|With close to 1.5 million population, Dublin is the largest city in Ireland, and is the capital city of the Republic of Ireland. It's the ultimate tourist-filled bustling city, and was a bit of an assault on my senses after spending a nice relaxing day in Kilkenny and weeks out in the quiet countryside. But despite its large population, which likely triples during tourist season, Dublin remains a wonderfully warm and friendly place packed with tons of history and charm. It was not a place to be missed on my tour around Ireland.
There are tons of hostels in Dublin, so it was difficult for me to decide where to stay. I normally pick a place that's conveniently located to the bus or train station so that I'm not humping my gear for hours through hell's half acres to get there. But for some reason I didn't do that in Dublin, which turned out to be a good thing as the bus station was in a real seedy area of town. Instead I booked into a place in the Temple Bar area, which happens to be both centrally located and one of the most trendy area in Dublin. I lucked out again.
There's no shortage of things to see and do in Dublin. Like Paris, London or New York, I'm sure you could spend weeks there and never see the same thing twice. There are colleges, cathedrals and castles, statues, squares and shopping, galleries and museums, beautiful parks (where you actually do feel like you're away from the big city) and tons and tons and tons of pubs. And then of course there's the Guinness Brewery and Old Jameson Irish Whiskey Distillery, both of which I skipped as I'm just not a Guinness fan and I had already visited an Irish Whiskey distillery in Bushmills.
Other than doing one general sightseeing tour, I pretty much bypassed most of the regular tourist attractions in Dublin and immediately organized some day trips to sights outside of Dublin.
I spent a day out at Glendalough, an area south of Dublin which is renowned for its early medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century. It's apparently the most historically significant monastic site in Ireland. In the old days, Glendalough would have been quite the happenin' community with an abbey, church, round tower, and various other buildings (now mostly in ruin but some surprisingly intact). It's also in a real beautiful setting, nestled in a valley between two lakes. Despite the constant drizzle which seemed to settle over Dublin and surrounding area the whole time I was there, Glendalough was a great area to explore.
I also did a day-trip to the Hill of Tara, The Boyne Valley, and Newgrange ... other areas of huge historic significance to Ireland.
The Hill of Tara was the ancient royal site of the Irish High Kings, where 142 Kings were crowned. It's not much more than a grassy mound now, whatever stone buildings were there have long since disappeared. You have to do a lot of visualizing to imagine the splendour that it once was ... I mean a LOT of visualizing!
If you remember my Enniskillen story, the Boyne Valley is where the bloodly Battle of the Boyne was fought in 1690 between James II and William of Orange. Again, it's nothing more than a big field now, no dead bodies or battle carnage remaining.
Located in the Boyne Valley area, Newgrange is a neolithic ritual site and passage tomb with architectural links to prehistory. It's supposedly the finest Celtic passage tomb in Europe. This building is 5000 years old, which makes it around a thousand years older than the Pyramids. It's a circular mound, surrounded by standing stones, some of which are highly decorated. Inside is a long passage leading to a cross-shaped chamber. Burial rituals used to occur in its two side chambers.
What makes Newgrange even more mystical is that on the first day of the winter solstice (and only that day), the rising sun's rays shine down the passage, brightly illuminating the entire chamber within. Very Indiana Jones like! Other mounds, similar to Newgrange, dot the nearby countryside and illuminate the inside chamber during summer solstice. It's amazing to think about how they built these structures, but how did they also work out how to align them so exactly??
Okay, I'll admit it, I actually did one very touristy thing in Dublin itself. I went on a pub crawl ... a "musical pub crawl" to be exact. We visited around 4 different pubs and at each place we had a pint and were entertained with live traditional Irish music. The musicians were wonderfully entertaining, not just performing tunes but also telling the story and background of the Irish music. Very enjoyable evening.
Despite its volume of tourists, I would have visited Dublin anyway, just for the experience. But the real reason I was there was to catch a ferry that would take me back over to England. My days in Ireland had sadly run out.
But before I leave Ireland, I do have a few general observations from my time here...
1) I really should've appreciated the sunshine, blue sky and warm temperatures when I was in France. The countryside in Ireland is very green and lush, but the sun sure don't shine here much.
2) The Irish are probably the friendliest people in the entire universe. Oh aye!
3) "Oh aye" is the most commonly used phrase in Ireland. Oh aye!
4) Irish people are very superstitious. I was starting to get a little worried on the buses, seeing people crossing themselves all the time. I eventually had to ask someone and was told that Irish people cross themselves when passing a cemetery. And I thought they were just afraid to travel!
5) I've joked a lot about the volume of Canadian and American tourists I've met in Ireland, but I do realize that we have a lot of ancestral ties to Ireland. Lots of North Americans are just here tracing their roots, a very admirable thing to do.
6) Ireland was much more expensive than I expected. They say costs have increased since they joined the EU and switched (in the South at least) to the Euro ... always safe to blame the government! But I suspect it just a simple matter that increased tourism has translated into increased costs.
7) A green space without a castle, town, ancient ruin, cathedral or a sheep would, in Ireland, be called a golf course (they're everywhere here).
8) Pubs in Ireland have gone totally non-smoking. Hallelujah!
9) Ireland is like a first world country with a third world country transportation system.
10) I just love the names of the towns and villages here ... I think my favs are Ballynoggin and Ballybunnion.
11) And finally I'll leave you with a joke I heard ... What's the difference between an Irish funeral and an Irish wedding? One less drunk!
And with that, I'm on my way to jolly old England. Oh aye!