Posted on February 03, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now, where’s my Guinness?