Ireland’s fair city, Dublin, is one of twenty officially recognised UNESCO cities of literature. Overflowing with associations to well known bards of the written and spoken word it is an ideal place for contemplating their compositions and appreciating literary wonders. In order to appreciate this fully we visited Ireland’s greatest national treasure, the Book of Kells at Trinity University.
An elaborately embellished version of the New Testament part of the Bible, with full page illustrations, decorative celtic knot patterns and symbolic animal adornments. The story of the Book is a huge tale in itself, mystery shrouds how old it is, it’s origins and authors. There’s no doubt that it’s pretty old; probably made around the 9th century and was more of a sacred item than practical, everyday manuscript. It has lived quite a life of adventure; hidden in bogs, escaping from brutal invaders and surviving until finally finding sanctuary at Trinity college in 1661.
The exhibition provides lots of information on the Book via large panels and leads a darkened room where the actual pages can be viewed under a pane of glass. The level of craftsmanship is impressive and incredibly intricate. I’m sure the creators are happy that their handiwork continues to command a large audience.
Following on from The Book is The Long Room of the Old Library, which is almost like the greatest graveyard for books, ever. If I was a book I’d want to be interred here. It’s magnificently splendid, sweepingly hall of sumptuousness, where only the extraordinary were immortalised as busts.
There was a couple of people giving a talk about the preservation of the books, which undergo restorative surgery and then are held together using gauze bandages. Once they have spent time on the ward trolley they are discharged and returned to the shelf. How lovely that these athenaeum nurses take such care of their precious patients. With a couple of hours of culture under the belt, it was time to fuel up.
Farm takes pride in the fact that their top quality ingredients speak for themselves, locally sourced, organic and free range. It’s a brilliant premise, along the lines of Julia Child, who is quoted saying ”You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients”. We opted for the pocket friendly Early Bird menu which gives great value on two or three courses for those super keen, super hungry or super broke diners.
The tables featured a little button to call for service which came in handy as we needed a fairly quick turnaround and saved having to do that awkward and annoying eye catching or hand waving system. The decor reflects the theme; classy and clean with dash of contemporary countryside art and some pretty funky light shades.
I chose the free range Irish chicken wings for a starter. Billed as bathed in hot and spicy sauce and served with a Cashel’s blue cheese dip I could hardly wait. The portion was really generous for a starter and the accompanying side salad was zestful. I tucked into the wings and was caught in a food quandary; did that cheese dip really go with the sticky sweet sauce? Hmm. I didn’t detect any heat but continued with weighing up the question and at the end, I was still undecided.
Time for the main course, a large fillet of seabass balanced on an ocean of risotto. Again a portion fit for a sumo wrestler and a slightly funny combination of creamy bacon and delicate crispy fish. I felt that the dish would look more appealing in a shallow pasta style bowl. The staff was super attentive even without the bell system although it wasn’t particularly busy when we dined. I almost rolled out of the place with a very satisfied if somewhat confused belly. It was a good value, slightly odd, quick feed. We caught the bus to our evening abode in Roundwood and grabbed an early night in preparation for the next day.
After a hearty full Irish breakfast we set out to complete a relatively easy section of the Wicklow Way. This is in total a 127 kilometre signposted walk from the south of Dublin to the town of Clonegal in the next county. Our original route was intended to take us directly from the back of our accommodation for 12 kilometres along the well marked trail and finish up perfectly at a historical monastic site. However, we were advised that a little diversion could take us to a good scenic viewpoint and then if we wanted to continue, we could deviate even further and make our way round the back of a lough to join the route again further down the track. Simple, right?
It was straightforward, head up the tree line and you can see both loughs from there. Go down towards the river and cross at the stepping stones. Then head round the lough by the beach and up the sheep road on the left and we would be back on track.
Unfortunately, we were unable to make our way behind the beach as there was an unhelpful river in the way and by this time I was wondering if we were going a bit too far off course. I managed to fall into a bog to boot, thigh high in a mud hole, a proper Irish christening! We retreated back up the hill and onto the original path, eventually reaching Glendalough after 22 kilometres of walking, a couple of hours delay and a little lift from a kind passerby.
In the 6th Century, St Kevin ditched his noble birth rights and became a hermit, living in a cave by the Upper lake of Glendalough. Unfortunately, his life of pious solitude was short lived, as his reputation spread he became famous as a miracle worker and religious teacher, creating a group of followers. As a result, the monastic site sprung up, with seven churches, the round tower, cathedral and priest’s house, as well as workshops, and lodges and inns for pilgrims.
It’s hard to imagine St Kevin’s isolation now but the sense of great importance is still evident. It is surprising to see many of the buildings at Glendalough still standing, despite the many attacks in the centuries since it was built. I like to think that the calming effect of the quiet valley subdued the marauders and caused them to reduce their raids to a minimum. I’m glad we hiked our way there, although far more kilometres than anticipated, as it felt we had made our own penance by taking the more difficult path.
