The utter absurdity of a 45-minute flight is seldom more apparent than when you’re standing in a line for passport control that takes approximately the same length of time to clear. Indeed, upon leaving central Edinburgh, I spent considerably more time in the airport than in the air, although that didn’t stop Ryanair attempting to peddle every type of snack and airline gizmo in the approximately 25 seconds in which we weren’t taking off or landing.
At a population of around 530,000, Dublin is not so much bigger than Edinburgh, and yet my first impression of the capital of the Republic of Ireland was that it was absolutely bustling with people. It felt somehow more animated even than Paris – which I had not long ago left – filled with music and life. This is an impression that didn’t diminish during my time there; Dublin bristles with pubs, clubs, restaurants and bars unlike any other city I’ve seen before or since.
This also makes it a poor choice for travelling to alone, which is just what I was doing. More on that later.
My first day in Ireland was not actually spent in Dublin itself, but rather on a bus trip to County Wicklow. With a forecast for sunny skies – or at least not rain – it seemed to be the right time to visit the so-called ‘Garden of Ireland’.
In my time travelling in Europe, I’ve become very fond of day-long bus tours. Not having a car, they represent the most reasonable way of getting out of the cities and into the country, as well as an opportunity to make some new friends. The field-trip atmosphere seems to put everyone in mind of primary school and – by and large – breaks some of the social constraints that usually forbid talking to strangers. Let me put it this way – I can’t imagine sitting next to some unknown person on a public bus and delivering my unprovoked demands for friendship. I’d probably spend the night in the lockup.
Indeed, as we made our way along the Irish coast past Sandycove Beach, I had already started to make friends on the bus. Along with the animated retelling of local history by the wise-cracking guide, this put me in good spirits for the rest of the day.
It’s not hard to see why Wicklow has the reputation it does – it’s a truly beautiful part of the world which – despite its size – is very sparsely inhabited. This gives it a wild, untamed atmosphere that is a dazzling contrast with the capital and also probably explains why it is – I am told – a popular location for filming movies.
One of the more memorable stops along the way was the cliffs over Lough Tay, in the Wicklow Mountains. The northern shore – a white blade of beach – apparently forms part of a property belonging to the Guinness family. This is auspicious in that the lake itself is said to resemble a pint of the famous Irish stout; the water is coloured a rich brown by the peat in the soil and I can certainly see how it could be mistaken for a vast lake of beer. The beach there is also apparently one of the filming locations for MGM’s ‘Vikings’, and they were even building a small Viking village when we passed by.
Our ultimate destination for the day was Saint Kevin’s monastic settlement at Glendalough. Although we had a guided visit of the walled colony’s ancient buildings and an explanation of its history, I couldn’t help feeling like it was dramatically upstaged by the natural beauty of the region itself.
Glendalough is something special. One of those rare places in the world where the majesty of nature makes all the words drain away from your mental dictionary. Like Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands or the first glimpse of the Swiss Alps, Glendalough is somewhere I consider a perfect exemplar of how our world is extraordinary. The tour ended there with a round of applause and a shot of whisky.
As I previously mentioned, Dublin’s party atmosphere is not the best place for someone travelling alone, and so it was a welcome change to be invited out for dinner that evening with my new friends from the bus. Dinner turned into dinner and drinks, as well as plans for the next afternoon.
I had set aside the greater part of the following day in Dublin to get to know the city itself a little better. As per usual, this meant walking. Lots of walking. So you can imagine my disappointment when I woke up to the sound of pounding rain on my bedroom window. However, I took my time eating breakfast and – inexplicably – the sun came out. With the heavens so graciously having uncancelled my walk, I joined a free walking tour of the city as quickly as I could and headed into town.
The tour turned out to be a great decision, largely because of the guide we had. First and foremost, he made sure that we all introduced ourselves to each other. This sounds like a small thing, but it is unfortunately the case that sometimes group activities are the most isolating – most people do still come along with at least one other person – and so getting to know the group even in a superficial way helps to produce a convivial atmosphere. The proof of his charisma was when he convinced us all to humiliate ourselves by singing at the statue of Molly Malone in the city centre, which I doubt very much would have worked if we weren’t all in such good spirits.
The tour itself mostly focused on Dublin’s – and Ireland’s – troubled history of revolution, war and independence. The walk through town lends itself to this narrative, and also gave us the opportunity to see some of the not immediately obvious parts of the city, like the rear of Dublin Castle – the only part which actually looks like a castle – and the interior parts of Trinity College. I feel like I would have missed a lot of these things if I had been alone.
Once the tour had ended – a round of applause, but no whisky this time – I met some of my new friends in a pub for a late lunch and a pint. Having grown accustomed to French serving sizes, I foolishly ordered the largest serve of Guinness & Beef Stew, which consequently arrived in a bowl so large that I might have worn it as a Brodie helmet. Though it was very tasty, it was a heroic effort to finish it all, and once I was done, I went back to my rooms for a nap.
Fortunately for me, in this part of the world and at this time of year, the daylight persists well into the evening and – despite my afternoon food coma – the sun was still shining when I woke up. I took advantage of this to take a walk in Saint Stephen’s Green, a park in the centre of Dublin. Most of the walk I spent shaking my head at my good luck over the last ten days – the weather was sublime, I had made new friends, I had had a blast in the cities I’d visited, and people had greeted me with a warmth and friendliness that showed genuine hospitality. Watching the sun setting from a bench in the park, I was surprised to realise that I was really, genuinely happy there. I would love Dublin just for that moment, free of anxiety, doubt and pressure. The rest is all gravy.
Appropriately cheerful, and knowing it was my last night in Dublin, I joined my new friends in Temple Bar for an evening of live music and beer. Temple Bar is – in actual fact – a district in Dublin, rather than a specific location. To add further confusion, there is, in fact, a bar named The Temple Bar in Temple Bar. It’s better not to think about it.
The bar we ended up in – which was in Temple Bar but not The Temple Bar – had a beer menu that was hundreds of beers long, as well as a pair of young guys with guitars taking music requests. The place was busy, and the carefree atmosphere suited my mood. My new friends and I spent our last evening together singing along to the music, working our way down the beer menu and enjoying each other’s company. For me, this was the perfect way to end my stay in Dublin – although I might have said otherwise the next morning on my flight to Paris. Airports are perfect hell for hangovers.
At passport control at Charles De Gaulle airport a few hours later, the border agent inspected my Visa – now expired – stamped my passport and permitted me re-entry to France as a simple tourist. Even though I already had the feeling of inexorably moving towards my departure, I couldn’t bring myself to be sad right away – Edinburgh and Dublin were just too good. I was happy.
To see a gallery of my photos associated with this post, click here. For those who disdain photos and will privilege only videos with the precious space on the backs of their eyeballs, why not learn to tie your shoes? Apparently I’m doing it wrong – I still do the bunny ears thing. Once a lady in a shoestore laughed at me.
As a footnote, when I was in Dublin there were signs everywhere regarding the Marriage Equality referendum which was to take place later that month. I would like to congratulate the people of Ireland on the passage of the referendum – by a landslide. Well done.