TEMPE BAR, MOLLY MALONE AND GUINNESS. GRAFTON STREET AND MERRION SQUARE. YES, ALL VERY INTERESTING SIGHTS IN DUBLIN, BUT THERE IS MORE TO SEE IN THE CITY.
1) HUGH LANE GALLERY
Hugh Lane Gallery is my favourite museum in Dublin. In fact, it is one of the most pleasant museums I’ve ever visited, anywhere. The exhibition is based on Irish art aficionado’s, Sir Hugh Lane’s, collection of French impressionism, and the collection includes many names from Impressionism’s golden era, such as Monet, Manet, Renoir and Pissarro. Also, the building itself is an artwork: it was designed by William Chambers for Lord Charlemont in 1763. After the days of Chambers and Charlemont, this side of Dublin has crumbled down considerably, but the building and its interior still represent the finest parts of Dublin by-gone elegance. Upstairs in the gallery, you also find art by Francis Bacon, and his reconstructed, slightly messy studio. Hugh Lane died in Lusitania in 1915 with over thousand other passengers, just off Ireland’s southern shore near Cork. It is assumed that some masterpieces sunk with the ship, and there is a rumour of Lane’s last will, leaving his collection permanently to Dublin, lying on the bottom of the ocean. Now the paintings are alternated between Dublin and London – the Londoners getting the best ones, as the Irish note.
Tip: If you are on a hurried trip, and don’t have time for more than one art gallery, I recommend skipping the National Museum and going to Hugh Lane instead. Whereas National Museum offers a few impressive paintings (such as those of Jack Yeats and a Caravaggio), the impression of the whole is confusingly mild and messy, whereas The Hugh Lane Gallery’s serene esthetics gives a lingering feeling of finesse. For those inclined to Eastern esthetics, I highly recommend Chester Beatty Library, behind Dublin Castle.
2 KILMAINHAM GAOL
In Dublin you cannot miss O’Connell Street’s General Post Office, the 1916 Easter Rising’s headquarter: look up to the Doric columns, and you’ll see cracks left by bullets whizzing back and forth during the fight. Some unfortunate rebels were taken to Kilmainham Gaol after the surrender, and were later executed there against the cold and grey prison walls. These executions brought the Irish in favour of the rebels and changed the course of history. The Easter rebels were by no means the first, nor the last, to be executed in Kilmainham as its grim history dates back for centuries. The corners in the Victorian wing are round, forming a perfect view point for the guards – all in accord to Jeremy Bentham’s teachings of panopticon. You can only see the Gaol in groups, and the tours offer a chilling narration of the prison’s, and Dublin’s, history.
Tip: With Guinness Storehouse Kilmainham Gaol is Dublin’s most visited tourist attraction. If you are on a tight schedule, I recommend to skip the mall-like Storehouse, and to go to Kilmainham instead. The tour guide is informative and gripping whereas a visit to the Guinness shopping centre could have been squeezed into a ten minute view-gazing from its top floor restaurant.
3 GLASNEVIN CEMETERY
I used to like cemeteries in new cities, and always made sure to pop into one as soon as possible among other sightseeing duties: I thought that cemeteries offered a glimpse to the roots of its people – whether the graves are well-maintained, what kind of memorials are left behind, how the deceased are being described and so on. While living in Ireland, I already thought I had seen them all, so I didn’t hurry to Dublin’s most famous cemetery, Glasnevin. Finally, I made the trip and gave myself a face-palm for missing out for so long. Glasnevin is an impressive collection of graves belonging to celebrities and regular people alike. You can get a glimpse of it from this video called One Million Dubliners. The cemetery was opened in 1832 and was soon to face the same problems as other Dublin cemeteries: grave robbers. There is a museum and a coffee shop adjacent to the cemetery and, of course, the famous Gravediggers pub. Also, right on the other side of the wall you’ll find Dublin’s Botanic gardens – which makes me wonder whether the location is tactically chosen for the good quality soil…
Tip: If you are on a budget trip, I recommend Glasnevin, which is free, instead of Dublin’s main churches St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church, where you have to pay the price of two cups of coffee for each to enter.
4 DUBLIN WALK TOURS
Dublin is small enough to get to know by foot and a map. There are also interesting walking tours on offer. For example, the friends of Georgian architecture organize tours to the city’s significant Georgian buildings, and a Dublin based French food blogger French Foodie in Dublin tours people around Dublin in chase for the best French foodstuff. Naturally, there is also James Joyce inspired tours, organized by James Joyce Centre. Before going to Dublin check out if you are in luck: on Open Days the doors of Dublin’s most valuable buildings are open for visitors, and the volunteers offer free tours inside.
Tip: Dublin has green and red Hop-on-hop-off buses too, but you get more out of Dublin by walking its streets: and what could be better than get lost in Temple Bar’s cobblestone streets, or the buzz of Grafton Street, and sit down for a cup of coffee while taking in the city.
5 MARSH’S LIBRARY
Dublin is a world famous literary city, and there are also a few interesting libraries in the city. Most visited is The Long Room at Trinity College, which I highly recommend, but I must admit: Marsh’s Library offers a more intimate experience for a book lover. You can walk in between the books and peek into a visitor’s book searching for James Joyce’s signature – and find it! In a reading room, an elderly gentleman is reading instead of the guards who march back and forth, back and forth, in The Long Room. Unfortunately, photographing in Marsh’s Library wasn’t allowed but the scent and the atmosphere will linger in my mind for a long time without the visual references.
Tip: As said, Marsh’s library offers a more intimate experience than The Long Room. On the other hand, The Long Room’s main attraction, Book of Kells is a must see for anyone interested in literature, art or Celtic history. Nowadays we are in luck, as you can familiarize yourself with the magnificent opus online, in this link!
6 THE COBBLESTONE
Dublin, of course, is a popular city to visit for its eternally flowing beer taps. But for a Scandi, Temple Bar can be a pretty sore sight on weekends when the bachelor and bachelorette parties take over the cobblestones. Luckily, there’s an alternative and not too far away from the city centre either. The Cobblestone is an L-shaped pub with barrels serving as tables, and famous for its traditional music sessions. It is located in old Dublin, near the area where the Vikings were kicked after the Norman invasion around the mid 12th century. Recently updated Smithfield square used to be the centre for Dublin’s horse markets, and a slightly fluffy looking horse in this neighbourhood is still a common sight.
Tip: Even though The Cobblestone is in central Dublin, it is set aside from the flood of tourists. Just around the corner, after Oxmantown (from ost men, i.e. men from the east, i.e. the Vikings), when walking towards O’Connell Street, you’ll cross the historic Capel Street with its coffee shops and restaurants. And just before Capel Street you’ll find one of Dublin’s prettiest hidden gems, St Mary’s Abbey’s Chapter House. By Smithfield square, you’ll find Old Jameson Distillery and behind it St Michan’s (1095) old crypts with eroding caskets slowly revealing their gory insides.
Have a good trip!