Breaking the long journey to Dublin from Australia and getting some Grandma time made a few days in Hong Kong the perfect stopover. After multiple stopovers there, I’m now a Registered Frequent Visitor (free for any Australian passport holders, but you fill in a form initially) meaning that I just scan my passport and fingerprints and I’m on my way to my almost second home. This works in reverse too, so after three days of sightseeing (the Science Museum, 1887 Heritage Building, Star Ferry and the local area) and fun grandparenting time, I was back at the airport, scanning and zipping through immigration and heading for the Cathay Pacific lounge (mmm, delicious dumplings!)
Cathay had just announced direct flights to Dublin, but only from June, so I was a month too early. Instead, I cobbled together a flight to London with points, then a night at Heathrow and a BA flight timed to arrive in Dublin at the same time as Mr Frequent Flyer’s flight from Australia. All was going well, including a night at the comfortable new Premier Inn Terminal 4 Heathrow for a very reasonable £45. Then the one short flight of my trip, London to Dublin, was delayed and delayed. It would sneak up – every time I looked at the board, they seemed to have added 15 minutes. When I finally arrived in Ireland, I had a message from Mr FF that he had already gone to the Airbnb to meet the contact person. We had decided that whoever was there first would do this – it seemed an amazing coincidence that both our flights were due to arrive at 12.05 and we knew it was not likely to happen in reality. So I caught a taxi and we met up at the apartment, close to the Conference Centre that would keep him busy for the next week.
First impressions were great. The sun was out and we walked along the river Liffey seeing the famine statues along the way. We noticed that all signs were in the Irish language as well as English – this had not been the case on my previous short stay in Ireland way back in 1980. We found a great M & S food place nearby and bought some delicious pasta for dinner, toasting our arrival with some French wine. Two days later our travelling companions arrived, my brother and sister-in-law. Over the next week, the three of us saw the main sights of Dublin while Mr FF was occupied at the conference. We can assure anyone that you won’t run out of things to do in a week in Dublin!
Haunting Famine Statues
We had surprisingly sunny weather all week and ate outside several times, something we had not expected given Ireland’s rainy reputation. We had a chuckle when headlines suggested that temperatures would ‘soar’ to a ‘sizzling’ 21 degrees one weekend, but thoroughly enjoyed the balmy (if not sizzling) days.
We each bought a Heritage Ireland card for €30 (over 60) which was well worth it (Dublin was followed by some time in Wicklow, Kilkenny and the Ring of Kerry). After our first few days of walking everywhere, we each bought a 3 day Visitor Leap card for going further afield (Kilmainham Gaol, Howth, Malahide and Farmleigh).
With its stone buildings and long history, it was not surprising that Trinity College had the feel of Oxford or Cambridge. A definite bonus was that (as in most of the places we visited in Ireland), we were there at the right time for blossom and flowers, something we often seem to miss in our travels! We were all awake early with time changes so went straight to the Book of Kells one morning. A short wait in the queue and we were inside enjoying a great display before the actual book. It was hard to get our heads around the fact that it was produced in the 9th century. It was dazzling and we all felt that we got a good look and were not rushed, without the crowds we had read about. We were not in the peak tourist season though – if you are, it is probably worth booking ahead.
The Old Library with its domed roof and 200000 old books was included in the ticket. The roof was originally flat but was raised in 1860 to house more books. After a wander around the gardens, lunch was in The Buttery, very much the student ‘caf’ with the requisite big helpings and bustling atmosphere.
The nearby Archeology Museum held many treasures, including a wonderful exhibition called Ór – Ireland’s Gold, described as ‘One of Europe’s most important prehistoric gold collections’. I must admit I was completely unaware of the existence of Irish gold which somehow made it even more exciting. The bracelets and necklaces from 800-700 BC were stunning. There were torcs (ribbon spirals) that have only ever been found in Ireland and Scotland. I loved it all.
There were also Viking displays and bodies preserved in bogs and all sorts of other interesting exhibits. I only had time for a quick look but was impressed with both the displays and the building itself.
