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Published: December 29th 2013
Father Matthew Bridge
With Dublin's Four Courts in the background
It was pretty quiet inside the van. Those that hadn't nodded off were admiring the beautiful and varied landscape of the Connemara with its bogs, brown hills, lush mountains and picturesque lakes.
Barry was still driving us, but it was a different Barry (Bazza Mk II); it was still the same crew from the original Paddywagon tour
, but a different group, minus Vanessa, Sean, Christine, Chandra and Jamie, who had followed Barry Mk I up to Northern Ireland. Same same but different.
Barry Mk II was a good laugh though and kept us informed and entertained when we were awake. Snaking our way through the narrow, winding, country roads, he comments that at 100km/h, the speed limits on these roads were simply ridiculous given all the blind corners and hairpin turns we were navigating. He wasn't wrong - even rally drivers wouldn't dare go that fast on these roads. How the Irish authorities thought that such a speed limit was possible let alone appropriate, I will never know.
Bree, Justine, Chris and I were on our way back to Dublin for the conclusion of our six-day tour which had one last stop in the village of Cong.
Cong is chiefly famous for
The exterior of Dublin's new, flash, bowl-shaped sports stadium.
two things; Cong Abbey, which dates back to the 12th century and is an architectural treasure; and for being the film location of the 1952 Oscar-winning "The Quiet Man", starring John Wayne.
As well as exploring the impressive early-Gothic ruins of the abbey and the streams that encircle the village, we also did a thirty-minute walk through the nearby forest - refreshing ourselves with the cold fresh air and having a good ol' chat in the process. The woods were pretty with their autumn colours and leaf-strewn paths - maybe The Quiet Man wasn't the only thing filmed here
Cong is otherwise very quiet. Barry Mk II tells us that Paddywagon used to have a ten day tour which is now a nine day tour. The place that tour no longer comes to? Cong.
Having said farewell to Barry Mk II and my Paddywagon friends when we arrived in Dublin, I now had 24 hours to myself before Corb, Sag, Sarah and Sag's friend Dan were arriving.
Checking into my hostel for the night - Globetrotters, which was so much more impressive than Paddy's Palace across the road - I chilled out for a bit before having a wander to familiarise myself with Central
Campanile, Trinity College
Bell tower inside the University Of Dublin.
Walking down Dublin's main thoroughfare - O'Connell Street, home to the Monument Of Light which looks like some sort of humongous space needle - I then walked onto Henry Street, the main pedestrian shopping street north of the river, before crossing the River Liffey and heading into the famous Temple Bar district.
Similar to Liverpool's Cavern Quarter
, Temple Bar's pedestrianised, medieval, cobblestoned alleys are lined with pubs, clubs, restaurants and bars and the area has a boisterous and welcoming air to it. I suppose that is why it is known as the tourist's nightlife district. In any case, I was looking forward to going out here this weekend when the others arrive.
I sat myself down at a 1950s-style American diner in the area called Eddie Rocket's (much like Johnny Rocket's in San Jose
) for a burger, chilli-cheese fries and an Oreo milkshake before getting back to the hostel for an early night and well-needed rest.
On the theme of 'same same but different' I was expecting Ireland to be a lot like the UK given how entwined the two countries' history and culture are - but I was happy to discover that Ireland definitely has a different feel to the
Dublin's popular nightlife district.
UK. Whereas in the towns of Northern Ireland
felt like you could have been in the north of England, you would definitely not make the same mistake in the south.
Part of the difference is in the distinctive Georgian architecture especially prevalent in Dublin, which reminded me a lot of the architecture in Boston
. Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising, given that many Irish emigrated to Boston following the Great Famine - the Boston NBA team are called the Celtics after all - and probably took their architectural style with them.
Dublin itself is similar to London in couple of ways though; the amount of Spanish speakers in the city, enough to think that Spanish is actually Ireland's second language as opposed to Irish; and the number of one-way streets, although I'd say there are way more in Dublin.
The next day I went on a sightseeing tour of Dublin starting with Trinity College and the Book Of Kells.
Established in 1592, Trinity College (also known as the University Of Dublin) is one of the seven ancient universities of the UK and Ireland which includes Oxford and Cambridge. The grounds are very tidy indeed and despite being a tourist attraction
St Stephen's Green
Dublin's version of Central Park / Hyde Park.
in the middle of the city, it retains a cosy campus feel given its enclosed design and few public entrances. The Book Of Kells is the biggest draw, which is an elaborately illustrated book containing four gospels from the Bible's New Testament. Created by monks in Ireland in the 9th century, the intricacy and colour of the book's illustrations illuminates the already impressive calligraphy. The amount of handwork that must have gone into it is extraordinary - examination of the book reveals that it was probably put together by three different scribes, each with their own distinctive style. Each page of the book is individually made from calfskin (vellum).
From Trinity College I then made my way to the picturesque St Stephen's Green - Dublin's version of Hyde Park / Central Park complete with lakes and gazebos - before stumbling upon Grafton Street, the main (and more impressive of Dublin's two main shopping thoroughfares) pedestrian shopping street south of the river. I lunched at a cool cafe in George's Street Arcade, Europe's oldest shopping centre originally established in 1881.
I then passed Dublin's two main cathedrals, St Patrick's and Christ Church Cathedral, on my way to Kilmainham Gaol.
Former prison cum museum where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising were executed in the lead up to Irish independence from Britain.
is the former prison where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising where imprisoned and executed during Ireland's struggle for independence from Britain. A visit to the gaol
comes with a very interesting guided tour highlighting the cold, dark and cramped conditions that the first prisoners endured, right through to the key events that took place in the prison in the lead-up to to Irish independence. The tour also tells of the key Irish nationalist figures that passed through the prison, the cells in which they were kept, and the cruel treatment which they often suffered at the hands of the prison wardens and management. The fact that all but two leaders of Irish rebellions from 1796 to 1916 were incarcerated here makes Kilmainham Gaol a symbol of Irish nationalism. The guided tour was excellent - an enlightening synopsis of an important part of Ireland's history.
I then walked back along the Liffey to Dublin Castle which is currently used to host state functions but dates back to the 13th century when it was used as a fort. Over the centuries, it has also served as a royal residence, the seat of power and administrative office, law courts, and an
From outside the castle's inner walls.
army garrison, which explains the compound's mish-mash of buildings.
Moving my stuff from the hostel to the hotel we were all staying at that weekend, the arrivals started to slowly trickle in that night. Having stayed in hostels all week, it was really nice to be staying in a nice, warm hotel. It has been freezing all week - a damp cold that chills you to the bone no matter how much you're wearing, to the point where it was really unpleasant and uncomfortable.
Sag's friend Dan was the first to arrive, followed by Sarah and Sag himself. After a couple of Guinnesses at the hotel bar, we decide to head into Temple Bar for a couple more.
It was a Friday night so the area was busy and buzzing. The actual Temple Bar pub is absolutely rammed so we decide to move on to a sleek, dimly-lit, hipster-ish bar which was really cool - until the massive crowd attending a gig in the back room spilled out after the gig finished. Deciding we'd rather not have to shout at each other to have a conversation, we move on. Looking for our next place, our mind is made up
Upper Yard, Dublin Castle
Where the state apartments are located and home to fine examples of Dublin's Georgian architecture.
for us by people outside a place offering free shots. Why not. They were weak apple sourz but meh. It actually worked out as the place was much quieter and we were able to get a table - although it wasn't hard to find a place quieter than that last place. With bar staff struggling to light some candles on a birthday cake, Sag decides to butt in and help out by picking up one of the already-lit candles.
"Fuck off!", he's told in no uncertain terms. We take it as our cue to head back to the hotel - as a taster of Temple Bar, it was a fun, if short night out in the end.
Waiting at the hotel for us was Corb, who had arrived from Switzerland. Having featured a few times in this blog (Basel
), fun always ensues with Corb - everything was looking good for a good weekend ahead.
