||A Personal Tour of Dublin by Eamonn Fitzsimons
Céad Míle Fáilte!
Welcome to Ireland, or as the Romans occupying Britain sneeringly termed it - Hibernia (meaning land of the winter). What the climate here lacks in sunshine is made up by the friendliness of its peoples.
In the 9th century, the Vikings (Norsemen) arrived in Ireland setting up various trading posts. One such settlement was set up along the tidal reach of the river Liffey close to he last easy crossing point before the river entered the sea. In the Irish language this place where four ancient roads from the provinces met was called Ath Cliath and this is still the name of the city in Gaelic. Since the 1680's, embanking has narrowed the river channel at this location which lies close by the western end of The Four Courts.
A little further downstream from here, a pool of blackish water occurred at the confluence of the Liffey and a small stream called The Poddle. In the Gaelic language, black pool is called dubh linn, or in Norse, dyfllin. The Anglicisation of these terms gives us Dublin.
The arrival of the Anglo-Norman invaders c1170 AD and the building of Dublin Castle c1204 AD settled the city's fate and that of the country for the following seven centuries.
The layout of the medieval city is still apparent today despite changes brought on by embanking the river, the influence of the Commissioners of Wide Streets (1757) and Victorian improvements. Often street names give clues as to the Viceroy in residence when the street was laid out or to the family on whose land the street was built. You might begin your tour at the cathedral of Christchurch in the heart of the medieval city. A visit to the crypt will invoke a flavour of times long past and a brochure is available. Watch out for the begging cannons!!
A fragment of the old city walls may be seen nearby just off High Street to the west of the cathedral.
A second medieval cathedral was built outside the old city walls near to a well said to have been blessed by St Patrick. Jonathan Swift was dean of St Patrick's and you may "chance your arm" within its walls without incurring penalty! In the precincts is Marsh's Library (1703) full of old manuscripts and much more. Entry is free.
Both cathedrals were extensively refurbished in the last century. A whiskey distiller paid for the work at Christchurch (1871), while porter paid the bill for St Patrick's (1864). From Christchurch cathedral, walk down Lord Edward Street and turn right into Dublin Castle, the seat of English government in Ireland from 1190 to 1922.
Above the entrance gate is a statue of Justice (with her back to the city) holding scales. As more rain would collect in one pan over the other, the scales were often tilted, leading the wag to comment on the evenness of the justice to be found within the castle walls. Guided tours of the State Apartments are available at a reasonable cost. In the castle precincts lies the Chester Beatty Library which possesses a wonderful collection of oriental manuscripts, paintings, snuff bottles, etc. Entry is free.
Finally, before leaving the castle, you should visit the Chapel Royal located in the lower castle yard. Here you will see the names and coats of arms of all the viceroys of Ireland up to the last in 1922.
As you walk along the lower castle yard towards Dame Street, the river Poddle is culverted beneath your feet. On arrival at Dame Street, you are at the black pool of Dublin. Now continue east along Dame Street towards Trinity College, founded on the lands of a monastery sequestered by Henry VIII during the Reformation. Visit the Library to view the Book of Kells, a 9th century illustrated book of the Gospels.
At College Green, the Bank of Ireland now occupies the buildings of the former Irish Houses of Parliament which became defunct with the Act of Union in 1801. This is undoubtedly the finest Palladian building in Dublin. The central section is by Lovett-Pearse c1729, while the House of Lords entrance on Westmoreland Street is by Gandon c1785. You may visit the bank and also view the old House of Lords for free during banking hours.
Now saunter up Grafton Street, maybe taking a coffee break or something stronger en route as the fancy takes you. At the top of the street you come to a square which was laid out a few years after the restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660. St Stephen's Green is named after a church attached to the medieval leper hospital which stood nearby. On the west side we have the Royal College of Surgeons which featured in the Easter Rising of 1916. On the south side you may visit houses no. 85 and 86 which was the site of the Catholic University founded by Cardinal Newman c1850. Both houses possess stucco work of the highest quality. James Joyce was a student there - read his amusing account of a physics lecture in Portrait of the Artist.
Stroll through St Stephen's Green and maybe listen to a band recital. Finally return to Grafton Street and halfway down, turn left and head for the Powerscourt Townhouse (1771), now a shopping centre.
If time and energy permits, a real architectural gem awaits you at the Casino at Marino just a short bus ride north of the city centre.
Most buildings have brochures available. For background reading, consult:
Dublin, A Grand Tour (O'Brien and Guinness)
Dublin 1660-1850 (Maurice Craig)