Arguably the best thing about a weekend away in February is the sense that, come rain or shine, the weather really can’t get much worse. Arriving in Dublin on a grey and misty afternoon certainly doesn’t promise a break from the gloominess of winter, but the lure of cheap flights (£30 return was just too much to resist) and a break from dissertation stress is enough to justify a mid-semester weekend away to Ireland’s bustling capital, even on the rainiest of days.
Our first stop was Temple Bar – a pretty, cobblestoned, fairy-lit district crammed with bars, restaurants, traditional Irish pubs and, of course, not an actual Irish person anywhere in sight. The area caters to foreign perceptions of conventional Irish culture, and it shows: populated with hen parties and stag nights (my personal highlight was the bride-to-be adorned with a toilet paper veil, Irish dancing on the stage despite the palpable hostility of the manager) and charging extortionate prices for drinks in some bars. When you accept 15 euros as a reasonable price for a pint of Guinness and a vodka and cranberry, you know there’s something deeply wrong. But the atmosphere is one of tangible fun nonetheless: constant live music streams out of every door and everyone, from the ‘lads’ downing their pints to the elderly couple sitting enjoying the banjo, is entertained. For two nights in a row, we were seduced by the conviviality and the promise of yet more Mumford and Sons covers and songs about whiskey: just remember to pace yourself unless you quite literally fancy blowing all your spending money in one night.
The next day we hit the tourist trail, heading first to the Guinness Storehouse. Even though its seventh floor Gravity bar combined two of my most hated things – heights and beer – the experience was surprisingly informative and interactive, with its weirdest additions comprising a replica of a giant clock to which visitors apparently flocked in the 50s and aroma centres full of the different scents detected in Guinness. The museums were also fascinating: if you want to see squished and blackened human remains retrieved from a bog, which is really just as gruesome but also a lot more fascinating than it sounds, then head to the Museum of Archaeology, full of exhibitions about prehistoric and medieval Ireland. And if you want to see thought-provoking art about Irish diasporas, as well as paintings equivalent to medieval face-swaps (believe me, I got the postcard), then head to the National Gallery.
We visited Trinity College Dublin too, with its grand square and rain-flecked imposing façade and, round the corner, Oscar Wilde’s childhood home to take photos of the plaque in my geekiest literature student moment yet. Then there was also Dublin’s medieval wall, running around the back of Christchurch with its spine-tingling and discordant bells; artsy street markets to glimpse the local craft scene; and the Chester Beatty Library, an exciting accidental discovery – complete with an amazing collection of gloriously illustrated and lavishly bound manuscripts and books from a dazzling plethora of countries.
The most curious fact about Dublin that I learned along the way is that despite the sprawling city map, dotted with touristy destinations, famous pubs and cultural spots, the list of places to which tourists actually go seems to be incredibly small. Having bumped into a few distinctive characters at several points in our wanders, including a couple from our hostel and the only French people I’ve ever actually seen wearing berets, there seems to be a checklist, a trail upon which tourists dutifully proceed trying to glimpse a snapshot of Dublin’s history, more so than any other city I’ve visited. Temple Bar, tick. Guinness Storehouse, tick. Trinity College, tick. Just like any other great city, our trip barely scratched the surface of Dublin’s cityscape but the true essence of Dublin barely permeated our exploration of the city – and that is something to which I’d like to return.
And, of course, long live the Irish accent.
Image: Barnacles Budget Accomodation, Flickr