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My Favorite International Cities - #17 - Dublin, Ireland

First published June 29, 2022 by the Morning News and SCNow and reproduced here with permission.

Who doesn’t love the Irish? Well, I do…I married one. But the Irish love us, too; Dublin is one international city that “really does” like Americans.

I have previously written about the major Irish migrations to the United States and their enormous contribution to American culture and life and government, even though many of them came here as slaves or indentured servants at the time of the US Civil War. See the book "Going My Way? Tales of Travel" with chapter "We All Love the Irish."

Dublin goes back about three thousand years founded by local tribes, the Gael, and later reinforced by Viking invaders (about 840 AD) and settlers. Conflict between Irish warlords themselves and between Scotland and between Britain was common in those early years. Although born in Britain, St Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church to Ireland in the 400’s. Under British rule it grew to the United Kingdom’s second largest city for a time. Aggressive English effort could not remove the Catholic influence and of course religious differences were a large part of the “troubles” of Northern Ireland together with British heavy handedness.

After revolution in 1916 and independence in 1922, Dublin has become the capital of the Republic of Ireland. Dublin metro now has about 2 million people. I have been there at least five times. Although I once had business interests (a TriVirix plant) in Belfast, Dublin remains my favorite Irish city. The people like to be “out and about” and rarely stay indoors; they like to be in groups in shopping centers, town centers with many parks and squares and their local pubs. They like to smoke cigarettes and drink Guinness beer. They love great stories.

The word “Dublin” means “pool” or “dark/black pool” referring to its watery location off the ocean up the Poddle and Liffey Rivers. The Normans first invaded from England in 1169 at the invitation of a feuding Irish warlord and Ireland remained, before independence, more or less under English influence ever since, particularly after Henry II wrestled control from local leaders such as Strongbow in 1171. Dublin Castle was built in 1204 by King John (Richard the Lionheart's most famous brother) to protect English influence. Queen Elizabeth established Trinity College as Anglican in 1592, closing St Patrick’s and Christ Churches, converted them to Protestant.

Much important construction occurred in the 1700 and 1800’s (Temple Bar, the Four Courts, Custom House, Grafton Street, Merrion Square, Parliament House and the Royal Exchange). The modern era has seen removal of the old with new construction and economic success with financial and high tech firms coming in. One sign of the modern times is that rock star Bono and his associates own significant downtown real estate.

Unlike most other European cities, Dublin is not circular since it is not Roman, but rather linear, so it is best to tour by theme rather than location. Shopping is great: Dublin has Dundrum Suburban Center, Blanchardstown Center, the Square in Tallaght, Liffey Valley Shopping Center, the Omni Shopping Center, the Nutgrove Shopping Center, the Powerscourt Center and the Swords Pavilion. On a trip with Shirley, I just aimed her at one of them, and went off to government buildings and museums. Powerscourt Center was of special interest to Shirley and I since Lady Powerscourt, fiancée of John Nelson Darby, Admiral Nelson’s godson, financed the origins of what is now called the Brethren Movement, when John Darby was an Anglican Priest in Ireland graduated from Trinity. The huge Powerscourt estate is actually south of Dublin, in County Wicklow, and the site of Darby led conferences on Biblical prophecy in 1831 - 1833.

Dublin Castle has a fascinating history; take its tour. Although 800 years old the current Castle was mostly rebuilt in the 1700’s but still at the site of the “dark pool.” It was the home of the Lord Lieutenant Governor of Ireland and now in administrative and ceremonial use by the Irish Republic. The state apartments, St Patrick’s Hall and the Throne Room are particularly well decorated and impressive – I was able to sit on the King George IV throne for a few minutes. Paintings of various famous English leaders line the walls.

But the political side of the Irish Government is across town in Leinster House, the Parliament (Dail) with a House (166 members elected directly) and a Senate (60 members elected indirectly by the Vocations, the President and the Universities); attempts to abolish the Senate have failed. The major political parties of Ireland include Fiana Fail, Fine Gael, Shinn Finn and the Green Party; the current government includes the Greens, Fiana Fail and Fine Gael. The President, now Michael Higgins, serves for 7 years, elected directly, can have two terms, and lives in grand mansion in Phoenix Park (we drove over to the Park, but were not invited in for dinner); the American Ambassador’s residence is nearby. Once I was in Dublin during a national election; the street demonstrations were loud and fascinating to watch. Next door to Parliament is the important National Museum and the Irish Gallery of Art (Caravaggio, Jack B Yeats, JWM Turner and Monet).

