Noted writer and professor of architecture Joseph Rykwert penned the phrase, “the seduction of place,” in his highly regarded publication on the cultural significance of cities and their effect on our evolution. As we traveled through Ireland, I dwelled on this, not because Rykwert’s arguments relate specifically to this country, but because the idea of a place seducing its visitors was so relevant. A dear friend, Leslie, summarized it best perhaps when she commented poetically that Ireland, quite simply, is enchanting―a perfect description of a beautiful place, made even more so because of her people.
“Ireland is rich in literature that understands a soul’s yearnings, and dancing that understands a happy heart.” ― Margaret Jackson
Contents : Getting There | Along the Liffey River | Avoca Handweavers | Bank of Ireland | Brasserie Sixty6 & Fade Street Social | Bré | Canal Bank Cafe | Carluccio’s Caffe Dawson Street | The Cedar Tree | Central Bank of Ireland | The Chester Beatty Library | City Hall | Cliffs of Moher Gallery : The Desolation Series | Custom House | Designist | Dublin Castle | Dublin Encounters – Ms. Áine | Dublin Encounters – Simon’s Place | Four Courts | General Post Office | The Grafton Guest House | Havana Tapas Bar | House of Names | The Hugh Lane Gallery | Irish Museum of Modern Art | Kilmainham Gaol | L’Gueuleton | Jo’Burger Town | LUAS Light Rail System | La Maison | Meeting House Square | The National Gallery of Ireland | The National Museum of Ireland | The Spire | Trinity College Library & Berkeley Library | Yamamori Noodles
Getting There. There are a number of ways to travel from Dublin Airport, or Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath, to the downtown area, or the City Centre. The Bus and Rail Information Desk near ground transportation can assist with options and maps. Traffic congestion downtown is horrendous, characterized by narrow streets many of which are one-way. Don’t be surprised, therefore, by how slowly everything moves, an important fact when it comes to planning your return trip back to the airport. AirCoach provides a 24-hour service between Dublin Airport and the City Centre. The fleet departs from both Terminals 1 and 2 and tickets can be obtained from their customer service staff or directly from the driver.
Airport Hopper also offers daily shuttle bus service to and from the airport. Passengers can pay in advance online, or directly to the driver with cash. The service has stops in the following locations and there are a number of hotels located in close proximity :
― The Clarion Hotel Liffey Valley | Dunalley | Foxdene Estates
― Liffey Valley Shopping Centre | The Mill Centre | Newlands
― N4 Foot Bridge | Tallaght
Dublin Bus AirLink, located in both Terminals 1 and 2, provides transportation to :
― Central Bus Station (Busáras / Christ Church / Connolly Rail Station)
― Convention Centre Dublin
― International Financial Services Centre
― Luas Red Line / O’Connell Street
― Trinity College / Temple Bar Neighborhood
All three services are affordable at approximately € 7 – 8 / person, and offer a discount if you purchase a round-trip ticket in advance. Their only drawback is they stop at predetermined locations which, in some instances, may not be close to your accommodations. In those situations, taxis may be a better alternative. Although they are more expensive, they are quicker and the drivers easily navigate the congested downtown areas. Taxis are easily obtained from both Terminals 1 and 2 and the fare as of this posting is €26 or US$ / CAN$ 34.00. There is a designated taxi dispatcher at the beginning of each queue and the vehicles are metered. I recommend them highly as the drivers are full of interesting stories and are fascinated in what specifically draws visitors to their homeland.
“The heart of an Irishman is nothing but his imagination” – George Bernard Shaw
Previously known as An Ruirthech, the Liffey River flows through the City Centre and features pedestrian-friendly bridges, allowing easy travel between the Central North part of the city and the Temple Bar / Trinity College / Docklands neighborhoods in the south. The river is lined with pubs, restaurants and shops and the Ha’penny Bridge is one of the most commonly used of the footbridges linking the north and south parts of the city. As you cross from the southern part to the north, look eastward towards the modern Dublin Convention Centre and famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s Samuel Beckett Bridge. In a city known for such historic architecture, large and small-scale, it has a disarming effect. Calatrava did not easily win over the citizens of Dublin and to describe the initial, collective reaction as scathing would be an understatement. Most of the controversy has subsided and the bridge, invoking the shape of a harp, a musical instrument dear and highly symbolic to the Irish people, really is stunning.
