Ireland 3/01

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The Emerald Isle...

Dublin's Grand Canal

I had an opportunity for another "sanity vacation" in conjunction with a business trip to Boston and Atlanta. Just like the Netherlands trip last December, on a sanity vacation I stop thinking about work and family and community for a long weekend and get a quick snapshot of a place that I have never been to before. Ireland had a particular appeal from both an ancestry and a business perspective.

Thursday March 1st

I arrived late morning and headed for the Hilton Dublin, which had the twin benefits of being inexpensive and centrally located. I walked through St Stevens Green and along Grafton street to get a feel for the area. In the afternoon I took a walk along the Grand Canal, which passes directly by the hotel. There is little "grand" about it at only 20 feet across, but it did have some nice scenery (large picture above and first and second thumbnails below). I grabbed a snack at the Portobello Pub and then dinner that evening at the Barge Pub, both near my hotel. 


Merrion Square palm trees & snow

Friday March 2nd

I started my first full day in Dublin walking by the Georgian offices around Merrion Square. This was the most impressive architecture in the city and the famous entry doors were striking (third and fourth pictures above). Merrion Square itself was an interesting contrast. There was a light snow cover on the ground in the park in the same location as palm trees (large picture above right). 

I then walked over to Trinity College to see the Long Room and the 1000 year old Book of Kells. The area inside the College was completely unmarked, but I found my way. The Book of Kells is an incredibly intricate (158 strokes per quarter inch in some spots) hand illustrated version of the Gospels. It is impressive to see, but they can only display 4 pages at a time (The page of Kells is the cynic's perspective). Further, in a regressive policy I always dislike, the Long Room and the Book of Kells prohibited all photography, even without flash. A fire drill cut my visit short in the Long Room. It looks a lot like the famous pictures, except there are now computer terminals beside most of the busts. I grabbed a fish & chips lunch on Grafton Street and headed out to the Guinness Brewery.

The Guinness Brewery is the largest in the world. They have a new facility across the street from the main processing (first picture below) that is set up for touring. They tell the history and story of how Guinness is made (second picture below), how to properly pour a Guinness and you end up in a bar on the top floor where they pour you a sample. A couple of  views from the bar are shown in the third and fourth pictures below. The tour is good, but not great, in that it seems too distant from the actual operations. From Guinness, I headed for the Literary Museum on O'Connell Street. After the museum, I did some shopping along O'Connell while I walked back to the hotel. I walked to dinner at Jury's, a famous Hotel and Pub about a mile southeast of the hotel.

Saturday March 3rd

I started the day with a tour of Dublin's two famous churches, Christ Church and St. Patrick's. Christ Church is the more interesting, including a tour of the original 12th century crypt beneath the sanctuary. The first two pictures below are of the upper section, the third is the crypt and the fourth is the outside.

I then walked 5 minutes down the road to St. Patrick's (first picture below). The cathedral is most impressive from the outside. From St. Patrick's I took a bus to the Jameson Distillery, the birthplace of Irish Whiskey. Their tour was good, but a bit too long and over structured. I learned that the taste variations in whiskey stem from the way they are made. Scotch barley is dried using smoke giving it a hickory taste. American bourbon is aged in new barrels giving it less oak flavor and Irish whiskey is distilled three successive times and aged in used barrels (second picture below). There was a tasting room at the end of the tour to emphasize the contrasts.

I took a bus back to the Temple Bar area and grabbed a late lunch at the Bad Ass Cafe, made famous because Sinead O'Connor once waited tables there (third picture below). I walked through Temple Bar, which has the charm of an up and coming "left bank" neighborhood a bit like Soho or Greenwich Village. I finished the day shopping around Trinity College and on O'Connell Street. I had dinner at a local Pub and turned in early to prepare for an early flight back to the states.

The Celtic Tiger Roars

The "Celtic Tiger" was dubbed such because of the strong economic turnaround of the past years, funded largely by EC investments. It is a study in large scale change. One of the most striking things I noticed was the effect it had on the demographics of the city's population. I am used to being a part of the "baby boom" generation in the US where there are a lot of people in my 45 year old age group. In Ireland, there was almost no one near my age in the city. There were a lot of over 60 year olds and and a huge group of 20 to 30 somethings. Poor economic conditions of the past spawned an exodus of a generation from Dublin. The 20 to 30 somethings reminded me of the US in the early eighties. There is a mood of optimism, but an attitude of get it while you can because it may not last. They dress in business wear that looks the same and are very trend conscious. I got a kick out of their popular beer in the Pubs - Bud Light. It cost more than Guinness - Go figure. I stuck with the old boring Guinness myself. 

I also got an unexpected study in crisis management as well, in that the livestock foot and mouth disease outbreak from England hit in Northern Ireland just days before I arrived. The Republic of Ireland was in a panic to keep it out. It was front page news every day, yet it wasn't until the third day that the papers mentioned that the disease had little effect on humans. 

My assessment was that they took all the wrong prevention steps while I was there - obviously ineffective and very costly. One of many examples: They closed the main entrance to St. Stevens Green (park) in the center of Dublin and posted a notice that no one could enter the park. They left a side entrance open with a chemically treated mat to step on, but posted a notice to keep animals off the mat. A city employee stayed there all day and poured chemicals on the mat to keep it wet. They left the back entrances open without any notice or mat. Similar inconsistent approaches were used at the airport. Time has proven my initial assessment correct. Foot and mouth broke out in the Republic within the month.

Infrastructure was another weakness in Dublin. While there is a lot of money around, the transportation system was very poor. Buses were the only mass transit available and decoding the system was difficult for a visitor. With the notable exception of the old Georgian offices near Merrion Square and some historic buildings, most buildings in the city were either new square boxes or old and run down. City neighborhoods seemed to change from good to bad on a block by block basis.

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