DUBLIN: As it prepares for the annual St Patrick’s Day invasion, Tina Walsh finds there’s a much gentler way to explore Ireland’s capital
Everyone knows that being in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day means Leprechauns, green face paint and drinking so much in the pubs around Temple Bar that you can hardly stand up. But where’s the fun in that? For the more cerebrally minded visitor there are plenty of other, less giddy, pursuits worth a look, even if, they too, involve a fair amount of imbibing.
A good place to start and to get your bearings is on a literary walk, taking in – what else – the pubs and bars that once played host to Irish giants such as Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and Brendan Behan.
The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl takes in four pubs, as well as Trinity College Dublin. It starts at The Duke, on, appropriately enough, Duke Street, one of the city’s oldest drinking dens. Over a pint of – yes, you guessed it – Guinness, our guide Colm, who’s also a professional actor, tells us a bit about the pub’s history and its association with Michael Collins, the leader of the Irish War of Independence,1919-1921. “He used it as one of his many safe houses around the city,” says Colm. “Stick around for long enough and you might find yourself rubbing shoulders with a new generation of Irish writers like John Boyne, who wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and Man Booker prize winner Anne Enright.
“And if any of you have 100,000 euros to spare, you can pick up a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses from Cathach Rare Books just down the road,” he adds. Not surprisingly, no one puts their hand up.
At Trinity College, we stop outside The Oscar Wilde Centre, an academic research unit founded in 1998, on the site – 21 Westland Row – where the poet, author and playwright was born and raised. On the other hand, O’Neill’s, on Suffolk Street, has been a licensed premises for over 300 years. It’s a curious mix of gnarled old locals drinking solemnly at the bar, business types and tourists of just about every nationality. Perhaps they’ve come to look at the famous snug, which has its own entrance and serving counter.
Next up is the Old Stand on Exchequer Street, whose most famous patron was Michael Collins. “He used it as a place to gather information on members of the British secret services and would often come and go in disguise,” says Colm.
The last stop, Davy Brynes, takes us back to Duke Street. A magnet for Joyceans, this is where Leopold Bloom, the Everyman Jew in Ulysses, walked in and ordered a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of Burgundy. The publication of the novel in 1922 led to a pilgrimage which continues today.
Temple Bar and Grafton Streets, two of Dublin’s most popular tourist areas, will be heaving on St Patrick’s Day so give them a wide berth if you don’t want to join the crush.
A good place to while away a boozy holiday lunch or dinner is the Winding Stair Restaurant on Lower Ormond Quay. Named after a poem by William Butler Yeats, it’s right on the waterfront, overlooking the River Liffey and the Ha’penny Bridge.
Inside, it’s all shabby chic mahogany stripped floors, Bentwood cafe chairs and bustling, attentive waiters, with a menu that emphasises seasonal Irish produce, such as beef liver with caramelised onion mash, deep fried sage and Irish balsamic.
The downstairs bookshop has been there since the 1970s (the restaurant opened in 2006 after the cafe closed down) and is one of Dublin’s oldest surviving independent bookshops.
St Patrick is claimed to have exhorted his countrymen to partake in a drop of the “hard stuff” and it’s only right (nowadays, women can join in too) that you should sample a drop or two of Irish whiskey while you’re in Dublin.
A train ride an hour or so out of town will take you to the town of Tullamore and the Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre. Reopened in September after refurbishment, the centre showcases one of Ireland’s oldest whiskies, which began life in 1829. A tour lasts about an hour and a half, and, of course, you’re allowed to sample some of the goods.
An altogether more decadent way to spend a few hours (or the night) is to go for cocktails at the Dylan. Situated in the leafy residential district of Ballsbridge about a 10-minute walk south of the Liffey, the hotel, once the Royal Hospital Nurses’ Home, is a fetching antidote to all those bland chains.
Inside the handsome Victorian building it’s a carefully planned riot of leather studded walls (and lifts), bright red Murano glass chandeliers and lime green and blood red velvet sofas.
A kind of Alice in Wonderland meets David Lynch that you won’t want to leave.
Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies twice a day from Leeds Bradford Airport (www.leedsbradfordairport.co.uk) to Dublin Airport.
To pre-book on-site car parking, fast-track check-in and access to the Yorkshire Premier Lounge, visit www.leedsbradfordairport.co.uk.
Rooms at the Dylan hotel, Eastmoreland Place, start at £146, including continental breakfast. Tel: +353 1 6603000, visit www.dylan.ie
The Winding Stair, + 353 1 8727320, www.winding-stair.com
The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, +353 1 6705602, www.dublinpubcrawl.com
Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre, +353 57 9325015, visit www.tullamoredewvisitorcentre.com.