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the Goliard

June, 2005

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The Snapper's Tour of Ireland

Part 1: Dublin

They were right; a pint of Guinness is not the same in the states. Like the Irish told me time and again, “The Guinness doesn’t travel well.” My first pint of Guinness on the Emerald Isle was in the Oliver St. John Gogarty in Dublin’s Bohemian Temple Bar district. As an Irish trio played their lively tune while sitting at a table in the corner and only accepting draughts of the Black as payment, I savored my pint of same as I would each subsequent pint that I had the good fortune to sample over the next week.

The night before was seeming like a long time gone at the O St. John given that I had boarded Air Lingus flight 144 from Los Angeles to Dublin less than 24 hours ago. Armed with only a few hours of restless slumber but plenty of ambition, I had hit the Irish ground running despite being a little worse for wear. Shortly after boarding my flight I had been informed by an ever so serious flight attendant that the personal video/audio system in my section was not working due to an electrical shortage in the plane. Then seconds later, I was also informed in the same serious tone that all in flight drinks would be on the house. As you might well imagine, this was a deal I could live with. As we banked hard over the Irish Sea on our final approach into Dublin and I tipped my last glass of free swill, there was little doubt which country we were swooping down upon. I have never seen so many shades of green.

Dublin airport is not the behemoth that Heathrow is, and thank St. Patrick and his slithering friends for that! The seemingly overly cramped international terminal is undergoing an expansion however, I suppose to keep pace with the boom that is taking place all around Dublin. The customs agent was a chap who looked like he had been out all night discussing the Irish situation at some local pub. With a five o’clock shadow and leather jacket, his only pressing question for me was how long I planned to stay in Ireland. The Irish lass at the tourist information blessed me with a helpful smile that seemed to suggest she would happily close up shop and take the next week off to show me around her wonderful countryside. In the end however, I would have to settle for a 5 Euro Airlink bus ticket into Dublin.

When I arrived in the Dublin city center, the welcoming weather could not decide if it would rain or shine. One thing was for certain however and that was that the wind would howl. The bus dropped me off at O'Connell Bridge, one of the many that crosses the River Liffey, which bisects the city of Dublin. The river makes for a nice scenic stroll along either bank and is a navigational safety net that makes it easy to get your bearings to avoid ever being lost in this friendly city. I attempted to orient myself and, in my state of jet lag, spent twenty minutes looping around my eventual place of lodging rather than walking for a few hundred yards straight over O'Connell Bridge, which would have taken me right to the front doorstep.

Upon arriving at Bewley’s Principal Hotel in the heart of the Temple Bar District, the receptionist greeted me with a matronly “are you ok?” It was only then that I realized how windblown and generally disheveled I must have appeared. In general, I was a mess! I was told that the only non-smoking room available was room 405. She said this as if I might be familiar with room 405 due to some local legend that surrounded it or unseemly occurrence that had gone down there on some misty night in the past. I asked why there was a problem with room 405. Had there been some sort of incident there of which I was supposed to have knowledge? Had that been the room number in "The Shining" that little Danny wasn't supposed to enter? Had there been a feature on the Telly about room 405? I was told that, no, there was no problem. Then she called over her supervisor and asked in whispered tones if she could put someone (me) in room 405. Again I demanded to know what the deal was with the room. The supervisor stepped forward and told me in a calming, lilting voice that room 405 was simply a little small. Relieved, I accepted my key and headed up. As it turned out, room 405 was ideal for the solo traveler such as myself. It was located at the end of the hall on the top floor facing the back of the hotel. The room was everything I desired - non-smoking, private, cozy, quiet and when the drapes were closed, it could just as easily have been night as day on the other side. The room was equipped with an updated shower and bathroom, TV, and a little desk. I will definitely request room 405 next time I visit Dublin on my own.

