Potatoes, Stout, and Whiskey
Few peoples have suffered as much as the Irish in the last 200 years. Oppression, famine, and war all left their mark.
But, at the same time, no people have been as resilient as the Irish whose charm and welcoming spirit touch everyone who visits the Emerald Isle.
A Short History
Humans have inhabited Dublin since prehistoric times. A Greek astronomer referred to “Eblana” in his writings in 140 AD. Eblana is thought to be current-day Dublin.
Vikings settled here in the 9th century and they held the area for over 300 years until Norman conquest in 1169. Shortly thereafter, construction was begun on Dublin Castle which still stands today.
The English Crown held Ireland through the Middle Ages, a time which saw the Black Death kill thousands in the 14th century. Another plague ravaged the city in the mid 17th century.
Dublin grew dramatically in population and importance in the 18th century. During this time, much of the city’s distinctive Georgian buildings were constructed.
Since there was no coal in Ireland or shipbuilding in Dublin (Belfast was the center of shipbuilding in the U.K.), the city fell into economic decline. This followed the political decline of Dublin when the seat of government was moved to London.
In 1845, potato blight, likely brought to Ireland on ships from America where the blight originated, devastated the potato crop, leading to the Great Hunger of 1845-1849.
The 20th century was especially ghastly in Dublin. The 1916 Easter Uprising sparked the modern Irish independence movement. This was followed by the War for Independence from England. When Ireland was declared an independent state in 1921, a power vacuum was created and a full-fledged Civil War was fought from 1922-1923.
In the late 1960’s, violence erupted between Irish Nationalists who wanted a united Ireland and Unionists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain in the U.K. with England. Most of the fighting and violence, the so-called “Troubles,” was centered in Northern Ireland where most Unionists were located.
However, paramilitary groups in and around Dublin also committed atrocities in the city. On May 17, 1974, three bombs in Dublin and another in Monaghan were detonated killing 34 people.
It is important to note that during The Troubles, almost all of the victims were civilians.
The Good Friday Agreement (aka The Belfast Agreement) of 1998 has brought most of the violence to an end. Bill Clinton and former US Senator George Mitchell are widely credited with getting the parties to the bargaining table and shaping the agreement.
Today, there is fear that Brexit could cause a hard border to be built between the Republic or Ireland and Northern Ireland which could possibly reignite The Troubles.
The economic boom of the 90’s in Ireland, the so-called Celtic Tiger, cooled during the Great Recession. However, with Facebook and Google locating their European headquarters in Dublin, the city is now filled with highly paid tech workers. While the latest boom has unemployment at historic low rates, the fast rising cost of housing is pricing many lifelong Dubliners out of the city.
England, especially London, has undergone a food renaissance over the past decade or two, successfully casting off the stereotype of boring and inedible English fare. Much of their success was due to embracing the cuisine of their former colonies, brought to Merry Ol’ by immigrants from places like Western Africa and much of Asia, especially India.
Ireland, on the other hand, had no history of imperialism. Instead, the Irish were under the English boot for centuries, enduring famine and war brought on by their overlords. So, instead of a tradition of immigration to Ireland, there is emigration from Ireland to places like the U.S., Argentina, and Australia.
Sure, you’ll find the occasional Indian restaurant in Dublin, along with kebab stands and Chinese buffets. But, Dublin’s finest of fine dining usually focus on French Haute Cuisine (Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud) or the newly hip Elevated Irish food (The Greenhouse). And many Dubliners, flush with cash from jobs at Google or Facebook (both have their European headquarters in Dublin), can afford the bill.
And while high end restaurateurs move into Dublin to take advantage of a flush populace of tech workers, I prefer sitting in a bar with a pint and enjoying some quality pub fare or checking out one of the many vegetarian restaurants that have sprung up recently.
Believe it or not, Dublin has become a hot spot for vegetarian dining. A fact that even surprises some locals. Or, as the taxi driver said when we asked to go a local veg. spot “Why the fok wouja go thar?”
The importance of potatoes to Irish cuisine cannot be overstated. The humble spud has been a staple of the Irish diet for centuries and the failure of the potato crop (along with Britain’s Draconian food policy on the Emerald Isle) led directly to Ireland losing half its population to death by famine and emigration in the 19th century. Ireland’s population still hasn’t recovered over 150 years later.
Boxty is a kind of potato pancake that used to be ubiquitous in Irish cooking. It’s made using finely grated potatoes (unlike a hash brown which has larger pieces), flour, salt, pepper, and butter. Simple, yet delicious.
Boxty isn’t as readily available in Dublin’s restaurants these days. It seems like locals look at it as old-fashioned or something for the tourists, but there are a couple ways to get Boxty on your visit. The easiest is to go to Gallagher’s Boxty House in the Temple Bar section of Dublin. They serve Boxty in pancake form, but also baked and boiled.
Gallagher’s boiled Boxty is my favorite. The boiled potato dumplings are kind of like gnocchi, but instead of serving them with marinara, Gallagher’s serves boiled Boxty with a honey and pepper sauce. Get the Boxty sampler for €13 and try them all along with Boxty fries!
Another option is to visit Dublin on February 1st (cold and rainy!) for St. Brigid’s Day. The patron saint’s feast day is celebrated by enjoying Boxty.
