If you’ve been wondering when my blog posts about Ireland will end, this is the final post…for now. Before closing our Ireland 2015 Tour, I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention restaurants in Dublin and especially my favorite restaurant of the entire trip. I found the Whitefriar Grill online and immediately sent a link to my son and daughter-in-law to check it out. They had us at Ribs ‘N’ Rump. Their website says, “Whitefriar Grill’s Sunday Night Ribs ‘N’ Rump is nirvana for meat lovers everywhere! Stock up on the protein for the week ahead with a 14oz char-grilled rump steak, sticky BBQ baby back ribs, bacon ribs, honey glazed lamb ribs all served on a WFG chopping board, add to this two sides from (tobacco onions, greens, fries, balsamic onion & mushrooms) and you have a meat feast! All for 40 euros for two!” Olympic weightlifters in their spare time, Brian and Abi are definitely paleo meat lovers. It just so happened we arrived in Dublin on Sunday so Whitefriar Grill went to the top of the list.
Ribs ‘N’ Rump Sunday Special at the Whitefriar Grill
The food was all we hoped for and more, the atmosphere was casual with a hip vibe, the price was reasonable, and the service was outstanding. Located at 16 Aungier St., midway between St. Stephen’s Green and Dublin Castle, it was a bit of a search to find, but well worth the walk. If you visit Dublin and consider yourself a paleo carnivore, this restaurant is a must.
While in Dublin, we also ate at the Bank on College Green. We ended up at the Bank when our planned meal fell through at Gravedigger’s because they don’t serve food on Mondays, so always check the operating days and hours when choosing restaurants for your itinerary. Luckily, Brian had read about the Bank so we felt confident in our second choice. The building is very historic with Victorian architecture and comfortable furnishings and the food was good. Brian and Abi have a habit of ordering several different menu items usually from the starters and then sharing. That’s a tip I’m going to adopt because they get to try lots more dishes at no more cost.
Bank on College Green
Rack of Pork and Pork Belly
Cote de Beouf
Our last night in Ireland, Jim and I decided to have quintessential pub grub at Oliver St. John Gogartys in the Temple Bar area. While the food was good, it was pricey due to the touristy location. Their extensive wine list gets the prize for the best wine quote: “There’s more philosophy in a bottle of wine than all the books in Trinity College.” I’ll drink to that. The restaurant is upstairs but the live trad music downstairs kept us there both before and after dinner.
Shepherd’s Pie with Salad and Chips
Our biggest travel challenge has always been choosing restaurants. We minimize the difficulty by adopting a policy of one restaurant meal per day, usually in the evening and we try to plan ahead. I like to research restaurants and read customer reviews before taking a chance. We don’t mind paying premium prices if the food and service are outstanding but deciding on a place when the troops are hangry has led us into more than one culinary disaster. (Someday I’ll get my blog post written about searching for food while hangry on the Champs Élysée.)
On April 1, before we embarked on our Ireland 2015 tour, I tweeted, “People say the food in Ireland is terrible but we plan to prove them wrong.” And we did.
Enjoying live trad music at Temple Bar our last night in Ireland
Although we spent only two and a half days in Dublin, we covered most of the main sights. In earlier posts I told you about the Book of Kells, the Long Room at Trinity College Library, and the National Museum. These were all a hit with us and I recommend taking the time to visit each. There were lots of other hits with us, too. Here is a summary of some of the other sights we visited in no particular order.
The Guiness Storehouse was a hit and frankly, I was surprised. We didn’t tour it last time we were in Dublin but after reading its the number one tourist attraction in all Ireland, I thought we should take a look. I’m glad we did because this was a fascinating museum. In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease to pay 45 pounds a year for St. James Gate Brewery. You can see the lease encased in glass in the floor of the lobby. Plenty of educational materials displayed on seven levels explained the history and the beer-making process. I’m not a beer drinker, in fact I’m normally gluten-free, but I made an exception in this case to taste a pint at the end of the tour. I was impressed.
This says it all.
The Cooperage Exhibit showed Jim’s favorite video explaining the barrel making process
Brian and Abi tasting a pint in the Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness Storehouse
Tasting our pint in the Gravity Bar at the end of the tour of the Guinness Storehouse
The Dublin Castle was definitely a hit. We took the guided tour and found it interesting and helpful even though Rick Steves called it boring. In fact, it seemed like three separate tours, and visits to two of the areas, the undercroft below the castle and the State Apartments, are allowed only by guided tour. First, we toured the level under the castle (undercroft) where the original Viking fortress was located at the juncture of the Liffey River and its tributary, the Poddle, in a black pool, or dubh linn in Irish (Dublin). This level was excavated in 1986 revealing archeological evidence from around 930 AD Viking Dublin and Norman remains from the 12th century.
Archeological dig under Dublin Castle
The Irish dubh linn (Dublin) which means black pool under Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle was the symbol and center of British colonial rule in Ireland. The Chapel Royal displays the coats of arms of all the British officials assigned to rule Ireland from 1172 until the last space was filled in 1922, coincidentally, the same year the Republic of Ireland gained independence from Britain.
The Royal Chapel at Dublin Castle
The coats of arms around the perimeter of the Royal Chapel at Dublin Castle
Pipe Organ given to the Royal Chapel by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert
The last stop on the tour was at the State Apartments where official state functions are held to this day. During the colonial period, the Viceroy lived there and on occasion the King or Queen would visit. The throne that was built for King George IV’s visit in 1821 was so large, the diminutive Queen Victoria subsequently had a step added.
Throne with Step for Queen Victoria in the Throne Room, Dublin Castle
The Drawing Room was the scene of many glittering extravaganzas during Dublin’s social season which culminated in the Grand Ball on St. Patrick’s Day. Debutantes would line up from the most wealthy to the least with the width of their ball gowns as an indication of wealth and status.
The Drawing Room, Dublin Castle
The Chester Beatty Library was a delightful hit. Chester Beatty, born in 1875, was an American who moved to England in 1911, then to Ireland in 1950 where he established a library to house his priceless collection of rare books, manuscripts, paintings, and objets d’art from around the world. This museum strikes the right note allowing a leisurely visit that impresses without overwhelming the visitor. While photography is not allowed, the museum is free. Thanks to my friend, Sheryl, for recommending a delight we would have otherwise missed.
Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
A walk through St Stephen’s Green was a welcome hit. The day was warm and sunny, drawing swarms of people to enjoy a perfect day lounging on the green enjoying the colorful flowers and wildlife.
Lounging in St. Stephen’s Green
St Stephen’s Green
Fountain at St Stephen’s Green
Swan in St. Stephen’s Green
St Patrick’s Cathedral was a sacred hit. Much of what is known of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, consists of legend rather than fact. One of the legends is that he baptized new converts to Christianity at a well in the cathedral environs. In 1901, six gravestones were unearthed and one of them covered what appeared to be a well, more “proof” that St. Patrick had indeed baptized converts there in the fifth century.
Jonathan Swift, the satirist who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, was the Dean of the Cathedral from 1713-1745 and is buried here.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
Grave Slab that covered an old well where St. Patrick was reputed to have baptized converts
The Temple Bar area was a hit both day and night. Temple Bar is both a pub and an area of Dublin. Whether you are seeking a pint of Guinness, authentic traditional music, or pub grub, you’ll find it in Temple Bar.
Iconic Temple Bar, Dublin
Unfortunately, Dublinia was a miss. This is an experiential museum about Viking and Medieval Ireland and the information was interesting but the museum is a series of re-creations with no authentic artifacts. Photography is not allowed, possibly because no one would visit if they saw what’s there… or not there. Admission is 8.5 Euro which seems expensive compared to the National Museum which was free. To be fair, I read reviews on TripAdvisor and plenty of others (including my husband) think it’s great.
