In Dublin’s fair city

“In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”
Alive, alive, oh
Alive, alive, oh
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”
– “Molly Malone”

In Dublin’s fair city – Day 1 – Getting the lay of the land in the Big Bus

Ah, fair Dublin.

We were staying at an AirBnB in the Liberties neighborhood, west of the popular and touristy Temple Bar neighborhood. We wanted a bit more peace than we’d get there, and the buses 13, 123, and 40 ran right into the city proper anyway. We were staying within a stone’s throw – or a barley toss, more like – of the Guinness brewery and distribution centre.

The Liberties was an eclectic neighborhood rife with local pubs, interesting shops and cafes, and, of course, a load of breweries and distilleries. Since this neighborhood historically had more freedoms than other parts of Dublin proper (hence “The Liberties”), many breweries have popped up here over the years, including Guinness and also the Roe Distillery. A new one was going in down the road as well. Our spot just off St. James’s Gate was quiet and just moments from the bus stop leading in and out of town, either in the direction of Trinity College and Temple Bar or to Kilmainham Gaol.

Our first day in Dublin saw us getting onto the double-decker tourist bus near the Guinness brewery gate and heading toward Kilmainham. The driver didn’t seem too worried about us getting a ticket right then, and when we popped off at Kilmainham, he waived us off and told us just to get a ticket on the next bus. That way, we’d have more time on the tourist bus the next day. He was so friendly and hospitable that we nearly stayed on the bus anyway.

Since the tickets were sold out until much later for Kilmainham, we got back on the bus and headed into the city proper. After lunch in a lovely cafe, we strolled across the Ha’Penny Bridge and into the Temple Bar neighborhood. We then walked over to Trinity College. I had secured tickets for us to visit the Book of Kells and the Long Room. I couldn’t pass up a chance to geek out over books – lots and lots of old books in the library of my dreams.

The Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College was a fascinating look into early medieval book making. The hours, intricacy, and detail that went into creating this book was beyond words. The exhibit detailed how the inks were made, how the letters were written, and the entire process of book-binding at the time. Whilst the Book of Kells was the key feature – a few pages were on display to the public – the Long Room exceeded everything I had ever imagined.

First of all – there’s the smell. Yes, it’s likely mold and must, but there’s something gorgeous and classy about the smell of old books. They smell like learning. And wisdom. I think if you bottled learning, it would smell like musty books and oiled leather. Just – all the thoughts and writings of people are in those books. It’s a priceless treasure and collection. It was the same feeling I had when I had a card at Oxford and could visit the Radcliffe and Bodleian libraries to study. It was just one deep breath of learning.

The Long Room was dusky and a bit dark, but the vaulted barrel ceiling seemed to travel endlessly with two levels of books. Shelf upon shelf upon shelf. Older books at the bottom, newer books at the top. Some of the biggest books I’d ever seen – roughly half the size of me, and I’m 5′ 8″ – lined the lower shelves. Busts of famous authors and philosophers classed up the ends of shelves. A talk was offered by a book preserver, which was an interesting insight into the preservation of the old books and how they ended up in “book hospital.”

The books with white ties around them signaled that they’d eventually be taken out for preservation. Each book’s condition was meticulously recorded. In the Victorian era (1860), the original library ceiling, which ended at the top of the first tall shelves, was extended up to the barrel vault seen today. The reason? More books! The library contains every copy-written book in Ireland since who knows when – at least, that’s what I believe they said. It’s the kind of beautiful that made my breath stop for a moment.

But the books weren’t the only treasures. The old harp in a centre display case is the very, very old and beautiful harp that the Irish harp is modeled after. Also, the white busts of famous poets, writers, and philosophers were something to marvel at. The books on display in the centre cases were worth a good look as well.

After a visit to the bibliophile’s mecca, we went back out into the cloudy afternoon and continued a circuit around the city on the tourist bus. Slowly, ever so slowly, sunshine peeked out of the clouds, illuminating buildings around Dublin like beacons. I learned about the 1916 Easter Rising, the effects of world wars on the city, and how the Great Famine of 1845-49 affected Ireland even up to modern day. The guide’s lyrical voice told stories as if he’d lived them. We were all transfixed, even when we were stuck in afternoon traffic.

Per the one of the guides: “First we take out all the trams. Then we build them again. Then we realized the two lines don’t join. So we’re ripping up the lanes to get these trams in and join them. We don’t do things in order here, I think. Either that, or someone started drinking and it was the end of sense!”

Later, when I was enjoying a hot cup of tea (with hot water from the kettle!), I booked up tickets for everything I wanted to see in Dublin, thanks to a recommendation from our AirBnB hostess. It was high season in Ireland for tourism, and I didn’t want to miss out on the key sights. I went ahead and got tickets for Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, the Guinness Brewery and Storehouse, and, just for me, a ticket to the Vermeer and his contemporaries exhibit at the National Gallery.

Whew. Being a tour guide for this trip was intense!

For whatever reason, this is one of my favorite pictures from this trip. I love the deep red bricks with the mirror images in the windows of the beautiful blue sky. The windows’ reflectiveness make the building appear like it was a prop facade for a film.

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