Joining us the next day were the rest of our crew - Kev & Nikki, Tim & Donna, Dan's brother Jeremy, and Sarah's friend Jackie. Also briefly joining us for breakfast was Anna of Russian fame
Walking around the city, it was quite clear to
Guinness Factory Waterfall
A pretty showcase of the main ingredient that goes into Guinness.
see that the famous 'Celtic Tiger' of the boom years of the late 90s is definitely wounded at the moment. Loads of shop fronts in the city are either boarded up or are free to let and amongst the upmarket glass buildings near the old docks are the abandoned construction sites of many a regeneration project. Barry Mk I had told us about the number of 'ghost estates' that exist around the country - property estates that were partially built and sold only for construction to cease once the money ran out. Those that bought into these estates now live in empty, unfinished blocks of houses and apartments, the value of the property they bought worth less than half of what they paid and mortgaged for it. The crash of 2008 has hit the country hard.
The highlight of a day of sightseeing was going back to the Guinness Storehouse - to do the museum tour properly this time. The complex inside is done up well and learning about the ingredients and how they are put together to make Guinness was interesting, as was the history of Guinness which was represented by memorabilia such as the old poster and
Bar at the top of the Guinness Storehouse where you can sip your free pint over a panoramic view of Dublin.
TV advertisements, the original 14th century harp from which Guinness takes it's brand logo, a timeline of Guinness's spread throughout the world and Arthur Guinness's original 9000-year lease document of the land.
Rather than getting my free pint at the top of the factory, I poured my own 'perfect pint' instead which is a unique art in itself. If you really wanted to, you could easily stay all day at the storehouse drinking Guinness for free - simply look for (most likely) girls who don't like the taste of it - some girls will even offer their pint to you. Also look for kids whose families won't allow them to drink or finish their pints. Or if you're there early enough when it isn't busy, get chatting to the bartender at the top of the factory. Not that you'd do any of these things...of course. I mean I didn't. OK fine, but they were free pints of Guinness! Free. Guinness.
It was a Saturday night so after a burger it was time to get on the lash.
Jeremy had lived a few years in Dublin so was our 'pub crawl guide'. We start off in the Grafton Street area
The Erection At The Intersection
On O'Connell Street, Dublin's main thoroughfare, is a statue of Sir John Gray as well as the Spire Of Dublin, a 121m high monument that resembles a sewing pin poking up into the sky. AKA the Monument Of Light, the "Erection At The Intersection", and the "Stiffey By The Liffey".
at Kehoe's, a cool, traditional, Victorian-style, 19th century pub. Before long however, we moved onto another similar place by St Stephen's Green called O'Donoghues. The place is massive and there is an outdoor area almost completely enclosed by an awning with heat lamps ramped up to the max. It was here that Tim and I decided we had to give the 'Irish Car Bomb' a go - the half-pint of Guinness with half a shot of whisky and half a shot of Baileys dropped into it that I turned down on the Paddywagon tour. It was probably the hardest 'bomb' I have ever had to do - the volume and thickness of it meant that it took an age to go down. But I got there in the end and like a Jaegerbomb or a Skittlebomb, the aftertaste is delicious, making the struggle in downing it just about worth it. Just about. It just about knocked me out too, so into a cab we all went, bound for some takeaway pizza and the hotel.
Then it was the day of the main event and the reason we had all gathered in Dublin. It was time to watch our beloved
The All Blacks lay down the challenge to the Irish.
All Blacks attempt to become the first team to go through an entire season of international rugby with a 100%!w(MISSING)inning record by defeating the Irish on their own patch. It sounded straightforward enough - the Irish have never beaten the All Blacks in 108 years of trying.
This was the third All Blacks 'away day' that I have done and that has featured in this blog; the first was against Italy in Milan
and the second against Wales in Cardiff
. In fact the crew that has accompanied me for all three is more or less the same crew with Kev and Nikki being constants.
The said home patch mentioned above was the impressive and relatively brand-new Aviva Stadium which replaced the rickety old Landsdowne Road where the All Blacks went down to Australia in the 1991 World Cup semi final. Would the ABs meet a similar fate today?
We had got into our seats just in time for the Irish national anthem which was sung with an awe-inspiring gusto and patriotism just like it did in Wales's Millennium Stadium and Italy's San Siro. During the haka, it was easy to pick out the pockets of Kiwis in the crowd
See if you can name all the players.
- and just like they did in the Millennium Stadium, the haka was amplified around the stadium and respect was shown to it by the Irish.
The game then kicked off.