Brochure shows experiential costumes
Map of exhibits
Two more iconic sights in Dublin absolutely have to get a mention here. The statue of Molly Malone was gifted to the city in 1988 and to be sure, it was a challenge to find her this time around. She’d been moved because of a construction project.
The Ha’penny Bridge over the Liffey is as Irish as a pint of Guinness. Officially named the Liffey Bridge, it’s always been called the Ha’penny Bridge after the toll of a half penny that was originally charged to cross it.
The Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey
Be sure to stop by again next week when we will finally venture beyond the pale. I’ll also explain what that means for those who don’t know.
Have you ever heard of synchronicity? It’s a term coined by Carl Jung which means “the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.” (Google) For example, I recently phoned my husband when I was out-of-town watching my niece and nephew and told him we were having brat patties, baked potatoes, and baked beans that evening for dinner. He laughed and told me he, too, was having brats, baked potato, and baked beans for dinner. We eat brats about once a year; not a frequent occurrence, by any means. Honestly, this type of coincidence happens fairly often to me. Another example is when you say you haven’t seen so and so in a long time and they show up right afterward.
That’s the kind of situation that occurred recently while we were in Dublin. My son and daughter-in-law decided to check out a book store of rare and antiquarian books called Ulysses Rare Books and invited my husband and me along. Many years ago we lost an obscure book of writings by an Irish ancestor of my husband’s from the early 1800’s and we thought we’d inquire about it just on the off-chance this shop had the book.
When we walked in, I addressed the woman at the desk and said, “We’re looking for a book entitled James Fintan Lalor. He was an obscure agrarian reformer from the 1800’s.” The look on her face was incredulous. She said, “I can’t believe it, but I’m at this very moment cataloguing a book by that name.” She showed me her computer screen and indeed it had the name James Fintan Lalor on it. What do you think the odds are that a man named James Lalor (my husband) would walk into a book store when his name is on the computer screen in that shop? I can tell you, the shop keeper and we were totally shocked by this synchronicity. Although the book she held was not the particular one we sought, we had quite a discussion about it and we ended up buying a first edition of another book about James Fintan Lalor.
Proprietress at Ulysses Rare Books
Brian and James at Ulysses Rare Books
If you travel to Dublin and you’re a book lover, stop by this delightful shop at 10 Duke Street. The proprietors are brother and sister and their father had the shop before them. Specializing in 20th century Irish literature, they have many rare editions and although I’m not a book collector, I loved perusing the stacks here.
What kind of synchronistic experiences have you had?
When you raise your pint of Guinness for a toast in Ireland, you say Sláinte, meaning good health. Click below to learn to say it properly.
I have several pub stories from our trip to Ireland but this one merits singular treatment. Based on outstanding reviews by Anthony Bourdain, we decided to eat at John Kavanagh’s Pub. Kavanagh’s is referred to locally as the Gravedigger’s due to its proximity to the Glasnevin Cemetery, where Irish heroes such as Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, and Michael Collins are buried. As we approached the door, a gentleman outside inquired whether we were there to eat or drink. We said, “Both,” to which he responded, “If you want food, go in that door. If you want history, go in this one.” We opted for the food door but once inside, the waitress told us there was no food on Mondays. So, back outside and in through the history door we went. We love both food and history so if one isn’t available, the other will do.
This pub was first licensed in 1833 and continues to be a local institution to this day. Although not the oldest pub in Ireland, (that distinction belongs to The Brazen Head), John Kavanagh’s has been in the same family for six generations. It didn’t take long for the friendly locals inside to engage us in conversation. These guys are a garrulous group with many tall tales to tell. The most memorable was when they heard we were from Iowa, one of the chaps asked, “Which is closer, Iowa or the moon?” Providing the punchline, he exclaimed, “The moon. You can see the f_ _ _ _ _’ moon! You can’t see Iowa from here.”
These fellows are also very proud to show off a book kept on the premises that contains information about the pub including the many movies in which the pub has appeared such as “The Woman Who Loved Clark Gable,” “No One Would Save Her,” “Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin in the Bronx,” and “Strumpet City.” Honestly, I hadn’t heard of any of these movies, but maybe you have. The pub even has its own friendly ghost, reputed to enjoy a pint of Guinness as much as other loyal customers. I didn’t get the name of the book but if you visit, I’m sure they’d be proud and happy to share it with you.
John Kavanagh’s Pub, Dublin
Friendly locals at Kavanagh’s
Friendly locals at Kavanagh’s regaling Jim with stories
Friendly local at Kavanagh’s with Abi and Brian
Swinging Doors that locals told us are famous from movie appearances (Photo provided by Abi)
We went to other pubs in Dublin and throughout Ireland but this pub was the only place where we didn’t rub shoulders with other tourists seeking an authentic Irish pub experience. This was the real thing.
I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t go back to tell you about the food that originally brought us there. Click on this youtube video to see what they’re doing with tapas at Kavanagh’s. We’ll be back to check it out—but not on a Monday.
The National Museum of Ireland – Archeology has an amazing collection of over 2 million artifacts, they allow photography, and it’s free. What more could a history nerd ask for? This is an outstanding museum, in a beautiful facility with good explanations and well presented displays. The museum is closed on Mondays but fortunately for us, we were there on Sunday when they are open from 2-5.
National Museum of Ireland – Archeology
I was especially interested in the Clontarf 1014 exhibit about Brian Boru and the Battle for Dublin because our son, Brian, is named for the high king and we were staying at the Clontarf Castle. For more on that, read my earlier post here. The exhibit debunked the legendary version of the Battle at Clontarf with well-researched and compelling information. While no archeological evidence from the battle has yet been found and there are no first hand accounts, a number of secondary sources prove the battle was for economic domination of Dublin and not to expel the Vikings from Ireland. Nevertheless, Brian Boru is still regarded as the high king who united Ireland and remains a hero today.
Clontarf 1014 Exhibit, National Museum of Ireland
After exploring the Clontarf exhibit, I moved on to see what else this museum had to offer. First of all, as I said before, it’s a beautiful facility. Built in the Victorian Palladian style with neo-classical influences, the museum opened its doors in 1890. Note on the photo below the intricately decorated cast iron columns supporting the balcony above.
Then on the next photo, notice the beautiful mosaic tile floor. To me, the facility is a noteworthy exhibit, in and of itself.
Even the ceiling is impressive.
Rotunda Ceiling in the National Museum of Ireland–Archeology
The exhibits are far more ancient, however, than the building. In fact, the Archeology Museum is the repository for all archeological objects found in Ireland dating from prehistoric times through the end of the medieval period. Following are a few of my favorites just to whet your appetite.
The goldwork exhibit spanning 2200 BC to 500 BC is one of the most extensive and impressive in Europe. These gold collars from the Bronze Age are called lunulae.
The 4500 year old Lurgan Logboat was discovered in 1901 in County Galway. Over 45 feet long, it is the largest artifact on display in the museum. For more information on the fascinating discovery and its transport to the museum check out this article.
Lurgan Logboat in National Museum of Ireland
The bog bodies were fascinating to me. Found in peat bogs, they have been remarkably well-preserved because of the unique conditions that existed within the bog. As I understand it, acidic conditions and a lack of oxygen within the cold watery environment prevented the microorganisms that cause decay from growing and thus, the bodies were preserved and very dark in color. (My simple version of complex science.) In Ireland, around one hundred bog bodies have been discovered with the earliest discovery in 1780. Today, because peat cutting is mechanized, discoveries are rare but in 2011, Cashel Man was discovered in County Laois, Ireland. (My husband’s people are from County Laois so I like to think he might be a relative.) Cashel Man is the oldest bog body found in Ireland and was radiocarbon dated to around 2000 BC. He is not on display at the museum but you can view several Iron Age bog bodies dating from as old as 400 BC. Current theory holds that the Iron Age bog bodies were ritually sacrificed and placed in the bogs along tribal boundaries.
