It’s been three months since my last Ireland recap…..how is that possible? Speedy summer days and some procrastination, I suppose. I really wanted to give this post some attention because we saw some of our favorite sites in Dublin.
In case you’re catching up, here are the previous recaps:
October 3, 2012
Our first full day in Dublin, Ireland! We survived the night in our Temple Bar apartment, although Mike and Jean discovered the downside of having a room facing the street.
“They came out like rats,” was all Mike could say about the people that fled out of the bars at closing time as we slept. “Two o’clock in the morning, they poured into the streets like rats.”
We agreed that we wouldn’t want to be outside at that time of night, but now on a sunny Wednesday morning, we were ready to see the sights of Dublin.
We started our day at the Queen of Tarts. It was listed as a gem in the guidebook I had been using all week long. The bright red storefront was right around the corner from our hotel so we made it our breakfast stop.
Rustic apple crumble tart with a side of cream, accompanied with coffee. I’m not sure there’s anything better than buttery crumble, sweet fruit filling, heavenly cream, washed down with strong coffee. I loved this breakfast to pieces.
We enjoyed our food in the cozy restaurant and chatted about our plans for the day. We were off to a historic jail, which turned out to be one of our favorite places of the whole trip.
After a long walk (longer than expected because our tourist’s map was apparently not to scale), we arrived at Kilmainham Gaol. This jail was built in 1796 and was an active prison until 1924. At first all you see is huge stone walls. We stepped in, signed up for a tour, and were told we could walk around the museum until our tour started.
The museum was incredibly fascinating. The first floor was devoted to the history of the jail, treatment of prisoners, and trends in prison reform.
The prison was built with some new ideas in mind: separation and constant surveillance.
In earlier prisons, men, women, and children were thrown together in big rooms — with obvious chaos ensuing. Kilmainham was built with cells and a strong ideology of separating prisoners. We learned that even though this was the vision, the prison was often overcrowded to the point that prisoners were practically piled on top of each other.
In a big graph about the prison population over time, we learned the worst years for crowding were during the Irish Potato Famine. Conditions outside the prison were so dire that many tried to get arrested just to have the chance at one meal a day. Theft was a common reason to go to jail. The youngest prisoner on record was a five year old boy. The number incarcerated rose to almost 9,000 during that time.
The second floor of the museum was dedicated to the prison’s crucial connection to Ireland’s wars for Independence. In 1916, Irish rebels were fighting for independence from England, a fight that had been waging for over 200 years. This was rebellion, known as the Easter Rising, was led by Irish Nationalists like Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett.
Pearse declared independence from the steps of the General Post Office, which we had seen the day before.
Those three men and eleven others involved in the Easter Rising were jailed and executed at Kilmainham.
As we toured the grounds, our guide told us stories of the executed men and pointed out their marks on the prison – murals, inscriptions, and rooms where their stories will always be told. One heartbreaking story is of Joseph Plunkett, who executed seven hours after marrying his sweetheart Grace Gifford in the prison chapel.
Grace joined the IRA and was later jailed at Kilmainham. She painted the mural below and was released after three months.
I really liked our tour guide. Even though the subjects were often very heavy, we listened closely to every story he told and every incredible fact about the prison. He pointed out how the prison was built to stay very cold, wet, and dark. The windows were too small and high to let much light in, but would still let the draft in. The walls were made of limestone, which would stay cold and wet most of the year.
This impressive wing of the prison was much nicer than older wings at the beginning of the tour. First, there’s light streaming in! Second, they succeeded at separating and surveying all prisoners. Cells held only one person. A guard standing at the bottom of the stairs would be able to see almost every cell. The cells themselves were a bit bigger and had better windows. Many movies have been filmed at Kilmainham and include this unique section of the building.
All in all, we were blown away by Kilmainham. While writing this, I researched Easter Rising and Irish history facts like crazy to make sure I wouldn’t write anything incorrectly. Irish history can be very confusing because civil wars and wars of independence from England are interwoven and lasted so, so many years.
Still, Kilmainham gave us a very physical connection to the history. Standing next to an Irish flag in the gravel courtyard where men were executed is moving. As an American, you can’t help but feel a deep rooted connection to the idea of independence and an awe for people who fight for it. We left with pictures and books and a better sense of what Irish independence means for many.
Our next stop was a bit more light-hearted — the Guinness Storehouse. Essential to Irish history and livelihood, Guinness was a big Dublin attraction we didn’t want to miss.
The museum covered three or four stories. We walked through the exhibits that explained the basic Guinness ingredients: water, hops, yeast, and barley. Everything was big and interactive — a water fountain, huge tubs of barley you could run your hands through, a barrel you climb the stairs in, and walls covered in hop plants.
We learned about the whole brewing process and Guinness history, including their unique advertising. Much of the advertising centered around their “Guinness is good for you” slogan, catchy rhymes and toucans.
We went up, up, up, and finally reached the top floor — the Gravity Bar! Our museum tickets gave us a complimentary Guinness at the bar, which also gave incredible Dublin views.
We thoroughly enjoyed the drinks, company, panorama views, and a lucky rainbow sighting.
After sitting and recharging, we consulted our maps and walked to the next stop: the Old Jameson Distillery, home of another Irish staple. Jameson Whiskey isn’t made in Dublin anymore so this museum was a lot smaller but still had a fun, interactive tour. The tour starts with a short video telling the story of John Jameson. The rest goes through the history of the distillery, the key ingredients of Jameson (water, yeast, and barley), and how it’s made (triple-distilled).
During the tour, our guide asked for volunteers from the group. I was interested and feeling brave so I volunteered and so did Jean. We ended up at a long table in front of our tour group taste-testing Jameson compared to American whiskey and scotch. At the end, we voted for our favorites and were jokingly encouraged to vote correctly. Afterwards, we were given our certificates as a Qualified Irish Whiskey Tasters — quite the accomplishment!
We crossed the River Liffey on the way to our next stop. This river runs East-West through the heart of Dublin so it’s a perfect landmark for sight-seeing. It helped us figure out if we were going too far North or South, and we could follow it to many sites.
We decided to the visit Christ Church Cathedral next. The cathedral was built in 1028 and functions as the official seat of the Church of Ireland. It is large and stately and gorgeous on the inside.
Old Catholic churches always have so many interesting details, in the ceiling, nooks, and artwork. This one also had a chilly, stone crypt filled with old artifacts.
We also paid a visit to a historic Irish pub, the Long Hall. The pub had a lot of traditional, old-Dublin charm, and the atmosphere was cozy on a rainy day.
We ended our night at the Bank, a restaurant that used to be…..a bank, naturally. Another place with great atmosphere, with intricate floors and tall ceilings. We ate in a small private room where a safe was kept.
We walked back to Temple Bar to sleep after a day packed with Irish history, barley-beverages, and navigating busy Dublin streets. We were pretty proud of ourselves for fitting in so many sights and ready to see more the next day.