Dublin: author Monica McInerney’s guide to her city
Best-selling Australian author Monica McInerney offers a personal guide to the place she currently calls home – the surprising and beautiful city of Dublin.
One of my favourite things to do in Dublin is help lost tourists. Living close to the city centre, I often spot baffled-looking people with maps. I’ve directed Italians to the Book of Kells, Americans to the Guinness brewery, Chinese visitors to the National Leprechaun Museum. Not that my help is always appreciated. One day last summer, I spied a well-dressed, sophisticated-looking couple on O’Connell Street, map out, brows furrowed. “Can I help?” I asked eagerly. “No, we will find it ourselves!” they snapped in strong French accents, clearly affronted.
They practically shooed me away!
Dublin has been my adopted home city for nearly 25 years, courtesy of my Irish husband. I love sharing it with visiting family and friends. I usually start my tour-guiding with a hop on/ hop off bus ride. Irish tour-bus drivers don’t just intone dull facts. They’re liable to burst into song or poetry.
An even livelier tour experience is the Viking Splash, aboard an amphibious vehicle. You dress in Viking helmets and roar at passersby, before splashing into one of Dublin’s waterways.
Dublin is not a city of spectacular sights. It doesn’t have an Irish version of the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building. For me, that’s its charm.
It’s a city of small, special details.
You have to pay attention here.
Look around. Listen. Appreciate.
I love the cobblestones, how they glisten in the rain, how they feel underfoot. The bridges over the Liffey, each one unique. (My favourite is the Samuel Beckett Bridge, soaring skyward in a harp shape, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.) The wrought-iron shamrocks on the lamp posts. The bilingual street signs, Irish first, then English.
And I love the sound of Dublin – not its traffic, or its endless tram works. Its conversation. Dubliners love to talk. I often walk through the city collecting scraps of conversations. I particularly enjoy the way elderly Irishwomen talk. “This isn’t our usual bad weather,” I once overheard. “Our usual bad weather is nicer than this.”
Many of my favourite places have
“I always say a quiet hello to my ‘Dad’ as I walk past.”
filtered into my novels. Phoenix Park features in several. It’s the largest enclosed park in Europe, home to the Irish President’s official residence, as well as Dublin Zoo, sportsgrounds, herds of deer and many squirrels. In my latest novel, The Trip of a Lifetime, the main character, Lola Quinlan, notices a statue of the writer Brendan Behan beside the Royal Canal, which is close to my house. My late father, Steve, was the spitting image of Brendan, and I always say a quiet hello to my “Dad” as I walk past.
I also love Dublin’s gracious Georgian squares, the tall terraced buildings with their colourful doors and intricate fanlights. Of the city’s many public gardens, St Stephen’s Green (donated by the Guinness family in the 1880s) is a favourite, a tree-lined haven in the city centre. It also featured as a battle location during the 1916 Easter Rising, the beginning of Ireland’s independence.
Dublin’s a city for culture lovers. You’ll find many artistic treasures in the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Hugh Lane Gallery. I often take visitors to plays at the famous Abbey Theatre, but also to smaller venues like the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar.
Dublin’s a literary city too, of course, with writers’ festivals, launches and poetry readings year round. Dotted around the streets are literary statues, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. There’s even a buxom Molly Malone.
Dublin’s alive-alive-o with great music and pubs. The Cobblestone and the Brazen Head host popular traditional music sessions. The Sugar Club is a unique venue for live music and other quirkier events. Two novel ways of exploring Dublin’s pubs – both highly recommended – are the guided Dublin Literary Pub Crawl or the Irish Music Pub Crawl.
For nature lovers, the Botanic Gardens is a true Dublin gem, alongside the historic Glasnevin Cemetery. The old-fashioned John Kavanagh pub, known as “The Gravediggers”, nearby is the perfect spot for a pint, too. Outside the city centre, I’d recommend the seaside suburb of Howth for a bracing pier walk followed by a bowl of seafood chowder, or the Dublin Mountains for forest walks and stunning views over Dublin Bay.
For a fine Dublin dinner, I often take visitors to The Winding Stair, overlooking the Ha’penny Bridge and specialising in innovative Irish food. I also recommend the lively Bar Italia on Ormond Quay, and a simple, always delicious Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Viet, on Parnell Street in the city’s growing Asian quarter.
Last year was a bumper one for Dublin tourism, and visitor numbers are expected to be even higher this year. That’s music to my ears. Irish music, even. I’m off in search of a lost tourist right now…
OPPOSITE: Monica with the statue of writer Brendan Behan, who reminds her of her dad, Steve. RIGHT: Temple Bar’s great pubs include The Oliver St. John Gogarty and the Brazen Head (opposite below).
The seaside suburb of Howth features Baily Lighthouse and Howth Castle (right).
In The Trip of a Lifetime by Monica McInerney, Penguin/Random House, 85-year-old Lola Quinlan returns for the first time to the Irish homeland she left 60 years previously.