The Irish are renowned for the ‘gift of the gab’ and Dubliners are no exception to this. For a small city, Dublin has produced quite a number of eloquent writers that have made it into the literary canon, from Oscar Wilde to James Joyce, from George Bernard Shaw to William Butler Yeats. Indeed Dublin’s cultural footprint has always been significant. In the 18th century, Dublin was the fifth largest city in Europe and an important musical scene. Handel’s Messiah had its first performance in Fishamble Street near Christ Church Cathedral in 1742. The extensive Georgian architecture is a sign of the city’s historic wealth and importance. Nowadays, one of the world’s most famous rock bands, U2 record their music in the Windmill Lane Studio by Dublin’s Grand canal.
Today, the National Concert Hall is the main music venue for Dublin. Formerly the site of University College Dublin it consists of a compact auditorium with seating for 1,200 people. This used to be the site of the examination hall and there are plans afoot to completely refurbish the main auditorium and create a new chamber hall among other things. A recent addition to facilities is the Kevin Barry Recital room which opened April 2016 is a lovely intimate space ideal for chamber music, and it is also used for jazz, traditional music and contemporary music.
Deprived of a dedicated opera house, the opera buff has to wait with patience for the occasional performances from Lyric Opera Productions and Opera Theatre Company in the two major theatres – the Bord Gais Energy Theatre and the Gaiety Theatre. The former is a swish, modern affair with good acoustics while the latter is all red and gold Victorian velvet complete with its vertigo-inducing seating in the upper balconies.
Dublin has a number of art galleries, the two must-sees being the National Gallery of Ireland situated on Merrion Square and the Hugh Lane Gallery on Parnell Square, north of the river Liffey. The National Gallery is free and so is a delightful place to drop into for an hour or so examining its handsome collection of European Art spanning the 14th to the 20th centuries. One of its most famous paintings, Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ is part of the current exhibition Beyond Caravaggio which must be reserved in advance. This exhibition is unsurprisingly extremely popular and it runs until 14 May.
The Hugh Lane Gallery houses a modest collection of art from the late 19th Century to the present day. As of 23rd May this year, four priceless paintings by Renoir, Manet, Morisot and Pissaro will be returning to Dublin from London. Another favourite of mine in this gallery is the set of stained glass windows by Harry Clark based on “The Eve of St Agnes”, where the action packed story is retold in a kaleidoscope of colour.
Trouping back across the Liffey, we need to visit three important buildings dating back to the Norman times: Christ Church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle. Both Cathedrals follow the Anglican rite and boast excellent choirs which can be heard at evensong every day. There are frequent organ and choral recitals in both. Dublin Castle, once the seat of power in Ireland possesses the fascinating Chester Beaty Library. It contains Egyptian papyrus texts, some of the earliest editions of the Gospels, beautifully illuminated copies of the Qur'an, European medieval and renaissance manuscripts and with free admission to boot it would be a shame not to go
A visit to Trinity College Dublin and its celebrated Long Room is another must. One of the world’s most famous medieval manuscripts, the Book of Kells, is on display here and the 65 metres wooden chamber of the Long Room filled with 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books makes for an impressive sight..
There are host of beautiful churches that are a must to see: the newly renovated St Kevin’s Church in Harrington Street sweeps the breath away particularly with the morning light poring through the stain glass windows above its reredos. John Henry Newman’s University Church on St Stephen’s Green is another exquisite Victorian gem though the strong hues and strident colours of the restored artworks are controversial.
There are some excellent parks to stroll through: Merrion Square Park and Iveagh Gardens just behind the NCH are delightful havens from the city's hustle and bustle. St Stephen’s Green is beautiful if constantly crowded while there are delectable strolls along by the canals where the poet Patrick Kavanagh was wont to scribble his verse looking at water “so stilly greeny at the heart of summer”. Just a little outside the city centre the Phoenix Park beckons with its rolling pastures and its herds of deer while a pleasant, coast hugging train ride to salubrious suburbs Dalkey and Killiney comes highly recommended.
Dublin’s food scene is on an upward trajectory: Irish cuisine does not solely consist of fish and chips (Burdock’s near Christ Church is consistently busy) and is at last discovering the wonderful ingredients that come from a wet, island climate; excellent, pasture-fed beef and lamb and a stunning seafood. Forest Avenue in Lesson Street serves exquisite local fare as does Restaurant Forty One on the Green to highlight two.
So for a pleasant mix of poetry and pub, music and banter, then Ireland’s “fair city” is just the ticket.