I’ve lived many, many years on these islands, but just sort of…never got round…to visiting Ireland. Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Bulgaria, Latvia, Malta? All done. From the Alps to the Black Sea, all done. But our nearest neighbour? Well, it’s sort of there and you just sort of expect to go at some point.
Now to say that we are as strangers is not quite true – I went to a wedding near Arklow a couple of years ago, but it was a case of fly in, train down the coast, wedding, party, sleep, recover, train, 2 hours in Dublin and fly back. So all in all, not really a chance to see much of Ireland (beyond the rather stunning coastline that the train route followed), or more specifically, Dublin.
And so it was, a couple of days in Ireland were booked. At last.
I’ve got to say, the trip over was quite hairy – budget airline (which was as you might expect) but the landing…woah! Windy in the extreme and the landing was less than delicate. The sort of landing that makes everyone go very quiet and clutch the seat arms with white knuckles. The sort of landing that actually prompts massive cheers when you land. You get the idea…
Now, my previous experience of Dublin was limited to a few moments on the main drag, O’Connell Street, in the pouring rain. This time, the Emerald Isle was to redeem itself, with pretty much non-stop sunshine. Arriving on a Friday evening, coming along the banks of the River Liffey, the city looked incredibly pretty.
I ended up arriving quite late, and so with limited knowledge of the town, headed to a veggie place called Cornucopia for dinner.
This place is sort of a restaurant and sort of like a cafeteria. Confused? Well, you go in, the very friendly staff sit you down and ply you with wine, but you go to a counter to choose the food. Not sure I got why you would have table staff and the counter thing, but you do then get to see what you could be eating. And that evening, it was a tasty selection of vegetable bakes, curry, salads and stuff veg. Quite homely, but very delicious. And to top it off, they had a harp playing. Now I know that it is such a stereotype, but I found it utterly charming. Nice place, great staff, and worth popping into for a hearty dinner. It’s not fine dining and doesn’t pretend to be, but I loved it all the same. Actually, this place did show me one little characteristic of the Irish that I found very nice. Back home, you ask what’s on the menu: “We’ve got…”. In Ireland, the waitress always seems to say “I’ve got…“. Very personal!
Dinner enjoyed, it was off into town to check our a few of the Irish bars, or “bars” as I would imagine they call them there. Guinness, beer and lots of shouting people. Got the feeling that people were enjoying themselves.
Of course…all that Guinness does not make for a great morning after, both in terms of the amount drunk or the cost of drinking it (6 euro per pint? Really?). In my delicate state, I headed down to check out the hotel breakfast. And it was not great. And they were looking for 10 euro for the privilege. Sorry, and even recognising that they’d laid on some soda bread, it was not appealing. So off into town in search of something better.
I had read that there was a food market along Cows Lane which was about 30 seconds away, so that seemed like a sensible place to start. Lots of stalls selling local fresh produce, jams, cakes and bread.
And Lo! Along the street was the teasingly-named Queen of Tarts.
The weather was sufficiently fine to entertain sitting outside, and I ordered a massive stack of pancakes. Just what the doctor ordered, and something that the hotel could have learned from! As you can see, both the pancakes and the breakfast omelette ticked many a box with those that had partaken of the Irish nightlife the previous evening.
So if in Dublin and not enamoured of what your hotel of guest-house is offering in the morning, this place is well worth checking out. It also has a fantastic selection of cakes, muffins, slices and just about any other sweet treat that you can imagine. Just the sort of stuff to give you lots of energy with what was about to come.
Yes, as a visitor, it seems almost obligatory to enjoy the sunshine and spend many, many hours walking around town. We left the Queen of Tarts and headed into town to see some of the sites – the famous Ha’penny Bridge (where locals were charges half a penny for the privileged of walking across the River Liffey, rather than waiting for a ferry), the impressive Trinity College, the green space of St Stephen’s Green, the grand Georgian area around the Dáil (Parliament) and the fashionable southside of the city.
Something I was curious about was whether I would pick up the odd word of Irish. I was prepared for this not being spoken day-to-day in most of Dublin, particularly around the tourist highlights. But the answer is a great, big, firm no.
While you come back from Spain merrily adding a bit of the lingo into everyday conversions, albeit with off looks from your friends and colleagues, Irish and I remain unfamiliar with each other. Mostly given that it looks unpronounceable to the uninitiated. So the odd “that’s grand” is about as far as it is going to go.
Still, I think the green street signs with the gaelic script look rather fetching.
Saturday evening was a bit of a repeat of Friday, albeit with some local friends and on a grander scale, so inevitably, Sunday too got off to a slow start. However, there were still a few more things to see, so it was a case of press on regardless.
Dublin does have some pretty impressive cathedrals, and I recommend checking out St Patrick’s and/or Christchurch. In my case, it was both. St Patrick’s in particular was fascinating, as the history of the country is reflected in a lot of the decorations and memorials in the building.
After the high culture of cathedral, it was time to pay homage to one of Dublin’s most famous daughters, the alluring Molly Malone. She was made famous by the song Cockles and Mussels (also known as In Dublin’s Fair City). It’s an Irish classic that you’ve probably heard, and the city’s unofficial anthem. And I gather that the locals sometimes refer to her as, eh, the “tart with the cart”. Got to admire that Irish humour and directness, eh?
Molly visited and respects paid, time for a coffee. I had been given a tip-off from friends that there was a good café on the top floor of Avoca, which I can best describe as a department store for gifts and household furnishings (so good to buy the presents to take back home).
The bad news: it’s a about 5 floors up. But the good news: it’s a cute place and serves some great food. Still feeling delicate, it was time for coffee and a large plate of garlic mushrooms on cheesy bread with rosemary roasted tomatoes. And you know what? In my state, it was delicious and hit the spot perfectly. And it seems to be just a little off the tourist route, as it was crammed with locals.
So Dublin – was it worth the wait? The people are great, and there are some impressive things to see and good places to eat. It also has a thriving independent coffee house scene, which is perfect for the traveller in need of a caffeine fix. The bad news is that it is on the pricey side (and if someone who lives in London says that, you know it is true), but if that is your only criteria for travel, then you are cutting yourself off from a lot that the World has to offer. And of course…you’d miss out of sitting in a Dublin bar, singing three rounds of the Molly Malone song with the locals. Now that is worth it!
Queen of Tarts, Cows Lane, Dame Street, Dublin 2. Tel:+353 1 633 4681
Cornucopia, 19/20 Wicklow Street, Dublin 2. Tel: +353 1 677 7583
Avoca, 11-13 Suffolk Street, Dublin 2. Tel: +353-1-672 6019
LondonEats locations map here.