Dublin – Pubs, Trad Music and a Rich History

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Dublin Cathedral

Dublin pulses with energy from times long ago. First thing you notice when you arrive at the airport is that everything is in English and Gaelic. The locals are required to learn the language in remedial school and the language is still very much alive.

To me, the city is best enjoyed at a slow pace. We often found ourselves wandering the bending cobblestone streets of Temple Bar, stopping often for a Powers or a Guinness or maybe just a coffee. The pubs can be dank and dark or huge and ornate. Making time to stop in the various pubs throughout the day, made the stress of taking on a city as large and daunting as Dublin effortlessly float away.

The people are friendly and not a bit shy to have a conversation. So if you want to engage the locals, it should be no problem here. In fact, Dublin has been rated as one of the friendliest cities in the world.

Dublin is also very much a live music town. Traditional Irish music has a long and rich history, with a good deal of variety. Many of the songs and lyrics are centuries old. Unaccompanied vocals are called sean nos’ (in the old style) and use the voice of the singer as the melody, without accompaniment of instruments, allowing you to concentrate on the lyrics. There is also no lack of more modern Irish musicians. Many are household names like U2, The Corrs, Sinead O’Connor, Van Morrison and Thin Lizzy.

Lock Ins

If you want a particularly memorable experience, set out to find yourself a lock in.  A lock in is exactly what it sounds like. After closing time, the bar is locked so no one can get in or out (due to the early closing time). Beer and whisky flow freely, many times with the payment made before closing time in order to side step the law of no drinks after 12:30 on the weekend. If you are in a musically inclined bar, a trad session (traditional irish music session) may transpire. I have heard that lock ins are found more often in the country side, rather than in the city itself, due to the stricter enforcement of laws within city limits. Rumor has it though that they still exist in the city.

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Guinness is good for you – A freshly poured stout at the Guinness Brewery

Trad sessions are not limited to lock ins. There are plenty of pubs that have sessions, some more touristy, some less. That being said even the touristic places, are a good bit of fun and generally play music that will apply to a wide audience. Hint: Temple Bar is a mecca for tourists looking for a traditional Irish pub.

A solid pub crawl

If you want to learn more about traditional Irish music and its history, in truth be told, a somewhat artificial way, try the Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl. There are generally two local musicians who both explain the history of the music and play a fair bit themselves. Along the way, they take you to three different pubs in temple bar. It’s also a good way to orient yourself to what live music is going on during your stay. Afterwards, they are happy to provide recommendations based on your musical tastes, including ideas for places that are frequented primarily by locals. The crawl starts at a bar called Gogartys, which doubles as a restaurant and live music venue.  The restaurant is nothing to write home about. Come for the crawl, but skip the restaurant beforehand.

The Brazen Head – Oldest Pub in Dublin

On the recommendation of a friendly cab driver, we spent an evening at the Brazen Head. It is said that the pub is the oldest in Dublin, dating from 1198. Even though the building itself is from 1750, everyone seems to accept that, yes, the Brazen Head is the oldest in Dublin. Even the official website of the Brazen Head admits, that it is “unclear how much of the 11th century coach house is still intact”. Does that mean that there could be none of the original intact? If so, can they really call themselves the oldest pub in Dublin. I guess it depends on where you fall on the Ship of Thesus…

Although, not a locals pub, the decor was pretty cool and if you are only going to make it to one tourist pub, I recommend this one. The food is good enough and the pints are skillfully poured. And inside, you really do feel like there is a certain history to the place. The inside is dark and cozy and the musicians are sitting sometimes just an arm’s length away. If inside becomes too stuffy, you can head out to the huge patio to grab some fresh air.

Trinity College and the Book of Kells

I won’t name the numerous tourist attractions that the city has, since trip advisor can give you a better run down. Instead, I want to concentrate on one of my favorites that to me is a must see. Trinity College is a historic landmark located in the heart of Dublin. It was founded in 1546 and has many renowned graduates including Sir Issac Newton. The campus is quite beautiful and open to the public for tours. If you have ever been to the Vatican in Rome, you may find something rather familiar. Look for the huge round globe, similar to the one in the Vatican Courtyard, on the campus grounds.

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Traveling a bit further back in history, the Book of Kells is housed here and dates from around 800 AD. It is probably the most famous illustrated text (or illuminated manuscripts) in the world. It depicts the four gospels of the New Testament. When looking at it, imagine the time and effort required to painstakingly craft these works of art by hand – truly amazing commitment and discipline. And after you’re done with the viewing, you exit through the Long Room inside Trinities old library, which contains over 200,000 of the oldest books in Ireland.

The Abbey Theatre

If you are a fan of the performing arts, Dublin has a variety of world class theaters and plays. In particular, the Abbey Theatre is a great place to spend an evening, which was founded in 1903 by W. B. Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory. Productions of famous Irish Playwrights like Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw appear regularly.

Hike Dublin bay

I was once told the best place in Dublin is outside of it. In particular, the rugged coastline provides excellent stomping ground for the avid hiker. We did a 2 and half hour hike that starts about 40 minutes outside of Dublin, which is easily assessable through public transit. The hike starts at the port village of Howth.

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A Lighthouse in Howth

The hike takes you along the side of the ocean, meandering through fields overlooking cliffs and lighthouses.

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A view from the hike from Howth to Dublin Bay

At the end of the hike, you are rewarded with a panoramic view of Dublin Bay.

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Dublin Bay

Somehow the music and the rugged landscape seem to be kindred spirits. Throw in a pint of Guinness and a shot of Jameson, and you have a recipe for a memorable trip – provided you remember everything after your indulgences.

 

 

 

 

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