A literary pub crawl down in Dublin

2014-05-06 18:07
Shebeen probably wasn’t the first Irish word that I expected to learn on my trip to Dublin. But given that the reason I was in the Irish capital, was to vote in the South African elections, it was fitting.

I was on one of the numerous tours that explore the many facets of this cultural and history-filled city. The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl is a quirky tour around the haunts frequented by the astonishing crop of writers that hail from this fair city.

No less than four Nobel literature laureates and that doesn’t include the eminently quotable Oscar Wilde and the dark musings of Bram Stoker. Yes, Dracula the world’s third most bought book, if my guides is anything to go, was inspired by these moody, misty cobblestone streets.

It was in these illicit pubs or Shebeens that some of the masterpieces of literature were formulated. The word means little jug, which doesn’t quite tie in with my experiences of quart drinking in South Africa, so something might have been lost in translation...

Though what they lose out in size they make up for in availability as author JP Dunleavy said “in Dublin, you're never more than 20 paces from a pint,” and that’s true to the present day.

Dublin has more pubs per capita than any city in Europe. That’s probably why everyone is always smiling. 

Far too many to mention, though if you are on a budget, and what South African isn’t?

Perhaps spending too much time in the world-famous Temple Bar area would not be good on your pocket. Dublin’s nightlife and cultural centre is a jumping cosmopolitan mixture of Irish Bars, nightclubs, buskers and buzzing street life.

It is a must-do and fun, even in the day time as it is home to various cultural centres which are often overlooked by the hordes of backpackers on a bender. This misconception has led to many thinking, myself included that Temple Bar was a just a very big bar. It is actually named after William Temple, an ex-provost of Trinity College Dublin. Though to add to the confusion there is also The Temple Bar in Temple Bar, making directions after a few pints of the black stuff especially tricky.

Just a few streets away from the Temple Bar (everything is a few streets away in Dublin) you are sure to find a considerably cheaper pint in pubs unchanged for centuries. I enjoyed O’Neil’s a particular favourite of writers through the ages, so much so that they even have their own Writers Room for late night/ early morning discussion. 

Another find was The Cobblestone, a local’s bar where some of the finest traditional musicians jam every night for free.

Continuing a theme any trip to Dublin has to include a pilgrimage to the two pillars of Dublin tippling, Guinness and Jameson’s and a tip here: The Dublin Pass, which includes entry to both as well as many others is a real saver.

The Guinness experience is a high tech affair with tastings, pouring lessons and interactive tour of their clever advertising campaigns, though having a pint in the highest point in Dublin; the Gravity Bar is well a high point. For the record yes it does taste better in Dublin.

The Jameson Distillery Tour is mellower with a guide taking you through the journey of the only triple distilled whiskey in the world. And if you lucky you can enrol in the academy to become an official whisky taster. Though if budgets are stretched, just find any pub within sight of the River Liffey which gently bisects the capital, order both and sit back and breathe the air so magical it appears to sing.

“You never meet and Irishman who thinks he can’t sing” was the opening gambit of the driver on the Dublin Hop on Hop off Bus, before he launched into a rousing rendition of Molly Malone.  This became a trend for my trip, where every bus driver, walking tour guide or just some bloke you met in the pub is prone to burst into song at a moment’s notice, which probably explains the magical singing in the air

Of course there is more to Dublin than wine, writing and song, there is also ghosts. It is no surprise that a city steeped in medieval history with a strong, sometimes contradictory connection to the Catholic Church would have a strong supernatural element.  Dracula is a case in point, where the cholera-infected, washed-out looking “walking dead” were the inspiration for Vampires.  The Dublin Ghost Bus tour delves deeper into this with an eerie, two-hour journey into the world of the paranormal. My trip literally took us to the gateways of “Hell”, the entry to a secret tunnel that led to all sorts of nefarious activities happening in the bowels of the Christchurch cathedral no less.

Not just ghosts, fairies and leprechauns are still talked about in hush, reverential tones. One third of Irish people believe that leprechauns exist, so the National Leprechaun Museum was a must on my list. Whimsical and wonderful if you suspend disbelief you will be transported to another world literally called the "Otherworld" of hidden hills, burial mounds and fairy circles.  You learn how many of the expressions we use today have their roots in folklore, why we are still so fascinated by myths from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones as well as a thorough debunking of the Disney notion of the little people -they are not green, though the gold is real. It’s also probably the only place in the world where you can hear the outlandish tale of death by cheese. Trust me it’s all in the telling.

 Though the most interesting find of the trip was the importance of Vikings to Dublin and Ireland as a whole. In many ways they are responsible for the development of Dublin as you know it today. The first urban settlement and the growth of Dublin as a port was down to Scandinavian know how. Incidentally the Vikings were also quite fond of a drink. At the Little Museum of Dublin they have a cartoon history of the Viking history of Dublin which is just enlightening as it is a hoot.

Just before leaving Dublin I was taken to the lovely Merrion Square initially to see the delightfully decadent Oscar Wilde Statue, though while I was there I noticed another unassuming, but quietly powerful bust at ease in the nearby wood. Tribute Head by Elisabeth Frank is dedicated to Nelson Mandela and was unveiled on 18 July 1988.

So as my trip had begun, it ended fittingly with a goodbye to the father of the nation, calmly presiding over a little park in Ireland which will be forever South African.

Colin MacRae's accommodation was kindly sponsored Dublin International Hostels.

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Read more on:    dublin  |  travel international

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