Boxty isn’t the only potato-based dish in Ireland. There’s also Champ, which is basically mashed potatoes and scallions. Then there’s Colcannon which is mashed potatoes with greens (cabbage or kale). There’s tons of variations on this simple dish including Colcannon with scallions, leeks, chives, or even seaweed. Some restaurateurs have started experimenting with other root vegetables like parsnips in the Calcannon recipes. Colcannon can also have ham or bacon folded in.
In addition to their Boxty, Gallagher’s Boxty House has reliably good Colcannon on the menu.
Soda Bread is deceptively simple. Cake or pastry flour, baking soda, salt, and an activator (usually buttermilk, but sometimes yogurt or stout). That’s it. Somehow these ingredients create a wondrous carb rich loaf that’s crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.
Lots of pubs in Dublin serve Soda Bread (and its cousin Brown Bread which is made with whole wheat flour and is sweetened). I especially enjoyed Brazen Head’s; a basket is only €2.00 and comes with creamy butter from Kerry. Great with a pint!
Fallon & Byrne is a great food hall and wine cellar (yes, a wine cellar in Ireland!). This is a great place to shop for a picnic and they have some of the best soda bread in the city.
The Avoca Cafe (downstairs from Avoca Handweavers) has a great bakery. Get a loaf of their bread and walk five minutes to St. Stephen’s Green for a picnic.
Another great place is The Fumbally. They serve soda bread from local bakeries and their menu is pretty great as well. They’re dedicated to fermentation and make their own ginger fizz, kombucha, and kefir.
Ireland’s other famous quick bread is Barmbrack (aka Brack). Flattened and shaped into rounds, raisins are added to the sweet dough. The bread is toasted and served with butter at tea time.
Brack is especially popular around Halloween when a ring is baked into the dough. Whoever is lucky enough to get the slice with the ring (and not choke on it) is said to receive good luck.
Lots of bakeries in Dublin sell loaves of Barmbrack (many without the ring due to obvious health reasons). One of the best is Hansel and Gretel Bakery.
Coddle is a traditional “kitchen sink” stew made in Irish households to use to leftover sausage and rashers (back bacon). The name comes from the idea that the meat is lightly boiled with potatoes, carrots, and onions to make the stew.
The Hairy Lemon is known for their Coddle which they serve with brown bread and mash.
In a land of beef stew, Coddle, and bacon, it’s a surprise to find so many great vegetarian options in Dublin. But, over the last few years, Dublin has become a great vegetarian dining city.
Karen and I hike the mile and a half from the other side of the river, past St. Stephen’s Green to Sova the Vegan Butcher, a tiny vegan restaurant in the residential Portobello neighborhood.
What started as a pop-up in Dublin is now one of the best veg. restaurants in Europe. Sova is one of those places that tries to replicate meat-based dishes. I’m usually wary of the practice because it so often falls flat. But, Sova the Vegan Butcher is a revelation. I have no idea how they do it, but the “sirloin” has the texture and taste of steak and the confit potato is the perfect compliment.
I paid for the meal with a credit card and when the owner tried to hand it back to me, I missed the handoff and the card spun into the air and fell under the table. Or so I thought. We looked under our table and our fellow diner’s tables to no avail. How did a card just disappear? That’s when the owner suggested it could have fallen between the wall and the baseboard. I shook my head. How could the card fly a good three feet and fit in that tiny space behind the baseboard. It didn’t look like gap was any more than the width of a piece of paper; far too small to fit a plastic card.
That’s when another diner got down on his knees to take a look. Somehow he wedged his fingers behind the baseboard and shimmied the card from its hiding place. I was shock. “How’d you do that?!”
“Rock climbing,” he said, holding his hands in front of me with a tight grip as if he was hanging on for dear life.
Drinking in Dublin
Is there any product more closely associated with Ireland than Guinness? The famous brewery started in Dublin for more than 250 years and shows no sign of slowing down. And drinking a pint (or several pints) of dark brew is on the must-do list for many Dublin visitors.
But, there’s a lot more to the drinking culture of the city than just Guinness. Craft beers are taking hold, Irish Whiskey is ever popular, and Cider, once viewed as a low-class drink, is staging a comeback.
Arthur Guinness began brewing ale in 1759 at St. James Gate in Dublin. Through a shrewd business deal, he signed a 9,000 year lease for £45/year, guaranteeing “that brown stuff” will continued to be brewed in Dublin for years to come.
The Guinness Storehouse Tour at the St. James Gate Brewery is the busiest tourist attraction in Dublin. People are shuttled through the brewery all day, every day to get a look at the process that creates the black gold and to enjoy a sample at the end. If you decide to take the tour, be sure to book online and save yourself 25% compared to the walk up ticket price.
They say Guinness doesn’t travel well, meaning a pint in Dublin will taste better than one in the United States. I suppose that’s true, but I have an alternate theory (strap in, I’ve always got some unproven crackpot theory). The main reason Guinness tastes better in Ireland is because you’re in Ireland. If you have a Guinness at home, it’s just another beer you’ve drunk at home. But, if you have a Guinness in Dublin, you’re in a beautiful city, drinking a pint with old or new friends, sharing laughs and tall tales. It’s that fantastic atmosphere that makes the Guinness taste better. This ends my crackpot theory section of the program, except that I have the same crackpot theory about why gelato tastes better in Italy.
Guinness may be everywhere in Dublin, but it’s not your only choice. Murphy’s and O’Hara’s make a fine mass-produced stout, as well.
And craft beer has really taken off in Dublin. Porterhouse (three locations in Dublin, one in NYC!) makes one of the best stouts you’ll ever taste. Galway Bay’s Buried at Sea is a mighty fine stout as well.