We walked along O’Connell Street in our travels, seeing James Joyce, the Post Office, the Spire and of course Dan O’Connell’s statue. We would learn more about him when we visited his house a week later in Kerry. Grafton Street and its environs had classier shopping and the Molly Malone statue nearby. As we approached, a group was singing ‘In Dublin’s fair city……’ which we all remembered from our childhood. We loved the nicknames supposedly used for these landmarks – The Stiletto in the Ghetto for the Spire, The Prick with the Stick (Joyce statue) and The Tart with the Cart for Molly Malone.
Naturally we wandered through the Temple Bar area though unlike many tourists we focused on the flowers everywhere.
We enjoyed crossing the Ha’penny Bridge without paying a ha’penny but I was sad to see the ubiquitous padlocks on it. I have signed petitions against these in Paris after bridges were seriously damaged. How anyone thinks that this vandalism is romantic beats me. People, buy your significant other a nice dinner and/or tell them you love them, but leave historic bridges alone. Rant over!
EPIC is the Emigration Museum, housed in a stunning old cellar along the river Liffey. Interesting for us as we have Immigration Museums in Australia. All the reasons for emigration were covered: famine, conflict, employment, prisoners, adventure etc. Lots of audio visual displays and personal stories – it was very well done, with plenty to interest children as well as adults.
Dublin Castle was described in one of our guidebooks as a bit disappointing if expecting a ‘real’ castle, but we found it anything but. It is more of a palace than an ancient castle, though one tower still remains. There were elegant state apartments, rooms used for dinners for visiting dignitaries and a large room used for the inaugurations of the Presidents of Ireland, amongst others. The Terrace Café was perfect for lunch in the sunshine, with delicious wraps, quiches and salads. The ‘Coming Home’ art exhibition about the famine in the grounds of the castle was something I came back to, later in the week.
St Patrick’s Hall, where Ireland’s Presidents are inaugurated.
Kilmainham Gaol was the one place we booked ahead. We were able to do this as Heritage card holders (so no charge) even though we had not actually purchased the card when we booked. We bought it on the day of our visit, at Dublin Castle, then just showed it and all was fine. We caught bus 79 from Aston Quay and some helpful passengers told us when to get off. The Gaol was much more than just a tour, it was a lesson in Irish history. Our guide Adam was passionate and animated in bringing the Easter Rising and famous figures like Pearse, Connelly, Collins and De Valera to life. After the tour, there were excellent displays to peruse.
IMMA (the Irish Museum of Modern Art) was walking distance from Kilmainham Gaol so off we went. We were surprised by the French chateau style building. It’s a former hospital/home for old soldiers, modelled on Les Invalides in Paris and described on their own website as ‘the finest 17th century building in Ireland’. After exploring the varied modern art (is an installation of shopping dockets really art ??) and having a cup of tea in the lovely café, we discovered the section about the history and heritage of the building. Unfortunately it was closing 5 minutes later, so it was a very quick look. The French style formal gardens were gorgeous and were planted comparatively recently after falling into disrepair.
St Stephen’s Green was bathed in sunshine the day we visited. We ate our delicious M & S sandwiches surrounded by tulips and enjoyed our good fortune before doing a circuit, looking at the various statues and monuments.
We also enjoyed the Georgian houses and gardens (lots more beautiful tulips) of Merrion Square. Loved the statue of Oscar Wilde, unusual for its colours and very realistic shoes! Lots of his famous quotes were displayed nearby. A couple of my favourites were ‘I can resist everything except temptation’ and ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’
Farmleigh, the Irish State Guest House, was fascinating but our excursion did not start well. I had looked up the directions and figured out that we should catch the number 37 bus to Castleknock Gate which we did. Then with great enthusiasm we saw a path right at the bus stop and thought that was where we should go – sounded right for ‘Enter Phoenix Park and take the narrow pedestrian path through the field…’ but alas we ended up in a very swish housing area and were heading away from Phoenix Park. A friendly real estate agent put us on the right track and we eventually arrived at this beautiful place. Handy hint: get off the bus and turn around to face the way the bus came. You will see Castleknock Gate ahead of you. Go through and turn right along a grassy footpath.
Lunch was in order after all our wandering and the Boathouse café on the lake was a perfect venue.
