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DUBLIN'S IRRESISTIBLE NEIGHBOURHOODS
 
(2015 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: STEVE GILLICK



Kieran Cathcart wears his passion for Irish history on his sleeve.

When asked to comment on the value of exploring Dublin and the towns and villages within an hour of the city, Kieran didn’t hesitate. “Visitors will be absolutely amazed by the opportunity to breathe in the history of the country and  get a true sense of what being Irish is all about.” And there’s no secret in revealing that in Dublin’s neighbourhood, there is a ton of activities to enrich your stay.

Martin Harte echoed these sentiments. As the Director of the Temple Bar TradFest—the annual end-of-January festival of traditional and folk music, Harte described the popularity of the folk group Beoga, by suggesting, “If you could bottle their energy and drink it, you’d live forever.” And you know, as I explored Dublin and the neighbouring centres of Newgrange, the Boyne Valley, Glendalough, Wicklow, Malahide and Howth, I quickly came to realize Harte’s comment was a fitting tribute to the irresistibly amazing experience that Dublin and its neighbours provide.

Creativity has no bounds when it comes to the thrill of discovering Ireland. Based on your own level of comfort and curiosity you can walk, hike, cycle, kayak, climb, dance, toe-tap, munch, quaff, ride horseback, rent a car, hire a guide, take a bus or ride the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit).

Irish Gems

Dublin is a great place to begin, with a virtual compass of activity covering the area north of the River Liffey (O’Connell Street, the Millennium Spire, the Abbey Theatre); to the west (Jameson’s Distillery); on to the south (Grafton Street, Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Temple Bar, St. Patrick’s Cathedral); and out to the Silicon Docks area in the east, where Facebook and Google share the neighbourhood with ultra-chic buildings, such as The Marker Hotel and the Daniel Libeskind-designed Grand Canal Theatre. 

While Dublin remains a very walkable city, the hop on/hop off bus visits all the major attractions. For a unique street-level perspective, there’s kayaking on the Liffey, and to delve into the personality of Dublin, there’s nothing like cycling the streets. My guide Julian related history, gossip and poetry as he revealed hidden gems ranging from the Roe Distillery windmill to the Blessington Street Basin Reservoir, and the dramatic statue of the Children of Lir in Parnell Square’s Garden of Remembrance, commemorating “those who gave their lives in the fight for Irish freedom.”

Ancient Discoveries

For a memorable immersion into Ireland’s beginnings, a trip to Newgrange and the Boyne Valley, “Ireland’s Heritage Capital,” is only an hour outside the city.

With Kieran Cathcart, the owner of TourDublin, as my guide, we drove to Newgrange, a “passage tomb” that is 1,000 years older than Stonehenge. It’s a round structure, completely filled with rocks except for two small antechambers and one larger chamber. During the winter solstice, the sun’s rays creep through an opening above the passage entrance and illuminate the chamber. An annual lottery is used to select a lucky few to witness this mystical phenomenon.

At nearby Monasterboice, a thousand-year-old round tower stands guard over three intricately carved preaching crosses, which depict biblical stories from Adam and Eve to the sacrifice of Isaac and the crucifixion. The height and detail of the 5.2-metre Muiredach Cross makes this a memorable visit, regardless of religious belief. 

Afterward, with the greenery of the Boyne Valley stretching out as far as the eye can see, we visited the ruins of Slane Abbey and the Franciscan Friary, complete with eerie gargoyles peering out from crumbling stones.

The next morning I drove south to Glendalough—the glen of two lakes—to visit the monastic retreat of St. Kevin. A 30-metre capped round tower and a stone-roofed church are positioned against a background of tranquil streams and misty mountains. For the adventurous, the Upper Road leads to a wooden plank path and on to the mountain summit for breathtaking views.

Down the road at Glendalough House Equestrian Centre, I met Lorraine Keith who introduced me to BC, my sturdy Irish Cob. We set off on a horse trek around the estate, beside the “famine walls,” through the woods, past a few curious deer—all in the shelter of the Wicklow Mountains. It was an invigorating, educational and photographic experience.

On my last day, at Malahide Castle, I toured the ancestral home of the Talbot family. Visitors can learn about the history of the castle and wander through the beautiful gardens and castle grounds.

Heavenly Hospitality

In nearby Howth, Declan and Sue extended a warm greeting at the King Sitric Hotel. They showed me a comfy room with views of Balscadden Bay and pampered me with seafood chowder, crab claws and prawns. The high cliffs of Howth are ideal for hiking, and the views of the harbour and Ireland’s Eye—the small island just off the coast—are captivating.

Róisín, my guide from Fabulous Food Trails, introduced me to Howth’s culinary scene. At the House Restaurant we sampled crab with chili and grapefruit. At Nicky’s Plaice, we indulged in freshly-smoked, scrumptious pieces of mackerel and bass. And at Beshoffs we slurped native oysters garnished with just a pinch of black pepper and lemon. So Good!    

Dublin and its neighbours allow visitors to connect with the energy of the country. The merger of history, mystery, culture, art, food and nature, combined with the engaging personalities of the Irish, makes Dublin’s neighbourhoods an irresistible draw, year-round.

Travel Planner

Air Canada (aircanada.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) offer regularly  scheduled flights from Canadian cities to Dublin. For more information on Dublin and the neighbouring area, visit:

Tourism Ireland: tourismireland.com

Visit Dublin: visitdublin.com

Bicycle Tour of Dublin: seedublinbybike.ie 

Culinary Tour of Howth: fabfoodtrails.ie

Dublin Bus Tours: dublinsightseeing.ie

Glendalough Visitor Centre: glendalough.ie

Horse Trekking in the Wicklow Mountains:

glendaloughhouse.ie/glendalough-house-equestrian

Jameson Distillery Tours: jamesonwhisky.com

Kayaking on the Liffey: citykayaking.com

King Sitric Hotel, Howth: kingsitric.ie

Malahide Castle and Gardens: malahidecastleandgardens.ie

The Marker Hotel Dublin: themarkerhoteldublin.com

Tinakilly Country House Hotel, Wicklow: tinakilly.ie

Tour Dublin: tourdublin.ie

TradFest Temple Bar 2016, Dublin: templebartrad.com

 
 
 
 
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