One must stop by Avoca Handweavers on Suffolk Street. Dating back to 1723, the now-iconic store is owned and operated by an Irish family whose dedication to local materials and craftsmanship is admirable. And legendary. This is the place for woolen blankets and throws, along with housewares and gifts. One of its best kept secrets, however, is its basement level where the Food Hall is located, featuring freshly baked breads, cheeses, and take-away.
The Bank of Ireland, or Banc na hÉireann, is one of the country’s largest and is located in the heart of the city’s downtown area.
Momentarily taking the financial crisis of 2008, which nearly devastated Ireland’s economy, out of the equation, the country’s growth and increase in wealth over the past two decades has been nothing short of phenomenal. It’s nickname, therefore, as The Celtic Tiger has been well-earned as the nation quickly achieved one of the highest qualities of life in the world. The natural result is a population, along with an influx of tourists, with an ever-increasing appetite for quality restaurants and a sophisticated palate for dining out. Working hard to ensure this continues is Irish Chef and restaurateur Dylan McGrath. We dined at his establishment on South Great George’s Street, Brasserie Sixty6, on a chilly Wednesday evening and enjoyed the following :
― Mozzarella and risotto balls, with basil pesto and vine cherry tomato;
― Tiger prawn skewers, rocket leaves and pine nuts;
― Irish Hereford rib-eye steak, with watercress, and thick cut chips;
― Rotisserie chicken, with herb stuffing balls, mashed potatoes, peas, pancetta; and
― Chocolate panna cotta with orange and cappuccino ice cream.
The meal was excellent. The steak was accompanied by thick-cut chips made from a local potato. Golden and crispy on the outside, and yet tender inside, they were one of the meal’s highlights. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough. The wait staff is excellent, too.
Another one of McGrath’s creations is Fade Street Social, which was located around the corner from our hotel, and actually includes three establishments under the same roof, i.e., Gastro Bar, The Restaurant, and Wintergarden. By all accounts, it is Dublin’s restaurant-of-the-moment and was packed every night. Word on the street was that reality actually lived up to the hype.
Travel to Bré (Bray.) One fine sunny day, we purchased day passes for the LUAS, Dublin’s light rail system and randomly headed in the direction of Bré. It was an unexpected surprise as the small city, located south of Dublin along the coast, turned out to be a picturesque seaside resort.
Like many of the restaurants in Dublin, Canal Bank Cafe relies on local farms for organic vegetables and free-range meats. Since many of them are close to the city, their ingredients are fresh and more importantly, delivered daily. It makes a tremendous difference and Canal Bank is a perfect example of why. Located on Leeson Street, their menu resembles any number of other pub menus you might find elsewhere. Their food is so fresh and nicely presented, however, the meals rise to something much greater than simply casual dining. Highly recommended are the following :
― The Kerry crab, fennel and apple salad can easily be shared between two people.
― The roast breast of chicken, served with a chipotle and lime dressing, is excellent.
― The slow roast shallot and garlic potato omelette with thyme is surprisingly light and the eggs are moist and fluffy.
The highlight of the meal was easily the tomato & coconut curry, served with raisins and basmati rice. Although it’s an entrée, I would recommend ordering it in addition to your meal so everyone in your party can share it. It’s that good and begs the question, “Who knew you could find curry this spectacular in Ireland ?”
We stopped in Carluccio’s Caffe on Dawson Street one afternoon for a cup of coffee and a pastry. The blackberry tart, pictured, was excellent but it was the double cioccolato, also pictured, that was a knock-out. A buddy summed it up best when he described it as “sex in a cup.”