Gallagh Man, 400-200 BC, National Museum of Ireland
Clonycavan Man, 392-201 BC, National Museum of Ireland
Oldcroghan Man, 362-175 BC, National Museum of Ireland
Closeup of the Hand of Oldcroghan Man, 362-175 BC, National Museum of Ireland
Early Christian artifacts include reliquaries which are containers that hold relics, believed to bring good fortune to the owner, and crucifixes and crosses.
This is just a fraction of the exhibits you’ll find at the National Museum of Ireland. If you visit Dublin, stop into my number 1 pick for some Irish history. I think you’ll be glad you did.
I always say make a plan but be open to changes. We scheduled a free walking tour for our first morning in Dublin to orient us to the city and provide background information on the sights. As luck would have it, it was raining that first morning so a walking tour was thoroughly unappealing. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend this activity when the weather cooperates. You can check the website for Sandemans New Europe Dublin free walking tours here.
We opted instead to do the Hop On Hop Off bus tour. Tickets cost $22.50 for adults but only $20.50 for seniors over 60 and for about $10 more, you can get a combination ticket that includes admission to the Guinness Storehouse. The ticket was good for 2 consecutive days and accomplished our purpose, plus we stayed dry and it was more relaxing in our jet-lagged state. The narrated bus ride identified and provided details about all the main tourist attractions and we could get off at any of 28 stops. Buses came along about every 15 minutes so we could re-board.
Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin
Inside the Hop On Hop Off Bus Dublin
In addition, our ticket entitled us to a free Irish coffee at O’Sullivan’s Pub which was just the thing to warm us up on a chilly wet day.
Irish Coffee at O’Sullivan’s Pub
Remains of the Day at O’Sullivan’s Pub
Abi, Brian, and Jim at O’Sullivan’s Pub
We had planned to visit the Book of Kells first thing the following morning to beat the crowd, but when we saw the ticket line was short, probably due to the rain, we decided to alter our plan again. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript in Latin of the four gospels from the New Testament created by monks during the early middle ages (circa 800 A.D.) and housed in the old library at Trinity College. Photography is not allowed in the exhibit but you can now view the manuscript online for free here. (When you click the link, be patient and wait a minute for the images to load. I promise it’s worth the wait.) Ireland’s most precious and famous artistic and religious treasure was definitely on my must-see list even though I saw it 10 years ago when we were last in Dublin. The exhibit consists of 2 of the 4 volumes on display, one to a double page or folio of text and the other to a decorated page. The displayed pages change periodically but I’m unsure of the frequency. The room is dimly lit with special lighting on the manuscript to prevent fading.
A substantial amount of informational material about the history of the manuscript is also displayed from which I learned several interesting facts. The pages of the manuscript are made of vellum, that is calfskin, and some of the pages have holes because the skin actually contained flaws in some places. Three artists and 4 scribes probably completed the manuscript and while words appeared more than once, no design was repeated. Although the subject of much scholarly debate, current opinion holds that the book was created on Iona, an island off western Scotland but possibly completed at Kells in Ireland where the monastery was relocated after a Viking raid. Some reviews I’ve seen called the exhibit disappointing but to me it is incredibly beautiful and fascinating.
Book of Kells Exhibit at Trinity College, Dublin
Brian and Abi in Queue for the Book of Kells Exhibit
The Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin
The Long Room is located upstairs directly above the Book of Kells exhibit in the Old Library. For book lovers like myself, this repository is how we imagine heaven. Books line the walls in each alcove, 2 stories high. It has a somewhat musty library odor, with that old paper and binding scent that evokes memories of many other libraries for me. The Copyright Act of 1801 established Trinity College as the official repository entitled to a copy of every book published in Ireland and Britain to this day. Two hundred thousand of the oldest books are held here.
