Dublin in a Day & A Bit of Irish History

After 500+ days abroad, I went “home” to the USA for 30 days. I was pretty consumed during my time in the USA — a whirlwind 4 weeks spent in North Carolina, Washington DC, New York City, and Los Angeles, seeing family, friends, and clients.

Then I was back abroad again, arriving to Dublin on July 22.

And, oops, I didn’t really plan my trip to Ireland before arriving.

A week before my flight, I panic booked a $90/night dorm room at Trinity College Dublin so that I’d have somewhere to go after my flight arrived at 7 pm.

Two days before my flight, an old family friend (my former babysitter) confirmed that I could come visit them starting on the 23rd. I booked a train from Dublin to Wexford to arrive after she and her daughters would finish attending a fairy festival.

So I had less than 24 hours to spend in Dublin, also known as a Sunday.

Upon arrival Saturday night, I got through immigration (after a lot of questions) and boarded a big green bus that dropped me off near Trinity College twenty minutes later.

A kind Muslim student working at a tourist information counter directed me to the campus entrance. I wandered down the street, exhausted and hungry, and failed to find the Accommodation office. I went back, and she gently told me no one had ever had trouble before so I should try again.

I schlepped my way back into the Trinity College campus and stopped strangers for help until someone directed me to the appropriate office.

A young man took my credit card to charge me for the overpriced dorm room, handed me a key card, gave me strict wifi instructions, and sent me on my way to my room.

Trinity College Dublin, at sunset, around 9 pm

After checking in and sitting briefly on the seemingly very comfortable twin bed, I decided to venture out for dinner before passing out. I lasted 30 seconds standing in a pub before I retreated into a quiet Italian restaurant for pasta. I thought, I’ll try for the “real” Irish experience later.

Back in a dorm room! But truly, I’ve never much minded them. They’re efficient and often centrally located.

I did some yoga stretches and then took a hot shower in the communal bathroom, stepping out onto the thin paper bathmat that had accompanied my towel. The night air was cool, and I slept quickly.

The next morning, I was out of my room by the appointed 10 am checkout, and I dropped my luggage off for 3 euro each at the college’s student center storage room.

As is often the case, I kept my purse (heavily) laden with all the essentials (and more): laptop, passport, wallets, medicine... It would be a disaster if I got mugged, but I’m more hesitant to let it out of my sight, and I’ve wrestled it away from thieves before.

Off to my day in Dublin!

My sister’s coworker had recommended the Little Museum of Dublin, so I headed there first.

As a solo traveler, I squeezed into a full tour of St. Stephen’s Green that would be leaving in 45 minutes, giving me enough time for a surprisingly delicious breakfast and cappuccino at the cafe below the museum.

Avocado toast with bacon apparently = salad, avocado, brown bread, and bacon. Into it. Real into brown bread and Irish butter.

During the park tour, I learned a bit about famous Dubliners and historical moments:

  • The Triumphal arch at the entry to the park in fact honors a South African war in which some Irishmen fought (for the sake of fighting the British empire), not a world war
  • Robert Emmet, who was hung at 25, is an Irish hero, not because he was particularly successful at rebelling against the British but because during his trial, he delivered what is considered the finest speech of Irish history
  • 1791 Irish Republicanism was begun in a pub with the founding of the United Irishmen
  • Arthur Guinness aka Lord Ardilaun (sounds a lot like “Ireland” to my non-native ear) was often in a “war of philanthropy” with his brother & made the park public (it had previously been locked to upper class residents only)
  • WB Yeats memorial in the park is an amphitheater, which is apparently appropriate as he founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and was a tremendous lover of performance
  • In 1916 there was a short-lived uprising in the park, but the groundskeeper did not fail to trek through whizzing bullets to feed the pond’s ducks, thank goodness ;)
The groundskeeper’s house, WB Yeats memorial amphitheater, the park, the duck pond, and a map.

