Almost 20 years ago, I met Laura Jane Sanderson Healy in London outside Puffins Nursery School where both of us had enrolled our darling daughters. The daughters are now at University. Laura and I are still 'bessies' and Laura is still one of the best writers I know. Herewith, her action-packed romp through Dublin with tons of tips and great ideas. Thanks, Laura for a wonderful post.
Last fall I returned to Dublin, Ireland, after a decade’s absence and had a complete ball. The place was buzzing like I had never seen. My husband of Irish origin was working in his father’s hometown for a stretch, so Temple Bar Hotel in Fleet Street was our boutique oasis in the midst of Bourbon Street-like Temple Bar, an historic, quayside area on the south side of the River Liffey. No Crowdsers would best enjoy life here during quieter weekdays. Tour Temple Bar Gallery + Studios; patronize the eclectic Jam Art Factory and scoop up the colorful animal jewelry (I have the fox brooch and stag necklace) by ARTY SMARTY. Look for alley murals depicting Ireland’s dazzling writers (Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett) and scruffy musicians (Phil Lynott, Bob Geldof); seek out classics, local lit, or cards at The Gutter Bookshop, or join the Socialists at Connolly’s and get your manifesto on. Musicians play in the street and in the many Temple Bar pubs; you will always hear Thin Lizzy’s electric version of “Whiskey in the Jar,” sometimes detect a stray Cat Stevens’ song, and Trad (Traditional) Irish Music feat. whistle, bodhran, and fiddle is always on the boil.
The Irish Film Institute In Eustace Street has two cinemas, a library, a film shop and bookstore, and cineastes coffee-klatsch in the center’s cafe and inner courtyard. On a spooky, rainy afternoon shortly after my arrival, I watched Aoife Kelleher’s “Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village” about the supernatural happenings parishioners recounted at the then small country church at Knock in 1879. (Disclosure: I was lured to this particular screening having once been assigned out of London to report on a moving grotto statue in County Cork.)
Truly miraculous to lovers of the stage is the Dublin Theater Festival, which appears religiously every September and was a favorite of my droll, late father-in-law. Husband and I saw three fab revivals: former borstal boy Brendan Behan’s prison drama THE QUARE FELLOW at Temple Bar’s Smock Alley (the renovated boys school-church-Restoration playhouse which began life as the Theatre Royal in 1662 and where Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan premiered their witty plays); Somerset Maugham’s THE CONSTANT WIFE at The Gate; and Martin McDonagh’s THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at The Gaiety.
Good, casual restaurants around Temple Bar are Gallagher’s Boxty House (named after the Irish potato pancake) and Elephant and Castle along Fleet Street, the fun French bistrot The Green Hen on Exchequer Street, and The Bull and Castle by F.X. Buckley, a gastropub/steakhouse across Lord Edward Street from Christ Church Cathedral. We had dinner with my husband’s cousin here one, because it has recently been called one of the best restaurants in Dublin, and two, to celebrate the fact that it was once the family pub called Healy’s.
The author James Joyce is ubiquitous in Dublin, and he and a friend sit forever in bronze beside the cobblestones of Anglesea Street smoking and drinking at the pub bearing that surgeon-writer pal’s name: Oliver St. John Gogarty (“Buck Mulligan” in Joyce’s ULYSSES). The middle name of St. John is pronounced “sinjin,” by the way, so you know, and the pub is at the corner of Fleet Street and Anglesea. One Sunday evening, my husband took me to The Parlour Bar upstairs at The Stag’s Head Pub to see Robert Gogan’s one-man-show “Strolling through Ulysses.” Gogan is hilarious as he “introduces” all the pertinent characters of Joyce’s epic novel in just 75 minutes with one wee intermission; you can buy his officially annotated version of the book — ULYSSES BY JAMES JOYCE, REMASTERED BY ROBERT GOGAN — to keep from going mad or reaching for the lotuses. Do not take children to this wickedly lewd performance.
Museum wise, The Little Museum of Dublin is a winner: relaxed and attractively-curated, the donated collection is housed in a fine Georgian house on the north side of the St. Stephen’s Green park. For a small fee, amusing guides take turns presenting the place to you, beginning in the drawing room on the First Floor (up one, in Europe) where you may partake of colorful liquorice candies while you sit on a sofa and listen to the spiel about the most ancient city’s rebellion against a foreign power. The history of the Irish Free State is carefully explained before the small group moves into a room full of cultural treasures including the podium President Kennedy spoke at when visiting town and a wall of celebrity photographs (I loved seeing one in particular of a parading Goya painting — The Diceman was a performance artist I once saw “sail” as a “ship” down Grafton Street to advertise the old Switzer’s store’s SALE). Upstairs, Irish rockers U2 have a floor of their own.
Where do paint-splashed studios go when their artist kicks over all the buckets in the room? In the case of Irish painter Francis Bacon, to the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, which reassembled the messy thing intact from 7 Reece Mews in London’s South Kensington to Charlemont House, Parnell Square North, Dublin 1. It’s fun (and free) to see, and I loved eating lunch at the gallery’s cafe across from an art-loving grandmother and her little granddaughter. I needed sustenance to spend the next hour studying “The Metronome Bursts of Automatic Fire Seep Through the Dawn Mist Like Muffled Drums and We Know It for What It Is” by Belgian artist Sven Augustijnen for The Hugh Lane's Artist as Witness 2016 program (the quote came from LIFE journalist John Saar, whom I once worked with in New York).
“During the Cold War, the light automatic rifle — the F.A.L. manufactured by Fabrique Nationale de Herstal in Belgium — was the most distributed weapon in non-communist countries, and therefore named the "right arm of the free world;” however, the rifle appeared on both sides of the ideological spectrum in the various conflicts around the world,” the artist writes. The gallery website explains that his “selection of TIME and LIFE magazines, alongside RTÉ archive footage from Northern Ireland, reveals how both weapons and journalism are entangled in the fabric of our history. He installs the magazines in chronological order and his meticulous editing of image and article provokes a collision with the values of freedom and capitalism as embodied in these publications. This dramatic installation transforms information into sculpture. The pages selected date from the late 1950s to 2016 and present profound political and social upheavals which are repeatedly mirrored in our current news; a devastating critique on the ongoing tragic spectacle of war and its production.”
I had to look it up, but in November 2013, the Bacon triptych of his portrait painter friend Lucian Freud was the most expensive art ever sold at auction when it was knocked down at $142.4 million at Christie’s New York. That’s one way of bringing home the Bacon.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here are some fun links: