Rallying Call to the People of Ireland – “Keep Discovering”!

Failte Ireland's current rallying call to the people of Ireland to "Keep Discovering" the gems on their doorstep just couldn’t be more timely as NI Travel News' travel writer Margaret Carragher finds out...

Dublin can be heaven… by Margaret Carragher

Failte Ireland’s current rallying call to the people of Ireland to “Keep Discovering” the gems on their doorstep just couldn’t be more timely. Certainly, after our Covid-enforced absence from a city synonymous for us with decades of happy times and fond memories, the good man and I need no encouragement to rediscover dear old Dublin.

And so, we’re back to a city resplendent in festive finery, its constellations of fairy lights twinkling on streets thronged with shoppers and strollers, traders, tourists and street artists all soaking up and contributing to the unique atmosphere that is Dublin at Christmastime.

With its wonderfully opulent décor, quirky vibe and colourful history, our accommodation, the Trinity City Hotel, is something of a destination in itself. Located in the city’s heartland right beside Trinity College and within minutes of its major shopping, tourism, business and public transport hubs, this landmark hotel’s many attractions include a lush central courtyard garden replete with outdoor seating; lavish reception areas with soaring ceilings and almost comically extravagant chandeliers; a spacious street-facing terrace screened by extensive greenery.

But it’s the incidentals that most beguile: like the almost life-size metal camels, one standing, the other reclining in opposite corners of the courtyard; the beady eyes of a pair of small, stuffed birds winking from an elaborate mahogany bookcase in reception; a carved wooden dog in a Christmas scarf, its head almost patted away by generations of children, lounging in the lobby. And mirrors, mirrors everywhere, reflecting a veritable forest of Christmas trees and a glorious mish mash of Victorian, Georgian and modern architecture. You could spend the entire weekend just chilling out here – but we have so, so much to discover.

And so to Dublin Zoo, where its seasonal highlight “Wild Lights” is in full swing. Running until 9th January 2022, this dazzling night-time display takes punters along a one-way trail lined with over a thousand illuminated lanterns and featuring some of the world’s most iconic landmarks and symbols. From Spain to India and Morocco to the USA; from the Eiffel Tower to the Egyptian pyramids – it’s all there. And judging by the crowds, and the excited shrieks and whoops of kids of all ages, it’s going down a treat.

Next up – Sole. And don’t you just love when they get it in one? Launched in 2018 this seafood bar and grill on South William Street made headline news when it was named Best Seafood Restaurant in Europe at the World Luxury Restaurant Awards in St Petersburg the following year. Since then, it has been scooping up awards willy nilly and attracting foodies in their droves. The place is buzzing when we arrive; and at €65.00 per person, its special Christmas menu ticks all the right boxes. As does the conviviality; you just don’t realise how wonderfully life-affirming the experience of dining out and mingling is until you haven’t done it in a while.

Next morning, after a delicious buffet breakfast it’s off to the Custom House Visitor Centre on Liffey Quays. This newly opened attraction relates the colourful and often turbulent history of the Gandon-designed Custom House which first opened in 1791. Developed by the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage in conjunction with the Office of Public Works (OPW) and in partnership with Fáilte Ireland, the interactive exhibit moves chronologically from the late 18th Century to the present day, relating a multi-layered tale of events in Irish history from the Easter Rising to the burning of the Custom House in 1921 and its subsequent restoration.

This fascinating and hugely informative visitor experience is, for the moment at least, free of charge and open to all comers. We spend over two hours there and could stay a lot longer, captivated as we are by both the architectural splendour of our surroundings the exhibit itself. But there’s more – much more – to discover.  Onwards then to Temple Bar and a Vintage Tea Trip.

“Experience the elegance of afternoon tea on this Dublin tour that combines afternoon tea with a Dublin sightseeing ride,” goes the blurb. “Sip tea, nibble sandwiches and sample desserts to the sounds of smooth 1950s jazz on a vintage Routemaster (double decker) bus that glides through the streets of Dublin,” it continues. “A unique way to discover the city.”

It most certainly is. And, being old enough to remember the original routemasters, this is something of a trip down memory lane –with the bonus of Barry’s tea in a KeepCup (which, by the way, we actually get to keep), plus warm scones with jam and clotted cream, and a plate of assorted goodies. What’s not to love?

Back then to our hotel to pat the long-suffering wooden dog – dear love him – and spruce up for our next jaunt.

The Guinness Storehouse at St James’s Gate Brewery has, since its inception in 2000, welcomed over twenty million visitors – which, given what’s on offer, is entirely understandable. Serendipitously our visit coincides with the launch of Winterfest, a winter extravaganza that runs until 2nd January 2022. Decorated with a showstopping Christmas tree curated by award-winning designer Annie Atkins, all seven floors of this iconic building have been tricked out with bespoke décor and twinkling lights, while the famous Guinness gates, immortalised in the Christmas telly ads, have a sprinkling of snow to add to the festive vibe. With pop-up musical performances, entertainment and seasonal menus the place is absolutely buzzing. Admission includes entry to the Gravity Bar on Level 7 which offers panoramic city views and a complimentary pint of the black stuff.

It’s dark by the time we get there and the sight of Dublin at Christmastime blazing like a furnace far below is an absolute joy to behold.  As indeed is the menu in its 1837 Bar & Brasserie on Level 5 which celebrates the sort of nosh that goes hand in hand with a pint of plain: think sticky chicken wings, seafood pie, double cheeseburgers – and given the season that’s in it, festive roast turkey with Guinness glazed ham and all the trimmings. Yum.

Next morning it’s off to Chester Beatty in Dublin Castle – yet another gem on the doorstep we’ve been meaning to get around to.

Having made a fortune digging for gold in Colorado as a young man in the late 19th Century, American born mining magnate Alfred Chester Beatty turned his hand to collecting. As well as furniture, paintings and objets d’art, Beatty had a passion for books and manuscripts, early printing and engraving. Over the first half of the 20th Century Beatty travelled the world adding to his collection before moving to Ireland in 1950 and establishing a library and gallery in which to display it. 

In his will Beatty left his entire collection to the people of Ireland – little wonder he was made an honorary citizen of the country and given a State funeral when he died in 1968.  Today, as well as Beatty’s collection, visitors to this world renowned, award-winning museum can view footage of the great man himself – who, incidentally, comes across as an absolute sweetheart. In keeping with Beatty’s generosity, admission to his treasure trove is free. Bless. I’m sure he’d be thrilled.

Strolling back to the hotel we stop off in Hawkins Street to gawp at the massive crater where Hawkins House, widely known as Dublin’s ugliest building, once stood. Having desecrated the skyline since its construction on the site of the Theatre Royal in 1962, the eleven-storey eyesore was finally demolished last May to make way for an “environmentally sustainable new office quarter.”

So now you know. Dublin – keep digging, keep discovering.