As soon as the seatbelt sign clicked off following a bumpy take off, the plane ended its brief stint at cruising altitude and hastily made its way back down to terra firma. At scarcely over an hour away, Dublin and London are practically neighbours. And on the surface, the two capital cities have a lot in common.
In addition to geographic similarities, there is some architectural and aesthetic overlap. Dublin, as a tour guide described it, is very much a Georgian city – a stamp left by the British Empire who claimed Ireland as its own until the 1920s. Of course, Westminster left much more of a mark on Dublin and the rest of the Emerald Isle than a few stately buildings.
A sign stating Fáilte Ireland greeted me as I exited Dublin Airport. Fáilte is a Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic) word for welcome. And while the Irish accent, with its heart-melting diphthongs and sing-song tones, is beloved around the world, it is Gaeilge – not English – that is the national language of the Republic of Ireland.
A result of a concerted effort on the part of the British Empire to suppress Gaeilge and align the Emerald Isle closer with the crown, English became the de facto primary language of Ireland. A globalised economy means that this is unlikely to change, but I was told by more than a few locals that Gaeilge is experiencing a bit of a comeback.
My visit to Dublin coincided with St. Patrick’s Fest, a multi day festival culminating in a St. Patrick’s Day parade through the centre of town. To celebrate, the city was doused in generous proportions of green, white, and orange – the colours of the Irish flag. Filling the streets of Dublin were tourists, mainly from the US, donned in Kiss Me I’m Irish t-shirts, orange leprechaun beards, and green Viking helmets.
St. Patrick’s Fest, admittedly, is probably not the best time to witness Dublin at its most authentic. However, the national holiday does provide an excellent opportunity to discover the history and heritage of Dublin and its people.
Amidst the endless pints of Guinness and bright green regalia, this worldwide-celebrated holiday honours St. Patrick. St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the outskirts of central Dublin marks the site where Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, baptised 5th century Dubliners, thus aiding in driving the snakes (paganism) from the island.
Walking in the footsteps of St. Patrick, my guide led me through the story of Dublin. From its original settlers to clashes with Viking invaders and the British Empire, it became clear to me that Dublin was nothing like London. Looking past the Georgian buildings and peeling back the English language, I discovered a city previously unknown to me.
Yes, St. Patrick’s Fest is for tourists. But alongside the shots of Jameson and tourism dollars, the festival beautifully showcases Dublin as an Irish city, with an Irish heritage unmistakably distinctive from its neighbour to the east.
Getting to Dublin
Ireland’s national airline Aer Lingus operates regular flights from multiple destination in the UK as well as the US.
Where to Stay in Dublin
I stayed at the three-star Buswells Hotel. Occupying an elegant Georgian home in the centre of Dublin, it was clean, comfortable, and had a fabulous pub and restaurant. It did feel, however, a bit dated.
For more modern accommodation, try the Conrad Dublin. The hotel is located a little further out from the centre, but it’s not a bad trade off considering the modern facilities.
Dublin’s most famous, historic, and prestigious hotel is The Shelbourne. This five-star establishment was the site where the Irish constitution was drafted and boasts a long and proud history. Former guests include President Kennedy and Jackie-O, among others.
Where to Eat in Dublin
Tucked away in Dublin’s photogenic Georgian quarter, Matt the Thresher serves up heaps of delicious seafood in a modern setting and attracts locals and tourists alike.
Quite possibly Ireland’s poshest supermarket, Fallon & Byrne in central Dublin also boasts an impressive upstairs dining area where guests are treated to delectable local dishes. Fallon & Byrne is an active participant in the slow food movement, which focuses on preparing food using ingredients from local sources.
Dating back to 1198 (no, that’s not a typo), the Brazen Head Pub is far and away the oldest pub in Dublin. While it’s worth a visit for that reason alone, patrons also come for the live music, Irish storytelling, and the free flowing pints of Guinness.
(My trip to Ireland was sponsored by Tourism Ireland. However, all opinions are my own.)
Has anyone else been to Dublin before? Fill us in on what you thought about the city and your favourite attractions in the comments section!