Under the gloomy skies of a stormy January I was thinking about Louis MacNeice’s poem “Dublin”. Written in 1939, with Europe on the brink of war and Ireland as a nation barely standing on its hind legs, it’s not surprising that MacNeice saw Ireland’s capital shrouded in grey:
Grey stone, grey water,
And brick upon grey brick
But despite the dreary dismalness of this January day – and the effects of seven years of economic austerity raining down on the city – I was thinking how cultured, cosmopolitan and colourful Dublin has become. Here are 4 things you can do in Dublin to experience the city’s new vibrant swagger. And for more “off the beaten tracks” suggestions, be sure to check out Dublin – 9 Things To Do Off-The-Beaten Track or get Pól O Conghaile’s excellent Secret Dublin: An Unusual Guide (JonGlez_ – available via Amazon).
Croke Park Stadium is one of Europe’s finest stadia with capacity of over 83,000 on match days. It’s the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and hosts the all Ireland finals in football and hurling where the 2 best counties in each code face each other in an 80 minute epic contest.
During the re-development of the stadium in the 90s, superlative meetings and events facilities were created along with the GAA Museum and, more recently still, the Etihad Skyline Walk.
A visit to Croke Park is like a geography and history lesson all wrapped up in one. The Skyline is an aerial walkway of 600m along the rooftop of the stadium with 5 viewing platforms from where you can see the entire city of Dublin and all its landmarks. It’s a wonderful way to become acquainted with the city and develop a true sense of its geography. At the museum, meanwhile, you delve into history and heritage discovering how the GAA played a key role in the emerging Irish nation. You also get to touch and taste Ireland’s national games in the interactive area.
Villages of Dublin: Terenure
Dublin’s hinterland is full of small towns, villages and neighbourhoods many of which are well known and often visited: Malahide, Howth, Dun Laoghaire. I suggest, however, you take one of the 5 buses from the city centre that go through Terenure Cross (see infographic here) and visit the eponymous village. Terenure may lack the aesthetic appeal of Rathfarnham or have as many restaurants as Ranelagh but there’s a day’s exploring there. Here’s what you need to look for: the stunning Harry Clarke stained glass windows at St Joseph’s Church; Vaughan’s Pub or The Eagle House, birthplace of May Joyce, James Joyce’s mother; the extensive Bushy Park, just outside the village, with its stunning riverside / woodland walks; The Village Bookshop, a relatively recent addition to the village and one of the most interesting bookshops in all of Ireland; for food try The Lovely Food Company (great lunches), Mayfield (shabby chic dining), The Corner Bakery (great tray bakes), Base Pizza (real wood fired pizza), Bellaggio and Lisa’s Trattoria (authentic Italian cooking), Tani (sushi). And if you need a decent haircut try The Modern Man.
The name Whiskey is an anglicisation of the Gaelic uisce beatha or water of life. It’s part and parcel of Ireland’s DNA but is under-going something of a renaissance around the country, even in Dublin. William Grant, the new owners of Tullamore Dew, recently started distilling again in Offaly’s county town after a 60 year lacuna. The same is about to happen in Dublin’s Liberties where Jack Teeling will shortly commence distilling, the first new distillery to open in the city for 125 years.
But where can you find the best collections of global brands and independent bottlers? In Dublin go to The Palace Bar on Fleet Street, favoured watering hole of journalists and writers. The Palace blend and bottle their own whiskey but offer an impressive range from Jameson variations to lesser know brands such as Green Spot. Other good whiskey bars are Bowe’s (my own personal favourite bar in Dublin) and the bar at The InterContinental Hotel (formerly Four Seasons Dublin).
While Dublin still has the world’s best pubs, more recently it has taken to coffee with the pedantic earnestness of a hipster to old vinyl records. Caffeine hasn’t quite eclipsed alcohol as the popular drug of choice around the city but now Dublin has world champion baristas, independent roasters and a veritable self-righteousness of coffee snobs. There are umpteen lists of 10 places to get the best coffee in Dublin and all of them include 3FE (Grand Canal Street), Brother Hubbards (Capel Street), and The Fumbally (Fumbally Lane). I’m adding Block T (in Smithfield) to the list and suggest that you start your coffee odyssey there by ordering a Flat White and a pastry. Then wind your way through streets broad and narrow to Brother Hubbard’s (breakfast), The Fumbally (lunch) and finally 3FE (afternoon).
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy working with destinations and enterprises on marketing and training. In the late 1980s he worked as an Italian speaking tour guide in Ireland.
This blog post was originally published in Padriac’s blog PADRAICINO, on January 17, 2015.