I then explored their temporary exhibit on pubs. A few, er, fun facts:

  • Brehon Law formed basis for Irish life
  • Ancient Ireland had many kings, and one of the basic qualifications was having a brewer who was in possession of a “never dry cauldron, a dwelling on a public road, and a welcome for every face” as they provided food and drink to anyone who asked (for free)
  • First public houses were homes who produced alcohol and sold it in their front parlours and kitchens
  • Arthur Guinness born 1725 in county Kildare, received £100 inheritance and bought a brewery, moved to 1759 to St James’s Gate signing a 9000 year lease, originally brewed traditional ale but diversified into a porter (darker beer made by roasting a portion of barley before brewing), 1799 stopped ale production to focus on black stuff, 1862 merchandise marks act led to trademark label
  • 1829 Irish temperance movement was founded to combat drunkenness in Irish society
  • 1846 Coroners act directed people to store dead bodies in nearest public house due to their having cold cellars (slower decay)
  • The Famine was a catalyst for removing women from the public house and the public sphere as British politicians and Irish clerics said the promiscuous and sinful Irish people brought the disaster upon themselves by overpopulating
  • 1872 Licensing Act made pubs known by proprietor’s name
  • By 1903, 90% of Dublin pubs had mixed functions
  • Popularity of pubs attributed somewhat to inadequate housing; in 1911 Dublin had worst housing condition of any European city with 26,000 families living in tenement flats, so working class relied on pubs for social setting
Apparently pubs started out in living rooms, which explains their particular aesthetic; and U2 still has many fans in Ireland.

Then it was time for my tour of the aptly named Little Museum, which covered two rooms and 80 years of history.

Fortunately for me, the guide was both energetic and extremely well-informed, and he offered us a bit of historical context, which was great as I realized I somehow knew absolutely nothing about Ireland.

  • Vikings came to Ireland first, though they likely interbred with Celtic locals rather than colonized / pillaged
  • 800 years of British occupation
  • 1520–1920 aka 400 years of England being terrified that enemies will use Ireland to invade England
  • 1600 Northern Ireland became Protestant British
  • 1798 rebellion led to an Act of Union for Ireland to become politically part of England (hint: not the desired outcome for the Irish)
  • 1845 The Famine, population was 8 million people before the famine, and today is still only 4.5 million in Ireland + 1.5 million in Northern Ireland
  • Irish war for independence was a draw, negotiated Ireland & Northern Ireland, then had a civil war
  • WWII Ireland was neutral, and though it would seem that they should’ve supported the Allies, it likely ensured more protection and success for England by staying neutral and avoiding German invasion
  • 1960s Financial Times wrote, “The only reason why Dublin remained for so long the beautiful 18th century city the English built is that the Irish were too poor to pull it down. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.”
  • 1993 homosexuality was illegal (for men); 2015 Ireland became the first country to have popular referendum for marriage equality

After the tour, I made my way up to their small special exhibit on U2, which was quite popular due to the band having had a concert in Dublin the night before. I did not expect to see so many adult men in U2 tshirts and bedazzled jean jackets, but there you go — cultural experiences all around!

I took a walk across town, passing St. Patrick’s Cathedral (he brought Christianity to Ireland 1500 years ago) on my way to the Guinness Storehouse.

Given that I don’t particularly like beer, this wasn’t a high priority for me, but I figured I’d do well to learn a bit about Guinness if I was going to spend a month in Ireland, and this way no one could harass me for not visiting the museum while I was here.

I learned a few things about “the black / ruby red stuff” and beer generally:

  • 100k tons barley used every year & 2/3 of the malting barley grown in Ireland is bought and used by Guinness
  • Water for Guinness at St James’s Gate comes from the Wicklow mountains & is soft water with low mineral content
  • Guinness has a “Water for Life” program to bring drinking water to developing countries
  • 232• temp roasted barley to get black grain and aroma, and it takes 2.5 hours to roast
  • 1720s dark malt beer became popular with porters in London, thus the name
  • 1959 Guinness was first brewer to introduce nitrogen its beer (Michael Ash), and it takes “30 million bubbles to achieve the smooth mouthfeel and iconic creamy white head”
  • 1862 Guinness adopted the Downhill harp symbol for the brand
  • Whistling oyster in advertisements because oysters and stout go well together, apparently (I still need to try this out)

After quickly drinking my pint at Guinness’s Gravity Bar and taking in the (surely rare) sunny view of Dublin, I took a bus back to Trinity College, arrived & panicked as they were closing the student center, gratefully retrieved my lonely luggage, and headed to the train station.

The trip to Wexford was a lovely couple hours mostly along the eastern coast, and I only had to spend about 20 minutes waiting outside the station wondering if I was abandoned to the world in this unknown small town with no cell service and only the reassurance of my credit card.

Then my old babysitter pulled up, and off we went to rural Ireland! Phew.

Katherine works remotely while she travels the world — on the road since June 2014. If you liked this piece, please give it a ❤ Thank you!

Want more? Follow me on Medium and sign up for my mailing list.

Like what you read? Give Katherine Conaway a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.