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Ireland, Day One: Clontarf, The Sights of Dublin, and Messrs. Maguire

This entry is part of a series, Ireland 2009»

Old Clontarf Tower

We deplaned in a light drizzle at Dublin Inernational Airport, a bit tired and very excited. Clearing immigration in Dublin was a big hassle, though. They’re reworking a lot of the terminal, and space is cramped. We had to queue for almost an hour. Seems several other big planes landed about the same time we did, and Irish passport control lets all European Union citizens through first. Once we broke through that logjam, though, we cleared Customs quickly and went looking for a ride to our hotel.

No problem! Dublin has plenty of taxis, with friendly and efficient service. We were whisked quickly into the city and on to our hotel, Clontarf Castle. What a nice place! One of the few businesses that make use of historical buildings, Clontarf has built around an old, square keep built in the fourteenth century. The rooms are small, but very modern. The old castle walls have been beautifully restored and tastefully decorated. There are two restaurants, and of course, a pub.

We decided we would take a short nap after we checked in, then ride into the city and look around until dinnertime. We skipped lunch (for now), as we were still full from all the airplane fare. It was threatening rain, and very windy, as we walked the few blocks to the bus stop. The receptionist had warned us to have exact change for the bus! Then she changed a big bill into coins. Seems we’d need a lot of coins during our visit, as there is no paper money in the EU smaller than €5. No problem, though, once you get clued in.

We rode on the top of the double-decker bus and gawked like tourists. I knew we’d have to buy some appropriate clothes later on, to provide proper camouflage. No sense looking silly, or setting ourselves up to attract every street vendor or pickpocket looking for an easy mark. (Actually, I was less worried about the pickpockets.) In the meantime, there was hardly anybody up there with us, and we knew we were embarrassing nobody we knew. Besides, they were all sitting behind us; we’d snagged front-row seats for the ride.

Ha'penny Bridge

We hopped off Bus 130 at Connolly Station and started walking. Lots to see! Dublin’s city center is a target-rich environment for rubbernecking. We found Daniel O’Connell, complete with pigeons, and the Ha’penny Bridge. This is a fairly modern bridge, made of ironworks and painted brilliant white. The name comes from the toll charged to cross it, back when it was first built.

Daniel O'ConnellWe strolled over to Dublin Castle. It’s not really a castle as we think of it, and it now includes Dublin City Hall. We quickly found ourselves in a gift shop (I wonder how THAT happened), and naturally we just had to get our first trinkets. There was simply too much stuff, all hollering “T-Shirts! Kitchen Mitts! Guinness Pens!” for us to avoid it all.

Paula Jo noticed that the shop sold “Hop On, Hop Off” bus tickets, so she snagged a couple for us. This bus idea is wonderful. You get 24 hours of use, so you can start one day and finish the next; the drivers aren’t too picky about that, either, unless the bus is completely full. We’d seen the buses moving slowly down Dublin’s streets after we first left the city bus. (Actually, Paula Jo had saved me from being squashed by one of them; I was trying out her new camera, and somebody built a busy street right where the best pictures could be taken from. I grumbled about silly city planners and such and moved on.)

Tourism is down about 40% at the moment in Ireland, so the drivers were Extra Friendly. We knew we’d use the bus a lot on Friday, and even though it was getting late in the day (the tour buses stop running about 6 P.M.), we decided to “hop on” and see how late the Guinness Storehouse stayed open. We got there just in time to learn they were closing. Oh well. So we wandered back out to the bus stop and waited; those city tour buses come around often.

This is where we learned several things. First, there are three different colors of “hop on” buses. Two of them, red and yellow, are owned by one company. The green ones are a different company; Paula was miffed when he wouldn’t accept our receipt. That’s also when we learned she was using the Bus 130 receipt to try to get us on the tour bus. (Hey; it’s a piece of paper, and we did actually pay for it.) After considerable rummaging we gave up on trying to find that receipt, which was our ticket to ride. We watched others and learned that the drivers didn’t check too closely.