Dublin is famous for its writers that include Bram Stoker (Dracula), CS Lewis (the Narnia Tales and Christian theology), Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot), Johnathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), WB Yeats (the Wanderings of Oisin), George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion), Oscar Wilde (the Picture of Dorian Grey) and James Joyce (Ulysses). Several museums are dedicated to them or include material on them including 14 Henrietta Street, the Irish Museum of Literature, the National Museum and the Little Museum. Oscar Wilde has his own statue and park in Merrion Square. Dublin has twelve important museums: find time for the Dublina and its Viking ships, the Sir Alfred Beatty Collection Museum, the Irish Emigration Museum and the Richmond Barracks for a great history of the 1916 Revolution (the “Rising”) the but stay away from the Kilmainhan Gaol (Jail).

Spend at least half a day at Trinity College to visit its famous reading room at the old library with the Book of Kells being its most famous volume, but it also is the largest library in Ireland. The Book of Kells, the first four biblical gospels, were hand copied by monks on the Scotch Island of Kells in about the 800 AD in Latin Vulgate with marvelous illustrations. Loyds of London has them insured at about 50 million dollars. The library’s reading room is also an important visit. Thomas Cahill credits this and other Irish monk libraries with rescuing, coping and preserving important "Western" documents after the fall of the Roman Empire and the destruction of its huge libraries in Rome and Alexandria in “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” Actually, the whole Trinity campus is interesting and worth a “walk around.”

On one trip I took a carriage ride (or use one of the Start-Stop bus tours) around town to drive along the Liffey River and across some of its famous 23 bridges (you might want to stop and walk across some – note the Samuel Beckett) to drive past the Dublin Spire (389 feet high, a second millennial monument, but not finished until 2005), to drive past the famous statues of the “Famine Sculptures” and then over to “Molly Malone” and to admire the fine architecture of Christ Church, the Old Post Office (site of the early 1916 ‘Rising) and St Patrick’s Cathedral. The locals use these famous sites as meeting locations as in “Meet me at the Molly Malone.”

There are seven major breweries (lots of small ones), the most famous Guinness, and seven major liquor distilleries, the most famous Jameson, in Dublin. Guinness was founded by the English family about 250 years ago in Dublin at St James Gate by Arthur Guinness and has been successful from the start; they have a 9,000 year lease but have outgrown their current site. Their headquarters is now in London, and they are part of the business group, Diageo. They produce a staggering 3 billion dollars’ worth of beer (three main varieties) per year, produce in about 50 countries, but nothing tastes better than Dublin brewed, and market in 120 countries. Their tour is sophisticated and engaging and at the end they offer a pint of Guinness stout, and you can buy more (limit three per person.)

Sending our wives off shopping late one morning, a close friend and I decided that Jamesons needed close inspection. Jameson was founded by Scottish lawyer John Jameson in 1780 on Bow St and not immediately successful, but certainly is now. They have moved out to County Cork and produce a staggering 10 million cases of Irish Whiskey per year, marketing in 130 countries. They are now owned by Pernod Ricard. After a brief tour, we spent the afternoon in their lunch and tasting room since it was his treat. We started at 5 dollars a glass and after a couple of hours were up to the “really good stuff” at $60 per glass. Not Jameson’s fault, my friend came down with a cold that day, and even though not really his doctor, I gave him some prednisone.

Now, you will surely understand that I love Irish food, particularly real shepherd pie (with lamb, not beef). My favorite Dublin restaurants include Nancy Hands, Reillys, O’Neills, Glovers Alley, Mannigans, the East Side Tavern, Mulberry Garden, the Winding Stair, Bang, 31 Lennox, Pichet, Trocardero, Ryleighs and the Shelbourne Hotel.

The Irish have a bitter-sweet saying: “We Irish do not always have troubles, but we have enough to get us through the good times.”

slán a fhágáil

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