We had a quick cup of tea and then back onto the bus to Dublin for some anecdotal stories and well earned beverages.
At first, signing up for a tour at the National Leprechaun Museum sounded like a great way for a fool and her money to be easily parted. However, we chose an evening ‘adults only’ tour, the guide of which immediately had us in stitches. Brilliant, I love a funny show. We were led through a series of dark rooms where we were told different Irish folklore stories. Visually there was a room of giant furniture, a wishing well and a pot of gold but in reality the ‘museum’ was an oral sanctuary, to keep the tradition going of telling tall tales. These were the top form of entertainment in the days before religion, sheltering from the wet weather in cottages and basically scaring each other with fables of evil spirits, giants and murderous kings.
I was thoroughly entertained; the orator was both engaging and also very witty, making this a good slice of light hearted fun. After this intriguing introduction to mythical legends I vowed to escape reality in the future by reading books on the subject.
After all that mirth we headed out for some drinks and food in the Trinity area. If you want to experience an authentic old-fashioned Irish pub then Grogan’s is the genuine article. With an eclectic crowd of tourists, artists and local regulars and devoid of any mod cons, (TV’s and credit card machines) it truly harks back to the golden days of putting the world to right over a decent pint. Outdoing the competition since 1899, the establishment has refused many a new fad and latest craze. It sticks to very basic, tried and tested formula, generating and supporting loyal clientele. Inside the decoration features original paintings and sculptures for sale, whereas the hot food menu consists of a legendary cheese toastie. Go wild and add ham! It definitely is a great place to de-hipster, put the phone away and connect IRL (in real life!).
Salamanca’s is a bubbly, bustling tapas bar where the service is super slick and the waiters flaunt a wink with every dish order. Oodles of food appeared in a flash and our table was quickly bursting with deliciousness. I sampled a bite from most of our selections; I particularly enjoyed the sweet crispy salmon in an orange sauce, super soft-seared octopus, an intense wild boar chorizo and the salty spicy roulette that are padron peppers. It’s a popular place, so booking is essential, and well loved by Dubliners and visitors alike. Don’t expect a quiet evening, go for the zingy vibrant buzz.
We rounded off the evening at the incredibly grandiose The Bank Bar which is almost ludicrously overly ornate for a pub. The clue is in the name; since 1892 the Belfast Bank acquired the building and began the flamboyant and rather majestic £8,000 renovation. It oozes opulence from every surface, grand vaulted ceilings propped up with magnificent marbled pillars, dripping with chandeliers down to the meticulous mosaic and luxurious wooden wall panels. It’s a clear complete opposite to Grogan’s but demonstrates the huge social inequality; both of these buildings help to build the backdrop images of what Dublin looked like at the turn of the century, just as the literary society was being formed and whispers of political independence from the United Kingdom. I need to add James Joyce’s epic Dubliners to my reading list.
After the beers consumed the previous evening it was a late start to Sunday. As we were staying in the Beverly Hills area of Dublin, otherwise known as Dalkey, there was plenty to see and do. During the year it hosts a world renowned book festival, a vintage festival, and even a lobster festival. Our visit coincided with the air show, held in Bray which is the next town over but still very much on display as we walked through the leafy suburbs and celebrity dwellings. We passed by Van Morrison’s gates, spotted Neil Jordan’s cliff top terraced homes, U2’s guitarist ‘The Edge’s hedges and went knock knock knocking on Bono’s door. Above us, the roar of the MIG fighter jet’s engine and the gentle hum of the spitfire’s propeller provided a brilliant aerial spectacle as we walked past Dalkey island and up on to Dalkey hill.
The sun was beating hard so we popped into Finnegan’s pub, ever popular with the elite segment of the local residents. I enjoyed a pint of Elevation Pale Ale, made by Wicklow Wolf breweries in nearby Bray, with hops grown in Roundwood, where we started our epic hike. It has a deeper flavour than a regular pale ale, a little bit more of a toffee malty edge that certainly quenched my thirst. Fabulous.
It was a fitting end to our little sojourn of Dublin delights. I was impressed with the beautiful library and sacred books at Trinity University, enchanted by the traditional stories at the museum and quietly contemplated the meditation-friendly prowess of Glendalough. I counterbalanced a weekend of fab food and drink indulgences with plenty of fabulous walks, from a countryside busting taster of the Wicklow Way to a celeb heavy stroll around the starry streets of Dalkey. Although I didn’t find a pot of gold, with a bit of muck and a whole lot of luck, I left with my own fantastic fables to tell.
Check out my reviews of other nice places to visit in Ireland, including the best place to live, Westport.
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