ESCAPE TO IRELAND #02 – Dublin City

May 30, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

May/June 2016


ESCAPE TO IRELAND #02 – Dublin City


Map of our route

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Dublin is a fair size city, similar in population to Boston, with plenty of sights to see.  Driving in big cities is a pain even in the best circumstances and just plain out of the question in tenuous circumstances such as an unfamiliar city, where you drive on the wrong side of the road with a jet lagged driver.  So, all along we had planned to let the car rest in the FREE parking lot of our suburban hotel and see Dublin without the aid of our own vehicle. 


Seeing as how we were armed with a totally useless guide book we planned to grab one of those “hop on hop off” sightseeing busses that all major cities seem to have these days.  There were a few things we knew we wanted to see, but felt the best bet was to take a seat on the top deck, do a full circuit to get the lay of the land and then decide on the places we wanted to “hop off” as we went around the 2nd time.  So, the day before we went down to the concierge of the hotel to see about cab fare into the city and where to go to hook up with one of those buses.  Conveniently enough, it turned out that one of the 3 such bus companies in town has an arrangement with our hotel.  At 10:00 AM, at no charge, they’ll come out and pick up folks wanting to book a ticket on their bus.  So, we signed up and the concierge called to confirm that they would be there at 10:00 to collect us.  It would only work one way though.  We’d need to grab a cab to get back (we’re not up for public busses in strange cities if at all avoidable). 


The next morning after the included “Irish Breakfast” at the hotel we made our way to the front door by 10:00 to await the bus.   Ten past 10 no bus.  So back inside, and the front desk called the bus company again.  “Oh, we didn’t know anyone had signed up.  You really need to call the day before so we have you on the list.”  Wait a minute.  We did call the day before and got on the list.  Really, hmmmm.  That must have been Megan who’s off today.  Ok, we’ll send a bus on over.


“Half 10” as they say on that side of the pond, meaning 10:30, no bus.  Finally it showed up near 11:00 and off we went – the only 2 people on the bus.  The bus wound its way down broad 4 lane boulevards lined with shops and squeezed down narrow lanes barely wide enough for a Pedi Cab let alone a bus and into a 6 lane divided thoroughfare lined with hotels and large stores.  Here we were asked to get off so we could get in line with a bunch of other folks for a bus actually on the official route.  I guess they decided sending a bus to the hotel to collect 2 people was more practical than having someone drive a car out.  Oh well, not my problem.  10 minutes later another bus showed up – this one already being about ¾ full and we all piled on. 




Let me switch gears now for a brief history of Dublin.  The oldest recorded info starts with Viking raids in the 8th and 9th century.  The folks being raided joined forces and established a settlement on the Southside of the Liffey River near the sea and named the place  Dubh Linn - which translates to “Black Pool”-  after the lake where the Danes first moored their boats.


Despite stone fortifications, Dublin was sacked many times over the next two hundred year but always recovered. By the 11th Century, it was doing quite well, mainly due to close trading links with the English towns of Chester and Bristol.


Moving on to the middle Ages, the year 1169 marked the beginning of 700 years of Norman rule. The King of Leinster, Mac Murrough, enlisted the help of Strongbow, the Earl of Pembroke, to conquer Dublin. After Mac Murrough’s death, Strongbow declared himself King of Leinster, defeating both the Vikings and the High King of Ireland to win control of the city. However, the king of England, afraid Strongbow might become too powerful, pronounced himself Lord of Ireland and gave Dublin to the merchants of Bristol.  Sounds like a soap opera.  Anyway, Dublin burned down in 1190, only to be rebuilt again.  


Moving on, it was part of the English Crown from the 14th to 18th centuries, and known as “The Pale”.  For the Brits in London this was considered “out there to the west somewhere” giving us the phrase “beyond the pale".  In 1537, a revolt occurred when the Lord Deputy of Ireland was executed in London. His son renounced English sovereignty and set about gathering an army to take Dublin away from the English. However, he was defeated and subsequently executed as well – I guess being executed runs in the family.


Dublin continued to prosper in the 16th Century and boasts one of the oldest universities in the British Isles, Trinity College, which was founded by Queen Elizabeth I. By 1640  the city had grown to 20,000, but the plague in 1650 wiped out almost half of the population.   But the city prospered again soon after as a result of the wool and linen trade with England, reaching a population of 60,000 by 1700.


The city grew even more rapidly during the 18th century. The beginnings of the City Corporation was created in 1757 when a group of men formed to widen, pave, light and clean the streets. Ireland's famous Guinness stout was first brewed here in 1759 and a stagecoach service to other towns began. A police force was established in 1786.   By 1800 the population was up to 180,000. However, this overpopulation brought with it great poverty and disease making the place less than ideal to live in.


Dublin suffered a steep political and economical decline when the seat of government moved to Westminster in 1800 under the Act Of Union.  However as we moved into the 1900’s change was a foot.  Around Easter time in 1916 there was a War For Independence (The Easter Uprising) and a subsequent Civil War which eventually led to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland.


