by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Off-Beat and Off-the-Beaten Track
There were quibbles following the recent Travel Bloggers [TBEX] conference in Dublin that these intrepid investigators didn’t really showcase anything new or different about the city. Their coverage tended to focus on what’s already known and loved – Trinity, Guinness, friendly people etc – and, with some exceptions, we didn’t get too much “off the beaten track” stuff. So this blog post is for anyone who has been to Dublin at least once and wants something different. You’ve seen The Book of Kells, poured your own pint at the Storehouse, immersed yourself in Jonathan Swift’s “righteous indignation” at St Pats; you’ve ambled up and down Grafton Street and maybe even taken afternoon tea at The Shelbourne or the Merrion. And you’ve seen the Caravaggio and the Ardagh Chalice. So what next? Here’s my top 10 “off beat or off the beaten tracks” attractions.
Glasnevin Cemetery Museum – Designed by award winning, Dublin-based architects A&D Wejchert, the stunning building is set in the grounds of the cemetery and provides a great starting point for your visit. Be sure to take the guided tour of the plots as it’s a wonderfully easy portal into the history of modern Ireland with all key political and revolutionary figures from Daniel O’Connell to Charles Stewart Parnell to Eamon DeValera and Michael Collins buried there.
Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane – a cultural gem located north of the Liffey on Parnell Square, this small gallery pivots around the famous Hugh Lane bequest which, over 100 years ago, caused huge controversy, inspiring at least one poem by W.B. Yeats. Hugh Lane’s original collection of priceless impressionist masterpieces has been added to over the years and, in a recent major coup, the gallery was bequeathed Francis Bacon’s studio, now meticulously re-constructed on site. This is a small gallery with a big, big impact.
Bowe’s – Dublin has more than its fair share of traditional pubs like Doheny & Nesbit’s, The Long Hall, McDaid’s, The Palace. They’ve all stubbornly resisted change, modernisation and yuppification over the years and thank God for that. My own favourite traditional pub, however, is Bowe’s. It’s hidden away behind the Westin Dublin on Fleet Street and looks the same now as it did 35 years ago when a young student on a bike studying in UCD used to meet a beautiful brown eyed girl studying in Trinity for lunch there.
The DART – the Dublin Area Rapid Transit is a commuter train which runs from Howth / Malahide in North County Dublin to Bray/Greystones in South Country Dublin. It’s journey is“from swerve of shore to bend of bay” as James Joyce himself might say. Take it either North or South from the downtown stations at Westland Row or Tara Street and enjoy a gradually unfolding panorama of gritty city sights, stunning sea views and affluent suburban scenes. You’ll get a sense of our growing city in a couple of hours that otherwise might take a long time to achieve.
The Little Museum of Dublin – located in a beautiful Georgian edifice on St Stephen’s Green, this is a wonderful addition to Dublin’s cultural offering. Concentrating on the social history of the past 100 years, the museum traces the birth of a nation through 5000 artefacts donated by the people of Dublin. You’ll find milk bottles, concert tickets, personal letters and miscellaneous ephemera that “tell a big story”. On your next visit to Dublin be sure to sign up for the “City for a Thousand Welcomes” programme. It’s a highly innovative and completely complimentary initiative that links visitors and locals over a cup of tea or a pint.
Le Cool – The Le Cool franchise – now in 9 cities – promises a free weekly cultural agenda and an alternative city guide delivered to your in-box every Thursday. Ciaran and Michael brought Le Cool to Ireland in 2010 and, for me and many others, are the “go-to” gurus in Dublin for contemporary cultural enlightenment. They’re very much of the “new” Ireland and have a nose for unearthing the coolest, most creative cultural truffles imaginable! Their “le cool Experience” a two hour walking tour of Dublin, rarely repeats the same visits twice and always showcases some new emerging talent in the city.
Hire a bike – Dublin has been experiencing an infestation of mamils for the past few years, probably due to the government sponsored “bike to work” scheme. Most days, but particularly on weekends, the road near my house in Terenure is choc-a-bloc with middle-aged-men-in-lycra heading for the hills at Ticknock, Kilamashogue, Tibradden and Pine Forest. These hills offer a really challenging ride and a panoramic view of Dublin that’ll take you breath away. Alternatively head north, following the cycle path along the seafront at Clontarf and climb the equally challenging Hill of Howth from where you can see the full profile of Dublin Bay. You can hire good bikes in the Phoenix Park at this location.
Cruise across Dublin Bay – in summer 2013 Dublin Bay Cruises launched daily sailings across the Bay from Dun Laoghaire to Howth. Cruises commence again in March 2014 and allow locals and visitors alike to experience one of Dublin’s premier natural assets – an astonishingly beautiful Bay shaped like two arms welcoming you in a warm embrace. Combine the one way journey by boat from Dun Laoghaire to Howth with the one way return from Howth by DART for a perfect experience of land and sea and spare a poignant thought for the thousands of emigrants whose last view of Dublin was from the mail boat as it sailed from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead in Wales.
National Library of Ireland – located on Kildare Street adjacent to the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library is another hidden cultural gem that yields up unexpected pleasures both on-line (the “search” facility on its website is amazing) and face-to-face. Running since 2006, the seventy fifth anniversary of his death, the award winning exhibition of Ireland’s national poet, W.B. Yeats, is excellent and can even be accessed on-line.
National Botanic Gardens of Ireland – dating from 1795, the gardens are located in Glasnevin around the corner from Glasnevin Cemetery. Entrance is free to this extraordinary earthly paradise of shapes, colours, textures and perfumes. I know of at least one young man who was inspired to pop the question here. And, surrounded by such natural beauty and calm, why wouldn’t you? Queen Victoria visited here in 1849.
For more hidden gems and off the beaten track suggestions check out Dublin: More Roads Less Travelled
PS Thanks to James O’Neill for reminding me to suggest that you combine a visit to Glasnevin and the Botanic Gardens with a pint in the famous “GraveDiggers” pub, located nearby.
Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy working with destinations and enterprises on marketing and training. In the late 1980s he worked as an Italian speaking tour guide in Ireland.