The Long Room, Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin
You may have also noticed the marble busts lining the Long Room in the photo. The 48 busts are of great western philosophers and writers such as Socrates, Plato, Shakespeare, and Jonathan Swift along with men (alas, no women) associated with Trinity College.
The Brian Boru harp, made of oak and willow in the 15th century, is the oldest of its kind and was used as the model for the emblem of Ireland. It is also on display in the Long Room.
Son Brian with the Brian Boru Harp
The historic front gate at Trinity College was damaged a year ago when a 68 year old driver plowed into it, for reasons unknown. The new refurbished gate is what you see here.
The Front Gate at Trinity College
The other major attraction that we visited that day was the National Museum of Ireland which is my number 1 favorite sight in Dublin. I’ll tell you more about it and other sights including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Dublin Castle, and the Guinness Storehouse in upcoming posts.
The Book of Kells Exhibit, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
The Long Room, the Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
As a history nerd, I’ve secretly yearned to stay in a castle but honestly thought it would be way too expensive. I also believed it was contrary to my budget travel label and I would justifiably be called a hypocrite. My budget label is based on necessity as much as choice so spending $300+ for a night’s lodging would reduce the length of my trips and the number of my trips significantly. I was researching castles in Ireland and I saw the best rate for Ashford Castle was $330 per night. Not worth it to me. But then I saw this.
Screenshot from search for castle hotel prices
Do you see $110 for Clontarf Castle Hotel? That intrigued me. I checked out their website and immediately knew this was meant to be. Clontarf is a suburb in the north of Dublin where the Battle of Clontarf took place in 1014. The simple story is that High King Brian Boru (after whom my son Brian is named) defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf ending the Viking domination of Ireland. This sounded like the perfect combination of historical significance and price for a Lalor family stay.
It’s always more complicated than the legend, however. In actuality, the Vikings had been in Ireland for a couple hundred years and were very well integrated into Irish culture by that time. In addition, there were Irish and Vikings as well as Brian Boru’s family members on both sides of the battle and the fight was really for economic domination of Dublin. Brian Boru was 72 years old and didn’t actually fight in the battle and unfortunately, he died that day. As one of our tour guides told it, they weren’t sure where he was beheaded but it was quite likely just below his chin.
The castle was not in existence when this battle took place. The first castle on the site was actually built in 1172 by Hugh de Lacy as part of an inner circle of defense for Dublin. The original structure stood until 1835 when it was demolished because of a sinking foundation and the current structure was completed in 1837. The castle was continuously occupied until the 1950’s when then owner, J.G.Oulton, died there. It stood vacant until the 1960’s when it was reopened for catering and cabaret events. Then it closed again in 1997 for major reburbishment, reopening in June, 1998, as a four star hotel. In 2007, another major renovation was completed to bring the castle up to today’s standards.
Brian, Abi, Jim at the entrance to Clontarf Castle
Inner courtyard at Clontarf Castle Hotel
Reception at Clontarf Castle Hotel
My Knight in Shining Armour
Original Tower of Castle
Facade of Clontarf Castle Hotel
The original castle with Jim’s tshirt to tell you where we are
The service at the hotel was outstanding. The staff are knowledgeable, helpful, and professional. We arrived prior to 7 am after an overnight flight and they allowed us to check in early because the rooms were ready. We were able to sleep for a couple hours which refreshed us for the heavy sightseeing schedule ahead of us. The following day, we arrived at the front desk for a 9:30 rendezvous with the Hop on Hop off bus to learn that we had just missed it due to a misunderstanding about the departure time. The staff person called the bus company and asked them to return for us. When they didn’t arrive, he sent us to city center by cab at the hotel’s expense. As we pulled away, we saw the red bus pull up to the hotel to pick us up. I call this amazing customer service on everyone’s part.
Stay tuned for more adventures in Dublin, Ireland and the countryside.
National Museum, Clontarf 1014 exhibit
Clontarf Castle History handout at Clontarf Castle Hotel