For my money, the best way to spend your time enjoying a pint is in one of the classic Dublin pubs. Here, you can stand at the bar and will almost immediately get pulled into a conversation with a local. That is, unless you go to Temple Bar where there’s nothing but tourists.
Below are a few of my all-time favorite Dublin pubs. If you’re looking for good craic (conversation) just grab a pint at the bar and say hello to the person next to you. Next thing you know, you’ll be in knee-deep.
My absolute favorite pub in Dublin. Just make sure you go to the correct one. Karen’s nephew was meeting us there and we were texting back and forth “Where are you, we’re here?” “I’m here, I don’t see you.” Turns out, he was at the copycat O’Donoghue’s. The real one is on Marrion Row.
O’Donoghue’s has good Guinness, but the real attraction is the nightly music. Musicians sit in a corner (we were kicked out of our seats to make room for some) and play Irish favorites. We didn’t know any of the songs, but no matter, by the time the second verse rolls around, we’re singing along with the crowd. The Dubliners and several other famous Irish groups got their start at O’Donoghue’s.
The Guinness tastes incredibly fresh here. I don’t know why except maybe because they sell so much of that brown stuff that the kegs are turning over quickly. Mulligan’s is a great spot to watch a game. We wandered in one afternoon just as the Gaelic Football final match was starting. I’d never seen the game before, but the friendly locals (and friendly rivals visiting from Kerry) were kind enough to explain the rules when I had a question and before long, Karen and I were in the swing, cheering loudly for Dublin.
A couple days later, Switzerland was in town for a soccer match. Lots of Swiss people came to Dublin for the match and many of those without tickets ended up at Mulligan’s. The crowd spilled outside for a fun and festive party lubricated with much, of course, Guinness.
Brazen Head bills itself at the oldest pub in Ireland, dating to 1198. Today, it’s a big tourist attraction, although some locals still drop in. The configuration has several smaller bars and dining areas that surround and courtyard. The drinks are good, atmosphere rowdy, and the food hasn’t suffered the popularity of the pub.
The Confession Box
On the other side of the river in a part of town that hasn’t seen the same level of development as the rest of Dublin, is a tiny bar made famous by Irish rebel Michael Collins. Nary a tourist in sight, The Confession Box is a true locals hang out. Just be aware, with the location’s history as a safe haven for Michael Collins and other Irish patriots and nationalists, you’d be well advised to keep your political beliefs, whatever they may be, to yourself.
The Irish and the Scotch have an ongoing Whiskey (spelled Whisky in Scotland) battle over whose tipple is the tops. (See my guide to Glasgow and the section on Scotch Whisky here)
The Irish will tell you (emphatically) that Irish Whiskey is superior because it is triple distilled, making a smoother drink than the twice distilled Scotch version.
In the early 1800’s Dublin’s distilleries were producing an astounding 10 million gallons (that’s 1.28 billion shots) a year of Irish Whiskey. But, in the ensuing decades, Scotch Whisky overtook Irish Whiskey in popularity and each of the dozens of distilleries in Dublin shuttered their operations.
There has been an Irish Whiskey renaissance over the past few years. Several distilleries have opened in Dublin and many of them offer tours. Jameson started making whiskey in Dublin over 200 years ago and they offer a nice tour that includes a tasting.
But, I prefer sampling in a pub. Bowe’s Pub is my favorite spot for some whiskey. They’ve got a great selection of of Irish Whiskeys and hooch from around the world. Sunday night is a great time to visit Bowe’s when they have excellent live music performances.
(Hard) Cider had a dubious reputation in the U.K. It was thought that alcohol got into the bloodstream faster, making drinkers more intoxicated and aggressive. That stereotype has begun to fade and cider is more popular now that it has been in years.
Almost every pub in Dublin will have a cider on offer, either on tap or in a bottle. Bulmer’s is the warhorse of Irish Ciders, having been around since 1935, but, craft ciders are popular as well. Stonewall makes a nice bottle and you can pick it up at several locations in Dublin.
It’s funny. They don’t call them French Fries in France. They’re Pommes Frites. And in Canada, it’s not Canadian Bacon, it’s just bacon. But in Ireland, if you want a shot in your coffee, you ask for an Irish Coffee. (Check out an amusing story of me trying to order an Irish Coffee at a Mexican Restaurant in Berlin)
Almost any pub will sell you an Irish coffee, but the real shock is getting one first thing in the morning. Talk about Hair of the Dog.
The key to a good Irish Coffee is, no surprise, good ingredients. Many an Irish Coffee are made with American-style coffee, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But my preference is an Irish Coffee made with espresso. Add a shot of good Irish Whiskey, not the bottom shelf rot-gut, and carefully layer the cream on top to keep it separate from java and spirit. Lots of places now use whipped cream from a can. Avoid these places. Sip the Irish Coffee so the juiced joe below flows through the cream and into your mouth for optimal flavor.
The Church and The Long Hall are two places that have a great atmosphere and make an excellent Irish Coffee.
Things to do in Dublin
Dublin might be the music-centric city in the world. Sure, more famous musicians have come out of New York or London or L.A., but those cities are so big and with so many other industries present, they dwarf the music scene. Nashville, meanwhile, seems more corporate in its approach.
Music is everywhere in Dublin and you can get your fix by stopping in one of the many pubs that offers live music, by seeing a concert in a more formal setting, or tracing the steps of one of the famous musicians who got their start here.
