Wednesday, October 1


The Irish have been far busier than I ever imagined. Visiting Dublin has opened my eyes to an entirely new slice of European history. Famous writers like Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker (Dracula) are all former residents of Dublin. I’m also ashamed to admit that I had no idea Guinness was an Irish institution until last weekend. I now know they’ve been brewing the black stuff in Dublin for more than two hundred years.

I’d been skeptical about touring the Guinness Brewery’s visitors centre when Garry initially first proposed it. However, the Guinness story proved fascinating. We eventually spent three hours on Saturday learning how to make wooden beer barrels, brew Ireland’s black gold and sample the company’s finest. Incredibly, the brewery owns a 9,000 year lease on its site, paying the handsome sum of £45 annually. You can view the original document in a glass chamber set into the floor of visitor centre’s entrance.

Our self guided tour culminated in a visit to the Gravity Bar, a 360-degree panoramic bar that sits seven stories above the street. It offers stunning floor to ceiling views of Dublin. Even from a distance it’s clear that Ireland has been booming. Construction cranes littered the skyline and plenty of new structures were evident. Perhaps the most fascinating of these new landmarks is the Spire of Dublin.

The Spire is a stunning silver shard of stainless steel rising 120 metres above the surrounding street. Its three-metre wide base gracefully tapers to a 15cm point. The Spire was completed in 2003, replacing a statue of Nelson that was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1996. Nearby the spires of dozens of churches also rise boldly skyward, including Christ Church Cathedral. We later learnt that Handel’s famous choral arrangement “Messiah” was first performed here in 1742.

Other highlights of Dublin included a stroll through the grounds of Trinity College, where we were able to view the Book of Kells, and the dramatic barrel-vaulted interior of the Old Library. The Book of Kells is beautifully decorated vellum copy of the gospels. Its origin is still shrouded in mystery despite hundreds of years of research.

We also found time to wander the streets of Temple Bar, Dublin’s modern entertainment district, situated in some of its oldest cobblestone laneway. The area is also home to the Ha'penny Bridge, a delightful old footbridge that crosses the Liffey River. A halfpenny toll once imposed on the local gave the bridge its name.

Another sight that caught my imagination is the Molly Malone statue on Grafton Street. Molly was a semi-historical figure who wheeled her cart through the old city's narrow lanes selling seafood. Her life it immortalised in the local anthem, Cockles and Mussels. These days cheeky locals call her memorial "The Tart with the Cart".

Dublin proved to be a lively place. Everywhere we went we saw hordes of people. The streets were filled with activity. I’d expected to find a sleepy, provincial town not a brash, bustling urban centre. While London often seems to have a pub on every corner, Dublin has at least two or more in the same space.

We were constantly amazed by the number of cafes, bars and pubs we encountered – often with two or more pubs sitting next door to each other. Its no wonder Jameson Whiskey was first distilled here or that Guinness thrived. Supporting local employers is clearly a national institution.

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