We got in line for the next bus, one that was the “right” color, yellow; and when it got to be our turn, Paula was madly digging about in her backpack. I had a set of those red earphones that they gave out so you could listen to the commentary on the red buses. The driver simply waved us on. After all, it was his last turn around the city, we were holding up progress, and we appeared to know what we were doing. (Two out of three ain’t bad.) We paid for the ride in the end, though. The driver thought he was a comedian, and he assaulted us continually with bad jokes until we got off.

Cheese Salad

Hunger finally snuck up on us, so we looked around for someplace interesting to snarf and guzzle eat a light snack and maybe, just maybe, sip on a pint. Across the River Liffey we saw paradise: Messrs. Maguire, a four-storey pub and eatery. We wasted no time going in and ordering food and drink. I had Chicken Satay, and Paula Jo ordered a Baked Goat’s Cheese Salad.

This place is only a couple hundred years old, and it’s delightful. There aren’t any real “floors” as we know them. Instead, there are eating areas, all at different levels, and each with a distinct ambiance. All the levels are connected by fascinating staircases.

Messrs. Maguire

As it was getting on towards quitting time the place was fairly busy. I ordered a pint of the house porter to wash down my meal, and I found it to be outstanding with the spicy meal I’d ordered. even Paula Jo admitted it was the best she’d ever tasted, after she made a face. She’s not a fan of beer, but she has impeccable taste.

After that restful break we decided to find some transport back to the hotel. We hadn’t a clue how to find Bus 130 anymore. However, I’d noticed that the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) wasn’t far away. I also remembered that the DART rail line went close to our hotel. We moseyed on over to Tara Station and, sure enough, the map showed that Killester Station was close to where we needed to be, and uphill of the hostel to boot. So we went to the automated ticket booth to get some placards for us.

Clontarf Castle

After a lot of reading and scratching our heads, we decided Gaelige wasn’t our cup of tea and we went looking for someone who could help us out. We found an official-looking fellow behind a ticket window, so we asked him. He was most helpful and informative, and within minutes we were €2.70 lighter and we had tickets. We hurried to Track 1 and within a couple of minutes we were seated on the DART.

I recommend you ride DART at least once if you’re ever in Dublin. The trains were clean and comfortable; this from a guy who spends all too much time on planes, trains and automobiles for a living. They have a great on-time record for public transport too. They got us to Killester Station smoothly and we proceeded on foot to find our hotel.

Old Grave Marker

Did I mention it was downhill? Well, hills work differently in Dublin, I suppose. We had a steep grade up out of the train station, then up some more to go across a footbridge to the other side of the tracks. THEN it was downhill all the way. As we were strolling around and trying to orient our map to Ireland (believe me, maps don’t work the same Over There), we noticed a fine rainbow off in the distance. The leprechauns were welcoming us to Ireland the best way they know how.

We were within a block of the hotel when we noticed a stone wall with an entrance to an old church graveyard; our first in Ireland. We went in and, in the late afternoon light, we shot many pictures of the ruins and the headstones. Stone everywhere, I thought; and graves inside the old church. How odd. (Little did I know.) It was a nice break from our walk, but pretty soon we were hungry and thirsty (again), so we made our way back to the room.

About this time, small mental alarm bells began to go off. Shouldn’t it be dark by now? Or was it just the disorientation that moving six time zones can cause? I mentioned this to Paula, but she said it was just me, and besides, it was time to eat. We headed down to the Knight’s Bar and ordered some pub grub and drinks: Seafood and Potato Chowder, Guacamole and Crisps (!!), and a Smithwick’s as lubrication. PJ order a Super-Cosmo from the bar. We sat near a window, watching the world get darker in the light mist. Then we noticed it was past 10:30 at night!

Irish Rainbow

That’s when I figured it out. Ireland is at about the same latitude as Edmonton, Canada. We were only a couple of days short of the longest day of the year. I now knew it would be getting light very early in the morning, and I suggested we should be off to sleep while it was still dark. Big day tomorrow, and all that…

Enjoy the (Dublin Day Tour) Heat!

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