Dublin – A City of Contrast.
The short flight from London to Dublin scarcely takes longer than the journey to and from the airports. And yet, despite a common language, despite a similar climate and despite, in part, a shared history, Ireland and Dublin in particular is another world.
The Dublin I remember from my student days was quieter. Pubs and bars served excellent Guinness but little in the way of food. There wasn’t, as I remember, much of a restaurant scene and if there was a nightlife, I didn’t find it. Now, the City has come alive.
Somehow, over the last twenty years or so, Dublin had a renaissance. A centre for the arts, live music, food and nightlife Dublin now attracts the twenty something party crowd looking for a relaxed break but is equally popular with visitors fascinated by the cultural heritage of the city, in particular the literature and architecture. As a Unesco City of Literature, Dublin has made a commitment to foster cultural diversity and promote the social, economic and cultural development of the city. Only a handful of cities around the world belong to this unique club and it seems particularly appropriate for Dublin, home to so many famous writers, including James Joyce, Yeats and Jonathan Swift, to take part.
For a first visit, it’s worth taking advantage of the tours on offer. You’ll find everything from a hop on hop off open-top bus, to ‘slow cycling’ on electric bikes with Lazy Bike Tours and even kayaking along the Liffey. Special interest tours include literary and historic walks in addition to food and fashion. If you decide on trying the food tour, then do start hungry – there are tastes of all sorts of local foods as you learn about some of Dublin’s entrepreneurial food businesses.
And, fashionistas might do well to leave their purses at home if they try the fashion tour – from fine gloves at Paula Rowan and rare perfumes at Parfumarija through to stunning couture dresses and the ultimate designer hat by local man Philip Treacy at the Design Centre.
It’s all FAR too tempting and, if you are willing to try some of the young design talent can be excellent value for money.
At certain times of the year though, the City really comes alive with events and festivals. Obvious dates include St Patrick’s Day and the Christmas break. But, there are plenty more throughout the year.
Visit around Halloween and you’ll find plenty for both groups. We tend to think of Halloween as being an American festival. But, many of the traditions come from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (or Samhuinn if you are Scottish). The link to Halloween (and to All Souls Night) as the ancient Celts believed that it was a liminal time – a short period when the boundaries between this world and the ‘otherworld’ could easily be crossed. On Samhain, the souls of the dead revisited their homes seeking hospitality and the Celts would have a special feast for them. It was also a time when spirits and fairies, the Aos Sí , could easily visit. Even today in Scotland and Ireland Samhain festivities involve feasts, bonfires and processions in costume, all originating from a need to protect yourself from the Aos Sí and cleanse all evil.
As the birthplace of Bram Stoker (author of Dracula), Dublin celebrates an annual festival just before Halloween itself and, activities just seem to dovetail into Samhain. During the festival to find the Macnas procession – a twilight parade through the city or to join events like this year’s ‘New Blood’ vampire party. It’s a unique fusion of ancient traditions, contemporary art and vibrant nightlife.
For those of a gentler disposition, Dublin has plenty to offer. This year ‘hushed’ allowed visitors to walk through the library where Bram Stoker himself spent his evenings researching legends and myths. The candlelit rooms reverberated with a special vocal performance by the Tonnta ensemble, with haunting lyrics to the a cappella music.
There’s more of course – ghost bus tours and all night parties, screenings of horror movies and literary readings. All with a Samhain or Dracula theme. It’s a special time to visit.
Whether you visit Dublin during Samhain or not though, there’s plenty to do. It is the kind of city where you’ll find a morning or an afternoon just passes while you stroll around the quirky shops and bars at Temple Bar, browse the exhibitions of art and photography, check the Grand Social flea market or indulge in tea and a cake at the Queen of Tarts.
Major attractions include two Cathedrals, a Castle, plenty of historic pubs and, of course the Guinness Storehouse.
Whiskey fans can visit the Old Jameson Distillery and the Irish Whiskey Museum while those with a literary bent can choose from the James Joyce Centre, Dublin Writers Museum or Marsh’s Library. There’s even a literary pub crawl if you somehow feel the need to combine Guinness with culture.
For more information about Ireland www.ireland.com
I stayed at The Morrison Hotel, within easy walking distance of Temple Bar, where rooms start at 160 euros a night.
Check the website for information about the Bram Stoker Festival
Festivals in Dublin coming soon include the New Year Festival and TradFest