I suppose my girlfriend and I must have something in common (shock), because after I presented her with her Christmas gift of a trip to Budapest, she immediately presented me with a trip to Dublin. I’ve been wanting to visit Ireland for years but, as is often the case, countries nearby often get neglected for more exotic locales.
I flew from Manchester, the flight only taking 40 minutes. You literally take off and land. After an achingly dull 3 hour wait in airport arrivals for my girlfriend to land, we hopped on a bus and plunged into the depths of Dublin. It was Saturday night, about 10pm, and fuck it, the hotel could wait. We wanted a beer. Or ten.Usually when I travel, I’m determined to really get to the heart of a place, and experience more than just the surface level tourist attractions. I wanted none of that in Dublin. I have a lovely little Irish stereotype in my head, and I’d be damned if I was going to have it shattered.
We jumped off the bus at an area that we guessed (wrongly) was Temple Bar, and wandered the debauched Saturday night streets with our bags. We smiled watching four hammered teenagers stumbling down the high street, arms around each others shoulders, bellowing ‘The Auld Triangle’ at the top of their lungs.
Now, I’m going to bore you for a paragraph or two about Irish music and why I love it. If you couldn’t give a toss about Irish music, that’s cool, I suppose. You can leave now. Here’s a link to a fascinating website about carrots for you to peruse instead.
To those of you still reading, you will be glad to know that clicking the above link actually sends your home address and mobile number to ISIS. So, now that the unworthy have been filtered out and are as we speak being tracked down by scowling religious mercenaries, let’s talk music.
Irish music is absolutely alive. It’s acoustic guitars, live bands, soul filled vocals, and dancing, all with rowdy audience participation and beer flying everywhere. That’s why I love it. It’s not corporate, it’s not particularly marketable, it’s not stylish. The kids at the back of the bus will never sit playing it on their phones (and if they did, that would be a surreal commute). The songs are ancient. You know that song by Metallica, Whiskey in the Jar? It’s a cover of Thin Lizzy‘s version, who covered it from the Dubliners. The song’s origins are lost to history. It has been passed down for centuries, and is still sung nightly in Dublin today.
Now. Stare at this image for a few seconds.
That is The Last Judgement, by Michelangelo. Imagine everyone in the painting is holding a Guinness, and that’s what The Temple Bar pub looks like inside. As soon as we entered, still carrying our suitcases (ridiculous decision), we were hit by a wall of heat, beer and sweat. The ceiling is low and the many small rooms are packed tight. A band perches on a tiny stage in one corner, busting out Irish folk music to a clamouring crowd who know every word. Everyone is singing, everyone is dancing, everyone is hammered.
The rumours are true – you’ve not tasted Guinness until you’ve tried it in Ireland. It’s smoother, lighter, and the flavours are more refined. We found a square foot of unoccupied floor and drank, pressed close. Every minute or so an unseen glass would smash and a roar of delight would go up from the crowd. A lone Irishman who could barely speak showed me his belly, and rubbed it on me. I don’t know why. After 5 minutes of politely ignoring him, I gently elbowed him in his exposed belly and he flailed away into the torrent of people like a mermaid disappearing back into the surf.
My girlfriend and I had a brilliant night dancing and singing into each others faces until the wee hours. My girlfriend had a brief drunken cry in Subway because she had never been before and was overwhelmed by the sandwich options. Then we got a taxi home.
To the next city.
It turns out my girlfriend, bless her heart, had been struggling to find a hotel that was both nice and affordable, and had finally settled on one in a borough of Dublin called Tallaght. The only problem is that Tallaght isn’t a borough, it is in fact a town in County Dublin. Our taxi ride took us down the motorway for about 40 minutes before we reached our hotel in some random complex near an empty shopping centre. We checked into our room, only to find my girlfriend, God love her, had also managed to somehow book a 4 person room, with a double bed and two singles for us to choose from. At least we would have plenty of sleeping options should we have a Guinness fuelled row over the weekend.
After raiding Tallaght’s gleaming Tesco for breakfast the next morning, we got the 40 minute tram to Dublin (sigh) to visit the Guinness storehouse. As we sped through the city, we spied the golden harp-emblazoned towers of the storehouse and hopped off the tram. We circled the entire mile-or-so perimeter of the Willy Wonka-esque complex, and couldn’t find the fucking door for 45 minutes. Some hectic Googling then revealed that we had got off the tram at the Guinness factory, not the storehouse. Arse. When we eventually found the sodding way in to the storehouse, we had a cool time, tasted some nice beers, feigned interest at the production process, and supped a cold one in the sky bar, with great views of the city. Worth doing, even though you’re quite literally wandering around inside a giant advert.
Walking back, we passed a few landmarks including Dublinia, the city’s viking museum, and had a head-twistingly delicious Sunday roast at Bull and Castle, along with some brilliant craft beers. Well on the way to being sloshed by this point, we ploughed onward for a drink at The Long Hall, a Victorian era boozer packed with dark oak surfaces, a mirrored bar and ornate chandeliers, all delightfully tarnished over the decades. Picture the opposite of a Wetherspoons and you’ll get the idea.
See, at this point I’m aware that, compared to other travel accounts, it sounds like we just spent the whole time pissed… or at least more pissed than the norm. Well, that’s Dublin for you.
We spent the rest of the day/night drinking, dancing and singing around Temple Bar, in The Quays and the good old The Temple Bar, which felt like returning to an old friend after just one day. We visited a cool book shop over the Ha’penny Bridge called The Winding Stair, which also houses a restaurant which we felt far too underdressed/ undercultured/ smashed to dare enter. In The Temple Bar there was a live fiddler whose fingers were a blur. Some guy was dancing about with a traffic cone on his head. Cone head later climbed onstage, pulled out a harmonic and blasted a wild blues solo while the fiddler jammed. …You kind of had to be there for it to make any sense.
On our final day, we once more got the tram to Dublin (sigh) and visited Trinity College, which is stunning. It’s free in, and worth doing just to feel scholarly while walking the grounds as stern statues of long dead academics peer at you over their spectacles. We wandered into the Trinity Library, which I was seriously excited for as an incorrigible literary geek. We saw the ancient Book of Kells, decorated with fanatical delicacy. The Long Room is the high point, a cavernous vaulted library with millions of dusty books peering down from its high cases, all while marble busts of humankind’s greatest philosophical minds do their best to look pensive. Hung out with Socrates.
To end our trip, we had one last pint in the Brazen Head, oldest pub in the city, dating back to the year 1198. That’s right, Game of Thrones times. I’d came to Dublin with a stereotype in my head, and, to my delight, it was proved right. It’s not the booze fueled antics that capture my imagination so much as a country that embraces its heritage with both hands, and constantly honours and revers the singers, writers, artists and revolutionaries that made the nation what it is. I’m proud to have you as neighbours, Ireland.