Aug 11, 2011

Exploring Dublin, Ireland's Capital City

John and I always enjoy visiting Dublin because it is a comfortable city, the people are very friendly, and there are always new things to do. This time we stayed at the Croke Hotel. The Dublin Tour Bus stops outside the hotel’s front door. We like to take the hop-on-hop-off city tours once around and then decide what we want to see. We visited the General Post Office, which served as the headquarters of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising who were trying to free Ireland from 750 years of British rule. The museum is small but has an interesting video depicting the event. Our next stop was Kilmainham Gaol where they offer on-the-hour tours. It is a microcosm of Irish history. When the prison opened in 1796 it was a model prison with the intention that there would be only one inmate to a cell. However, it became overcrowded and a place where Ireland’s most noted political prisoners were held and some were executed including leaders of the Easter Uprising. The leaders of the Easter Uprising did not initially have the support of the people but when they were incarcerated then executed in Kilmainham public opinion changed, they became heroes and support for the cause of independence grew. The guide tells chilling stories about life in the gaol. During the potato famine people would try to get imprisoned because it was better than life on the outside. The last prisoner was Eamon de Velera who later became the president of Ireland.

The Irish have always had a way with words including nicknaming some of their iconic statues. The statue of Molly Malone is a favorite photo spot. The locals refer to her as the “Tart with the Cart” and “The Dish with the Fish.” On O’Connell Street the new 390-foot tall stainless steel Millennium Spire is referred to as the “Stiletto in the Ghetto.” Narrators on the bus tours sprinkle their talk with similar witticisms. Certainly no visit to Dublin is complete without visiting Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, Christ Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Guinness Storehouse with a wonderful panoramic view of the city from their Gravity Bay where visitors can enjoy a free glass of Guinness.

Our favorite evening was at Johnnie Fox’s pub in the hills outside of Dublin. It is one of the oldest and most famous traditional Irish pubs. Founded in 1798 they offer traditional Irish music nightly but the best is their Hooley Nights. We took their Express Bus, which picked us up at the Gresham Hotel. The 30-minute drive through the countryside was beautiful. A “hooley” is Irish for a party with traditional music and dancing. The small stage has a home-style fireplace hung with the laundry and the mantel adorned with twin ceramic dogs called “Wally Dogs” - the ultimate wedding gift in times gone by. The Hooley Night included a three-course dinner with many Irish favorites but it is the music and dancing that is the main draw. On the night we attended the Chinese embassy was hosting about 50 of their closest friends so it was a full house. At the end of the second intermission the embassy group left and the singers continued with songs that “we saved to the end because we didn’t think our foreign guests would understand” including a hilarious version of “Galway Bay.” A night of great music and dancing.