Having been poor against Australia the second week, we weren't prepared for the ferocious start by the home team as hard running and brutal tackling rattled the ABs and Ireland scored the first try after just four minutes. Then six minutes later they were over again. A great start by the Irish and a little concerning for us, but we had faith the ABs could come back from this, as it was still early days.
Then Ireland scored again and were scoring a point a minute after 19 of them.
Turning around to the crew, I say "guys...we're in a bit of trouble here...". The atmosphere in the stadium was just incredible, and the noise was deafening, the locals urging their team on. They dared to believe that they could finally beat the All Blacks after 108 years. Not all of them mind you - the old man to my left still said that New Zealand would come back and win the game.
The humongous noise was in sharp
Our seats for the game were awesome - right on halfway.
contrast to when the Irish kicker Jonathan Sexton lined up a shot at goal and you could hear a pin drop. Sexton took his time too - when Sag and Corb shouted at him to hurry up (albeit in an amusing way), they drew the furious ire of one of the locals. The ABs manage to get one try back before half-time which was crucial.
The ABs up their game in the second half and make it 22-17 with sixteen minutes to go to set up a grandstand finish. You could feel the tension in the Irish crowd whose belief had now drained away, replaced by fear and apprehension that Ireland were going to blow it; you could feel the desperation amongst the NZ supporters, that same horrible feeling we had gone through in the World Cup Final in 2011 and the World Cup quarter-final in 2007 against the French, that sinking feeling of dread.
Then would you believe it, the ABs score with the last play of the game with an amazing run and offload on the touchline by Dane Coles putting Ryan Crotty over to tie the game. In the stands we were whooping, screaming and jumping up
From left to right: Sarah, Sag, Jackie, me, Kev, Corb, Nikki, Donna and Tim.
and down while the locals were sunk in their seats, the Irish players sunk on their knees.
Aaron Cruden then had a kick from the sideline to win the game for the All Blacks and to make the All Blacks the only team to win all of their games in a calendar year in the professional era. No pressure Aaron.
The Irish charge off their line and reach Cruden even before he starts his run up - he stutters, no doubt put off by the Irish runners and misses the kick. But wait; he is allowed to retake the kick as the Irish had charged too early! Correct decision, but it draws boos from the home crowd. On the second attempt, Cruden sends the ball sailing through the posts, writing the All Blacks into history in the process.
Although happy and relieved with the last minute win - the ABs did not hold the lead at any time during the match while the clock was ticking - it was difficult not to feel sorry for the Irish who were heartbroken having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. We thought it best to let the Irish out of the stadium
Long Hall, Trinity College
Holding 200,000 of the University Of Dublin's oldest books.
first amongst the feelings of despair and anger in the local crowd.
Sitting down for a coffee and then dinner later in Temple Bar, the overall feeling amongst our crew was tiredness and deflation - you would've thought we had actually lost
the game. In truth, we probably all would have been happy with a draw as it seemed a fairer result - but instead we were left feeling a little guilty and a little sheepish by winning the game. Talk about getting away with one. We were emotionally exhausted.
Kev, Nikki, Tim, Donna and I were all on the same Ryanair flight back to London that night so we said goodbye to the rest of the crew before making our way to the airport. I used my last couple of hours in Ireland to try the last thing I needed to try before leaving - an Irish coffee which consists of Irish whiskey, hot coffee and sugar, topped with cream. Nice as it was, I regret having it in the evening as it left me feeling bloated, relaxed, anxious, tired and awake all at the same time - it felt horrible to be honest.
And with that
Inside The Guinness Storehouse
An industrial yet aesthetic canopy of steel beams and escalators.
my eleven day jaunt around the Emerald Isle had come to an end.
This is my last blog entry for 2013, a year which has been a little lighter in travel but that has taken in the vast landmasses and disparate cultures of Russia
(which was probably the year's highlight); running around the UK; and perhaps the most dramatic story of my travels so far
As for next year, there will definitely be travels - where and when they will take place, I don't have a clue. Probably best to ask the UK Home Office while their process my UK citizenship application. But it is looking likely that you might not be hearing from me for some time.
So until then, take care of yourselves my friends, and...
Slán go fóill!
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