Dublin

dublin-shine

In his inimitable, irresistible way, James Joyce immortalized the city of Dublin in Ulysses, Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, filling these works with the people he knew, speaking in their own words, and adding many more of his own. Disappointed with the city’s provincial outlook and small-town manners, he left it in 1902, at the age of 20 (his famed peers Sean O’Casey and Samuel Beckett soon followed). Later, he said he chose Dublin as the setting for his work because it was a “center of paralysis” where nothing much ever changed. Which only proves that even the greats get it wrong sometimes. Indeed, if Joyce were to return to his once genteel hometown today and take a quasi-Homeric odyssey through the city (as he so famously does in Ulysses), would he even recognize Dublin as his “Dear Dirty Dumpling, foostherfather of fingalls and dotthergills”?

For instance, what would he make of Temple Bar—the city’s erstwhile down-at-the-heels neighborhood, now crammed with restaurants and trendy hotels and suffused with a nonstop, international-party atmosphere? Or the old market area of Smithfield, whose Cinderella transformation has changed it into an impressive plaza and winter ice-skating venue? Or of the new Irishness, where every aspect of Celtic culture results in sold-out theaters, from Conor McPherson’s Broadway hit, The Seafarer, to Riverdance, the old Irish mass-jig recast as a Las Vegas extravaganza? Plus, the resurrected Joyce might be stirred by the songs of U2, fired up by the sultry acting of Colin Farrell, and moved by the poems of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. In short, Irish is cool. As for Ireland’s capital, elegant shops and hotels, galleries, art-house cinemas, coffeehouses, and a stunning variety of restaurants have sprung up on almost every street in Dublin, transforming the provincial city that suffocated Joyce into a place almost as cosmopolitan as the Paris to which he fled.

Dublin’s popularity has provoked a few of its citizens to protest that the rapid transformation of their heretofore tranquil city has affected its spirit and character. Mundane topics like “house prices” and “the bloody traffic” have found their way into pub conversation. These skeptics (skepticism long being a favorite pastime in the capital city) await the outcome of “Dublin: The Sequel”—can the “new Dublin” get beyond the rage stage without losing its very essence? Their greatest fear is the possibility that the tattered old lady on the Liffey is becoming like everywhere else.

Oh ye of little faith: the rare aul’ gem that is Dublin is far from buried. The fundamentals—the Georgian elegance of Merrion Square, the Norman drama of Christ Church Cathedral, the foamy pint at an atmospheric pub—are still on hand to gratify. Most of all, there are the locals themselves: the nod and grin when you catch their eye on the street, the eagerness to hear half your life story before they tell you all of theirs, and their paradoxically dark but warm sense of humor.

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Dublin Sights

“In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty”—so went the centuries-old ditty. Today, there are parts of the city that may not be fair or pretty, but although you may not be conscious of it while you’re in the center city, Dublin does boast a beautiful setting: it loops around the edge of Dublin Bay and on a plain at the edge of the gorgeous, green Dublin and Wicklow mountains, which rise softly just to the south. From the famous Four Courts building in the heart of town, the sight of the city, the bay, and the mountains will take your breath away. From the city’s noted vantage points, such as the South Wall, which stretches far out into Dublin Bay, you can nearly get a full measure of the city. From north to south, Dublin stretches 16 km (10 mi); in total, it covers 28,000 acres—but Dublin’s heart is far more compact than these numbers indicate. Like Paris, London, and Florence, a river runs right through it. The River Liffey divides the capital into the Northside and the Southside, as everyone calls the two principal center-city areas, and virtually all the major sights are well within less than an hour’s walk of one another.

