The day began with a leisurely breakfast with Arth & Jane – a typical, but solid, hotel morning buffet on offer of eggs, bacon, sausage, black and white pudding, sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, hash browns and baked beans (with the usual juices, cereals, yoghurt, croissants and toast thrown in as well). However, ate too many croissants while trying to make decisions of where to start on our exploration. On the advice of the concierge, we settled on tickets for the ‘Hop On Hop Off’ bus to get a bit of an overview of the city, but with a goal in mind of getting to the Kilmainham Gaol before lunch (and by passing on the Guinness Storehouse – which is supposed to be excellent, but we were clear in our mission for the morning, and we weren’t going to be sidetracked!).
Rugged up with our scarves and woollen coats we strode into town to meet the bus. It was a cool 6 degrees Celsius, so it didn’t take much encouragement to go at a bit of a pace! Once aboard the open topped double decker, the false security and warmth of the morning sun on our faces was banished by the constantly creeping clouds and bracing winds. The Kilmainham Gaol was a fascinating, if eerie place – understandable, of course, considering the history of the building! The philosophy behind this institution was “silence, separation and supervision” – apparently groundbreaking in its time for its vision – no discipline problems, and no opportunity to develop criminal talents through fraternisation with other prisoners. It was particularly moving listening to the tales of children incarcerated for their crimes at the end of the 19th Century – a 5 year old girl serving 1 month for boarding a train without a ticket, and a 7 year old boy sentenced to daily whipping for a week for “removing part of a bush from private property.” However, it was a tad annoying to have to listen to the narrative of our guide slipping regularly between past, present, and yes, even future tense for all these tales that were already history – that’s right, they happened IN THE PAST, so could a consistent use of past tense apply, please? I guess it was an attempt at creating tension in the narrative and audience engagement, but sometimes it was downright confusing!
It didn’t take much creativity to imagine the bone-chilling and damp conditions (aided by the limestone) that the convicts had to endure. The cells were tiny and cramped and didn’t even have a hole in the ground for a lavvie – the good old wooden bucket had to do for all ablutions – apparently even being used for the washing of one’s dinner plate after meals!!!
The main hall of the gaol, added in Victorian times (innovative for its ‘open plan’ and abundance of natural light), was a familiar scene for its use as a film location for movies such as Michael Collins, In the Name of the Father and The Italian Job. But it’s use of a set was not the only ‘attraction’ the gaol held. The significance of Kilmainham in the uprising and fight for Irish Independence was of particular interest to Nic in terms of teaching Irish Drama and putting so much of that into context.
On leaving the gaol gates we watched our red bus pull out from the kerb – our guide had enjoyed his own ‘guidance’ so much that he tended to go on a bit, and as a result, we were late out. Had to wait 20 minutes for another one, which was followed by a lengthy excursion via Phoenix Park before getting us back to the area north of the Liffey for lunch (at 2:15pm).
Our lunch choice was a vegetarian student’s dream! Gigantic servings of spicy and exotic vegan and vegetarian dishes of the day for a bargain price. We both elected to have the ‘small’ – a bread and butter plate – but it was piled so high with food that we had trouble getting through it. Each dish was handed over sitting on the ‘next size up’ dish because the food would invariably be spilling over the edge. Mixed veg in coconut milk, sweet and sour subii and butterbean bake made for a tasty and warming repast in the cool weather. Go to Govindas
From the north side of the river we then headed to Dublin Castle via the Ha’Penny Bridge, only to discover that we had missed the most recent tour, and would’ve had to wait another 45 minutes for the next one. And with John’s ereader on the blink, it’s not quite as pleasant ‘waiting’ without novels for entertainment. So we headed to the Chester Beatty Library which houses one of the finest collections of Oriental art in the world. The Qur’an collection has more than 260 pieces, and is considered to be the most important of its kind outside of the Middle East. The beauty of the works was really quite mesmerising.
At this point in the afternoon, the sky kept grimacing at us with threats of rain, but we managed to avoid the patchy and short lived showers by ducking into shops in the Temple Bar area. Checked out Christ Church Cathedral, but only from the outside – very unusual for us, but we simply weren’t in the mood to fork out the €6 each to visit a church, no matter how pretty. Instead we meandered our way to the pre-arranged meeting place of O’Shea’s Merchant pub, where we were intending to kick back with some traditional music and pub grub and hang with our mates. We arrived a little early cause it was starting to get too cold and we were a tad weary, and ordered a pint. No sooner had we started sipping than we realised that Arth had sent a text message earlier saying he had swung past before and recommended that we ditch that pub and switch to what we had planned for our second port of call that evening – The Brazen Head (which was just across the road). This was not a disappointing choice, because the O’Shea’s was virtually empty at 5:45pm and the CD of traditional music that kept skipping and jumping all over the place (and not in a fun Irish dancing sort of way!) was replaced with Barry White. Enough! Nic donated her undrunk petite jug of white wine (the size of a milk jug – not a carafe!) to a young couple a few tables away (who were the only other people in the joint besides the old bloke at the bar and a family of 4 eating chips) and skedaddled!
We walked into the Brazen Head, and found the almost last available table and settled in for a good night. This pub claims to be the oldest in Dublin, and was built in 1198. The entrance is through an old stone archway and via a cute little courtyard that looks like the old ‘dismounting’ area, where travellers would hand off their horses to the stable lads and head inside for a pint. The pub retains the small interconnected sitting rooms which make for a lovely warm and intimate atmosphere around open fires and like-minded hungry patrons. We ordered a very tasty vegetable soup with some traditional Irish soda bread – a relatively light meal compared to a lot of what was on offer, and just what we needed after our mammoth ‘small’ serve of Mount Veggie at lunch time! Go to The Brazen Head
After dinner and a few red wines for the girls and some Guinness for the boys, we moved into the main bar area where the live music had started. The group playing was called McIntyre, and they were working the crowd beautifully – and it really was a crowd – you could barely move in there, and as soon as a table became available, we squeezed right in and ended up snug next to the guitarist and enjoyed the opportunity to chat between numbers. We liked this trio so much that we bought one of their CDs, which very well could have led to a huge blight on our holiday – unknowingly, John dropped his wallet on the floor in the dark room when he thought he was putting it in his pocket. We didn’t realise that it was missing until we went to pay the cab driver at the hotel. The cabbie was as concerned as we were, and immediately started driving us back to the pub while continuously trying to contact them by phone. He eventually got through minutes before we arrived and they found it on the floor where we had been sitting. Everything was still in it, including the cash – we were so lucky! And Darren, our cab driver, is a prince among men!! But honestly, we have found the Dubliners to be incredibly friendly and helpful, and from complete strangers too, not just those in the hospitality industry. Even a couple of young fellas asked if we needed anything when they saw Nic reading a piece of paper (and the stranger danger antennae hasn’t gone up once – and it’s obviously working, cause we’re still intact!). Finding the wallet was an excellent outcome to the day.