the housing, is part of the Guinness factory. And it goes on to the right and around behind us.
Mark learned the secret of “the perfect pour” and even got a certificate for his efforts. Apparently one person almost failed the class because some of the foam spilled over the side. <Insert collective gasp of horror here.>
I feel I was vindicated and the Guinness did, indeed, taste different and better in Ireland. Mark remains unconvinced. I believe we need to try a Guinness here in Switzerland and then go back.
But that will be another time. Stay tuned for the second half our of Ireland tour. We visit, among other places, Newgrange and the Hill of Tara!