Signs of Irish spirit have been popping up everywhere as a beloved holiday approaches once again. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’m reflecting on so many great memories of my first trip to Ireland; I’d love to be there for a few days around March 17. During my visit last summer, so many moments from sightseeing and dining to glimpses of unexpected details made for an overall unique experience. Here are just a few of my favorites.
One of our first stops, after settling into our accommodations, was Fitzgerald’s. The pub is decorated with deep green sections of wall, the figure of an old sailor and a ship’s wheel, the atmosphere was cozy and relaxed. The Fitzgerald’s Homemade burger was delicious and we found out that sodas were referred to as splits on the bill. We finished our food and drinks and stayed for a good bit longer just to talk about the days ahead in Dublin.
This Ulysses marker, located on one side of O’Connell Bridge, is one of the unexpected items I spotted just as I happened to look down for a moment. Rain had been falling steadily the first time I saw it, but I managed to take the photo toward the end of a sunny day of sightseeing later on. The marker was a site I hadn’t known about, along with other ones on the streets of Dublin before arriving there.
Dublin Castle came into view as I toured the city on foot with a small group of classmates. Its exterior details were impressive, with tall, arching windows and numerous spires. There were also several narrow slits which reminded me of history programs or medieval-themed movies in which knights shot out arrows at enemies.
Once inside, we wandered its cathedral and it was like checking off a bucket list item of touring those all over Europe. Ever since learning about art and architecture in an art history class, I wanted to visit these structures and take in their ornate appearance. The cathedral had little cherub faces looking down from a lower part of the ceiling. Lions, horses and shields were carved into wooden sections beneath colorful organ pipes. Columns rose up to sculptures of angelic faces and high-arching ceilings.
Staff from my home college who arranged the trip also set up a tour of Trinity College with tickets to see the Book of Kells. Our tour guide was informative with a sense of humor as he shared with us the campus history. The artwork pictured below, called Sphere with Sphere, was another object I didn’t know about beforehand. Quite eye-catching, it drew crowds regularly each time I was in the vicinity of the creative piece by Arnaldo Pomodoro.
The first company visit on our academic itinerary was the Guinness Storehouse. Following an in-depth audio tour of its history, it was time to sip samples of the famous beverage. Two by two, we all tried our hands at pouring a pint in the Guinness Academy room to be certified in that practice. Lastly, we headed up to the Gravity Bar for amazing 360 degree views of Dublin and nearby countryside. Moving smoothly from one floor to the next, windowed-elevators gave a neat “whoosh” sensation unlike those you’d experience a department store.
After leaving Guinness, many of us decided to make our way to Kilmainham Gaol and learn about its dark history. Overcrowding and disease, we learned, were among the problems faced by inmates. It was a very somber place to explore, with a foreboding atmosphere similar to that of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. The wear and tear could be felt underfoot as we went up and down staircases. Sharp, pointed edges of each step had been eroded away over time. Hallways with arched ceilings and damaged walls led us past shadowy cells of long-ago prisoners.
Along with the historic aspect I hadn’t known much of prior to the tour, I learned about its use as a movie site. While stopping just outside the prison entrance later in the week, I happened to catch workers as they lowered the Irish flag for the day. They removed it from its pole and carefully folded it in the same manner as the American flag is in patriotic ceremonies.
Next stop, the old Brazen Head Pub dating back to 1198. Signs advertised it as Ireland’s oldest pub. It’s name in gold against a stone-face exterior, complimented by colorful hanging flower baskets made for a welcome step into its historic atmosphere. Beyond a stony, arched breezeway, we came across a courtyard with outdoor dining. Continuing inside, a young man led us to a small room with an antique cash register, a little ship in a bottle and portraits of Irish literary figures. Dessert and beverage orders were taken and soon, our small group was enjoying a wonderful mix of flavors. I recommend trying a slice of their chocolate cake washed down with some Bulmer’s Cider.
I used my ticket to see the Book of Kells mid-way through my time in Dublin. The Old Library at Trinity College, home of the ancient book of illustrated pages with Celtic knotwork, had been on my Ireland must-see list for quite a while. So many internet images of its book-filled shelves impressed me and the Book of Kells had been one of the items covered in my art history class seven or eight years earlier. I loved that this trip to Ireland allowed for the chance to visit historic sites I’d wanted to see for so long. It’s definitely worth going to see Trinity’s Old Library in person. Being surrounded by all of the stacks and shelves of old books was like walking back in time.
On the way out of the library, a stairway led down into the gift shop filled with so many great items from which to choose. Shirts, books, bookmarks, magnets, calendars, tote bags, posters, mugs, oven mitts and much more. Whether someone’s interest was Irish literature, castles, cottages, food or other aspects of the country, the merchandise covered it all.
Food was next on the agenda and another place where I found some great food to try was at Pacino’s. There were so many tempting Italian dishes to choose from, it seemed impossible to decide among them. In the end, I ordered an artisan burger with mozzarella and garlic mayo; the unique flavor made for a great choice. Just thinking about it, I want to look for a restaurant in my local area where chefs cook up similar sandwiches.
Going through my photos of Ireland, I couldn’t narrow it down to these 10 moments representing part of my time in the Emerald Isle. Stay tuned for more and have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!