Sightseeing and conferencing in the capital of the Republic of Ireland.
The purpose of this trip was to attend the Global Undergraduate Summit, an event for commended students from various academic areas – mine was the Visual Arts. But, no surprise, I also used the opportunity of being in Dublin to see the city.
I arrived as the darkness fell, and before I got out of the airport, my watch showed that there were a number of status-yellow weather warnings in place. Indeed, heavy rain and strong winds weren't as inviting to commence my excursion of the city, so I went directly to my hostel. The rain was gone about an hour later, opening the chance to go for a walk. Curious to see what's the city like, that's what I did.
The first thing I noticed was ruined umbrellas on every other corner. Wind and umbrellas don't mix well. Getting deeper into Dublin was exciting. In many ways, it resembled the UK (architecture, weather, double-deckers, driving on the same side, English...) yet, it felt surprisingly different. The atmosphere reminded me of places like Amsterdam and New Orleans more than any city I visited in the UK.
There's a river going through, buildings are mostly from bricks, but I think the main factor contributing to this impression was the local generous attitude towards nightlife.
Because of that, some streets offered a combination of grim and glamour — Nicely lit buildings were connected by pavement full of litter tossed around by the drunk people. Another downside was a surprisingly large volume of smoking in public places. On the plus side, loads of local bars offer live music. From questionable cover versions of pop songs to immensely cool Irish folk, this became an attraction for pretty much every evening.
The next day I planned to see some galleries. However, the first thing in the morning was to get on the top of the tallest smokestack of the old Jameson Distillery.
The smokestack is from 1895, the time Jameson was at the peak of its success. But then, the Irish whiskey industry sustained many hits by the Prohibition, trade conflicts and the World Wars. Jameson merged with other brands and moved production away from Dublin in 1971. The site declined until the end of the 20th century when the area got transformed into residential and office spaces, and Jameson opened its visitors centre here. The smokestack then got two decks of an observation platform fitted on its top, accessible by a lift. But around seven years later, the lift broke down, and nobody was keen to fix it. The deck then closed for many years — in fact, the Internet still says that it is not open. But as I do like industrial points of interest, I planned to visit the site regardless. And surprise, they let me in. Only instead of a lift, I had to climb nearly 250 steps. I will sound like a broken record, but the luck is for the prepared.
After this unplanned but exciting morning stretch, I got down to business as I headed to the Irish Modern Art Museum. It is located in a former hospital/retirement house for soldiers from the 17th century.
Inside were four exhibitions. Whether it was a set of photos showcasing beauty in simple things surrounding humans every day or sophisticated mirror ornaments, they were all enjoyable.
Then I took a walk across the attached garden, which leads to a park towards the Kilmainham Gaol. It is a former prison from 1796, now a museum.
It is a place that played a role in the Irish nationalistic movements since its construction until the Irish Free State got established in 1922. Many rebellions' leaders ended here, often being executed. Although far from cheerful, it was interesting to learn about local history.
There are multiple monuments reminding the struggles of gaining and maintaining nationality across the whole city. Reading signs stating life losses related to the nation, I couldn't stop thinking about the idea of the need for identity and union, but also the dark side of the matter when people are judged based on their passport rather than the merits they represent. It is so easy to slip from patriotism into extremes, and so it happened that the amount of my negative experiences linked with nationalism outweighs the positive ones by a large margin. Concluding that I ain't going to solve this issue today, I moved on.
I got purposely lost among the streets, where I spoke with a few locals about the city. The people I met were friendly, but the strong Irish accent took an effort to get used to. Eventually, I ended in Trinity College, Ireland's oldest and the highest-ranked university.
I had lunch there and visited their Douglas Hyde Gallery. Since the conference later included a visit to Trinity, I didn't explore much of the rest of the campus and went to see another two galleries instead. To reach them, I ended walking through some visually stimulating back streets.
Some of which were prettier than others.
There are also some parks in the area, so I went there when the last gallery closed. St Stephen's Green proved as a nice place to enjoy the sunset.
At this point, I was tired after a day of walking. But I also didn't want to waste my time in Dublin, more corners of the city had to be explored!
The next day I started where I left yesterday, wandering through the downtown's streets. Exploring a new city located in the western hemisphere by myself was something I hadn't done in a long time. It resonated with the time I stayed in the US, where I did that regularly.