One night, we walked along St. Andrew Street and discovered The Cedar Tree, one of the city’s oldest and more significantly, authentic Lebanese restaurants. Decorated with mosaic tile images along the walls, and large comfortable wood tables and chairs, the establishment won us over easily. We enjoyed flat bread, hummus, olives and pickles, spicy sausage, and tabouleh, followed by kafta (steak prepared with onions, parsley and spices,) and Lebanese wine. The food was abundant, delicious and flavorful. Our wait staff shared the genesis of the restaurant with us, along with the fact the recipes were handed down through the owner’s generations. We were also quite touched when they served a specially prepared baklava with us and welcomed us as family.
The Central Bank of Ireland, or Banc Ceannais na hÉireann, is located in the heart of the city on Dame Street.
Located near the Dublin Castle, in the heart of downtown, is the Chester Beatty Library, which opened more than 60 years ago and was a gift to the city from an American, Alfred Chester Beatty. Divided into Asian, Islamic and Western sources, the Library houses an impressive collection of books, drawings, rare manuscripts, paintings, and prints.
Located just outside the entrance is a beautiful, although small, sculpture garden and common area―a perfect respite from a day of non-stop walking.
Fans of Georgian architecture will experience nirvana when they visit City Hall, or Halla na Cathrach, Baile Átha Cliath. Completed in 1779, architect Thomas Dooley’s creation is famous for its large rotunda and the exquisite mosaic tile below which captures the seal of the City.
Located on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, south of Galway, are the Cliffs of Moher, or Aillte an Mhothair. We arrived shortly after a rainstorm but before the sun had set.
The neo-classical Custom House, or Teach an Chustaim, was designed by James Gandon and it sits along the banks of the Liffey River.
Not to be outdone by their Danish and Italian design neighbors across the waters, Ireland’s very own Designist can be found on South Great George’s Street, and it features very cool, very hip, and very affordable books, gifts, housewares, stationary, table ware, and toys.
Formerly a Viking military base, Dublin Castle, or Caisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath, is located on Dame Street.
Dublin Encounters (…and meeting Ms. Áine.) Ireland is full of “roundabouts,” what we in the States refer to as traffic circles. At times they can be maddening since if you take the wrong exit, you could end up traveling in an unintended direction. Luckily, the country’s highway system has so many of them you can usually return to your original route without traveling that far off-course. Having said that, we had so many problems trying to leave Galway and drive down the North Atlantic coast, we actually had to swallow our pride and compromise our manhood.
In other words, we had to stop and ask for directions. We saw a woman strolling along a cobblestone sidewalk and asked if she could tell us what route to take to head south to Kinvarra, Black Head and ultimately, the Cliffs of Moher. The woman, who introduced herself as Áine (or “Anne”) patiently gave us directions and then added, “I’m traveling in that direction to meet my husband and can help navigate. I normally don’t jump into strangers’ cars but you seem like nice boys,” to which we replied, “Well, we are nice and don’t normally pick up strangers but hop on in !” Thus began our encounter with Ms. Áine who charmed us with stories of her family, especially her children who had traveled to the States but since returned; her family’s history; places to visit in the Clare region; her desire to see New York City at Christmas; and of her husband whose family was originally from our Midwest. In a relatively short time, we reached Kinvarra and dropped off Anne to meet her husband. We exchanged contact information and wished her well.
Dublin Encounters (…and the Perfect Picture.) Just a few doors from the Grafton Guest House is a small coffee-house known as Simon’s Place, near the entrance of George’s Street Arcade on South Great George’s Street. What a great find. We enjoyed cafe mochas there on a regular basis along with some of the best cheesecake we’ve ever tasted. Simon’s makes their’s with a delicious crumb crust and tops the creamy textured cake with fresh blueberries.
On one of our morning trips there, I decided to cross the street to photograph Designist. There was an elderly couple standing in front waiting for the bus, each carrying a couple of grocery bags. According to the sign’s electronic timetable, the next bus was due to arrive in minutes, far too long to wait for the perfect picture of the storefront. I asked, rather sheepishly, if the couple wouldn’t mind moving away from the store’s entrance. The gentleman stepped a couple of feet to the left; his wife, to the right. Not much help. I asked if they wouldn’t mind…moving away entirely. I then stepped backwards off the curb and directly into the path of the newly arrived bus, forcing me to quickly jump out-of-the-way. And that’s when I heard the laughter.
