Three Things I love About Dublin

O'Connell Street Bridge at night in Dublin

O’ Connell Street Bridge in Dublin at night (Photo from Wikipedia)

In the great words of the Monty Python crew, “And now for something completely different.” I’m coming down from the politics-junkie high of election season as we all slowly exhale and put the presidential pugilism of the last month or two especially behind us. I’m not actually of the belief that, as social animals, anything we do is completely divorced from the political/social sphere, but I did think I’d get back to travel this week, which is not so overtly political.

To that end, inspired by fellow blogger Marina from Hercules Gets a Passportwhose blog post on San Francisco has motivated me to want to one day explore that wonderfully sunny looking city that was once a political hotbed of flower-power and beat poetics in the 60s, I’ve decided to write about a city I love, Dublin. Marina’s blogpost was for a competition and, whilst the competition is closed, I like the idea of taking three  things you know and love about a city and exploring them.

I spent four years in Dublin (actually close to four years, but I have to say something to explain my accent). It is a city rich with a history of wit, of poetic souls, and of artistic temperaments. This year, Ireland celebrates 2013, The Year of the Gathering, a year-long celebration of Irish cultural identity in which particular emphasis is placed on welcoming back the sons and daughters of Eire from the far and wide diaspora to come back home and celebrate their roots. So, just in time for The Gathering, I thought I’d take you on a very quick mini-tour of my Dublin and hope to entice you to join in the celebrations in some way this year.

Lunch in Govinda’s

Govinda's, Aungier Street Dublin

Govinda’s on Aungier Street in Dublin

Who, outside of Ireland, outside of Dublin even, could conceive of a popular Hare Krishna vegetarian restaurant close to the city center? Who could further guess that such a cafe would serve top-notch food at fairly reasonable prices? Every year, at least once, we make our pilgrimage to Govinda’s for lunch in town. Warm, friendly staff will pile your plate high with steaming lasagne, the most perfect sag paneer I’ve yet tasted and generally comforting peppery, spicy potatoes, vegetables and assorted dollops of  scrumptiousness to fill you with virtuous goodness for the rest of the afternoon and possibly the evening. Having spoken to the knowledgeable staff before about the topic, I now know that there are Govinda’s restaurants in cities throughout the world. We’ve been to the one in Toronto which was supposed to be pay what you like but was closed for a festival during out visit, and still periodically frequent the London Govinda’s, which has good food and a more accurate representation of Thali plate dining. But nothing beats the Irish Govinda’s on Aungier Street for a welcoming, relaxing ambiance, generosity of portion size and quality of cuisine.

Swing by Butler’s for a Hot Chocolate after lunch

Butler's Chocolate Cafe in Dublin

Butler’s Chocolate Cafe in Dublin

Butler’s is a Dublinian institution, without a doubt the best hot chocolate and the best chocolate to be found anywhere in Ireland; rich, decadent, warming the cockles and mussels of one’s heart, the piece de resistance is the little sweet Butler’s presents to you on the saucer, which you dutifully drop and mix into your drink. Great place to get gifts to bring back home, meet, reunite and chat over warm, creamy, frothy cocoa.

Butler's Hot Chocolate Dublin

Butler’s Hot Chocolate (Creamy!)

Take a Walk on the Wild Side… Otherwise known as The North Side

The Royal Canal in Lower Dromcondra Dublin

The Royal Canal in Lower Drumcondra, Dublin (photo from http://www.geograph.ie)

Years ago, working at a school in one of the poshest neighborhoods in South Dublin, Ballsbridge, I certainly heard my fair share of Northsider jokes (What separates us from the animals? The Liffey. Ha ha ha ha), but I also always found something genuine and beautiful and full of character about this gritty, underrated half of the city. I lived on Clonliffe Road, near the Gaelic Football and Hurling Stadium, Croke Park. We used to get checked for tickets coming back from Tesco with our shopping and the excitement and buzz of the atmosphere was unparalleled.

James Joyce, in Portrait of an Artist as A Young Man has his hero Stephen Dedalus claim that Drumcondra is “where they speak the best English,” but something about Joyce makes me think that, though he was clearly no nationalist, his sympathies laid with Stephen and the local pride he took in the North side. It is also a place that will afford you, with a brisk or leisurely stroll, some of the finest period architecture the city has to offer. Neither is it without its simpler pleasures, for at the end of your sojourn down this thoroughfare, you will find Fagan’s pub, Ireland’s former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern’s local, a fine establishment in which to sit and relax with a pint of Arthur Guiness’ best and time to ponder and philosophize as Dublin cannot fail to inspire you to do.

Pint of Guinness, North Dublin

The Black Stuff, poured the right way

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11 responses

  1. Snoring Dog Studio | Reply

    I would love to visit! A Guinness there would taste far better than one here in Idaho. Do you really have an accent?

    1. Ha. Yes, I’m afraid I do. Goes over well back home, but most here think I’m Irish before they find out I’m American and are flabbergasted when they find out. It feels a bit sad sometimes, like a part of my identity that’s slipped away, but then again, I have friends who’ve told me I’ve never had a very strong accent and I also know Americans whose accents have changed far more than mine becoming thoroughly Anglicized or Hibernicized.

      The Guinness poured in Dublin is better than anywhere else in the world, even other parts of Ireland. No one’s ever been able to offer a satisfactory, conclusive explanation why, but it alone makes it worth the trip.

      1. Snoring Dog Studio

        Then I must make that trip! I love an Irish accent, by the way.

  2. Thanks for the mention and link-though I take no credit whatsoever for the idea. Dublin looks great (so does that hot chocolate). I’m ashamed that I’ve been in the UK this long and not made the short trip over to Ireland! It’s on the list…

    1. I forgot to put sipping cocktails at the bar in Bono’s Clarence Hotel. In pre-parenthood days, we used to pay embarrassingly large amounts of money for exquisitely made Espresso Martinis (but you pay for the atmosphere). Of course, I suppose that’s the challenge with picking three things, isn’t it? You’ve got to be careful, like the legendary genie in a bottle. Be careful what you wish for… I’m happy with my three.

  3. Dublin is great. Expensive but great.

  4. Sounds great, I must get to Ireland sometime. But it is expensive to travel with kids.

    Back when I spent a lot of time in Germany I would have people surprised to find out I was American — it is a nice feeling to fit in. Alas, my German has gotten so rusty that they figure it out right away when I go back.

    1. Still, to be able to speak a language that well is am admirable accomplishment. I don’t think Hiberno-English counts. Ireland has a lot to recommend it from a political/historical standpoint as well. You should definitely visit. Sabbatical?

  5. Drumcondra and Clonliffe Road are hardly the “northside”… or at least not the northside of which most Dubliners speak.

    Unfortunately, Ireland is becoming such an economically and socially backward country these days that I can think of few reasons to recommend anyone visit. I’ve been here for a decade, but I doubt I’ll be staying much longer.

    1. Come now. What would you call the Northside, Swords? North of the Liffey is the Northside. At least side, most of my neighbours called themselves Northsiders. Perhaps they were misinformed?

      On your second point, I am sorry the experience has left you so embittered, but I o sympathise. My wife and I had to leave because there just did not seem to be any job prospects and there were more than a few closed cynical attitudes towards creative ventures. And it was and is entirely, completely, and unjustifiably expensive. Expense and sometimes very provincial attitudes notwithstanding, I still think there’ a lot to love and a lot to enjoy about the place.

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