Since the mid-1990s, an economic boom they call the ‘Celtic Tiger’ brought lots of expansion and development to the city which is now the single largest metro area in Ireland with some 1.2m people which is 28% of the country's total population of 4.2m. 


Hop on Hop off tour


Getting back to our visit, we decided to take the full route on the city Hop on Hop off bus (red route to be exact).  This is a roughly 90 minute loop which hits all the major sights in the city.  As mentioned, Dublin is a proper city about the size of Boston, but way older.  Most of the downtown and commercial areas are 3 and 4 story brick or masonry buildings with stores on the first floor with apartments above with a very odd, and totally out of character, ultra modern building popping up from time to time. 


Typical Dublin Commercial Street

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And, like most cities, especially Boston, the downtown is a mess of construction.  It turns out that they are installing a light rail system throughout the city and pretty much every street of any significance is torn up with heavy construction, diverted traffic, and only one driving lane.  A real mess.  Thank goodness we didn’t try to drive as I’m sure our GPS would not understand all the blocked roads, restricted turns, and temporary one way streets.  However, our bus knew how to adapt to the situation.  Along our route we passed Trinity College, Dublin Castle, too many churches and cathedrals to keep track of, the Guinness Brewery (a very popular stop for people getting off to tour the factory), the Kilmainham Gaol, and many others.


One of the places we knew we wanted to tour was the “Kilmainham Gaol.”  In Irish (Gaelic) the word for “jail” is “gaol” which interestingly enough is pronounced the same as our word, jail.  Unfortunately, there were 2 cruise ships in port at the time.  With Dublin being a recent addition to cruise ship itineraries the tourist infrastructure is still trying to figure out the logistics involved with these massive influxes of people all at once.  As it turned out all the tours of the Jail (or Gaol) were already full for the entire day so we didn’t bother getting off the bus.  As the bus wandered back in toward the center of the city we decided to forego the portion of the route that goes off to the zoo and the outskirts of town and got off nearer the main action – much of which we passed earlier. 


River Liffey and North vs. South


We got off the bus at the River Liffey which divides North Dublin from South Dublin.  For as long as Dubliners have lived on either side of the river there has been fierce debate as to which side contains the biggest pack of losers, criminals, and idiots. When Dublin first became fashionable in the Georgian era, the Northside was considered the place to be.  No self-respecting aristocrat would want to spend time among the Southside lowlifes. Then, suddenly, the Earl of Kildare decided that, actually, he'd quite like to build his new palace on the Southside and, just like that, the whole argument got turned around and to this day Dublin's Northside is considered to be a sort of genetic waste bin for substandard Irish DNA -  well, perhaps not by the majority of Dubliners who actually live on the Northside.


As it turns out the Liffey River as it flows through Dublin isn’t even a river.  It is actually more of an estuary with the water level rising and falling with the tide in the bay.


River Liffey

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Christ Church


On our way to Dublin Castle, we made a quick photo stop to shoot the exterior of Christ Church Cathedral.  Dublin has the dubious distinction of being one of the only cities with 2 cathedrals – the other being St. Patrick’s - in this case only a few blocks apart.  I never did quite get how that happened but there seems to be all sorts of church rules pertaining to what each was used to be used for (e.g. this one for inaugurations, that one for state funerals, etc.) – and even more documentation of all the times some king or bishop did it the other way around.


Christ Church Cathedral stone bridge

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Temple Bar Area


As is the case with any self respecting city, Dublin has its cultural and nightlife zone.  In Dublin’s case, both of these are the area called the “Temple Bar” which sits more or less between Dublin Castle and the River Liffey.  Given its role as the cultural center of Dublin, it was only fitting that it is made up of the two most popular aspects of the Irish culture.  Of course I’m referring to Music and Beer.  This area is chock full of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, pubs, saloons, taverns, and even more pubs.  In the daytime one can get lunch here and check out the architecture, but at night it is a mecca for traditional (or “trad” as the signs say) Irish music and the Irish beverage of choice.


Temple Bar in, well, Temple Bar

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Sick & Indigent Society rooming house, AD 1790

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Metal Door on night club

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Street in Temple Bar area

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Dublin Castle


Dublin was the seat of the United Kingdom government administration in Ireland until 1922, and is still a major Irish government complex. Most of it dates from the 18th century, though a castle has stood on the site since the days of King John, the first Lord of Ireland. The Castle served as the seat of English, then later British government of Ireland under the Lordship of Ireland (1171–1541), the Kingdom of Ireland (1541–1800), and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1800–1922).  After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the complex was ceremonially handed over to the newly formed Provisional Government led by Michael Collins.