After a blissful shower, a change of clothes, and a much-needed cleaning of the teeth, I was out the door. If there is one thing I have learned about dealing with jet lag upon arrival in Europe or any other far-off destination, it is to get out and keep moving until at least 9 PM local time. Taking my own advice instead of hitting the 405 hay (which is what I actually felt like doing) I made my way to Trinity College for a viewing of the often overly hyped Book of Kells at the Trinity College Library. As a historian, I felt I needed to pay my 7 Euro in order to pay homage to the 9th Century manuscript of the Gospels. I was already aware that only two of the actual pages are on display under glass so I didn’t experience the let down that other visitors seemed to be feeling when visiting this site. The information, history and background regarding the book itself as well as the details of Irish monastic life were interesting and educational. As you exit the exhibition you find yourself emerging into the Long Room of the Old Trinity College Library. Now this is a place to sit and soak up the volumes of history and literature. It is rumored that the library at Trinity College contains at least one copy of every book published in Great Britain and Ireland and after looking up and down the stacks, I can't imagine that it's not true.

Following my visit to Trinity College, I did what I often do upon first arriving in a new city, I hopped on the hop on hop off city bus tour. This is a great way to get your bearings, learn some local history, and do some general hopping and bopping around a city. In my case, it was also a way to do all of the above without getting soaked by the day long snollygoster that continued to piss down. Tickets are good for 24 hours and the Dublin tour did not disappoint. After I finally hopped off the bus for the final time, I was headed for a pub and a pint of the medicinal Black which brought me back to where this story started, the Oliver St. John Gogarty. While the music played I drank three pints of Guinness and sampled the Traditional Dublin Coddle, a hearty, piping hot mountain of sausages, cream, potatoes, carrots, onions and seasonings. By the time the little hand struck the nine I could barely keep my eyes open. I made my way back through the rain soaked cobbled streets of the Temple Bar, past music filled pubs replete with dancing Irish lasses and poured myself into the cozy bed in room 405. I did not wake up until I had slept for 11 dream filled hours.

The next morning I made what would prove to be one of the better decisions of the entire trip. I elected to go on the Wild Wicklow day tour. I was indecisive at first and it nearly cost me large (as jitteryness and indecision often will in the travel game). The bus was scheduled to leave the tourist office at 9:10 AM and had gone and done so when I came waltzing in five minutes later. I was resigned to the fact that I had missed the whole thing and must have been looking a bit hang dog when the lady at the TI said she could make a quick call and see if she couldn’t catch the driver. At first I pictured a tour bus full of people having to turn around and go back just because some jackass American overslept in room 405 and protested the move but she made the call anyway. To my surprise the driver agreed to swing back by and pick me up on his way out of town. I’m glad he did because the Wild Wicklow was, without a doubt, one of the best day tours I have ever been on. Normally I forego such things and explore on my own but what made this tour so fantastic was our driver and tour guide, Mr. Flood. Old Flood (left) never missed a beat and his enthusiasm, knowledge and personality made the day a memorable one. On our way out of town, Flood pulled to the side of the road along a beautiful tree lined street outside the Swiss Embassy and personally greeted each and every person on board. During this ceremony, an aged bloke name John, who by the way, bore a striking resemblance to Flood himself, was sitting nearby playing us a peppy tune. There was not an ounce of psuedo showmanship from Mr. Flood but rather his genuine nature came shining through and created an atmosphere of camaraderie among our group that would last throughout the day. I was surprised to find that I was the only American on our fifteen-passenger bus. There were a few Canadians, British, Poles, Germans, and French, Hong Kong, Chinese and even a Malaysian. I answered the obligatory questions about how it was possible that Bush had been re-elected and sat back to enjoy the scenery.

The tour served up a huge dose of Irish history, ancient and modern as well as social history, geological information and facts about the impact of Irish integration to the European Union. Mr. Flood was a maestro, weaving an endless symphony of details and information while answering questions, snapping pictures, playing music at appropriate times and even offering some philosophical advice about life. The tour consisted of a short city route, a coastal drive past DunLoaghaire Harbor, Dalkey and Killiney (Home to Dublin’s rich and famous). The bus then proceeded past the mountain lakes, wild heather and desolate boglands where the movie Braveheart was filmed. We stopped for coffee at the Glencree Reconciliation Center. Nestled in a beautiful valley the center makes it's home in what was once a seminary and provided housing for wayward boys.

