Walk and talk
Books, bites, Vikings and vintage buys
POTTED HISTORY: The Little Museum of Dublin promises the complete saga of the city in 29 minutes flat. With the Irish gift of the gab, the talk, aided by a collection of donated artefacts, goes a little longer, but every second of it is gold. Our guide, Ronan Carey, is so freshly amazed as he tells the tales of his city that he seems to have heard them all for the first time just then. He shares a mixture of witty ditties and sobering stories, including of the bloody Easter Rising of 1916. Make this museum your first stop in Dublin and you will be set with context to enrich your stay. Ask about the history of the Irish statue of Queen Victoria, which now watches over Sydney’s QVB. More: littlemuseum.ie.
IN FULL BLOOM: June 16 is Bloomsday around the world, the date Leopold Bloom walked across the city of Dublin in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the epic novel simultaneously held up as the greatest and the most-given-up-on book in the English language. We’ve just missed it this year but every day is Bloomsday in Dublin, and plunging deliberately into the Joycean world leads you to some of the city’s most delightful characters. Take a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl or Lit Walk for tales, recitations and songs from beguiling actor Colm Quilligan and his merry men. You’ll hear about Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and others (with Joyce writ large) over about two hours, setting out from the Duke Hotel. Joyce tragics should make a pilgrimage to Sweny’s Joycean Pharmacy, where Bloom bought lemon-scented soap. It’s now a volunteer-operated shrine selling second-hand books and cakes of said soap with scheduled (and impromptu) readings. More: dublinpubcrawl.com; sweny.ie.
DRINK UP: When you’ve had your fill of Guinness pubs, try the Vintage Cocktail Club in Temple Bar, where the price of entry is simply knowing how to find it. Give a solid press on the buzzer next to the rusty metal door; the hardware-shop stick-on letters “VCC” signify that you’ve found the right place. Patience. Eventually the door creaks open and you are invited up a gloomy staircase to the inner sanctum where a fat little book of cocktails, divided by eras, awaits. Recline in a velour booth and order up. I recommend the Martinez, a clever 1862 concoction. Cocktails are about €12 ($18); the friendly time-warp vibe is free. There’s a map on the website, and bookings are recommended (there’s food, too). If it’s fine, choose the roof lounge. More: vintagecocktailclub.com.
MAKEM LIKE A VIKING: My kids hassle me into doing the land-and-sea Viking Splash tour, which you will see and hear as soon as you hit Dublin. Horn-helmeted passengers roar at passers-by from bright-yellow refurbished World War II amphibious vehicles growling around the streets. It turns out to be fabulously hilarious, with surprisingly informative com- mentary. The waterborne part of the tour is on Grand Canal, home to some of Dublin’s edgiest new architecture and also known as Silicon Docks, where tech companies such as Google and Facebook have set up European headquarters to take advantage of Ireland’s 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate. More: vikingsplash.com.
LIVING HISTORY: Dublin Castle has more than 800 years of history, built as a medieval fortress f for King John of England and subsequently the seat of English, then British rule over Ireland, until the final viceroy turned the castle over to Michael Collins with the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. Today, the castle is home to government departments and open daily for guided and self-guided tours (download the free app), with a permanent collection of art and artefacts, rotating historic exhibitions and occasional theatrical productions performed in the impressive State Apartments. More: dublincastle.ie.
HARBOUR LIGHTS: Howth rhymes with “both” and it’s a dual delight — the Irish seaside town of your imagination and a fishy feast. It’s a thrifty doddle to get there on a Dart train from Connolly Station. Inside 25 minutes, you’ve been whisked 15km into a picture book, complete with begging seals bobbing in the harbour, a tiny lighthouse and scenic trails around the cliffs. To get the most out of your walk, take a guided ramble or rock-hop with Shane’s Howth Hikes (often with Shane’s dog). Appetite stoked, head back to town and choose from a school of seafood restaurants ready to serve you the bounty of the fleet. More: visitdublin.com/ hooked-on-howth-dublin; shaneshowthhikes.com.
GET BOOKED: At Trinity College resides one of the world’s oldest tomes, the Book of Kells, a lavi ishly illuminated manuscript believed to have been created in the early 9th century by monks of Iona. The queues to view it can be almost as long as its history; so buy tickets online (you’ll need to select a date and a time) for a quicker experience, and save some amazement for the bibliophilic grandeur of the Long Room, which is 65m long and houses about 200,000 of the college library’s oldest volumes over two storeys under a barrel-vaulted ceiling. It’s rumoured to have been the inspiration for the Jedi library in Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones, which the movie’s maker, Lucasfilm, denies, but compare for yourself. More: tcd.ie/visitors/book-of-kells.
BUY, BUY: Dublin is jumping with fabulous markets, antiques shops and stores featuring local designers.d Check out the Cow’s Lane Designer Mart or the Ha’Penny Vintage and Craft Markets (near the famous footbridge). If your itinerary doesn’t coincide with markets, despair not. The Kilkenny Shop on Nassau Street is one of a chain of stores dedicated to promoting Irish design (and this one has a Sunday jazz brunch). Local arts, crafts, fashion, jewellery and homewares (even a bridal boutique) are permanent fixtures at Powerscourt Centre. Fuel up on creamy scrambled eggs with perfectly seasoned mushrooms at The Pepper Pot, served on mismatched old crockery, a nod to the historic Georgian mansion in which the centre is housed. The cafe’s rich hot chocolates get a sticky thumbs-up from my kids, experienced connoisseurs of the beverage. More: kilkennyshop.com; powerscourtcentre.ie.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: As you’d expect from a UNESCO City of Literature, bookshops abound and in some there are cafes, but only Dublin’s oldest independent bookshop, The Winding Stair, boasts a full restaurant above (homage to the literal staircase and a Yeats poem). The food is described as Irish home cooking, but there’s not a stew in sight. My main course of white sole with a crayfish mayo resting on a sweet potato wedge and creamed spinach and shellfish oil doesn’t seem particularly down-home but is decidedly delicious. Food is locally sourced and its provenance carefully described on the menu, and there’s a long list of local beers and wines, too. The prix-fixe dinner menu at €26.95 ($40) for two courses is excellent value. Book well ahead. More: winding-stair.com. SMALL PLEASURES: The Morgan combines boutique hotel comfort and quirky, modern design in Temple Bar, Dublin’s heartland. One of three hotels owned by the Fitzpatrick Hotel Group in Dublin (The Spencer and The Beacon make up the set), The Morgan packs maximum personality into a small package (129 guestrooms over four floors). Philippe Starck furniture, groovy light fixtures and mirrors, white flooring and Italian-made beds feature, as does owner Paul Fitzpatrick’s love of dogs, which feature in framed portraits. The hip bar attracts locals and tourists alike. There’s a deal of 15 per cent off best available rates for direct online bookings to September 30 plus food and beverage discounts. More: themorgan.com.
Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge, top; Long Room, Trinity College Library, above; Little Museum, above right; Pepper Pot Cafe, below; Hanover Quay on Grand Canal, bottom