In Dublin’s fair city – Days 7 & 8 – Dublin Castle, Chester Beatty Library & Guinness Storehouse
Visits to Dublin Castle and the Chester A. Beatty Library were also in order – like I said in a previous post, there is no rest for the weary when I’m in charge of a trip. We will see it all – or at least, most of it before our legs start crying for mercy.
I managed to take us on the most winding path possible to find Dublin Castle. Since renovations were going on around the main street entrance – I had no idea I could access the castle from that archway – Google maps took us down some stairs to an alley, then up and around. By the time we found the castle after ending up in all the wrong places (how can one not find a castle, you ask?), we were whisked off to find our tour guide.
We were able to venture down into the basement to view the old, very old, (like, Viking-old) foundations of the castle. Nowadays, the only real “castle-y” part left is the Record Tower, one of the oldest buildings still around in Dublin. This tower was built sometime in the early 1200s. Also, the Chapel Royal (with Swift looking sternly down on those who enter as if to say “None shall pass”) on the grounds was quite beautiful, as were the halls and rooms of the historic, updated castle where dignitaries stayed.
A massive fire in the late 1600s cut down most of the original castle (there’s been some kind of bastion on that spot since the 1200s with English/British rule being trumps), so in the 17th and 18th centuries, the current Georgian style of buildings appeared, including the stunning State Apartments. This part of the castle looked like it’d be quite comfortable as a setting in a Jane Austen novel.
In 1922, with the finality of Irish independence, the castle was restored to the new government, ending the constant governing presence of England within the country. The State Apartments have hosted dignitaries from around the world. Even Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, stayed at the castle at one point. About a week before our visit to Dublin, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau was in town before heading off to the G20 Summit in Germany. At times of official visits, you can’t view the State Apartments and that part of the castle, so we sort of lucked out.
Near the castle was my favourite part of the visit – the Chester Beatty Library. It was an absolute gem – a sparkling, amazing gem of artifacts and literature – hosting objects such as different versions of the Qur’an from early Islamic history, some of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen, and stunning writings on papyrus from ancient Egypt and written work from Asia. Some manuscripts and written works date back as far as 2700 B.C. The library celebrates the diversity of the written word and artistic imagination from across the world – the eclectic collection was breath-taking. As a bibliophile, it didn’t take much convincing that I had to visit here after visiting The Long Room at Trinity College and the Book of Kells.
The library is free – FREE, people! – and whilst pictures can’t be taken inside (I could only imagine how delicate some of the pieces are), it was hard to forget anyway. If you have any interest in books, in history, or just in the beauty of human artistic endeavors throughout time, this is the place to get it all in one fell swoop. If I haven’t convinced you that you must go, check out their Visitor’s Guide video on YouTube.
One of our last visits in Dublin was the closest attraction to our flat – the Guinness Storehouse.
On a crisp, cool morning, I could walk around the block and catch the heady fragrance of hops being roasted at the brewery. As we approached the building complex, a new batch had gone in – the air was thick and heavy with the scent. I stopped and took quite a few deep breaths – I could almost taste the Guinness.
Booking tickets was necessary at this time of the year, considering each ticket was timed and was limited per time slot. I have to say – the museum part of the Guinness storehouse was bar none. I learned so much about growing, harvesting and roasting hops, how to smell and taste the various components of Guinness stout, and even the history of the family and the business. I might even be able to brew beer at home now.
Yeah, right. Bathtub gin is as close as I’d get here.
The Storehouse had a great hands-on exhibit with entertaining and interesting information. I had no idea how beer barrels were made and that Guinness employed a great deal of craftsmen to make the barrels (called coopers). Also, Guinness had its own shipping line. Awesome.
Another interesting component was the floor detailing the Guinness advertising over the years, from the famous toucan to the ostrich and other animal characters. The fish riding a bicycle and whistling oyster were amazing and such a fun part of the visit.
We also took part in a Guinness tasting experience. Misting diffusers send up the scent of barley, hops, malt, and yeast – the key ingredients to the brew. Then, we received a mini shot glass Guinness pint and were given tips on how to taste the different flavours of the beer. I really came to appreciate the taste.
With each adult ticket, you get a free pint of Guinness at the restaurants upstairs (Level 5) or the Gravity Bar, at the very top. The Gravity Bar was fabulous – 360′ views of historic Dublin, lounging areas, and a huge bar serving up pint after pint. There were historical markers on the windows as well, so I could read about what I was viewing outside. I may have strong-armed my mum into giving me her free Guinness ticket since she wasn’t as much of a fan of the dark stuff as I was.
Alright, I totally did. Two pints and a view was not a bad way to spend my last morning in Dublin.
Although it wasn’t a castle or a cathedral or a beacon of beer, there was another building I loved in Dublin – the Sunlight Chambers. I had first come upon this building while on the Big Bus tour earlier in the week, but I was interested in returning to the Sunlight Chambers and seeing it up close.
The building on the River Liffey, at Essex Quay and Parliament Street, just by the Grattan Bridge, showed an interesting fresco on its exterior – the history of soap and hygiene. Why, you ask? The building used to be owned by the soap-making Lever Brothers, so the building was commissioned to reflect that. It’s like saying, hey, ya’ll, this is why we’re rich. It was also a pretty “set-in-stone” advertisement for their products as well. Anyway – it’s worth a good look, and you’ll get to see the mer-horses on the Grattan Bridge as well.
Also, not far from where we were staying was the oldest pub in Dublin – The Brazen Head. We stopped there for dinner and drinks one night. However, I have to say, Arthur’s pub in The Liberties had better food and a more friendly atmosphere overall. Their Irish stew, Shepherd’s pie, and Beef and Guinness stew were fabulous. Try a few pubs outside of the famous Temple Bar – you never know what you’ll find and who you’ll meet along the way.
But if you’re weary of pub food, eat at Crackbird in the Temple Bar neighborhood. Their metal bucket of crispy buttermilk fried chicken, potato salad (or other sides), and variety of delicious sauces hit the spot completely. We ate there twice and demolished the chicken each time. I could just eat the dipping sauces on their own, they were that great – Sriracha, whipped feta and lemon, and rosemary honey.
Whilst only spending a week in Dublin, my family and I were able to see so many different cultural and historical sites. With two tours outside the city, I learned why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle – it’s so stunningly green and beautifully wild in turns. I still have ever so much more to see and learn about Ireland, but that is for another time.
It just means I’ll have to go back, and I am perfectly alright with that.