I turned around and my buddy Sam was cracking up, along with Tim, the gentleman next to him. They had been watching me trying, seemingly without much luck, to stage the perfect picture. Tim’s summation was surgically precise when he commented, “You haven’t even arrived yet and you’re already re-arranging our furniture.” We bumped into him a couple of more times in the neighborhood while we were there. He is undoubtedly the embodiment of the Irish spirit of affability and friendliness.
“There is an Irish way of paying compliments as though they were irresistible truths which makes what would otherwise be an impertinence delightful.” ― Katherine Tynan Hinkson
The Four Courts, or Na Ceithre Cúirteanna, is located at Inns Quay along the Liffey River. Designed by architect James Grandon, the domed building houses Ireland’s Circuit, High and Supreme Courts.
Completed in 1818, architect’s Francis Johnston’s Georgian General Post Office (GPO), or Ard-Oifig an Phoist, is located on O’Connell, one of Dublin’s busiest streets.
Along South Great George’s Street in the heart of Dublin is the Grafton Guest House. The bed & breakfast is located in a spectacular old building, and the newly redesigned rooms are clean, comfortable and more than affordable. Because of the length of our stay we were offered a discount on our accommodations, and a fine daily breakfast was included. Although it has no reception desk on-site, check-in at the Grafton is accomplished at its sister property, The Kellys Hotel, which is just a few doors away. It is staffed 24 hours a day by a group of extremely friendly and warm people who were always willing to assist.
Yet another unexpected surprise was Havana Tapas Bar on George’s Street, just a couple of short blocks from The Grafton. Charming and intimate, the lively restaurant has great atmosphere and serves excellent Spanish food. On the night we visited, we ordered :
― Calamares with garlic mayonnaise dip
― Small paella
― Vegetarian selection of dips
The food was delicious and the wait staff extremely friendly. For dessert, we shared a homemade tart. It was so good we recommended it to the diners sitting at the table next to us. The highlight of the evening was meeting the restaurant’s owner and complimenting her in person.
For the history of your family name and its coat of arms, visit the House of Names on Fleet Street in Dublin 2. Although the shop is small, its packed with some great gift items for you to bring back for family and friends.
One of the great features of Dublin is that with all its architecture and rich history, one never quite knows what you will find or discover inside a building. The Hugh Lane Gallery is a perfect example. Established in 1908 and located at 22 Parnell Square, the renovated building is actually the first public museum in the world celebrating modern art. Although it is devoted to contemporary, known, and yet-to-be discovered Irish artists, the Gallery also features works by an impressive roster of such French artists as Renoir and Manet. And the best part ? Admission is free and the Gallery is well-known for its every changing roster of new exhibits.
The Irish Museum of Modern Art was closed due to the installation of a new, large-scale exhibition. The exterior of the building, its courtyard, and its beautifully tended gardens in the back of the building were all still accessible, along with the Museum’s Outdoor Artworks Bronze series.
It once housed Irish prisoners and did not distinguish between men, women, and children, all of whom were incarcerated in unfathomable cells. But Kilmainham Gaol, or Príosún Chill Mhaighneann is now a museum, located in Kilmainham, west of the city’s centre. Fascinating but not for the faint-of-heart.
Proof that Dublin is a fantastic food city can be found in a collection of truly great restaurants in a neighborhood just off South Great George’s, bound by Fade and Drury Streets and Castle Market. Located first in this collection is L’Gueuleton on Fade Street. We were accustomed to having breakfast there on a regular basis and were more than impressed with the miniature chocolate croissants they served in the morning. Frankly, if you can make a delicious, fresh and flaky croissant, you’ve already earned my respect, if not affection. It piqued our interest enough to dine there one evening and it was a chance which paid off brilliantly. We ordered :
― Chicken liver and fois gras parfait with spiced pear and toasted focaccia;
― Parsley, toasted pine nuts, roast cauliflower and fig salad;
― Char grilled 10 oz rib eye steak with chips, and watercress with béarnaise; and
― Char grilled pork chop with choucroute, roast potato, prunes and caramel.
The meal was excellent with its highlight easily being the fois gras parfait. It was so good in fact we recommended it to the table of young women sitting next to us as they were deciding on what to order. We could not get enough of the chips with béarnaise, the second time we had tasted such fantastic potatoes in Dublin (the first being at BrasserieSixty6.) Could this city be giving Paris a run for its money for the world’s best pomme frites ? The gentleman on the other side of our table, ironically enough, was from the City of Light and decided on a whim to visit Ireland. When his meal arrived, he sampled the chips first. And then he sat back and without missing a beat, smiled from ear to ear.
Irish Chef and restaurateur Dylan McGrath’s Fade Street Social is located next to L’Gueuleton, on the corner of Fade Street and Drury. As previously mentioned, we did not have a chance to eat there as it was packed every night, but it’s enjoying its reputation as one of the city’s top dining establishment and even if its only half as good as McGrath’s BrasserieSixty6, then its undoubtedly another great place to eat.
Just around the corner is Castle Market, a pedestrian walkway linking Drury to William Street South. On the left as you walk towards William Street is Jo’Burger Town. They pride themselves on great tasting meals and they succeed―which of course begs the question, “just how good are their burgers ?” Hands down, they’re the best I’ve ever eaten. First, you order from a selection of meats, i.e., Irish beef, chicken, fish, lamb or veggie. Second, you choose your bread style, i.e., full Breton bun, tortilla, half-nude, or nude, and finally, your toppings. We ordered the following :
― Charolais 28 day dry aged 100% Irish beef / topped chili banana, bacon and goat cheese;
― Pat McLoughlin’s 100% Irish lamb / half nude / topped with smoked applewood cheese, apple & Jo’Burger relish;
― ruby cole slaw; and sweet potato fries.
When the burgers arrived, we were caught completely off guard by the more-than-generous portions (the burgers in fact had 6″ skewers in them to prevent the toppings from falling over.) We were impressed with just how great the food was and the attention to quality ingredients, preparation and presentation was obvious. We had a blast and loved the atmosphere of the place.
Directly across Castle Market from Jo’Burgers is La Maison, Chef and owner Olivier Quenet’s charming and intimate French restaurant. On the night we visited, the temperature outside had dropped dramatically so we were happy to have a warm place in which to dine. What we weren’t prepared for, however, was just how flawless the meal and service was. We ordered :
― Cannelloni de crabe et creme d’avocat (cannelloni of crab and avocado puree);
― Carre d’agneau des Wicklow et ca garniture de flageolet (rack of Wicklow lamb with a stew of bean flageolet);
― La classique sole meuniere (pan fried black sole with lemon and capers); and
― Six huitres creuse de Carlingford (Carlingford rock oyster).
For dessert, we ordered the Fondant au Chocolat noir, glace a la vanille (soft chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream) and Vin de Porto. The service, like the meal, was outstanding and we paid the host what we thought was the highest compliment―it was some of the best French food we have ever enjoyed and it was yet another great meal in Dublin.
The city’s LUAS Light Rail System is a marvel. The above-ground trams travel along two main routes, the green and red lines, which are divided into zones. Signage at each station provides information on the next train, the direction of the route, the various stops serviced. The automated kiosks dispensing tickets are easy-to-use. We traveled from one end of the red line, or more specifically, the Saggard station, to the opposite end of the line at the Docklands. Later on we transferred to the Green line at Harcourt and traveled to Brides Glen and back. Getting around was a breeze and the cars themselves are clean and efficient.
Located in the heart of the city’s cultural neighborhood is Meeting House Square, an open-air venue which features a retractable roof for inclement weather. The space hosts cultural and special events, festivals and film screenings. Bordering the space is Dublin’s Gallery of Photography, The National Photographic Archive and another Santiago Calatrava creation, a stage known as the Ark.
