Ireland humbled me. I wasn’t excited to visit at all, but I ended up falling in love with the people, the landscapes, and surprisingly, even some of the food.
Anthony and I spent our first three nights in Dublin, staying at a bed & breakfast near St. Stephen’s Green. The location was perfect, as we were able to walk everywhere and appreciate the genteel Georgian homes in our neighborhood. Why does Dublin have so many colorful doors? After Queen Victoria died, England ordered Irish citizens to paint their doors black in mourning. The Irish rebelled. This rebellious spirit was one of the reasons I found Dublin so captivating. The Pope was scheduled to arrive in Dublin during the tail-end of our trip, and throughout the city were protest signs directed at him, demanding him to address the Church’s sex abuse scandals.
Since it was my first time in Dublin, we did quite a few touristy things. We gawked at the stunning Long Room at Trinity College, which has the rights to receive materials published in Ireland and the United Kingdom free of charge.
We drank Guinness at the Guinness Storehouse, a huge pint glass-shaped structure with multiple floors of information and a panoramic view of Dublin at the top. We learned that a “perfect pour” takes 119.5 seconds: pour the Guinness at a 45° angle, then rest. This rest is crucial. After a pause – long enough so that the liquid in the glass is pitch black – fill the rest of the glass at a 45° angle. Serve with a creamy head and at exactly 42.8F.
We also toured Kilmhainham Gaol, a former prison where leaders of the uprisings against the British were executed, but also where many Irish convicted of petty crimes (such as stealing bread) were imprisoned. It was built for 100 prisoners but at one point held over 9,000. The youngest prisoner was 5 — held here for stealing an iron chain. Quality of life here was awful, but during the famine, people were so desperate for food that some committed crimes on purpose just so they could be imprisoned here and be fed.
My favorite activities, however, were drinking tea with a local Dubliner and joining a musical pub crawl. A small museum, appropriately called The Little Museum of Dublin, organizes a program called City of a Thousand Welcomes, in which Dubliners can volunteer to hang out with tourists for a beer or a coffee/tea. Our local Dubliner was a retired farmer who taught us about the Easter Uprising, explained the crazy weather in Ireland, and gave us tips on where to eat and how to avoid the Pope chaos tomorrow. Thanks to the program, we had a free afternoon tea at the lovely Merrion Hotel with him. Every major city should have this program! He only had to hang out with us for an hour, but after our leisurely tea, he walked with us through the rain to our next destination before heading back home on the commuter train. Our entire trip was a confirmation that the Irish really are the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, but our Dublin friend also proved how helpful and out-of-the-way considerate they can be as well.
A few hours later, we joined our musical pub crawl, which was probably the highlight of our time in Dublin. For about 3 hours, we followed a couple of professional musicians to different pubs, listening to Irish music and watching a private Riverdance performance. It was such an entertaining way to learn about the rivalries between Irish cities, as well as Irish stereotypes of other European countries.
Ireland has so often been an underdog throughout history, and as a nonwhite woman in America, I can’t help but relate to and root for the Irish. People often come to Ireland just for the countryside (which is completely understandable; the Irish countryside is otherworldly), but we were utterly charmed by Dublin. If not for the weather, which was a bit dreary for summertime, we could easily see ourselves living here.
Random tips for future travelers:
Roam around the Temple Bar neighborhood. Temple Bar had run into decay and ruin during the 20th century. In the 1980s, a transportation company made plans to level the whole place and build a bus terminus. However, after protests from artists, gallery owners, and small shop owners, the company canceled its plans and the government helped develop Temple Bar into a vibrant cultural center filled with bars and restaurants and shops that attract both locals and tourists.
It’s easy to reach Dublin from the airport. An Aircoach bus brought us straight from the airport to a few blocks from our B&B in 35 minutes. I bought tickets in advance, but you can purchase tickets right at the station. Buses come every 15 minutes, running throughout the day.
Visit the Long Room as early as possible. It gets extremely crowded, and you want to have enough time and space to appreciate the architecture.
Restaurants we loved: L. Mulligan Grocer (where the menus are hidden in old books, each dish is paired with a beer or whiskey, and the food is phenomenal); Etto (dine early to catch the affordable pre-theater menu); and Klaw (fresh seafood in a relaxed environment).
Most importantly, though, eat ice cream at Murphy’s. We went to Murphy’s every single day (literally!) that we were in Ireland. Ireland is going through a culinary renaissance right now, excelling at the farm-to-table movement, so it was no surprise that Ireland’s most beloved ice cream shops does not use colorings, flavorings, or milk powder. Everything starts with fresh-from-the-farm milk, local cream, free-range eggs, and organic sugar. Then they toast, simmer, bake & extract real ingredients, whether distilling Dingle rain to make sorbets, making sea salt from Dingle sea water, or infusing gin by hand. My favorite flavors were Caramelized Brown Bread, Dingle Sea Salt, and Kieran’s Cookies. I would return to Ireland just to eat Murphy’s ice cream.