Dublin: The news about overseas visitors to Ireland has been trending upwards for several years to the delight of Bord Failte and its overseas partner Tourism Ireland, whose imagination and teamwork in building comprehensive marketing campaigns surely helped lead the way towards economic recovery in Ireland thus far.
Starting with The Gathering, The Wild Atlantic Way and the latest campaign, Ireland’s Ancient East, the tourism sector marshaled resources around the wealth of attractions all around the island and organized them in a way that encouraged visitors to come and visit areas and regions while experiencing a renewed vigor and innovation in the food, beverage and accommodation sector.
On my recent sojourn in Ireland checking out a number of musical haunts on my radar, I managed to steal away a couple of days to play the tourist around Dublin, particularly on the north side of the River Liffey, an area overlooked for too long by your humble correspondent. So if Dublin is in your sights for a jaunt later this year you might take these suggestions on board in your planning.
Recently, I wrote about the opening of the new innovative museum Epic Ireland: The Journey of a People, housed in the CHQ building, which tells the story of the Irish diaspora in vivid contemporary fashion. It is amidst the International Financial Services Center along the north side Liffey Docks, an area that is now 'a must see' for all visitors to Dublin since Epic Ireland's opening earlier this month. That history is brilliantly displayed in the CHQ vaults, which also house the Ely Restaurant underground. The combined footage of the vault is said to equal that of the pitch at Croke Park.
Another recently opened attraction is the GPO: Witness History, also a contemporary interactive exhibit space, inside the General Post Office on O’Connell Street.
This is absolutely a compulsory stop on any Dublin itinerary, especially in this year marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising, and an example of how important the Rising was in motivating the Irish people towards independence that would arrive a few years later.
It tells the tale of what happened during Easter Week 1916 in the GPO, which was the communications center of Ireland and an important cog in the United Kingdom. The exhibit provides a comprehensive history in context suitable for both native and tourist alike, showing the importance of 1916 itself and its present day hold on the Irish people.
An exhibit like this is something I always felt was lacking on any visit I made to the GPO before, and I applaud the efforts made to make this history readily available at the site that is such an important symbol in Ireland's push for independence. The new facility is well laid out inside the GPO for a self-guided tour and houses a café and bookshop and is open year round, other than on six national holidays.
If you are sports-minded, you will be aware of the huge impact of the GAA in fostering Ireland’s native games of hurling and Gaelic football. Both sports are played on the historic grounds of Croke Park. The new stadium holds over 80,000 punters, and any visit to an All-Ireland championship match there is a never-to-be-forgotten experience. In 2013 I had the pleasure of witnessing an exhilarating display of hurling by Cork and Clare. The match ended in a draw, resulting in a rematch two weeks later which Clare won.
But you can visit it on a quiet day for a tour of the stadium and the GAA museum. You’ll see the fabled pitch and stands and the open-ended Hill 16, which also featured in the ongoing struggle between England and Ireland. The most extraordinary amenity is the walkway at the very top of the upper tier of the stadiu. From there you can view Dublin from many angles from one of the highest elevation points to be found in the city.
In recent years Croke Park has lured American collegiate football games. The Notre Dame-Navy game in 2012 was one of the crowning events of The Gathering campaign mounted by Tourism Ireland, drawing over 40,000 football fans, mostly Fighting Irish supporters.
There has probably never been a better time to visit “Ireland’s Necropolis,” as the book penned by the late Glasnevin Cemetery historian Shane MacThomas referred to it in a 2010 publication.
The non-denominational graveyard that is open to the public and still accepts the remains of people from all over Ireland is one of the most historic gravesites you will find anywhere. You can find the graves of many of the most storied Irish men and women among Glasnevin's one million plus “residents.”
Most prominent of all is that of the “Liberator,” Daniel O’Connell, whose 19th century political exploits were important in putting Ireland on its path to freedom and his monument atop his family crypt is one of the most recognizable pillars in Ireland.
The remains of comrades and rivals, Eamonn de Valera and Michael Collins, lie in peaceful repose within a short distance from one another. The Glasnevin Trust has faithfully and dutifully insured that this final resting place for many of Ireland’s most famous people, as well as ordinary people, remains hallowed ground.
There are articulate tour guides who share the knowledge and passion of the late MacThomas, who died tragically on the grounds in the O’Connell mausoleum back in 2014. Padraig Pearse's famous 1915 oration during the funeral for Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is reenacted daily at Glasnevin by one of the Glasnevin Trust devotees. Pearse's speech, less than a year before the Rising, was yet another clarion call for Irish freedom.
Visitors here will find a relaxing café and informative museum on site as well.
After all that historical exploration you may have built up a thirst or perhaps might want to toast those who left us such an extraordinary legacy as I did with my own traveling party of visiting scribes. You can saunter westward down the quays to Smithfield to visit the Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street which has been turned into a very popular museum and shop among the touring class, who are also offered a sup of Jamesons at the end.
Able guides (we had an American gal from California who knew her stuff) tell the tale of “Uisce Beatha” (water of life) Jameson style inside the old malting mill. Today Jamesons' Dublin base been replaced by the larger and more productive headquarters in Midleton, Co. Cork.
With so many flights from the U.S. serving Dublin nowadays it is easy to begin or end your visit with a Dublin holiday that will leave you more informed than ever before. Hop-on-hop-off bus tours can help you navigate the capital city with less wear and tear and added flexibility.
And if you want to check out your Dublin DNA you should surf www.dublindna.ie hosted by Dublin Northside Attractions touting Dublin: A Breath of Fresh Air, where you may find special offers for the attractions listed above.