We landed in Dublin Airport in the morning, after a ridiculously early flight out of London. I was so eager to see the Irish coastline that I begged my friend Ola to let me have the window seat, and it was so worth it.
After struggling a little to find the public bus to the City Centre, we found some amazing sights in Dublin before crashing at our hostel.
First stop was the Dublin City Hall. Built in the 18th century, historically the building served as a forum for Irish businessmen and is currently preserved by the Dublin City Council as a historic edifice. The intricate carvings and mosaics on the inside walls are remarkable and worth a close look.
Our second stop blew us away with its varied architecture- Dublin Castle could not have been more different between buildings. The Record Tower is the only part of the original medieval castle dating from 1228 to survive, and it juxtaposes extraordinarily with the Renaissance-era, early modern period, and contemporary buildings.
Until the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, Dublin Castle had served as the seat of British colonialism in Ireland, and as such was the subject of much hostility by the local population. Our tour guide (through the amazing Sandeman’s New Europe Free Walking Tours!) told us about the troubled history of the castle, including a battle on Bloody Sunday in 1920 between the British Forces and the Irish Republican Army.
An interesting tidbit we picked up from our tour was the unusual placement of the Lady Justice statue on Dublin Castle. Symbols that are usually present in our depictions of Lady Justice were dramatically altered in Ireland, with political intent. Lady Justice is nearly always blindfolded, showing how she is immune to discrimination and that ‘justice is blind’. Her scales are supposed to show an equal balance, signifying equality before the law. However, in Dublin Lady Justice is not wearing a blindfold and her scales have an obvious tilt to them. The most significant change in the makeup of the Lady Justice statue lies in the direction she is facing. Unlike all other statues in the world, Lady Justice is facing into the courtyard and not out over the city of Dublin that she is sworn to protect. In this way, the statue conveys a message that justice was built by the British, for the British, and the Irish were not protected by her laws.
The courtyard of the castle is of Georgian architecture, contrasting with the medieval Record Tower, and adjacent to the tower lies contemporary multicolored office buildings. It certainly makes an interesting sight from the lawn.
The tour group next headed over to Christchurch Cathedral, originally built in the 11th century . To a lover of British history like myself, what stuck out at me throughout the history of this famous Cathedral was the role of Dublin in the Wars of the Roses of 15th century England. After Henry Tudor took power and tried to vanquish all members of the previous dynasty, the Plantagenets, several pretenders popped up throughout the years, including one Lambert Simnel, who claimed to be the Earl of Warwick in order to remove Henry Tudor from the throne. Fascinatingly, Dublin was a bastion of pro-Simnel activity, including his quasi-coronation as True King of England in 1487. His ‘invasion’ of England from Ireland didn’t go very well, leaving Ireland branded in the Tudor’s minds as traitors. As a girl who thrives on memorizing the British royal dynasties, this was an amazing little tidbit of history.
Our next stop was Trinity College Dublin, of famed architecture and history, located right in the center of historic Dublin. While we didn’t get as thorough a tour as we would like, since classes were in session, the campus certainly lived up to expectations. The courtyard was a brilliant green, and the academic buildings brought you back several centuries. The bell tower legend dictates that no current student should ever walk underneath it, at the risk of failing one’s exams. We knew we’d like to return on our own to check out the famous library and the Book of Kells located on the campus!
At this point our tour ended, and Ola and I decided to break out on our own and do some exploring. (It also helped that we were starving!). After grabbing a bite to eat, we stumbled upon the legendary statue of Molly Malone, the subject of an 18th century Irish ballad dedicated to a fisherwoman who tragically died young.
We peeked in boutiques we couldn’t afford, relaxed in St Stephen’s Green a bit, and decided it might be a good idea to find our hostel, just to be certain we wouldn’t be without lodging for the next two nights….;) While we were on our way, we came across two interesting events- a light show on the facade of the Irish National Bank, and the REAL #1 sight I had come to Ireland for- a pub with my name on it!
Now, finding our hostel that night was a bit of an experience…if you know what I mean. I was more on the stubborn, ‘we’ll find it when we find it and if we don’t then I guess we’re SOL’ track, while Ola was more rational and thought maybe asking for directions was preferable to sleeping on the street. She won in the end, and after being struck by how different Irish people are from French people in the directions department, we found our hostel.
Irish people are SO NICE. (I should have known that, seeing as I’m half Irish and I’m nice…right?). We had several people unexpectedly come up to us obviously confused and disoriented tourists on the street and helpfully point us in the right direction. It was a far cry from France, and I’ll leave it at that, since I do LOVE France!
The Times Hostel- Camden Place was a fabulous choice, if I do say so myself, as each night we were there we managed to partake in the best kind of food- free food! One night there was a complimentary wine and cheese reception for everyone in the hostel, and the following evening we were provided with a hearty spaghetti dinner. Recommend! However, we since we had been up since the tender hour of oh, 3 AM to catch our flight from London, we promptly fell asleep and I shamed all my Irish ancestors.
Next morning I kind of played a trick on my dear unsuspecting travel buddy and sneakily suggested we go to Trinity College just to ‘check out the operating hours’ of the Book of Kells, as the night before we had discussed heading out to see the fishing village of Howth in the morning and returning to see the manuscript. I was sneaky, and I’m very sorry Ola!, but I dragged her to see Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells and I have absolutely no regrets. The library was phenomenal, with one of those rooms you only see on Buzzfeed.com with titles such as ‘Libraries 100 times better than the one you’re currently in’. Busts of famous writers and philosophers such as Aristotle and John Locke lined the walls, and it was all I could do to stop myself from walking out with one of those books…
The Book of Kells display at Trinity College left me pondering the sacred mysteries of the universe…and I’m only half kidding. We couldn’t take pictures of the manuscripts themselves, due to exposure that could ruin them, but I’ll show you some from the display’s website. Its amazing to think that these monks brought these gospel readings to life through their multicolored calligraphy…in the 7th century!
After leaving Trinity College, we booked it to the city centre to catch a train out to the fishing village of Howth, which I will detail in its own post. That night Ola and I hung out together on the banks of the River Liffey, getting excited about the next day’s trip to Galway!
We actually made it back to Dublin for an afternoon a few days later, between our train arriving from Galway and our flight from Dublin to Birmingham, England. We wanted to take advantage of the time we had left in Ireland, so we headed out exploring and stumbled upon three more churches we hadn’t been expected. Ola was thrilled to find a Polish cathedral in Dublin, and next door to that gem we found a 12th century chapel by the name of St Auden’s. Right across the street was St Patrick’s Cathedral, because of course, it’s Ireland. We managed to explore all three before heading back to Dublin Airport and saying goodbye to the ancestral homeland!
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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 streets broad and narrow
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”