My grandparents were the driving force behind this vacation, so we did things a bit differently than I would have had I been alone. Perhaps the biggest difference was the three day bus passes purchased for all five members of our group. They were tour buses, one route with a pre-recorded voice telling you about about your surroundings (which at first was a rather bizarre experience). On the other route, the driver was your guide, sometimes including charming anecdotes from a local’s life. I was shocked to find that I enjoyed simply riding the bus around and seeing the interesting sights: here’s what Dublin looked like in the Middle Ages, here’s the second largest obelisk in the world. Since returning, I’ve not stopped quoting the automated guide; she was proof that the Irish, as a society, are very funny. Passing the National Bank of Ireland, the disembodied voice pointed out that the building has no windows. Apparently, this has led to a joke among the locals: once your money goes in, it never sees the light of day again. One joke is nothing to write home about, though, so I’ve decided to include another laugher delivered by the automated tour guide on the subject of Dublin’s weather: “Last week it rained twice—once for three days and then again for four!”
There are innumerable little museums scattered through Dublin, each with its own distinct flavor. The Little Museum of Dublin is just off St. Stephen’s Green (a museum in its own right), and its promotional material boasts a thirty minute experience. Admission is ten euros. The Irish Whiskey Museum isn’t far from Trinity College and takes you through the history of—you guessed it—Irish Whiskey. There are several different tours from which to choose, all of which include a whiskey tasting. You do have to be eighteen to be served alcohol in Ireland, but those of us coming from The U.S. will find that’s more forgiving than the rules at home.
There are, of course, bigger museums too. Aside from the National Museums (which I’ve already talked about), famous cathedrals have been turned into museums. The first of these for us was Christchurch Cathedral (formerly known as the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity). It has a rich and storied history, and can be done in less than a whole day. You’ll get to see the tomb of Strongbow, leader of the Normans who seized Dublin in 1171. It’s also an incredible example of Medieval Gothic architecture (it was wood before Strongbow rebuilt it from stone), and the crypt still houses relics from those days. Most memorably (for me, anyway) was what tourists like to call “The Original Tom and Jerry.” A couple centuries ago, the church’s organ wasn’t working right, so they dismantled and cleaned it. They were able to easily find the issue, but that’s not to say that it was a routine issue. A cat and a rat had gotten themselves lodged in the pipes in just such a position that conditions were perfect to prevent rotting. The animals were desiccated by the airflow in the organ pipe, mummifying them. In the crypt beneath the main chapel, they can still be seen, their chase frozen for eternity. Just down the road from Christchurch is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, of course named for the same saint as the day in March. It’s the tallest church (but not cathedral) in Ireland, as well as the largest. It’s a site with deep history and strong tradition, and, like Christchurch, is a functioning church currently.
There is also a stone church that has been converted into a whiskey distillery, but time did not permit us to visit it. I’ll have to hit it next time I’m in Dublin…
A piece of this job that I truly love is the fact that my failures in the field can very easily turn into your successes. My sister—a criminal justice major—was excited to visit Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced “jail”), an incredibly notorious prison within Dublin. According to the bus tour, the youngest inmate ever held there was seven years old. It’s not a functioning prison; instead, it’s been transformed into a museum and is open for tours. Where I failed so you don’t have to is thus: Kilmainham Gaol practically requires a reservation. They’re very easy to make online and don’t always fill up, but we were unable to do the tour because we didn’t reserve our spots in time.
Rather than moping, we made our way to my sister’s second choice of day trip: The Dublin Zoo, located inside Phoenix Park, one of the largest enclosed city parks in the world. After going on a real African Safari, zoos tend to lose a bit of their luster (much like the animals that live within). The Dublin Zoo surprised me, though. Their enclosures are quite spacious, bringing to mind the biomes they’re designed to replicate. Additionally, several enclosures contain many different animals from the same biome, further driving the illusion of simulated wilderness. I had a great time in the Dublin Zoo, and I wasn’t the only one. Several types of animal weren’t the only new things I saw that day; there were enclosures for kids, too. Zoo-themed play structures can be found throughout the zoo, and while I didn’t try them out myself, all the children playing on them seemed to be having a blast. They weren’t the only ones; zoo animals have never struck me as the happiest beings on the planet, but the Dublin Zoo seems to know what their residents like. I’ve been bothered by zoos in the past, but none of the exhibits there held any cringe factor for me.
If you harbor any love for history or literature, you’d be depriving yourself of an experience you’d treasure for the rest of your life if you fail to set foot on the Trinity College Campus. There is a small museum on campus, just a stone’s throw from the National Museum complex, which houses great wonders. The first of these is Ireland’s foremost national treasure: The Book of Kells. Representing the peak of Insular Illumination (named for the insulae Britannia—British Isles), the codex is truly a masterwork. There are colors so vibrant, precision so delicate, and illustrations so small I’d think them impossible for a preindustrial society. Ultimately, it contains little more than the four Gospels, but that certainly does not mean it’s any small feat. Really, you must see the tiny drawing to fully believe it—and that’s not the only thing. The next stop after the actual Book of Kells is the Trinity College Library Long Room (pictured). Two hundred thousand of the oldest volumes I’ve ever seen call this very room home. In 1801, Trinity College was given the right to claim a free copy of any book published in Britain or Ireland, and they’ve certainly exercised that right. It’s another thing you simply have to see for yourself to fully grasp. More than that, you must breathe the air for yourself. There’s an aroma in The Long Room that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. It smells like age and knowledge, and had I been alone with all of it, I’d have sunk to the floor and sobbed for a while, overwhelmed as I was with the beauty of it all.
We spent ten days in Dublin and weren’t able to do everything that seemed interesting to us. Even the things we did do, we couldn’t spend as much time doing them as all of us would have liked to. It’s an old, old city, full of adventure and history, and anyone who finds themself bored there is simply not open enough to things that will open their world up.
That being said, next we’re driving an hour south to Glendalough, to see a ruined monastic site and dip into the (gorgeous) Wickelow Mountains. First, though, we’re going to see what’s up in Delaware back at Argilla Brewing Company this November.