U2 is one of the most popular bands in rock and roll history. All four members are Dubliners (Bono and Larry Mullen Jr. were born here, Edge and Adam Clayton moved to Dublin with their families as very young children).
The members of U2 started as a punk band called Feedback in 1976. They changed their name and were signed to Island Records a couple years later and released their first album “Boy” in 1980. Worldwide success soon followed with classic releases like “The Unforgettable Fire” and “The Joshua Tree.” To date, the band has sold over 50 million records.
Although a walking tour of U2 sights no longer operates in Dublin (it ceased operations a couple years ago), many sights linked to the band are still around like St. Fintan’s High School where Feedback played their first gig, or the East Link Bridge which is featured at the beginning of the (Pride) in the Name of Love video, or the Grand Canal Docks where the cover for “October” was shot.
A couple spots not to miss are the Little Museum of Dublin with its small but interesting U2 display and the Clarence Hotel which is (minority) owned by Bono. The Octagon Bar in the hotel is upscale just like the hotel. Fans sometimes camp out at the bar in hopes of spotting members of the band, but they rarely hang out there.
Next to the Clarence Hotel is the now closed Garage Bar. The story goes that the bar was closed for years and years. When it was finally getting ready to open up again, they raised the garage door and sitting inside, just like the day the were left there, were several East German Trabant cars that were used on the U2 Zoo TV Tour in 1992 and 1993.
The band’s website has done an outstanding job of listing all the best U2 sites in Dublin along with descriptions of their importance, hours, etc. Essential.
Dubliner Phil Lynott was the bass player/singer/songwriter for the groundbreaking hard rock band Thin Lizzy. While mostly known in the U.S. for their popular song “The Boys Are Back in Town,” Thin Lizzy released several critically and commercially successful albums.
Thin Lizzy, led by Lynott, were groundbreaking for their two guitar attack and mature lyrics and arrangements that were in short supply during the 1970’s dumbed down version of hard rock. Thin Lizzy were also groundbreaking in that the band was bi-racial (Lynott’s father was black) and had both Catholic and Protestant members (a rarity during The Troubles).
Lynott, an energetic showman, made Thin Lizzy a popular live act. But, the band broke up and Phil succumbed to sepsis brought on by his addiction to heroin and alcohol and died in early 1986. He was only 36 years old.
In 2005, a statue of Phil was unveiled in Dublin.
O’Donoghue’s Pub in Dublin has walls covered with pictures of people who have performed there (the Dubliners, for one, got there start at O’Donoghue’s) and others who have enjoyed a pint or two at the drinking and music establishment. While enjoying a few pints myself I spotted a picture of a young man surrounded by two friends. He is holding a shot glass in one hand and smiling for the camera.
“I think that’s Phil Lynott,” I said to guy sitting next to me.
“That picture there,” I said pointing. “I think that’s Phil Lynott.”
“Never ‘erd of ‘im.”
Novelist James Joyce was born and raised in Dublin. He left the city in his early 20’s and lived on the continent for the rest of his life, dying in Zurich from a perforated ulcer in 1941 at the young age of 59. Despite living away from Ireland for almost all of his adult life, Joyce wrote movingly and insightfully about the city of his birth.
Joyce wrote the classics Finnegans Wake and The Dubliners. But he is best known for his novel Ulysses which takes place in Dublin over the course of a single day, June 16th, 1904. Ulysses is a groundbreaking and experimental stream-of-consciousness novel that is today widely considered to be the greatest novel ever written, even though when it was published it was banned in many places and faced an obscenity trial in the United States.
Ulysses’ main character, Leopold Bloom, is celebrated on Bloom’s Day, every June 16th, in Dublin. Bloomsday is marked with readings from Ulysses and retracing some of Leopold’s steps described in the book.
One of these spots is Sweny’s Pharmacy. In the book, Bloom visits here and admires the pharmacy’s compounds, eventually taking a bar of “lemony wax,” a lemon scented soap, which he promises to pay for later, but never does.
Today, Sweny’s hold Joyce readings and host Joyce reading groups. Check their website for the schedule. But, for a tangible artifact, you can buy your own bar of lemony wax at Sweny’s. They sell them for €5.
To recreate Bloom’s journey, the folks at bookstr.com have published a map with locations from the book.
There’s also a giant mural featuring Ulysses characters Leopold Bloom and Buck Mulligan on the exterior of the Bloom Hotel.
It’s hard not to have a good time in Dublin. Music coming from every pub, friendly people, and lots of things to do will keep you busy and smiling.
But, Dubliners and the Irish have suffered immensely over the centuries and learning about some of the dark events in the past help our understanding of today’s people.
In 1845, the Irish potato crop succumbed to blight and failed. The blight was likely brought to Ireland by ships sailing from American, where the blight was first detected.
We’ve been taught that the subsequent famine was due exclusively to the potato crop failure. And while this is undoubtedly a big factor, there are lots of other reasons for the “bad days.”
One of the other big reasons for the hunger was the British. England ruled Ireland during this time and even though millions were starving, Britain required Ireland to export massive amounts of grain, livestock, and dairy to England rather than providing relief to the Irish. If there had been no exporting food, the famine likely would not have occurred.
Another reason is monoculture. This is the practice of growing a single crop rather than a diverse portfolio. The Irish Lumper was this monocrop in Ireland and when it failed, there was no room for error; people starved and died.
In addition, the vast majority of farms in Ireland were small, single-family plots. Because of nutrient-poor soil and limited space, nearly everyone grew the Irish Lumper for their caloric needs.
