Dublin with a Local
Last summer, I spent a week visiting my then-boyfriend (now husband), Brendan, in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland. I had been to Ireland once before to compete in the World Championships for Irish Music, but this was my first visit to Dublin. I am so grateful and thankful that I had the opportunity to experience the city for the first-time with a local as my tour guide. I have been to loads of other big cities in the past, and I often find it difficult to get a real feel for how locals live and view their city. It was great to have Brendan show me his city, explain some of its history, and hear him talk about what makes Dublin such a special place.
One of the first places Brendan took me was the Glen of the Downs. I had never even heard of this spot before, but it is essentially a nature reserve located just south of Dublin city. There, the green is abundant (although, that is true throughout the whole of the Island), and peace can be found. But, it was not always so. Back in the 1990s, the government was considering knocking down the entire Glen to expand roads and create more infrastructure. However, a group of protestors refused to let this happen. They physically moved into the Glen and lived amongst the trees in order to save the Glen from destruction. They began protesting back in 1997 and spent the larger part of three years working to protect this space. Now, it’s a beautiful Reserve that all are welcome to enjoy and appreciate. But, it is not lost on Irish citizens that they owe a serious debt of gratitude to those protestors. Brendan spoke about them with true reverence and admiration saying that they did Ireland a service by putting the country’s beauty over profit.
Another spot that Brendan truly cherishes is called the Sally Gap. The Sally Gap is essentially a road or pass just outside of Dublin City. The drive along the Sally Gap is absolutely phenomenal, but it’s the history of the place that makes it even more special. Apparently, there are various stories about criminals hiding their gold and stolen riches throughout the Sally Gap. All of the money was buried long ago-well before the time when it was possible to “Mark My Location” on an app. So, there are plenty of lost riches buried throughout the countryside. The legends and stories surrounding this spot only heightened my excitement being there.
In addition to these two beautiful natural locations, Brendan felt particularly proud of Trinity College Dublin. This school was founded in the late 1500s by the British; it was modelled after the likes of Oxford and Cambridge. Despite the tumultuous history between the British and the Irish, Brendan was willing to recognize and give kudos to the Brits for creating such a remarkable and well-respected educational institution in Ireland. Now, it is considered the best University in the country, as well as one of the most prestigious schools in the world. Trinity houses the Book of Kells, a book which contains the four Gospels in Latin along with ornate and elaborate illustrations to coincide with them. Visiting the grounds of this prestigious school was a special and amazing experience. I actually ended up falling in love with the school, and will be pursuing my master’s there this fall, but that’s a story for another day.
In addition to taking me to a few of his favorite, lesser known spots, Brendan also told me a little bit about the things we would definitely NOT be doing. Temple Bar is one of the most popular pubs in all of Ireland, but it is also one of the least authentic or traditional. Brendan took my picture outside the pub but refused to go in due to the crowds. He also said it was a place that was catering more to visitors and Americans instead of locals. He wondered aloud: “Why would you want to go to a pub in Ireland where you won’t find a single Irish person?” His point was not lost on me, so I was happy to skip visiting Temple Bar.
I know countless individuals who have spent time in Dublin, and all of have done the Guinness Tour. An almost equal number talk about visiting the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. I am not all that into beer or whiskey but was intrigued at the thought of visiting either place. But, I relied on my local guide and boyfriend on his perspective of such things. He said that he has never and will never go to either the Guinness Factory or the Jameson Distillery, and he does not know another Irish citizen who has stepped foot in these two hot spots. He felt very strongly that these cater to tourists who have certain expectations about life in Ireland. He worries that a lot of the charming local flavors that so define Ireland (and its citizens) get lost at places like the Guinness Factory because they have to prioritize tourism over authenticity. Americans and other tourists have a certain image of Ireland in their minds from movies like “Waking Ned Devine.” And, when people and places differ from these Hollywood portrayals, many people end up disappointed.
The Spire in Dublin City Center is something that locals have mixed feelings about. It is basically a giant stainless-steel monument which is shaped like a pin. Those who are proud of the Spire argue that it is a great piece of architecture and a testament to Dublin’s place in the modern world. Those who dislike the Spire feel that it does a poor job representing Dublin’s population and its culture. They find it to be a meaningless sculpture rather than something to be admired or revered. In order to erect this piece, countless trees had to be cut down all around the City Center. Many of the trees had bullet holes in them from fights that took place between British and Irish citizens in the earlier part of the 20th century. Removing these historically significant trees irked many Irish citizens who value nature and history over progress and newness. Brendan still feels very strongly that the trees were much more important than the “stupid Spire,” as he fondly refers to Dublin’s most controversial monument. He is a big proponent of remembering Irish history and those who fought to make Ireland free, and feels that the Spire does nothing to honor this history.
Experiencing Dublin through the eyes of a local was a rare and eye-opening experience. The perspective, information, and opinions that Brendan was able to share with me about his hometown were truly special and spectacular. For someone (like me) who does not enjoy massive crowds of people, souvenir shops, tourist traps, and so on, it was especially great to be shown around by a local who genuinely loves and cares about his city.