The second of a two-part post appears below--and don't forget for those interested in all things Irish, I will be leading a discussion of James Joyce's The Dubliners this Thursday, July 14, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. as part of Scuppernong Book's, Travel Talk series. Stop by if you are in town--304 South Elm Street, Greensboro, NC. Hope to see you there!
I may spend much of my life these days creating itineraries so it may sound ironic that I find the task of creating recommendation lists positively terrifying.
There is a reason, though, for this seeming paradox. Itineraries have constraints while recommendation lists, at least in theory, do not. There is a kind of logistical circle around an itinerary--a circle bound by the logistics of time--how many days will we be there?--and geography--what is the logical sequence of visits on any given day? Recommendations feel boundaryless. Leave one treasure off and you run the risk of complete failure--at least in the eyes of one (or potentially many) readers.
With Dublin, there is another and potentially equally fraught challenge--many of its 'must do's' can feel a bit canned--pitched to, say, paying shallow tribute to a literary figure or perhaps to satisfying a visitor's need for 'real' traditional music--when the more authentic experiences now tend to lie elsewhere in the city's cultural life.
For this reason, I was especially grateful to come across the video version of the November 2014, New York Times '36 Hours in Dublin' (click here). It captures the charm, the scruff and the joy of this very distinctive place and of her proud inhabitants while focusing almost exclusively on the new cultural currents and creativity surging through the city since its well-documented financial implosion in the mid-aughts.
The video and its related print article also dare to do what I find so daunting--draw a circle around a list of suggested experiences. Then again The Times does have a tried and true boundary with '36 Hours'. Not only is it a well-tested conceit--it is also a pretty short time window. ('Left something off? So sorry! Had to draw the line somewhere...') Nonetheless, hats off. These spots are always rewarding and well done and this one particularly so.
But the truth is Studio Traveler is mine and nobody else's. No dodging allowed. And another truth? I do, in fact, have a list (and it's a pretty long one) for Dublin sites that I can highly recommend. So here is my list of recommendations in no particular order of love or preference and with complete--make that certain--knowledge that there is more to love in Dublin than I could ever possibly draw a circle around...
Trinity College, founded in 1592, is a gorgeous oasis in the heart of Dublin, very worth a visit for all sorts of reasons. Undoubtedly the most renowned of these is Trinity College Library and its Book of Kells, a 7th century illustrated manuscript on permanent and glorious display.
It is not a coincidence that libraries figure prominently in a list of attractions in this word-obsessed city. In the case of The Chester Beatty, one could say this is almost a museum more than library--a museum dedicated to books and to knowledge. It collections include some of the most world's important examples of Old and New Testaments, Islamic and Far Eastern texts and artifacts.
IMMA has a fine permanent collection of Modern Art while its temporary exhibitions feature living Irish artists and so provide a valuable window into the contemporary life of the country--not to mention that the museum itself is housed in a knock-out attraction--the former Royal Hospital Kilmainham, originally opened in 1684.
The Hugh Lane, opened in 1908, is thought to be the first museum in the world dedicated solely to Modern Art. Today it houses an interesting collection spanning two centuries, beginning with the works of important late 19th century French masters and extending through to the work of such contemporary giants as Sean Scully and Francis Bacon.
William Butler Yeats was a founding member of this hugely influential and revered theater that retains its stature even as it is now well into its second century. While the Abbey tours frequently in the US, there is special pleasure and power to be found in seeing excellent Irish drama on its native soil.
The great green heart of Dublin, 22 acre square with a large central pond, St Stephen's Green is what all great city parks should be--a place to gather and to be refreshed by a break from the great gray weight of the urban landscape.
I just love this wonderful--and elegant--coffee house which was opened in 1920's and in the best possible way shows every inch of her age. She is proudly from another era.
Purveyor of a wide variety fine Irish goods, it's their blankets that make me swoon. Have you ever seen more beautiful plaids in lambswool, mohair and/or cashmere? I haven't and I'm in love!
A decommissioned jail may at first blush seem an odd place to recommend and yet, like Alcatraz, Kilmainham is strangely compelling--but what makes it a real 'must see' is its place in history of the Republic. It was here that the Irish Nationalists were jailed--and many subsequently hanged--during the turbulent years leading up to the 1916 Easter Uprising. So central is it to the country's concept of victorious struggle that is often referred to as the 'Irish Bastille'.
A very green spot in a very green land, the National Botanical Gardens feature many fine plant collections and its astounding and vast Victorian-era Palm House and Conservatory.
A suburb's distance from Dublin, at the mouth of Dublin Bay, Howth has somehow manage to retain its historic fishing village feel--and the seafood restaurants of Howth are reason enough to make this short trek. The star of the show, though, is the 3.75 mile cliff walk around Howth Head, the stately promontory that rises above the village. Very beautiful and with terrific views of back over Dublin proper and across the wide and open Irish Channel.
As with Howth, there are at least two reasons to make this hour drive south into County Wicklow. One--the one on level ground--is to be found in the hauntingly beautiful remains of a monastery that was founded in 7th century and flourished in this Edenic spot until the 14th century. The other is the hike up into the headlands above the monastery that provides spectacular views of the sea and surrounding countryside. But be forwarned, this walk, however rewarding, is not for the faint of heart--or for those afraid of heights. The trail is smooth, well traveled and has fairly steady inclines--but no other mountains I know of have sides that fall away as precipitously as those of the Wicklow Mountains!
These grand hotels can have a hard time maintaining their glory--and I can't vouch for The Shelburne based on recent personal experience--but it will always have special place in my heart as the beautiful grand dame overlooking St Stephen's Green. In the meantime, the equally luxurious Merrion Hotel and Intercontinental Dublin are giving The Shelburne a run for it's money as is the more designed-focused the Marker Hotel. My guess is that you can't go wrong here with any of these choices--though none are for small pocketbooks. Dublin's hotels tend to be on high side so it might wise to be prepared to splurge...
Hopefully, this is enough to get you started. Dublin is wonderful. So go...!