The famine lasted four years and during that time one million Irish died. Another one million emigrated to England, the United States, Australia, and South America (especially Argentina). If you have Irish heritage, the odds are they left Ireland during this time. In fact, some estimates have Ireland losing half its population during the famine. Even today, the population or Ireland is still below its pre-famine level.
There are lots of ways to learn about the Irish experience during The Famine. The Irish Famine Exhibition isn’t large, but it is very informative with a good 15 minute film that gives an overview of the Great Hunger.
I’ve walked past the Famine Memorial by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie on Custom House Quay dozens of times and it never fails to move me. The figures, dressed in rags, seem to be trudging somewhere, anywhere, (maybe towards a boat going to America?) to escape the hunger. A dog, his ribs showing, follows them, hoping against hope that a scrap will be thrown his way.
The fallout of the Great Hunger, of course, was the depopulation of Ireland. The Irish diaspora reached around the world including cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, which all have large populations with Irish heritage.
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum traces the history of the exodus. And, if you have Irish roots, you can visit the Irish Family History Center. A free genealogy consultation is included with admission. Save money by getting a combo ticket if you want to visit both.
There have been at least 20 rebellions by the Irish against English rule, starting with the Silken Thomas Rebellion in1534. The most famous rebellion was the Easter Rising.
Ireland’s Parliament had been abolished in 1800 and while Ireland had some representation in the English Parliament, the country was ruled from London. Several attempts to gain Irish Home Rule (self government) failed and resentment was simmering.
Most Irish supported Home Rule, but did not support gaining it through violent means. But, when yet another Home Rule bill failed in the English Parliament in 1913, some Irish began importing arms and organizing para-military groups.
The outbreak of WWI initially cooled things (many Irish served in the British military during the war). Then, some Irish nationalists had a brilliant strategic plan. They figured that with England busy fighting in WWI, it would be the perfect time strike.
On April 24th, 1916 (Easter Monday), 1,000+ volunteers, including many women, forcibly took several locations around Dublin. The most famous of these was the General Post Office (there is a terrific tour of the GPO which is well worth taking), which became the rebels command center. It was here that rebel commander Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence.
Organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and carried out by the military arm, the Irish Volunteers, the Easter Rising lasted six days before the rebels were forced to surrender to the British.
Almost 500 people died during Easter Rising, the majority of them innocent civilians caught in the crossfire or mistaken as rebels and killed by British troops. Central Dublin was reduced to rubble by the shelling and street fighting.
Seeing the death and destruction wrought by the Irish Republicans doomed mission, public opinion turned severely against the rebels.
Thousands were arrested and imprisoned by the British. Trials were held in secret and conducted using flimsy evidence. On May 2nd, the first of 14 executions took place at the prison Kilmainham Gaol.
In addition, news of British soldiers randomly shooting civilians in the street, killing pacifist leaders, and murdering suspected nationalists and burying their bodies in secret helped turn public opinion against the British.
This public support resulted in a landslide victory for the Sinn Fein nationalist party in the election of 1918 and a breakaway Irish government was formed in 1919. Escalating violence led to a War of Independence with England. The Irish prevailed in 1921 (although the island was partitioned with the creation of Northern Ireland).
When the British left a power vacuum was created and Ireland descended into a Civil War that lasted until 1923.
The Kilmainham Gaol (jail) is a must-visit when in Dublin.
Across the street from the jail is The Proclamation Sculpture by Rowan Gillespie, the same artist who created the disturbing Famine Memorial. Fourteen faceless figures (representing those executed at Kilmainham Gaol after Easter Rising) stand blindfolded with bullet holes showing how they were killed by firing squad. At the base of each figure is etched the result of their trial and execution order.
Do not miss this moving piece of artwork.
The jail can be seen by guided tour only. Booking online ahead of time is highly recommended as the tours almost always sell out.
The guide tells the story of the jail and some of the prisoners who were held there with special emphasis on the Easter Rising rebels.
The older part of the jail is dank and claustrophobic. Imagine being detained here with no window to the outside world except for a little peep hole.
Outside the jail itself, in a high-walled courtyard is the spot where the executions took place. This is a solemn, almost sacred spot. Our guide movingly told the story of how the executions were carried out including that of Nationalist James Connolly who was severely wounded in the Easter Rising fighting. He was held in Dublin Castle, but when his fate was sealed, he was transported to Kilmainham by ambulance and tied to a chair, because he could not walk, and shot by firing squad. Connolly’s last words were supposedly a prayer for the soldiers about to kill him. “I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights.”
Several movies have been filmed at Kilmainham Gaol and U2 used the jail to good effect in their video “A Celebration.”
Trinity College and the Book of Kells
Trinity College has its gorgeous campus in the middle of Dublin. Trinity counts Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Mairead Maguire, Bram Stoker, and Jonathan Swift among its alumni. The college dates to the late 16th century and the grounds are worth wandering to see the stunning buildings.
The Book of Kells is a decorated manuscript of the four gospels of the New Testament. The illustrations are over 1200 years old and The Book of Kells is considered the finest example of Western Calligraphy. Swirls, vines, and interlocking geometric shapes decorate the page’s borders while detailed illustrations command the center.
Before seeing the actual Book of Kells, there is an extensive display about the making of the manuscript, including complaints about the working conditions by the young artists.
There are multiple Book of Kells manuscripts but only a couple are on display at Trinity College. Enclosed in transparent cases, people crowd around to get a glimpse. Be patient and find an opening in the mob to see this masterpiece.