Our coverage in this chapter is organized into six sections exploring the main neighborhoods of Dublin city (plus one excursion into the northern suburbs of County Dublin). The first two sections—The Southside and Southeast Dublin—focus on many of the city center’s major sights: Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square, and Grafton Street. The third section, Temple Bar, takes you through this revived neighborhood, still the hippest zone in the capital. The Northside section covers major cultural sights north of the Liffey and east of Capel Street, including the James Joyce Centre, Gate Theatre, Dublin Writers Museum, and Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art. It also includes the majestic Custom House and the rapidly developing, high-rise Docklands area near the mouth of the river. The next section, Dublin West, picks up across Dame Street from Temple Bar and continues west through the historic, working-class Liberties neighborhood to the Guinness Brewery and Storehouse, the city’s most popular attraction. In addition, it includes the two main cathedrals and the cobblestoned old market district of Smithfield, which has managed to combine change and tradition better than any other area in the city center. Finally, the Phoenix Park and Environs section covers the most western fringe of the Northside and the great public park itself. If you’re planning to take in all the sights, you may wish to invest in the city’s special tourist ticket, the Dublin Pass.

If you’re visiting Dublin for more than two or three days, you’ll have time to explore farther afield. There’s plenty to see and do a short distance from the city center—in the suburbs of County Dublin. Worthwhile destinations in these parts of the county are covered in the Side Trips section.

Dublin Reviews

“Come in! Come in! Your dinner’s poured out!” goes the old North Dublin joke. In truth, its description of Irish food as being best when hidden in soup wasn’t so far off the mark. For years, “Irish cuisine” used to be nothing more than a convenient way of grouping potatoes and stout under the same heading. However, the days when critics bemoaned the pot luck of the Irish are for the most part gone. Today, be prepared to have your preconceptions overturned, and, on occasion, to be enthralled and very happily sated in the process. No longer does a pub crawl turn up a better meal than one in a fancy restaurant. Dubliners now forgo heading to the “local” to down a pint after work because they’ve made reservations at the newest eateries and hippest showplaces (of course, the pubs and the pints come later in the evening). These chowhounds are intent on enjoying the fruits of Ireland’s gastronomic revolution, but Dublin’s best chefs have been leading the charge.

Month after month, these euro-toques continue to come up with new and glorious ways to abuse your waistline. Roast scallop with spiced pork belly and au gratin cauliflower, all in a daring caper-and-raisin sauce? Sautéed rabbit loin with Clonakilty black pudding? Or a dazzling dessert like lavender jelly with Cooleeney Camembert sauce? As these dishes reveal, Dublin’s top cooks are determined to take advantage of the fact that Ireland has some of the best “raw materials” in the world. Given that it is a small island on which one is never farther than an hour-and-a-half drive from the coast, it is not only its seaside restaurants that can claim to serve fish on the same day it’s caught. In addition, the freshest Limerick hams, tastiest Cork crubins (pigs’ trotters), and most succulent Galway Bay oysters arrive in the city every day. But since Dublin has become a magnet for immigrants seeking Celtic Tiger prosperity, the city is now hot with Indian curries, Thai chilies, and pan-Asian fireworks. Ethnic restaurants have blossomed—you can indulge your passion for superb French or Italian food one day, then enjoy Korean barbecue the next. This interest in far-flung food has heralded a new wave of internationally trained professionals who have stamped their own blás (Irish for “gloss”) on traditional ingredients.

The one drawback of the new Dublin dining scene is the cost—the prices have been raised along with the quality, and it’s not easy to find real value for your money. Many top eateries now offer affordable fixed-price lunch menus, which can be considered bargains for the cash-conscious epicurean. A recent welcome phenomenon has been the arrival of little, family-run Italian joints with great food, no fuss, and real coffee, all at a good price. The two Bar Italias on either side of the quays and the fantastically bustling Dunne and Crescenzi near Trinity are some of the best. The twin wonders of L’Gueuleton and Gruel have introduced Dublin to the joys of affordable, casual, but always classy French cuisine. Fallon and Byrne have introduced the deli/restaurant/wine bar, all-under-one-roof idea to great acclaim—and with quality, organic ingredients to boot. To the usual array of ethnic choices—including Chinese, Japanese, and Indian—Dublin is adding even more exotica, including Montys of Kathmandu, a Nepalese spot in Temple Bar, and the Korean Hop House.