What makes Glencree so special a place are the things that happen there. For 40 years Glencree has brought in Catholic and Protestant children from Northern Ireland and most recently Palestinian and Israeli youths to practice peace-building as a path towards resolving conflicts without violence. The tour then proceeded to the 6th century Glendalough Monastery where Mr. Flood personally guided our group through the Monastic ruins. On the way home we stopped at the little town of Avoca, site of the famous Avoca hand weavers. It was also where I had just enough time to wander into a pub for a pint and a hefty plate of Irish Stew. At the end of the day I tipped Mr. Flood 20 Euro and I can honestly say he deserved every last hay-penny of it.

When I returned to Dublin I was still filled with the energy that comes with journeying to new spots on the globe (especially much anticipated spots like Ireland) so I decided to walk up Grafton Street, which is home to Dublin’s lively, musician filled, pedestrian only shopping area. I continued into the scenic park known as St. Stephens Green and looped back around into the Temple Bar. When you have found a good thing it is hard not to go back for more so I again darkened the entrance to Gogarty’s for more Guinness, more music and more coddle. I now felt I deserved the three pints of Guinness I was about to drink. I ended up sitting at a table of young blokes and trading stories about travel well into the wee hours.

The next morning I had some time to kill before my 2:25 PM train to Galway so I said my goodbyes to room 405 and made my way to, what someone had told me, was a necessary morning stop. The place is Keogh’s Bakery where Dublin’s professionals line up in the morning drizzle for fresh raspberry scones. I settled in to a table in the corner with a large cappuccino and scone and enjoyed a relaxing slice of the Dublin morning.

I then shouldered my bag and hoofed it twenty minutes along the River Liffey to Heuston Station. I lockered up my gear there for a few hours and headed to Dublin Castle. My specific destination was not the castle itself but the Chester Beatty Museum (located in the back of the castle) which I had heard was a must see and perhaps one of the best museums in Europe. Like most of Dublin’s museums and galleries, the Beatty collection is free. It lived up to expectations and its distinguished award as Europe’s best museum in 2002. The museum houses what was the private collection of Chester Beatty, a wealthy American mining engineer who spent his later years in London and Ireland, traveling the world collecting priceless Asian and Middle Eastern Art. In his will, Beatty left his collection to the Irish Government. As I had heard, one of the highlights of this collection is the extraordinary collection of Korans from throughout the Islamic world.

If I had the time and it wasn’t so crowded during the lunch rush I would have eaten at the cafe inside the museum. It is always a good sign when there is a professional lunch crowd that obviously made a special trip to the museum just to eat at the restaurant. I soon realized why so many had made the pilgrimage as the cafe had a wide variety of piping hot lunch items including healthy portions of vegetable Moussaka, salad and potatoes for 8 Euro. I will make a point of eating here on my next visit. This time however I settled for a bacon and smoked cheddar panini and a bag of Kettle Chips on the train. As it turned out, I would finish my lunch before the train pulled out of the station because our locomotive was broken and needed to be replaced. We were delayed an hour and the heat was broken in my coach but other than that it was a pleasant journey with plenty of sheep and scenery out the window. On across eastward to Galway!

Notes from Dublin: 
Air Lingus: 4 Goliards 
Bewley’s Principle Hotel: 4 Goliards 
Oliver St. John Gogarty: 4 Goliards 
Dublin Hop on Hop off City Tour: 4 Goliards 
Book of Kells: 3 Goliards 
Trinity College Old Library Reading Room: 4 Goliards 
Wild Wicklow Day Tour 5 Goliards 
Keoghs Bakery: 4 Goliards 
Chester Beatty Museum: 5 Goliards 
Irish Rail: 3 Goliards 
Dublin: 4 Goliards

Pints of Guinness: 10

Next up, Part Two – Galway

 

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