After viewing the book of Kells, visitors are directed to The Long Room, and 200 foot long library containing 200,000 books. The vaulted barrel ceiling makes The Long Room all the more impressive. Along the length of the room are busts of men (yes, they are all men) who were famous philosophers. Aristotle, for example. In addition to all the books and busts of dead guys, the library also holds one of the few remaining copies of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The scroll was read outside the General Post Office in 1916 during the Easter Rising.
Buying tickets in advance to see the Book of Kells and The Long Room are required. They always sell out in advance and the exhibits get very crowded.
Dublin is on the east coast or Ireland and Galway is on the west coast. But, a 2 1/2 hour train ride connects the two cities. I like the scenic ride through rural Ireland and the train conveniently drops you in the center of the city.
Galway was ruled, starting in the Middle Ages, by the fourteen Tribes of Galway. Of these, twelve tribes were Norman (originally from England and Wales) and two were Gaelic (Irish). The tribes lost much of their power with English domination starting in the 17th century, but the tribes were still used as a rallying cry against their English overlords. You can see the flags of the fourteen tribes, nicely displayed in Eyre Square.
The historic center of town is compact and can easily be explored on foot. The area around High Street, Middle Street, and Cross Street Upper is filled with nice restaurants and pubs. Sonny Molloy’s is one of Ireland’s best whiskey bars and you can indulge because you took the train; no driving!
The Galway Cathedral is an important stop for many Americans who visit The City of the Tribes. President Kennedy made a stop at the cathedral while it was under construction in 1963. The President and many other Irish-Americans helped finance the building of the cathedral. When JFK was assassinated in Dallas a few months later it was decided that the cathedral would pay tribute to the slain leader and a mosaic of President Kennedy was placed inside the cathedral.
Shops all over Galway sell Claddagh rings. These rings show love, loyalty, and friendship with a heart surrounded by two hands and topped with a crown. The origin of the Claddagh ring isn’t clear, but the best story is the one that involves Richard Joyce. Joyce was enslaved by Algerian pirates around 1675. Joyce’s master was a goldsmith and he learned the trade in Tangiers.
In 1689, Joyce was released by decree of the English King and returned to his home in Galway where he is said to have invented the Claddagh ring.
Folks who want to stay longer in the area can catch a ferry to the nearby Aran Islands. Otherwise, hop the train back to Dublin in time to catch some music at O’Donoghues.
Kilkenny is a 2 hour train ride from Dublin through the Irish countryside. It makes a great day trip from Dublin for its castle and brewery.
Kilkenny Castle is over 800 years old and much of the original Norman Castle is intact. There’s also some interesting artwork hanging at the castle. Outside is a 50 acre park and garden.
St. Francis Abbey in Kilkenny was founded in the 13th century and monks started brewing beer in the 14th. The abbey thrived for hundreds of years, but various laws, like Henry the 8th’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, eventually forced the monks to close the doors of St. Francis.
John Smithwick began brewing beer in Kilkenny in the early 1700’s. Today, Smithwick’s (pronounced Smid-icks) is the most popular ale in Ireland. The brewery, next to St. Francis Abbey is open for tours (with a tasting!).
Kilkenny definitely has that medieval vibe and Kyteler’s Inn has that in spades. Established in 1324 (!), Kyteler’s has all the usual suspects on tap (Guinness, Smithwick’s, Harp) and traditional Irish music each night. Great atmosphere.
Dublin Airport (DUB)
International airport with direct flights to North American, Hong Kong, the Middle East, and most major cities in Europe.
There is no train service from the airport. Aircoach offers convenient bus service. Taxis are plentiful outside the terminal. Note that while Uber is available in Ireland, you are not hiring a private car. Uber in Ireland uses regular taxis.
Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART)
Light rail services Dublin and her suburbs.
The city has an extensive bus system but it can be slow and delayed due to frequent traffic jams.
Dublin’s tram system isn’t extensive, but is fast and efficient.
Card can be loaded with money and used on DART, DublinBus and Luas.
Hundreds of bike rental stations throughout the city. Popular with locals and tourists.
Index of Things to Do in Dublin
Fab Food Trails
Food tour of Dublin (also does a food tour of Cork).
Historic prison where many Irish Nationalists were executed after the Easter Rising.
Inchicore Rd, Kilmainham, Dublin 8, D08 RK28, Ireland
The Proclamation Sculpture
Near Kilmainham Gaol, a stark and upsetting memorial to those executed after the Easter rising. Rowan Gillespie also created the famine memorial.
Inchicore Road, Dublin, Ireland
Dublin General Post Office
Headquarters of the 1916 Easter uprising.
O’Connell Street, Dublin, Ireland
Arbour Hill Cemetery
Final resting place for many leaders of the 1916 Easter uprising.
Arbour Hill, Stoneybatter, Dublin, Ireland
Garden of Remembrance
Dedicated to those who died for the cause of Irish Freedom.
Parnell Sq., Dublin 1, Ireland
Stirring sculptures remember those lost to the 19th century famine.
Custom’s House Quay, Dublín, Ireland
Replica of a “coffin ship” used to transport Irish migrants across the Atlantic.
Custom House Quay, Dublin, Ireland
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
Interactive museum of the Irish emigration experience.
The Chq Building, Custom House Quay, North Dock, Dublin, Ireland
Irish Family History Center
Genealogy consultation included with ticket price. Get the combo ticket with EPIC if visiting both.