Dublin Reviews

If you’re lucky enough to stay at one of the classy hotels or elegant guesthouses that occupy former Georgian town houses on both sides of the Liffey, you’ll quickly realize that entering one of these little domestic palaces really is a trip back in time. But this does not mean the 21st century has not arrived. “An absolute avalanche of new hotels” is how the Irish Times characterized Dublin’s hotel boom in the last decade. New lodgings have sprung up all over the city, including the much-talked-about Westin at College Green, a totally revamped Shelbourne, and a few others in Ballsbridge, an inner “suburb” that’s a 20-minute walk from the city center.

Dublin has a decent selection of inexpensive accommodations, including many moderately priced hotels with basic but agreeable rooms. Most guesthouses, long the mainstay of the economy end of the market, have upgraded their facilities and now provide rooms with private bathrooms or showers, as well as cable color televisions, direct-dial telephones, and Internet connections. The bigger hotels are all equipped with in-room data ports or Wi-Fi. If you’ve rented a car and you’re not staying at a hotel with secure parking facilities, it’s worth considering a location out of the city center, such as Dalkey or Killiney, where the surroundings are more pleasant and you won’t have to worry about parking on city streets.

Dublin

Long before Stephen Dedalus’s excursions into “nighttown” in James Joyce’s Ulysses, Dublin was proud of its lively after-hours scene, particularly its thriving pubs. But the Celtic Tiger economy, the envy of all Europe, turned Dublin into one of the most happening destinations on the whole continent. Some of the old watering holes were replaced with huge, London-style “superbars,” which, with the ubiquitous DJ in the corner, walk the fine line between pub and club. Most nights, the city’s nightspots overflow with young cell phone-toting Dubliners and Europeans, who descend on the capital for weekend getaways. The city’s 900-plus pubs are its main source of entertainment; many public houses in the city center have live music—from rock to jazz to traditional Irish.

Theater is an essential element of life in the city that was home to O’Casey, Synge, Yeats, and Beckett. Today Dublin has seven major theaters that reproduce the Irish “classics,” and also present newer fare from the likes of Martin Macdonagh and Conon Macpherson. Opera, long overlooked, now has a home in the restored old Gaiety Theatre.

Check the following newspapers for informative listings: the Irish Times publishes a daily guide to what’s happening in Dublin and the rest of the country, and has complete film and theater schedules. The Evening Herald lists theaters, cinemas, and pubs with live entertainment. The Big Issue is a weekly guide to film, theater, and musical events around the city. The Event Guide, a weekly free paper that lists music, cinema, theater, art shows, and dance clubs, is available in pubs and cafés around the city. In peak season, consult the free Bord Fáilte (Irish Tourist Board) leaflet “Events of the Week.” The Temple Bar Web site (www.temple-bar.ie) provides information about events in the Temple Bar area.

Dublin

The only known specimens of leprechauns or shillelaghs in Ireland are those in souvenir-shop windows, and shamrocks mainly bloom around the borders of Irish linen handkerchiefs and tablecloths. But in Dublin’s shops you can find much more than kitschy designs. There’s a tremendous variety of stores here, many of which are quite sophisticated—as a walk through Dublin’s central shopping area, from O’Connell to Grafton Street, will prove. Department stores stock internationally known fashion-designer goods and housewares, and small (and often pricey) boutiques sell Irish crafts and other merchandise. Don’t expect too many bargains here. And be prepared, if you’re shopping in central Dublin, to push through crowds—especially in the afternoons and on weekends. Most large shops and department stores are open Monday to Saturday 9 to 6, with late hours on Thursday until 9. Although nearly all department stores are closed on Sunday, some smaller specialty shops stay open. Those with later closing hours are noted below. You’re particularly likely to find sales in January, February, July, and August.

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