This morning, on one of my usual routes, I passed a lady in a scarf and a quilted jacket (the distinctive markings of a tourist, since the sun was shining today and the natives were all taking the opportunity to wear t-shirts in the 20°C heat*) snapping a photo of a bar. I pass this place multiple times a month, and rarely give it a moment’s thought. It’s a small, picturesque pub with stone walls and hanging baskets dripping with flowers. It squats serenely between an unremarkable shop and a nondescript building that is so eminently forgettable I can’t even remember enough about it to tell you what it is.
Anyway, my point is, it’s a pub. Just a pub. There are plenty like it in Dublin. Old man pubs with stained glass and dark interiors and velvet, studded stools. They smell of well-worn wood and old pints of beer, and have a lingering atmosphere of throaty laughs and shared secrets.
Dublin is CRAMMED with these places. Actually, Ireland in general has more pubs than you might consider strictly necessary. We have over 7,193 pubs – that doesn’t include other establishments that provide alcoholic beverages like off-licences and hotel bars – in a country of 84,421 km². The village of Liscannor in county Clare has a population of only 129 people, and it has five pubs. FIVE. That’s one pub for every 26 residents.
And somehow, they stay in business.
Anyway, I digress.
All this to say, Dublin has its fair share of pubs. Many of them are the stone-walled, hanging-basket variety. Almost all of them have the Irish Pub™ vibe about them once you’re in the door. If you were to take a photo of every pub in Ireland you’d go through memory cards like any decent person goes through Tayto crisps.
I thought about this as I turned the corner and drove past Christ Church Cathedral. Open-mouthed tourists in brightly coloured clothing surrounded it, their faces wearing that familiar expression of people unaccustomed to viewing buildings from round about 1000AD. I drove on down Dame Street, passing Dublin Castle (built over 800 years ago) and thought about how little I actually consider these things.
It’s difficult to see your home country through the eyes of a stranger.
When I visit America, this is one of the things that strikes me the hardest about the place, this unrelenting newness. Everything feels relatively temporary. So many of the houses I’ve seen there – with the exception of the beautiful redbricks in Boston – are made of wood, whereas in Ireland the houses are almost exclusively built of stone or brick. In America, everything is new. Even the buildings that Americans consider to be old are pretty new. When I hear anyone talk about anything “old” in America, all I hear in my head is that quote from Clueless:
“Isn’t my house classic? The columns date all the way back to 1972!”
The landscape is incredible, changing dramatically depending on where you are in the country, and yet there’s nothing man-made that anchors you in the past. Nothing like the round tower of Glendalough, which has stood in Wicklow silently surveying the slowly changing landscape since the 6th century. Nothing like the passage tomb at Newgrange, built around 3200BC, decorated with celtic spirals and symbols, with the chamber that was built to be fully illuminated only on the day of the solstice. These edifices have stood firm for an unfathomably long time. They have been silent witnesses to generations of people living, and dying, and living, and dying, and living. They have weathered storms and stood firm against invasions and cold snaps and buffeting winds. Some have had to be repaired in the relatively recent past – we can’t begrudge them that after thousands of years – and today people with large cameras and plastic ponchos travel to marvel at them, slack-jawed.
And I drive past them without blinking.
So I’ve decided to make a bucket list. It will only be a Dublin bucket list, to start with. Instead of doing my best to hit up every brunch spot in Dublin and try every possible variation of Eggs Benedict (they’re SO GOOD THOUGH), I’m going to draw up a list of the top tourist attractions in Dublin and see if I can see my city through new eyes. I’m going to unironically do some of the very things I usually roll my eyes at.
And I’ll write all about it when I do, let you know what’s worth it when/if you visit this tiny corner of the world.
What sort of tourist traps have you avoided in your own town? Is there anything you know you should visit but just… haven’t? What is your hometown famous for? How many pubs does it keep in business? This inquiring mind wants to know!
*68°F for those in the Wesht. WHAT A DAY!