As with most medieval castles it has had many incarnations.  It was established by King John of England in 1204AD.  This Norman Castle was built within the SE corner of a pre-existing Viking town which had been founded in the 10th century at the confluence of  the Liffey and Poddle rivers – probably at the site of a Gaelic ring fort.  Starting as a wooden fort it eventually evolved into a large fortified stone complex inside a walled area where hundreds of people worked in support of the royalty of the house.  Originally the river more or less came right up to the castle walls but over time the river was corralled a few blocks away.  If one goes down a few levels in one of the buildings one can still see the original moat (which connected to the river) and the narrow stairs cut through the perimeter wall to allow access to and from the river. 


Today, the Upper Castle Yard is overlooked by the State Apartments which are still used by visiting dignitaries, state functions, and for the inauguration of a new president every 7 years.  It is also where the handover of power to the new Irish State took place in 1922 after the Irish won independence from England.


Today, one can wander around the grounds and visit the Royal Chapel as well as the State Apartments.


As a side note, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula worked here from 1866 to 1878 in the Register of Petty Sessions Clerks office – whatever that is.


Royal Chapel

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Grand Staircase, State Apartments

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State Apartments

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State Apartments

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Trinity College


Trinity College is the sole college of the University of Dublin. It was founded in 1592 as the "mother" of a new university modeled after the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but, unlike these, only one college was ever established. It is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland, as well as Ireland's oldest university.


Originally it was established outside the city walls of Dublin in the buildings of the dissolved Augustinian Priory of All Hallows (as in Halloween).  As are many things in Ireland, it too is caught up in the Catholic vs. Protestant tension.  It was set up in part to consolidate the rule of the Tudor monarchy in Ireland – in other words for the Protestant Ascendancy. Although Catholics and Dissenters had been permitted to enter as early as 1793 certain restrictions on their membership of the college remained until 1873 (professorships, fellowships and scholarships were reserved for Protestants). From 1956 to 1970 the Catholic Church in Ireland forbade its adherents from attending Trinity College without permission from their archbishop. Women were first admitted to the college as full members in January 1904


Trinity College is now dab smack in the middle of downtown Dublin on College Green, opposite the former Irish Houses of Parliament. The college proper occupies 47 acres.  As of 2015, it was ranked by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings as the 160th best university in the world.  The Library of Trinity College is a legal deposit library for Ireland and the United Kingdom, containing over 4.5 million printed volumes and significant quantities of manuscripts (including the Book of Kells), maps and music.


The college is built around a series of grass quadrangles, like many universities.  But oddly enough in this era of Ultimate Disk and Grass Volleyball, no one is allowed to walk on or sit on the grass.  So, when the sun shines (rarely so they say) and the temperatures get warm (equally rare so they say) all the college folks head over to St. Stephen’s Green which is only a few blocks away.  On our day in Dublin, the sun was shining, the temperature was warm and the park was full.


Fellow Square, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

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Hardly an unused patch of grass in the sun.  St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

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Book of Kells


So what is this “Book of Kells” thing?  It is a stunningly beautiful manuscript containing the Four Gospels and is Ireland's most precious medieval artifact - generally considered the finest surviving illuminated (illustrated) manuscript to have been produced in medieval Europe. 


The Book of Kells was probably produced in a monastery on the Isle of Iona, Scotland, to honor Saint Columba in the early 8th century. After a Viking raid the book was moved to Kells Ireland sometime in the 9th century only to be stolen in the 11th century, at which time its cover was torn off and the book itself was thrown into a ditch. The cover, which most likely included gold and gems, has never been found, and the book suffered some water damage; but otherwise it is extraordinarily well-preserved.  In 1541, at the height of the English Reformation, the book was taken by the Roman Catholic Church for “safekeeping” – kind of like all the gold they took out of Central and South America “for safe keeping”.  It was returned to Ireland in the 17th century, and Archbishop James Ussher gave it to Trinity College, where it resides today.


After some prefaces and canon tables, the main thrust of the book is the Four Gospels. Each one is preceded by a carpet page featuring the author of the Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John).  The Book of Kells was written on vellum (calfskin), which was time-consuming to prepare properly but made for an excellent, smooth writing surface. 680 individual pages (340 folios) have survived, and of them only two lack any form of artistic ornamentation. In addition to incidental character illuminations, there are entire pages that are primarily decoration, including portrait pages, "carpet" pages and partially decorated pages with only a line or so of text.  As many as ten different colors were used in the illuminations, some of them rare and expensive dyes that had to be imported from the continent.  The workmanship is so fine on this artwork that some of the details can only be clearly seen with a magnifying glass.


Example of an illumination page from the Book of Kells

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Stairs to upper deck of library (Trinity College, Dublin)

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Antique books library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

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Antique books library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

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So ends our 2nd day in Ireland, again Bright Sun, mid 70’s (f), and no rain




Next on our agenda – County Wicklow


I hope you enjoyed reading this travel log and will read accounts of future trips.  


- Images of this trip will are published on my website



Thanks for reading -- Dan




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