One of the most interesting things on our first day in Dublin was our visit to the Guiness Factory
It was a grey morning when the taxi drove us from Dublin Airport to the hotel where my friends and I were staying just off O´Connell street in downtown Dublin. I don´t know if I will ever get used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but I was fascinated as the outskirts of town turned into rows of suburban houses and then the city came into view. We left our things in the hotel, as we had arrived early in the morning, and set off for a full day of sight seeing. And, as is usually the case, this began with a lengthy discussion on which places we most wanted to see, and how to strategically maneuver around a city we didn´t know very well.
We started by walking down busy O´Connell street past the statue of Jim Larkin, who had a hula hoop hanging on his arm. James Larkin was a trade union leader famous in Ireland who founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, the Irish Labour Party and the Workers´Union of Ireland. He also played an important part in the Dublin Lockout of 1913. We continued on past the shops selling Irish paraphernalia and souvenirs until we arrived at the River Liffey. Here we turned right and headed towards the Ha ´Penny Bridge.
The footbridge was built in 1816 and was originally called the Wellington Bridge, but they charged a fee of half a penny in order to cross the bridge, so people began to call it “Ha Penny.” It no longer costs money to cross the bridge, so you can enjoy its charm free of charge. I especially liked the white painted iron decoration on either side. It was almost like a little toy bridge to cross the river. We were also lucky in that around this time the sun began to come out and take the chill off the air.
From here we headed towards Trinity College. This was one of the stops that I was really hoping to fit into our trip, not only due to the fact that here is where you can see the book of Kells, but also because there is something romantic about these old educational institutions, something so respectable and worthy that makes you want to return to class and pick up another degree if only to have the excuse to wander around the campus each day.
We took a short tour of the campus where our guide explained the history of some of the buildings, but I have to admit I was lost in my own world of imagining myself as a doctoral student, riding my bicycle to the university each day to remember much of what was being said. Then, when the official tour had ended we decided to pay the entrance fee to see the famous Book of Kells at Trinity College Library. It is an illuminated manuscript containing the four Gospels and the New Testament made by Celtic Monks around the year 800. Although very little of the book is actually visible to the public due to preservation, it was interesting to see the process used by the monks to create such a work of art. What I also enjoyed was going upstairs in the library to see the immense reading room. The high arched ceiling was made from a dark wood, and along either side were white marble busts of famous literary figures. Each row of books was at least three floors tall and the books were bound in beautiful leather. This room full of such important literature was enough to inspire any reader, and it definitely felt like something magical could take place among these well known works.
From here we walked to nearby St. Andrews Street. Here you can find the famous St. Andrew´s Church, which dates all the way back to 1150. It used to be found just outside the Dublin City Wall on the site that they think belonged to the Danish Temple of Thor and Fregjja. This is a Catholic church built in a classical style with Baroque influences. It had some neat archways on the side of the church which I liked, as well as some impressive looking glass windows, however, it was not an overly decorative or what I would call “beautiful” church. I will admit, however, that we were not able to go inside the church.
By this time, we were getting hungry and we stopped to eat lunch at a restaurant/pub called M. J. O´Neills. I ordered a vegetable sandwich on wheat bread, which came with French fries. The sandwich was dry, but the atmosphere was nice- a bustling noontime crowd of workers taking their lunch break mixed with tourists stopping for a bite to eat before continuing their visit to the city.
As we ate, we decided that the best way to spend our afternoon would be by touring the Guinness Factory, a must see on all our lists. We followed the signs past the Anglican Episcopal Christ Church Cathedral until we came to a small street marked with a sign for the Guinness Factory. You could already smell the hops in the air as we walked down the street to the visitors` entrance. We walked inside and paid our entrance fee and then were told to go stand in the lobby where our tour would begin. None of us were quite sure how the tour would work because the factory and visitors´ center was huge. It turned out that a man told us briefly about the history of the factory and how Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on the brewery at St. James Gate in Dublin for a mere 100 pounds and a yearly rent of 45 pounds which included water rights. In short, he got quite a deal, and thus was born the Guinness Brewery.
We were then set free to wander through the museum/visitors´ center at our own pace looking at exhibits that ranged from brewing machinery to old advertisements, to new technology in beer making. Then, the best part, was that at the end of the tour, you could go up to the top of the Storehouse and have a pint of Guinness which was specially poured by the people who work there (this is included in your entrance fee), and enjoy the pint while contemplating the views of Dublin City. I have to admit that I am in no way shape or form a lover of Guinness. It is a lot heavier than the beers I am used to drinking, so I was wary of the pint. This time, though, the famous beer was smooth and slowly, while I chatted with my friends, I managed to finish most of my complimentary pint.
We headed back to our hotel and that night had dinner at a pub nearby with live music. The next day we planned to wake up early and try out an option that we had read about in an online guide. Apparently there were city tours given by locals free of charge (you paid what you thought the tour was worth). What did we have to lose?