Then to the house itself, included in our Heritage ticket by the way. Formerly owned by The Guinness family, it now provides accommodation for visiting heads of state and other dignitaries. We were given a small group tour by the lovely Sarah who explained that the house was bought by the government for €20 million and then a further €26 million was spent on renovations. The tour had just the right balance of information and anecdotes. We didn’t feel overwhelmed or bombarded with facts, but felt we got some insight into its past. The Guinness family used it as a country retreat, for only a few weeks each year. Apart from beautiful rooms and interesting art works, there was an amazing conservatory and walled and sunken gardens. More information on their website: http://farmleigh.ie/the-house
Wonderful gardens surrounding Farmleigh
Huge Phoenix Park
Our other mistake for the day was presuming that Dublin’s efficient bus service would have stops in the huge Phoenix Park. Blissfully unaware of the long walk ahead of us, we set off along the main road through the park seeing deer on the way. We walked and walked, passing the Irish President’s House and the American Ambassador’s Residence, until we finally arrived at the other end. I ended up doing 24000 steps that day and that didn’t include the steps when we hit the dance floor at the conference dinner!
More walking was on the agenda with our day trip to Howth. Very easy to get to from Hueston station on the DART and included in the Leap card. As we got close to Howth (rhymes with both), I was surprised to see the sea on the left when I’d expected it on the right, but of course it’s a promontory and it was on both sides. We had a beautiful sunny day and even the station was attractive.
The town itself was picturesque but the cliff walk was our main aim, so after getting a map from the tourist office, off we went. We did the Lower Cliff Loop which was around 6 km and were rewarded with spectacular views.
We included Malahide in the same day trip, so after managing to eat our lunch of fish and chips without the help of the ever present and huge gulls, we were back on the train to Howth Junction. Then on Irish Rail to Malahide and a short walk (then long driveway) to Malahide Castle. This gorgeous castle, surrounded by 268 acres of gardens and parklands was home to the Talbot family for around 800 years.
The vast gardens had tulip, rose gardens and traditional European plants but the big surprise for us was the large Australian section of the gardens, complete with a rather corny carved kangaroo. Apparently Lord Milo Talbot had a particular interest in Southern Hemisphere plants, particularly those from Australia and Chile. The others took a tour of the castle which they loved, but I had to get back to meet Mr FF and some of his colleagues for dinner.
We went to the Barracks site of the National Museum towards the end of our stay. In hindsight, it may have been better to go there first. The Easter Rising exhibit entitled ‘Proclaiming A Republic’ (in the adjoining Riding School, in case you can’t find it) helped us understand the significance of other places we had visited (Post Office, St Stephen’s Green, Shelbourne Hotel). We saw the original Irish Republic flag and read about all the important people. We were fascinated by Countess Markievicz – definitely a feisty woman ahead of her time.
There were also displays about fashion, furniture and Irish silver, in a huge former barracks building. There was a reunion of Irish members of the French Foreign Legion in the courtyard the day we were there so the military origins of the building were emphasised as they paraded with Irish and French flags. And again there was a a great museum café for lunch.
When not enjoying the bounty of M & S meals at ‘home’ or conference events, we enjoyed some of Dublin’s restaurants.
Ely Bar and Grill CHQ was in the same building as the Emigration Museum, with the same atmospheric vaulted brick ceilings – it was originally a wine warehouse in 1821. The bar upstairs was bustling but we booked at the downstairs restaurant. Thoroughly enjoyed our meal of soused mackerel with a selection of breads (including Guinness Treacle bread) for a shared starter, then rack of lamb and steak bearnaise for mains. A bottle of Spanish wine and some friendly service made it a great night.
Peploe’s was chosen by our Irish hosts and we had a wonderful meal. It’s an Italian restaurant opposite St Stephen’s Green. I had a delicious main of Irish lamb, but all the meals looked great and service was excellent. Plenty of wine flowing and it was a fun night, topped off with a nightcap at the elegant Shelbourne Hotel nearby.
Despite being a hotel restaurant, not something we would usually choose, we enjoyed a group meal at Stir. The set menu had lots of choices and they seemed flexible, allowing us to select from the early dinner menu even though we were well past that time. I enjoyed my Wicklow lamb and everyone around me seemed to enjoy their choices.
A busy week in Dublin still left us with many things unseen. This though gives us a perfect excuse to return.
For now, it was time to get out of the city. We were off to Wicklow and Kilkenny on our way to County Kerry.