After arriving into Dublin on an okay flight with Ryanair (read about that here), I headed outside of Dublin Airport’s Terminal 1 to find the shuttle buses to the city. I had planned ahead and purchased a one day visitor’s LEAP card for 10euros online which had been posted to me ahead of the trip. Whilst at the time I had thought this good value, I was even more impressed when I arrived at the bus stop to find a return from the airport to the city was 12euros and this was included on my LEAP card. The LEAP cards also include all buses and trams within the city as well as DART and rail services within the ‘short hop’ zone (which covers the city and most of the suburbs!).
After jumping off the 747 bus at Aston Quay, I had about 45 minutes until my walking tour started nearby and so decided to take a quick walk around a loop that included Ha’penny bridge and Temple Bar. Finishing back at the north end of Ha’penny bridge, I met with the group from Generation Tours for the free walking tour of Dublin. Today seemed to be a popular day with 70 people having gathered for the English tour with there also being a Spanish tour leaving at the same time. Having been split into two groups and introduced to our guide, Alan(n?), we set off south, ignoring the Ha’penny bridge for now and headed to Dublin Castle.
Arriving at the Castle Alan started by giving us a whirlwind history of Ireland and Dublin, starting with the Vikings and running all the way to the model day. Obviously there have been difficult times in Ireland’s history, especially when it comes to relations with England, and Alan did brilliantly in covering these with the respect they deserve whilst also keeping the mood light. For example, whilst telling us that the English first came to Ireland in 1169, we were told “of course, it all went really well over the next 800 years”.
Dublin Castle is now mostly an 18th century complex of buildings, although a castle has stood on the site since the days of King John and the Record Tower was built in the early 1200s. Just inside the archway to the main courtyard there are two lamps inscribed with 988 and 1988, designed in commemoration of Dublin’s 1000th anniversary in 1988. The only issue with this was that Dublin was in fact founded in 841 and not 988, with the latter date supposedly being decided upon in 1987 to allow for tourism boosting centenary celebrations the following year!
A infamous period in Irish history is the Great Famine, which hit Ireland between 1845 and 1849. Commonly known outside Ireland as the Great Potato Famine, the worst affected areas were the south and west of Ireland which, due to the poor soil conditions, mainly grew potato crops which were affected by blight. The worst year of the famine was 1847, known as Black ’47, and the famine caused about one million deaths in Ireland and another one million emigrations. Ireland’s population has yet to recover, with it continuing to decline from 8 million in 1841 to a low of just 2.8 million in 1961! The population has begun to climb since the low, however the most recent 2011 census shows the population still at only 4.58 million.
Ireland has unfortunately suffered a great deal through laws imposed in the 17th century as a method of forcing Catholics and dissident Protestants to accept the position of the Church of Ireland. Known as the penal laws, these included the barring of Catholics holding public office or serving in the Irish army and eventually banned Catholics from voting or owning property over certain values (including the £5 maximum value of a horse). Fortunately pressure from within Ireland resulted in the penal laws being gradually removed from 1778 onwards, with the last significant laws being removed in 1829 after a successful campaign for Catholic emancipation led by Daniel O’Connell. O’Connell, known as ‘The Liberator’ or ‘The Emancipator’ also campaigned for a repeal of the Act of Union, a campaign that was eventually successful 75 years after his death with the establishment of the Irish Free State.
The mausoleum of O’Connell in Dublin’s Glasnevin cemetery (subject of the film One million Dubliners) is marked with a large round tower and following the establishment of the Irish Free State, a Dublin street was renamed O’Connell Street as part of his legacy. O’Connell Street is Dublin’s main thoroughfare and home to the ‘Millennium Tower of Light’. According to our tour guide, the Millennium Tower of Light was commissioned to celebrate the turn of the millennium, however wasn’t completed until long after the celebrations had finished in 2003.
The Tower of Light is also supposed to be illuminated with holes in it’s structure allowing beams of light to spread in all directions. Unfortunately the light inside the tower broke shortly after construction and due to cost considerations, the tower is only illuminated by the legally required aircraft warning beacon. In what appears to be true Dublin style the tower is affectionately known as the ‘Stiffy near the Liffey’, continuing the tradition of giving alternative names to statues. There are other statues around Dublin known and the ‘Floozy in the Jacuzzi’, ‘The Hags with the Bags’ and ‘The Tart with the Cart’!
Ireland has two official languages, English and Gaelic, and all legislation passed by the Irish parliament is required to be published in both languages. Unfortunately, despite being an official language, very few people can actually speak Gaelic and in 2015 this caused massive issues when the 1977 Misuse of Drugs Act was found unconstitutional. Essentially the Gaelic translation stated that possession of the various drugs covered by the act (including Ecstasy and Ketamine) was legal as opposed to illegal in the English translation. This all resulted in possession of the drugs being completely legal for 24hours whilst the Government and Parliament rushed through replacement legislation.
Dublin has also had a plethora of interesting characters over the years which have become local legends. ‘Bang Bang’ was an elderly gentleman who was a fan of cowboy films and travelled around the city on buses and trams staging mock shootouts with members of the public. Using a large key as his ‘gun’ and shouting bang bang, Dubliners participated by either returning fire or playing dead. Another of Dublin’s famous faces was ‘The man on the bridge’ who, over a span of more than 50 years, took more than 180,000 photographs of pedestrians using O’Connell bridge. There is now an interactive website dedicated to his work.
As the walking tour came to a close near Trinity College, we were gifted one final interesting fact by our guide. The harp symbol, Ireland’s official national emblem, had to be reversed by the Irish Free State Government in 1922 because Guinness had trademarked the harp symbol almost 50 years earlier. There was plenty more covered in the tour and I would definitely recommend giving it a go. English language tours depart daily at 1100 and 1500 from outside the Grand Social on the north side of Ha’penny Bridge. You can have a look at the website here!
My time in Dublin was drawing to a close and, after a quick ride on the DART (Dublin’s commuter rail network), it was time to head back to the airport. Dublin is definitely worth a visit and, with connections to most of the UK courtesy of Ryanair, a day trip can easily be made worthwhile. I’ll definitely be heading back in the near future and can’t wait to learn more about the fabulous city.