Sometimes a perfect day for discerning travelers relies largely on the weather cooperating. At other times the weather be damned! Earlier this spring we spent a perfect day in Dublin and were determined that weather would not play a part in our enjoyment of every single moment – and that was a good thing!
We left our hotel (the Westin Dublin) shortly after a wonderful breakfast in their charming dining room heading across the street to Trinity College. Our first stop was to visit The Book of Kells and the old library. A library might not seem so exciting to you, but Patty has a long and happy association with libraries. He very first part-time job at the tender age of sixteen was working at her home town’s children’s library – the highlight of each week was setting up the projector on Saturday mornings to show short films to children huddled in a circle of tiny chairs. Then she stacked books at the main library during her first year in university. Art spent many hours searching for books in the old science library when he was an undergrad at the same university. So, the association is long and deep.
The Book of Kells is an extraordinary piece of history. Dating to what historians believe to be about 800 AD, the display of this illustrated text of the bible created by Columban monks evokes a feeling of closeness to history. And then you move into the old library with its extraordinary collection of antiquarian tomes that are currently being restored by artisans working on the mezzanine you can see above.
One of the things that made this visit so perfect was our timing: we visited in April and spent not a single minute in line, a situation that we’re told does not occur in high season. It was bliss! Then we walked out into the overcast day to make our way to the National Museum of Ireland.
Even if you’re not a museum lover, this is one not to be missed. We are constantly impressed by the skills of Irish and English museum curators to tell a story. Perhaps our impression results from these two countries having rich histories that date much further back in time than that of our young homeland. Whatever the reason, this museum transports you back in time to the Viking days of Ireland and then moves you through history. Who knew that bogs could preserve even clothing let alone human bodies for so many centuries? Even the building itself, purpose-built in the 19th century as a museum, is an outstanding specimen and should be appreciated in itself.
That visit finished, we headed outside and made our way to St. Stephen’s Green for a bit of outdoor appreciation. Our enjoyment was magnified by the fact that although Dublin is significantly farther north of our own home town, the climate is quite different and the spring was much further advanced here. The flowering trees were in full bloom and the respite from the noisy city was complete. Then it was time for lunch.
With a recommendation from our driver who would soon be taking us on that private tour of Ireland, we stopped into The Old Stand for a pub lunch and our first taste of Guinness. This is a pub that has been in this same location on Exchequer Street for some 300 years. When the waiter placed the coaster on the table upon which to place the half-pint of dark, frothy Guinness, we both smiled and asked him how he knew. Knew what, he asked. That we were Canadians. The coaster was an advertisement for Canadian beer that was at that time being widely promoted in Ireland with the slogan “From our land to yours.” He smiled broadly when we told him we were Canadians as Patty tasted her first Guinness. Then it was off to a famous landmark.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral dates from 1220 AD; a visit to Dublin would not be complete without seeing it. What a surprise it was for us to find out that this well-known landmark is not a Roman Catholic Church at all, but rather the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland, a denomination of Anglican persuasion. We know that a steady diet of church visits is not everyone’s choice when touring – it is not ours either. But from time to time you do need to visit a church or two to really get the flavor of the place in time. So that’s why we then planned a walking route across the River Liffey to find St. Michan’s church. And that’s when the heaven’s opened and we found ourselves in a veritable deluge. Although we had umbrellas, the wind was moving the torrents of rain horizontally so they did us little good. We took refuge under the eaves of the law courts for a few minutes until we thought it safe to continue. We were wrong. By the time we reached out destination we were soaked. Good thing that this particular church is known for its dry interior!
Not exactly on the tourist route, St. Michan’s church is Dublin’s oldest north-side parish church founded in 1095 with the present structure dating to 1685. It’s that dry interior in both the church itself and the vaults beneath that are what makes this church so interesting. That’s why there are completely preserved, desiccated bodies that can be seen as you make your way down into the underground vaults with the guide who is a cross between Boris Karloff and a stand-up comedian.
After two churches, a museum and a library, and finding ourselves still on the north bank of the Liffey, it was time for something completely different. A short walk found us standing in front of the National Leprechaun Museum. We know. We can hear you now. The Discerning Travelers at a museum dedicated to leprechauns? In a word, yes.
A relatively new addition to the tourist attractions in Dublin, this is less of a museum than it is a place to hear a really good story teller tell stories about one of Ireland’s most ubiquitous mythological characters. Patty’s opening question to the ticket seller at the front was, “Do you let adults in?” To which he replied that in fact adults were their main audience. So we entered, and we enjoyed.
The sun was out when we emerged from our stories of the “little people” and it was now late in the day. We had one more important stop to make.
On Custom House quay in the Docklands area is the mesmerizing Famine Memorial that remembers the great famine that engulfed the Irish people in the mid- 19th century. Although our histories are a bit murky, it’s likely that Patty’s family made their way to Canada aboard one of the so-called famine ships. The monument that we had to see is a heart-breaking set of bronze sculptures that depict hollow-eyed, hungry people making their way along the banks of the River Liffey toward the ships that promised them a new life in a far-away land. And for many of them, this promise came true, as their descendants have the privilege of traveling the world to appreciate all that it has to offer.
If you want more of our “perfect days”…