The sky was crystal clear, and still soaked surfaces caused every street to look like an arranged movie set and every pedestrian like a model.
I saw the old city walls from 1240, another neat park, and the Dublin Castle:
Behind the castle is yet another beautiful garden. It doubles as a heliport and has many neat places to have a chat or just to rest.
While walking around this morning, one could hear churches' bells ringing almost constantly, which brings me to the other thing I wanted to do on this day: visit some of the cathedrals Dublin has to offer.
There are a few interesting ones, but two stand out: The Christ Church and St Patrick, both erected in medieval times. It never ceases to impress me that these buildings are so old, yet more elegant than many built nowadays. The amount of history, wisdom and power attached to these temples is astonishing; looking at the stone walls is like reading a book.
An odd fact, the biggest concentration of warning signs about pickpockets I saw in Dublin was around these cathedrals.
The rest of the afternoon I had for the Guinness Storehouse. This turned out to be more fun than expected, as coming here after visiting those cathedrals provided an unexpected twist in the experience. Both institutions actually shared a lot in common. Same as in the St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Storehouse also welcomes the visitors with a range of merchandise. But more importantly, when you move on to see the building, you'll find a big sign: "The essence of Guinness is all around you." Later, there are many other quotes where if you'd replace the word "Guinness" with "Spirit," they would work pretty well in a church setting. It was genuinely entertaining, mainly on the floor dedicated to Guinness advertising. Watching all the people sharing the values presented by the brewery, taking selfies with pints and celebrating this religion of beer brought back the "what's important" inner dialogue from earlier.
Leaving all the philosophy behind, I have to say that the Storehouse is a cool place, where the visitors can learn about the process of making the Guinness' beer and the impact of the brewery on Dublin through a well-executed installation.
As a bonus, visitors can also visit the Gravity Bar, a lounge above the Storehouse's roof, with panoramic windows offering views over the city and beyond. Looking at storms rolling over the hills down south and recognizing places I've seen in the last two days, good times.
I left after the sunset but before the complete darkness. That way, I could enjoy the streets nearby with a still-present sense of blue in the sky.
Shortly after this pic, it was night again. But once more, who knows when's the next time I will be in Dublin? I don't; better make some use of it. With this in mind, I went for another walk, this time exploring the area around the docks.
It's a trendy neighbourhood with fancy apartment complexes and the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre:
The following three days were occupied by the conference. It was the first one focused on academic research that I've attended – while I am not new to conferences, I wasn't sure what to expect from this one. It turned out great: some of the presentations were thought-provoking due to the topics, others thanks to the speakers' specific speech patterns and persuasive methods. It was also grand to be surrounded by people from all over the globe, who, by the nature of the work they do, are skilful at arguments. This resulted in good discussions — whether debating controversial issues or friendly chatting about locations, cultures and values. Did you know that every building in Singapore has its own postcode? And so on.
The event took place in a convention centre that is a part of the Crock Park, a massive stadium for Gaelic games.
On the third day of the conference, we moved to the Trinity College, where besides other stuff, I had a chance to see some of their buildings from the inside.
The most memorable was the Book of Kells library. It's a bibliophile's heaven, and it's one of Harry Potter's filming locations. But even if you aren't into the two, it is incredible to see.
Time flew by, the conference was suddenly over, and I went back to my hostel for the last time. All stories come to an end; such is life. But having my flight back home booked on the next day's late afternoon allowed me to say dignified goodbye to the city.
I visited a few more exhibitions and checked out the Phoenix Park – the largest enclosed public park in any European capital city, a calm sanctuary with many compelling sights, such as the Wellington Monument, a 62m /203ft tall obelisk. But my favourite part was just the sheer amount of greenery all over the place.
I also realized that in the floods of excitement, I forgot to ask someone at the conference for a picture of me. Leaving Dublin without one? So I took a selfie to fix it.
Then I walked through downtown for the last time...
..and that was it. Dublin left me with an impression of a vivid, relatively compact city with various charms and interesting people to chat with. I left Dublin with a desire to come back one day.
Thanks for reading!
Tech note: I took all the pics above on a compact camera with a fixed 35mm lens. I had a blast working with it, but I also noticed loads of details out of reach. Dublin is more of a city of tight perspectives than wide panoramas. If you'd go, I'd suggest taking a long lens.
If you liked this post, you might enjoy my other travelling adventures, such as:
Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories