I skipped down the stairs of our hotel, the Mont Clare, in fairly fashionable Merrion Square on a pharmacy mission.
I turned the corner, passed an antiquated, rather haphazard shop, and stopped.
A white-thatched, distinguished gentleman was sitting behind a counter, reading out loud to a few customers.
I stopped to listen.
It turns out this was the pharmacy I was looking for: Sweny’s.
Here in a 12 by 14 foot space, the gentleman reader, was one P.J. Murphy reading from James Joyce’s Ulysses!
To his customers.
On the counter of Sweny’s were bars of lemon soap, because this was the original store where Leopold Bloom bought his.
And so, welcome to Dublin, a city so rich in literary history, one wonders how it remains so unpretentious and accessible.
Perhaps producing such literary lions as Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Brendan Behan, Samuel Becket and even Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels, has made Dublin a city of witty, funny, clever people.
As I experienced them, Dubliners are some of the most natural, open people I’ve ever met, with no attitudes whatsoever.
Not at all my experience in other other European capitals, say Paris or Rome.
From the start, Dublin is wonderfully built.
It’s designed on a human scale, a place for people, not for huge, anonymous high-rise buildings.
The streets, the cafes, the museums, pubs are all accessible and easy to walk to.
It’s a kinetic place with good energy, a place where young and old, male and female mix comfortably with each other, comfortable with who they are and how they look.
One has to respect the Irish and the ways they maintain their warmth and humor in the face of recent national tragedies and present day real economic woes, like 16 per cent unemployment.
A tour of the Kilmainham Gaol, for example, is very sobering.
This horrifically cramped, dark and depressing place was where the British executed 14 leaders of the short-lived Irish “Easter Uprising” in 1916, a drive by the Irish for independence from Britain, and brutally put down.
And during the terrible Irish famine ( 1845-1850), children as young as five and six were sent here with their families to hard labor. Their crimes? Begging. Stealing a loaf of bread. Or coming from families in debt, their tiny farm plots ruined by the potato blight.
Not that these memories are forgotten, nor those of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, but today music and laughter spill from pubs, and flowers and musicians cover nearly every corner of O’Connell street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare.
Ah, the pubs: The blond lady in the black dress!
Was there ever be a better description of a perfectly poured pint of Guinness!
Or rather thousands of perfectly poured pints poured in pubs full of people and laughter.
Kehoes over on South Anne Street may be my favorite, but then again, it could be the more famous O’Donoghues, (Merrion Row) well known for its live music… but in fact we heard Irish music we liked in a less popular pub across the street, Foleys.
Find your own favorite cafe or restaurant, Like The Kitchen, . It’s a family owned eatery that spills onto South Ann and offers delightful, affordable Tastes, …and mohair wraps if the evening is chilly.
And so it goes.
But Dublin is famously museum nourished, and many of them offer free admission like the National Gallery, and my favorite, the small, classy Hugh Lane Museum of Modern Art, It’s a gem of a place with a small but impressive collection, and the art of serving a terrific lunch in a cafe cleverly designed with mirrors, glass and a small outdoor waterfall.
Most of the museums are simple, very unfussy.
At the James Joyce Center I listened to scratchy recordings of Joyce himself reading from his works, and much of this for nothing or a few Euro.
Of course there are classy shops and elegant eateries like the second-floor walkup, the Pigs Ear overlooking the green of Trinity College.
And even the relatively imposing government buildings set among attractive Georgian doorways have little of the paranoid, security consciousness of government buildings in the States.
The office of the Taoiseach (tee-schukh) or prime minister, though guarded, is refreshingly free of uptight guards and security personell.
In fact, the most inaccessible, building I saw was probably the US embassy.
Dublin values its green spaces, as do many progressive cities in the world. Phoenix Park ( also the location of the home of the Irish president) is the largest enclosed park in Europe, replete with tea rooms and flower Gardens and the Dublin Zoo.
In fact most streets are festooned with bright flower boxes
Finally, there is only so much to be said about a city because what really makes a destination work is its people, and their spirit.
And in this case, Dublin’s open, unpretentious, friendly energy that makes it a memorable and fun place to visit.
As Ireland itself says, “Go where Ireland takes you.”
Take a an extra day and night and get to know the small towns and coastal villages of Wicklow county. Be sure to visit the dramatic gardens of Powerscourt, a kind of Renaissance estate with Italian gardens, terraces and sculpture. Have a lunch, or at least coffee or tea. It’s serene and artful. Or wind the country roads high into the Heather of the Sally Gap…or the powerful ancient ruins of St. Kevins Monastery lovely Glendalough…an easy and rewarding day trip from Dublin.
And if you’re looking for a seacoast village to visit, try Dun Laoghaire (Doon Leary) and spend the night at the Lynden B and B. Stephen and Maria Gavin are lovely spirited hosts, and the breakfasts are robust. There were more artisan cheeses at breakfast than I saw on the entire visit.