One of the many advantages of Dublin’s compact size is the ability to visit a number of cultural institutions, most of which are within short walking distances of each other, in a relatively short period of time. The National Gallery of Ireland, near Trinity College, has a noteworthy collection of European and Irish fine art and featured an exhibition devoted to the sketchbooks of Jack B. Yeats. A justifiable source of pride is Walter Osborne Frederick’s 1889 masterpiece, “The Dublin Streets : A Vendor of Books.” Frederick was an impressionist painter of landscapes and portraits.
The National Library of Ireland, or Leabharlann Náisiúnta na hÉireann) is the country’s national book repository. Although open to the public, the library is a reference-based institution and, therefore, does not actually lend books. One is invited, however, to freely examine their extensive collection of books, maps, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, etc. And, the National Museum of Ireland, or Ard-Mhúsaem na hÉireann, is devoted to Irish art, culture, history and features “Life and Death in the Roman World” and “Viking Ireland” among its many collections and exhibits.
On a whim, we took a day trip to Bré (Bray,) a picturesque seaside resort located south of Dublin along its eastern coast. As we wandered around, we discovered Pizzas n’ Cream, a restaurant on Albert Walk. Their pizzas are made from scratch and from local ingredients. We enjoyed lunch outside on their terrace and ordered a small pie topped with bacon and Gruyère, along with Bulmer’s, Ireland’s very own cider. Wow. It was one of the best pizza crusts we’ve ever enjoyed. The dough cracked when we bit into it and the melted cheese and bacon were hot and delicious. We asked our waiter, “How is it possible this gem of a restaurant, located in what amounts to an alley, even exists in this small town ?” He explained the owner is originally from the States and came to Bray years ago, deciding to open a place dedicated to the Italian specialty but done the right way―from scratch and with only the best ingredients.
O’Connell Street has undergone a transformation the past decade, and is now a much more attractive, pedestrian-friendly area. As part of this effort, Ian Ritchie Architects designed and built what’s commonly known as The Spire. Its official title is Monument of Light although locals sometimes refer to it as the “Stiffey on the Liffey.” What’s most fascinating about the structure is not its height―it’s the tallest structure in Dublin―but the iridescent quality of its grey, metal surface. Depending on the weather, the structure seems to literally disappear at times against the city’s skies.
One might not think when visiting a city for the first time to include a local college or university on the must-do list. Then again, not every school of higher education is Trinity College, or Coláiste na Tríonóide, located in the heart of downtown and a fantastic destination unto itself. For architectural aficionados, in fact, its nothing short of a wet dream. Among other aspects of the school’s rich history is the unique distinction, dating back to 1801, of being the repository of every single book published in Ireland.
It’s also where visitors can see first-hand The Book of Kells, or Leabhar Cheanannais, created by Celtic monks in 800 on the island of Iona. The illuminated manuscript contains the Four Gospels, written in Latin, and beautifully decorated.
Yet another casual stroll down South Great George’s one night led us to the entrance of Yamamori Noodles. The contemporary design and small booths helped create an atmosphere of hospitality and warmth. It was apparent from looking at the menu this was no take-out noodle house but instead a carefully rendered approach to Japanese cuisine. We ordered :
― Aubergine Salad, tossed in a creamy peanut dressing, topped with baby leaves and aﬃlia cress;
― Ju-Ju Yaki Niku (thinly sliced, marinated strip loin beef served with mixed vegetables and accompanied by iceberg lettuce, hot pepper sauce, Korean BBQ sauce and steamed rice); and
― Tatsuta Age (ginger and soy marinated breast of chicken and served with wok fried vegetables, salad, steamed rice and teriyaki sauce.)
The waiter asked us how the meal was and I paid what I thought the highest compliment possible. Having traveled to Tokyo a few years ago, Yamamori’s food could easily hold its own with any in Japan. The food was hot, the flavors delicate, and the sauces perfectly seasoned.