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Dublin in a Day – an Arty Tea and More:
Taking a plane for the day to another country used to be very much my modus operandi. Those times have changed though and if I am working with overseas clients, we are more likely to use skype than to arrange a face to face meeting. I’m quite grateful for that, business travel always seems to involve very early morning starts to catch the first flight and a return home that landed me at the airport right in the middle of rush hour. Taking a day trip for fun is something quite different – and, as I discovered, visiting Ireland is particularly easy thanks to a unique reciprocal arrangement between the countries which allows UK citizens to travel with just a driving licence. Not that the security is any less lax, but it is closer to taking an internal flight than to travelling to mainland Europe in terms of check-in flexibility and flight times. Travelling with Aer Lingus, flights leave from Heathrow Terminal 2 seemed remarkably easy. Though that may have been partly because we were whisked through to the Aer Lingus lounge to enjoy a quick breakfast on this occasion. Airline lounge facilities definitely make flying easier!
Our recent trip to Dublin was ostensibly to check out the afternoon tea at the Merrion Hotel. I’m something of a fan of London afternoon teas and was keen to see how the Dublin version worked. But, we’d arrived with plenty of time so started our trip with a naughty snack and some strong Irish tea at Hatch and Sons Irish Kitchen before visiting the Little Museum of Dublin.
Highly recommended, it’s a unique place. The idea, to make a museum celebrating some of Dublin’s famous people but using memorabilia for the most part donated by normal people from Dublin. The execution is a series of themed rooms in one of the Georgian houses at St Stephen’s Green. It provides a fascinating insight into local history in a way which is clearly touched by the hearts and minds of Dublin people.
You’ll find a room dedicated to Alfie Byrne for example, the Mayor of Dublin, known as the shaking hand of Dublin.
And another with an astonishing collection of memorabilia from U2, one of Dublin’s most famous bands who I can remember seeing live in Brighton way back when (in about 1980 I think).
There are a series of exhibitions throughout the year too, right now featuring Brendan Bracken, a little known Irishman who was Churchill’s right-hand man for many years.
It’s quirky and intriguing, a bit like opening up a series of attic stores. I could have spent a lot longer there and I suspect I’ll go back when I next visit Dublin. Run on a not for profit basis, although there’s a charge for entry it includes the tour and is just 8 euros for adults. For that, you’ll get a 10% discount at Hatch and Sons too!
A different end of the spectrum but with a similar focus on all things Irish and with the same kind of public-spirited approach, the art collection at the Merrion Hotel is part of the private collection of Lochlann and Brenda Quinn, the owners of the hotel. Their intention, to give the three Irish Georgian houses which form the Merrion Hotel a sense of the atmosphere and welcome of a private home. They’ve decorated the rooms with Georgian colours and furnished them with a mixture of antique and contemporary furniture from Ireland, England and Europe.
The paintings are remarkable. We were given a guided tour by a specialist from the nearby National Gallery of Ireland who was unashamedly admiring of the collection as a whole and told us that parts of the collection were sometimes loaned to the National Gallery too.
There’s something quite special though, about seeing art in a ‘home’ surrounding – being able to sit and drink tea or a cocktail surrounded by the sort of works you would normally see in a museum or Gallery.
I loved the ‘homage to…’ series, probably because I recognised the original works – Homage to Andy Warhol features a young girl looking at a Campbell’s Soup can for instance, while Homage to Fernand Leger sees a yellow coated woman looking at a version of Leger’s Woman with Book.
There was a wide range of styles – from the post modernist John Boyd to the rather beautiful expressionist works of Jack B Yeats, the brother of poet John Butler Yeats.
And, another reminder of Dublin’s literary heritage in the form of a statue by Roben Gillespie of James Joyce standing in a wheel of words, made up of quotes from Ulysses.
After our tour we headed through to No. 23 for our Art Tea. Executive Chef Ed Cooney explained that they were keen to create a themed tea, and hit upon art as it is such a prominent feature of the hotel.
He explained that afternoon tea was not an Irish tradition, but that they’d been inspired by the London Hotel afternoon teas and had come up with their own version. Even the Teas had an Irish twist with an Irish Malt flavoured black tea based on Assam with an Irish Whiskey and Cacao flavouring. There were also a couple of iced teas including a Matcha Magic mocktail. And of course, there was a glass of champagne, Ruinart NV.
The basic part of the tea arrived on tea towers – a selection of sandwiches and savouries including a lovely Shanagarry smoked Salmon with lemon butter on brown bread.Plain and fruit scones were, for me, a weak moment. Once scones have been baked and laid out on a tea tower they dry out very quickly and I found these just a little bit too dry for me. Obviously that meant adding more clotted cream and jam…a silver lining;)
But the cakes were absolutely delicious – there was a lemon bread, a rich Irish portercake and a Battenberg – our first artistic tribute, a take on the work of Sean Scully
And, there was more to come in the form of three tiny pastries. Each pastry represented a painting – and each painting was explained on playing cards, carefully presented on silver teaspoons.
The pastries were spot on, very delicate and tiny enough not to be overwhelming at the end of the tea. They were also not too sweet for me, a real achievement when things are miniaturised. There was a raspberry and passion fruit tart representing Futile Defense (Fabricated Evidence) by John Boyd, a lime sponge, orange chiboust and lemon jelly curd, inspired by Self Portrait 1912 by Saurin Elizabeth Leech, and a chocolate trinity representing Path Moorea by Pauline Bewick.
The Merrion Hotel Art Tea costs €45.00 per person or €57.50 per person with a glass of Champagne R de Ruinart. That’s a fair price for what is comparable both in content and service to the London five star hotel teas. It was clearly a popular event the afternoon we were there; the main tea lounges were fully booked.
What should you do after a tea and before you need to fly home? Well, obviously the answer is to walk, and Dublin is a great place to take a stroll.
Every time I visit, I find new things. And, somehow manage to spot old familiars too. There are pubs if you want to stop for a Guinness (and you should do so, the Guinness here tastes different to anywhere else in the world),
there are bars and cafes where you can eat al fresco and,
there are even umbrellas if it starts to rain or, if the sunshine starts to go to your head
At one time if someone asked me about Dublin, I’d talk about the literary heritage of the city. And, that is still a key part of what is on offer here – it was designated the 4th city of Literature by Unesco in 2010 and for those looking to find out more there’s a comprehensive guide to what makes Dublin special. There has always been live music too, and plenty of bars serving excellent Guinness and Oysters. The ambience of the city, the food scene and the promotion of Irish artisans for me seems to be more recent. It’s become a place that is perfect for a short break. And, as I’ve just discovered, that can be no more than a day trip from London.
The Aer Lingus Aer Bridge connects London to Dublin with up to 18 flights each day from London Heathrow and London Gatwick. Fares start from £27.99 each way including taxes and charges. Visit www.aerlingus.com for more information.
For more information on Ireland visit: www.ireland.com