The Chq Building, Custom House Quay, North Dock, Dublin, Ireland
Lovely views of Dublin, especially at sunset.
S Wall, Poolbeg, Dublin, Ireland
Guided tours of Trinity College, some include the Book of Kells.
Trinity College Old Library
The Book of Kells and Proclamation of the Irish Republic are on display.
Grafton St., College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
Dublin’s Medieval castle.
Dame St, Dublin 2, Ireland
St. Stephen’s Green
One of the best green spaces in Dublin.
Grafton St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Irish Famine Exhibition
Small, but informative with a good 15 minute film about the Great Hunger.
Top Floor, St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, Dublin, Ireland
Edward Delaney’s Famine Memorial
Stirring memorial to those lost to the famine of the 1840’s.
42 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland
Home of a Caravaggio masterpiece and 30 works by Yeats. Permanent collection has free admission; open late on Thursday.
Merrion Square West & Clare Street, Dublin, Ireland
Dublin City Gallery (The Hugh Lane)
Impressionist works and Francis Bacon’s studio are highlights.
Charlemont House, Parnell Square N, Rotunda, Dublin, Ireland
Jameson Distillery Bow Street
Whiskey tasting and tour at the former distilling site.
Bow St, Smithfield Village, Dublin, Ireland
The #1 attraction in Dublin. Book online to save over 25%.
St James’s Gate, Dublin 8, Ireland
Irish Whiskey Museum
You’re in Ireland, what did you expect?
119 Grafton Street, Dublin, D02 E620, Ireland
The Little Museum of Dublin
Quirky museum’s artifacts include James Joyce’s death mask and a room dedicated to U2.
15 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland
Famous as the location in Ulysses where Leopold Bloom buys “sweet lemony wax.”
1 Lincoln Place, Dublin, Ireland
Oscar Wilde House
Playwright’s childhood home is a museum.
1 Merrion Square W, Dublin, D02 NH98, Ireland
Statue of Oscar Wilde
Lived in England, buried in Paris, but born in Dublin, so the city claims him as a favorite son. Statue is across from his boyhood home.
Corner of Merrion Square Park, Dublin, Ireland
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Built on the spot where St. Paddy supposedly began baptizing the Irish. Jonathan Swift’s remains are here as well.
21-50 Patrick’s Close, Off Clanbrassil St., Dublin, Ireland
Some of the oldest books in history. Near St. Patrick’s.
St Patrick’s Close, Dublin, Ireland
Huge (1750 acres!) park for walking, relaxing, or playing soccer.
Parkgate St., Conyngham Road, Dublin 8, Ireland
Christ Church Cathedral
One of the most beautiful churches in Ireland.
Christchurch Place, Dublin 8, Ireland
Phil Lynott Statue
Statue dedicated to the great Thin Lizzy frontman.
Harry St, Dublin, Ireland
Iconic and photogenic bridge.
14 Bachelors Walk, Wellington Quay, Dublin, Ireland
Memorial to famous Irish comedian Dermot Morgan.
Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland
Fr. Pat Noise Memorial Plaque
Plaque dedicated to a man who never existed erected by a fake organization. Great Irish humor.
O’Connell Bridge, Dublin, Ireland
Smock Alley Theater 1662
Theater with a wide variety of productions.
6-7 Exchange Street Lower, Dublin, Ireland
Mosaic of President Kennedy inside.
13th century Norman castle in Kilkenny
The Parade, Collegepark, Kilkenny, Ireland
Tour of the brewery where they make the famous Smithwick’s.
Saint Francis Abbey Brewery 44 Parliament Street, Kilkenny, Ireland
Index of Food & Drink in Dublin
Murphy’s Ice Cream
Best ice cream in town. Sorbet made with distilled Irish rainwater.
27 Wicklow Street,, Dublin, Ireland
Vegetarian and vegan restaurant.
19/20 Wicklow Street, Dublin, Ireland
Pizza and booze well done on both counts.
37 Liffey Street Lower, North City, Dublin, Ireland
Rotating vendors provide a wide variety of food and drink.
09-10 Richmond St S, Dublin, Ireland
Vegan fish and chips (in the Eatyard). Their slogan; “Give Fish a Break.”
09-10 Richmond St S, Dublin, Ireland
Michelin starred Scandinavian restaurant. Reservations required.
Joshua House, 21 Dawson St, Dublin, Ireland
Michelin starred restaurant worthy of a splurge. Vegetarian menu also available.
18-19 Parnell Square N, Rotunda, Dublin, Ireland
Great place for Boxty and Colcannon.
20-21 Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland
Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud
High end fine dining experience.
The Merrion Hotel, 21 Merrion Street Upper, Dublin, Ireland
Sova Vegan Butcher
Don’t be fooled by the name, this is a vegan restaurant that makes plant-based versions of meat dishes like sirloin steak.
51 Pleasants Street, Portobello, Dublin, Ireland
Tasty salad bar and soups.
42 Drury Street, Dublin, Ireland
Lots of locally sourced ingredients.
18 Merrion Row, Dublin, Ireland
Retro restaurant and gaming parlor with lots of classic video games and pinball machines.
72-74 Queen Street, Smithfield, Dublin, Ireland
Lunch and pre-theater menus are a good value at this Michelin recommended restaurant.
11 Merrion Row, Dublin, Ireland
Queen of Tarts
Excellent bakery and breakfast spot. Two locations.
