Room with rock royalty, learn to pull the perfect pint or get a taste for Michelin-starred dinners - they're all on offer in Dublin's fair city
Popular at any time of the year, Dublin attracts visitors from all over the world, all eager for a taste in the city’s vibrant culture, warm Irish hospitality and, of course, the craic. And yes, it is only half an hour by plane, but on this occasion I decided (in my wisdom) to spend seven hours sailing across a rather choppy Irish Sea. With daily and nightly sailings from Birkenhead to Dublin Port, it’s an ideal mode of transport for anyone not keen on flying or those travelling with families.
As a huge U2 fan, there was really only one hotel for me. The Clarence, situated in Temple Bar, is a boutique hotel owned by rock royalty Bono and The Edge of U2. I stayed in a standard room, but if you’re feeling flush, there’s always the penthouse suite, a full-length loft room complete with baby grand piano, bar and a hot tub outside on the roof terrace! Now that’s rock'n'roll, although it will set you back around €2,700 per night.
Although I’ve visited Dublin many times, one place I’d never been before was Malahide Castle, one of the oldest castles in Ireland. Our evening began with a tour of the castle, with its beautiful period furnishings and extensive collection of Irish portrait paintings, followed by a six-course banquet in the rather majestic Great Hall. And, with wine to complement each of the courses, together with some Jameson’s whiskey, it wasn’t long until we were all singing along (albeit rather badly) with some traditional Irish folk favourites.
Needless to say, it was a rather sleepy group of people meeting up for breakfast the following morning at Bewley’s legendary coffee shop on Grafton Street. A mere hangover, however, did not stop even one of us indulging in a full Irish breakfast and a ton of fresh coffee, setting us up for a full day’s sightseeing.
There’s plenty to see, but by far the best way to get a true flavour of this historic city is with people like Pat Liddy and his fascinating walking tours of Dublin. A real character, Pat is something of a local legend and what he doesn’t know about Dublin isn’t worth knowing.
First stop was St Stephen’s Green, a beautiful Georgian park in the centre of the city. Although I glazed over through some of the historical stuff, Pat’s face lit up when he spoke about the time U2 were awarded the Freedom of Dublin City in 1999. This honour carries the unusual privilege of allowing recipients to graze sheep - free of charge - in St Stephens Green. It's a right rarely exercised, but Bono and his fellow band-members decided to take full advantage of their new-found privilege and acquired some lambs to bring into the Green for a few hours, causing much hilarity for locals and visitors alike.
After a whistlestop history of St Ann’s Cathedral, we arrived at Trinity College, situated at the end of Grafton Street and the impressive set for many a film. To me, it is synonymous with Educating Rita, in which Julie Walters totters into the college’s courtyard in her high heels, overwhelmed by its beauty and promise of a more fulfilling life.
However, the real highlight was a trip to the Guinness Storehouse, home of the legendary black stuff. It was here that our group, a mixture of ardent Guinness fans and stout virgins, had the opportunity to learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. And, I’m happy to say, that my pint was used as the ‘perfect example’ although I couldn’t quite get to grips with the shamrock finish. However, a couple of pints later and a few black velvets (half Guinness, half champagne) and no-one seemed to care…
After a short cruise along the River Liffey, it was time for yet more culinary treats – an exquisite three-course meal at the Michelin-starred L’Ecrivain, set in its own courtyard on Lower Baggot Street. Run by husband and wife team Derry and Sallyanne Clarke, it is a stylish yet unpretentious restaurant with its own terrace garden, perfect for summer dining.
Admittedly, we had a good laugh at the menu at first, as ‘foam’ seems to be the new ‘jus’ in top restaurants these days. There was balsamic foam with one dish, saffron foam on another, and even some basil or curry emulsion – words I’d associate with B&Q more than a Michelin-star restaurant. However, every morsel was absolutely sensational and although it was quite pricey, it’s well worth every euro.
And what trip to Dublin is complete without a pub-crawl along Temple Bar? I always find myself magnetically drawn to Oliver St John Gogarty’s bar, named after the famous Irish poet, playwright and surgeon. It’s always packed and you may have to fight your way to the bar, but the atmosphere is fantastic, whether you’re on your own or with a group of mates. That said, when it comes to great pubs with live music, you’re pretty much spoiled for choice in Dublin.
It’s a year-round destination but, like Paris, is probably best in the spring or autumn. Although if you happen to be there for St Paddy's Day on March 17, well, that's pretty fabulous too.