Monday, February 4, 2013

Dublin and Malahide (Ireland)

Curiously enough, when we mentioned planning to visit Dublin, a few people in England remarked, "Oh, that's in southern Ireland, isn't it?" Mentally, I registered it as just some mistake in their geography (er, not really, I'd have called it eastern... after all, it's not exactly Cork or Kilarney). It wasn't until later that it dawned on me that, to some people, "southern" Ireland = not Northern Ireland. Hmm... I imagine some republicans would take offense to that.

Everyone I've ever met has been enthusiastic about Dublin. Maybe it was the high expectations... or the weather (grey, cold, and drizzling)...  or because we had been in England for awhile (same weather, similar food)... but I wasn't blown away. It was just nice.

One pleasant way to spend a rainy afternoon we discovered was the Chester Beatty Library. A mining engineer somehow amassed a huge fortune and used it to acquire an impressive collection of Oriental art and ancient books. The exhibits were extraordinarily well-curated, making such dry topics as paper-making, book-binding, illuminations, and scroll work fascinating. As well as thoughtful documentaries and descriptions, the exhibits on world religions included some of the earliest known copies of the Gospels on crumbling papyrus!

Probably the most obligatory stop on any visit to Dublin is the Guinness Storehouse. The massive facility at St. James Gate is a museum, store, and collection of drinking spaces in which to celebrate that Irish icon. It took us a little time, but we eventually got it down: a stout is a type of porter which is a type of ale. I think. The other main lesson, for which you can actually attend a class, was the correct and respectful way to pour a pint (hint: patience is key). One thing we'd have to agree with the other tourists about - the Guinness does taste better in Dublin.

Another spot we really enjoyed the pints at was the four-storey Porterhouse Brewing Company. With a dozen in-house brews and a couple of pages of imported bottles, it's not hard to find something to like. Especially since there are tasting flights. Our favorites were the award-winning plain porter and the oyster stout - made with real oysters! They also had bands regularly so we were able to listen in on the time-honored tradition of live Irish music without having to go into one of the other plastic paddy places in the Temple Bar district.

For a change of pace, we also headed out of the city on a day trip to Malahide Castle. The 12th Century construction was home to the barons of the Talbot family for nearly 800 years. In person, it's a little small for its grandiose appearance, but you can visit the furnished inside with a knowledgeable docent, and the ruins of the abbey are very picturesque. The grounds are also quite extensive including botanical gardens and - even better than that -  an Avoca CafĂ© serving delightful selection of pies and cakes!