3 – 4 Cow’s Lane Dame Street, Dublin, Ireland
Lots of local and organic ingredients; they like fermentation, too.
Fumbally Lane, Dublin, Ireland
Gaillot et Gray
French style wood fired pizza.
59 Clanbrassil St Lwr, Dublin, Ireland
Best falafel in town. 3 locations.
Sandwich shop and coffee house with locally roasted beans.
16 Mary’s Abbey, North City, Dublin, Ireland
Excellent Neapolitan pizza.
58 Grand Canal Street Upper, Dublin, Ireland
The Hairy Lemon
Coddle and other traditional Irish dishes.
42 Lower Stephens Street, Dublin, Ireland
Hansel and Gretel Bakery
The place to get Brambrack.
20 Clare Street, Dublin, Ireland
200 year old pub with traditional interior.
9 South Anne Street, Dublin, Ireland
Craft beer with a 90’s alt-rock soundtrack.
30 Stephen Street Lower, Dublin 2, Ireland
Pub with live entertainment 7 nights a week.
78 Camden Street, Dublin, Ireland
Classic pub with a nice outdoor seating area.
139 Baggot Street Lower, Dublin, Ireland
Fallon & Byrne Wine Cellar
A wine bar in Dublin? Yup, and a mighty good one, too.
11-17 Exchequer St, basement, Dublin, D02 RY63, Ireland
John Kavanagh – The Gravediggers
Next to a cemetery, thus the name. Excellent Guinness.
1 Prospect Square Prospect Square, Glasnevin, Dublin D09 CF72 Ireland
Authentic Dublin pub with the best Guinness in town. JFK visited here in 1945.
8 Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
The place to watch rugby and enjoy a pint.
129 Capel Street, Dublin, Ireland
The Long Hall
Definitely old school. Been in business for over 250 years.
51 South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
The Black Sheep
Owned by Galway Bay Brewery. Craft beers on tap.
61 Capel St, Rotunda, Dublin, Ireland
Pub where locals gather. Excellent whiskey selection.
31 Fleet St, Dublin, Ireland
More touristy than Bowe’s, but also has an excellent whiskey selection.
21 Fleet Street, Dublin, Ireland
A drinking pub with a music problem.
77 King St N, Smithfield, Dublin, Ireland
Live music pub renowned for its hospitality.
1 Dame Ct, Dublin, D02 TW84, Ireland
Live music every night. Where the Dubliners group got their start.
15 Merrion Row, Dublin, Ireland
Doheny & Nesbitt
150 years and still going strong. One of the most famous pubs in Dublin for good reason.
5 Baggot Street Lower, Dublin, Ireland
Old Royal Oak
Locals’ hangout. The real deal.
11 Kilmainham Ln, Dublin, Ireland
The Brazen Head
Ireland’s oldest pub dating to 1198 (!)
20 Lower Bridge St, The Liberties, Dublin, D08 WC64, Ireland
Bar in a converted church. Excellent Irish Coffee.
Mary Street, Dublin, Ireland
Arthur’s Jazz and Blues Pub
Right next to the Guinness Storehouse, so the pints are fresh. Music upstairs.
28 Thomas Street West, Dublin, Ireland
The Temple Bar
Dublin’s most famous and touristy bar.
47 / 48 Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland
Vintage Cocktail Club
Refined cocktail bar. Reservations required.
15 Crown Alley, Dublin, Ireland
Friendly pub where Michael Collins used to hang.
88 Marlborough St, North City, Dublin, Ireland
6 Stoneybatter, Arran Quay, Dublin, Ireland
In the Clarence Hotel minority owned by Bono of U2.
6-8 Wellington Quay, Dublin, Ireland
Great bar for whiskey in Galway.
2 High St, Galway, Ireland
Medieval restaurant and pub established in 1324 with traditional Irish music every night.
27 Saint Kieran’s Street, Kilkenny, Ireland
Index of Shopping in Dublin
Irish Design Shop
High quality Irish housewares, crafts, and gifts.
41 Drury St, Dublin, Ireland
Ulysses Rare Books
The place to dig for that rare James Joyce edition.
10 Duke Street, Dublin, Ireland
Great Irish cheese.
11 South Anne Street, Dublin, Ireland
Irish woolen scarves, throws, and wraps. Cafe downstairs has amazing soda bread.
11-13 Suffolk Street, Dublin, Ireland
The shop for Irish music.
2 Cecilia Street, Dublin, Ireland
Open Air Art Gallery
Artists display their work for sale every Sunday.
Merrion Sq. W., Dublin 2, Ireland
Artists Co-Op with unique art pieces and souvenirs. Check out the street art nearby.
3 Aston Place, Dublin, Ireland
Book store with radical politics as evidenced by the name.
43 E Essex St, Dublin, Ireland
Temple Bar Square Book Fair
Open air book fair every weekend. Music, too.
Temple Bar Square, Cearnóg Bharra an Teampaill, Dublin, Ireland
Index of Places to Stay in Dublin
Chic hotel in the North Dock area.
Point Square, North Dock, Dublin, Ireland
Budget (for Dublin) option. Very nice.
36 South Great George’s Street, Dublin, Ireland
Iveagh Garden Hotel
Chic Georgian building, nice hotel.
72/74 Harcourt St, Saint Kevin’s, Dublin, Ireland
Quirky and cool Georgian hotel.
31 Leeson Cl, Dublin, Ireland
The Morgan Hotel
Glam hotel in the middle of touristy Temple Bar.
10 Fleet St, Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland