Traditional Irish one-floor-over-basement homes in the Portobello neighborhood

Ireland 2023

Two things struck me immediately once we arrived in Dublin and got our bearings. The first was the unbelievable green throughout the countryside. In January. It’s this beautiful, lush shade that I don’t think I even have a reference for, at least where I live. The second was the afternoon light. Ireland is situated much further north than I had realized, similar in latitude to Newfoundland or the southern parts of Alaska. The sun sits very low in the winter sky, making it golden hour so long as it’s a clear day. With the temperate climate, courtesy of the gulf stream, it’s a blast to photograph, that is as long as the weather cooperates.


I loved walking around Dublin and I wish I had more time to explore different parts of the city. Its streets are walkable and only once did I need to take a taxi. The layout predates the modern city grid system, so it’s helpful to check a map from time to time. Getting lost isn’t so bad either, there’s always something new to catch your eye. Ireland was in its rainy season, and while we avoided any and all precipitation on most days (multiple locals explained that the weather was absolutely wonderful for this time of year), the streets never seemed to dry, reflecting all of that golden light.

Two people walking in opposite directions, golden light against a wall with harsh shadows
A Dublin street, contrasted with harsh shadows. No people.
Two women walking through a corridor while harsh light illuminates them and the customers at the cafe on the right.
A man crossing a street, seemingly in a hurry.
Street art with a skeleton in a suit saying 'No worries!' while a woman hurries by.
Woman sitting quietly in a cafe while people pass by outside.
Crowd of people crossing a street, one man looking frumpy
Street art on a camera store with a figure holding two camera, one on each eye.

Temple Bar

During the day, Temple Bar is a nice place to walk around with its winding streets and historic pubs. At night, you’ll never be so glad that you’re too old for something in your in your entire life.

Two women in conversation outside of Temple Bar while the street is buzzing. One of them is looking at something behind her.
Long expose, an abstract image capturing the energy of the night light.
Palace bar

Sweny’s Pharmacy

You know that you’re in for a treat when the second question the shop owner asks as you enter the door if you’d like a whiskey, as it’s being poured for you. You may wince when he offers to play you a song on the guitar. After all, how can you refuse with a shot of local whiskey in your hand? But it’s not a long song, nor a bad one.

How can I describe the owner? He’s like a humble version of the Dos Equis man. He might lack the ostentatious panache, but he’s a man who has been around the world, who has seen things, who knows things. He spoke at least four languages during our 30-minute visit. We learned that he spent a bit of time in Brazil, and in the same area where Mirna’s family lives. He puts on the table a copy of Ulysses, translated into Portuguese. Mirna opens the cover to see who translated it—her professor in Rio.

The shop belonged to his family since the 19th century. It was briefly under a different owner, but our new friend bought the shop back upon discovering it would become a coffee shop. The interior does not appear to have changed since its operating days.

Pedestrian with a suitcase walks past Sweny's
Sweny's proprietor playing his guitar and singing with old medicine bottles on a shelf behind him
Rows of shelves with old medicine bottles

Trinity College

There are two main attractions to see as a tourist at Trinity College, and luckily they are part of the same ticket. The first is the Book of Kells, a book from the 9th century containing four gospels of the New Testament. Christianity ain’t quite my bag, but the illustration work in the book is impressive, and is explained in great detail in the exhibit hall. Much less impressive is the book itself. Being a book and all, only one page is displayed at time (they flip to a different page every few months). The room where it’s stored was pretty spartan too, which made it a little underwhelming.

Much more impressive was the Long Room. Built in 18th century, it is a working library that contains over 200,000 books, many older than the room itself. Books aren't the only the thing the library has it show. It also contains a rare copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the 15th century wooden harp that became the symbol of Ireland (the only country with a musical instrument as its national symbol). Like, it’s THE harp! The library is currently undergoing a renovation effort. The audio tour “sells” it as a once-in-a-generation thing to see—it’s a complicated endeavor that requires great skill and expertise—but to us, we just saw empty books and roped-off sections and construction zones. Still, it’s a grand sight that I would imagine will be even grander once the renovation is finished.

Long Hall at Trinity
Samuel Beckett Theatre recessed behind two other buildings at each side.
The main entrance gate at Trinity College. A girl is walking through the hallway.
The sun hitting a group of buildings. The photo is taken from a low angle.

1) The Long Hall. Note that the books were removed on the right hand side. 2) Samuel Beckett Theatre. 3) Main entrance to Trinity College. 4) Buildings on Grafton Street, across the street from Trinity College.

More old books!

I actually love looking at old books. There’s something about the way time weathers and texturizes the bindings just so, how the edges of the pages darken, and the uniformity of them on the shelves. The photos here are from Marsh’s Library at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Like the Long Room at Trinity, this too is a working library. The books within date back to the 15th century. Unlike the Long Room, Marsh’s Library isn’t packed with tourists. We were the only ones there.

Old books with one titled Cevvres de Bervlle
Old books, one title Histoire de France
An old book about bees opened to a depiction of a beehive
Top view of books, showing the individual pages
A lego figure, likely an Irish author, on a bookshelf
Sketch of skeleton
Caste of a human skull on a bookshelf
Book with a bullet hole

In the last photo, note the bullet hole in the book. It was fired during the 1916 uprising

Old churches

We took a tour of St. Patrick’s Cathedral as part of our Marsh’s Library ticket. It was built in the 13th century and it’s really something to see. St. Patrick’s is an Anglican church. The audio tour guide states that the church is welcome to all people of any gender or orientation.

Saint Patricks looking down the isle
A person looking up at the pulpit, situated across from them. The stained glass windows are high up in the background

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher are a two-and-a-half drive from Dublin, on the country's Atlantic coast. They rise 700 feet above the ocean at their tallest point. It’s well worth a trip out, but you really want to check the weather forecast before you book your trip. Ireland gets a lot of rain in January, and it’d be terrible get all the way out there and not even be able to see the Cliffs.

Mirna was attending a professional development course, so I booked a seat on a tour bus. I’m not a fan of tour buses, but I’m less a fan of driving alone on the opposite side of the road in a country I don’t know. It was a good tour because not only did we make it to cliffs, but we drove through all sorts landscapes I’ve only seen in photographs: greenest-of-green Irish pastures, bogs, small towns of thatched-roof cottages, and The Burren.

Cliffs of Moher looking south
Cliffs and the walkway between a concrete structure
Look out at the cliffs from behind a window
The cliffs looking south
Stone wall in a muddy field with the town distant in the background
Looking north at the tower on the cliffs. Arran Islands are visible
Looking north at the cliffs
Narrow walkway between a fence and wall. The fence has a warning side that it is electrified
Hiking path with someone walking far ahead
The cliff, likely its tallest point
Empty hiking trail

Risky business

There are warning signs everywhere—landslides are a thing there—that you should stay on the hiking and not go near the cliffs, yet, I guess you still have to risk it all for a social media post, right? Well, I didn’t want to be one those 1 in 10 deaths per year.

Sign telling people not to hop the fence when people have clearly hopped the fence.
A person posing for a photograph sitting at the edge of the cliff
A person posing for a photograph standing at the edge of the cliff

Hill of Tara

The Hill of Tara dates back to the Neolithic age. It was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, and it was used for burials. Nowadays, our guide tells us, it is a place where the locals let their dogs run free (there was evidence to support this claim). Obviously, it’s much more than that. The Hill of Tara wasn’t constructed on a random hill, either. We could see out of miles, and that was on a cloudy day. I can only image how far you could see when the weather is clear. So, let’s say a few thousand years ago that you wanted to launch a sneak attack. Well, good luck with that!

Oh, and if your name is Tara, this is where your name originated.

Tomb overlooking a field on a foggy day
Religious statue on a cloudy day
Recess in the mounds of the Hill of Tara, looking over the countryside on a cloudy, misty day
Person with hands pressed on the Stone of Destiny, seemingly praying
Sign on a stone wall that reads 'beware of the grumpy old man'
A grave stone with celtic cross in a large, empty field on a foggy day.

Brú na Bóinne

Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) is old. Older than Stonehenge. Older than the pyramids. It is about 5,000 years old. The exterior was reassembled, but the main structure is still intact. No leaks or water damage. It is spectacular to see. It took decades to build, and the entrance is oriented towards sunrise of the winter solstice. On that day, for just a few minutes, the light comes in all the way to back of the structure. Just an incredible feat of precise engineering.

Brú na Bóinne
River Boyne
Walking bridge over River Boyne
Celtic stone carvings resembling an owl
Exterior facade of Brú na Bóinne
Celtic circles on a large stone at the base of Brú na Bóinne
Friendly dog sitting on a stone wall

A great trip

There’s a rejuvenating feeling to being able travel again, to see new places I knew little about, to learn new things I would not have otherwise sought, and to have a brief respite from country that stresses me the fuck out 24/7/365.

Local artwork displayed in a shop window.

Now, where’s my Guinness?