Beyond the Museums: Local Tips for a True Dublin Experience

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Introducing our extremely popular Irish guide Garvan, a loquacious and warm-hearted Dubliner who wants to help visitors gain an understanding of his living, breathing city that they won’t find in museums. Want to really get under Dublin’s skin? Then read on!

So you know Dublin has a wealth of world-class museums and attractions, yeah? I bet you’ve got a fair idea of a handful of them you’d like to visit when you come to Dublin? And I assume your time in Dublin is basically structured around these visits? But isn’t there something more besides visiting galleries, museums and the Book of Kells?

Yes. A lot more.

To really make your time in Dublin a rich, fulfilling and unforgettable one, consider these gems that’ll have your heart wrenching, your ears twitching and your spirit igniting:

REAL DUBLIN LIFE
The Markets on Moore Street
Up until the economic boom that was known as The Celtic Tiger, Ireland was the least cosmopolitan capital city in Europe. Why? Because lack of jobs was the reason few immigrants arrived and the main reason most emigrants left. Since the 1990s, however, the demographic of Dublin city has changed immensely. Nowadays, as you’re walking down O’Connell street, you’ll have some difficulty in trying to figure out if what you just heard from a passer-by was English, albeit Dublin English.

Not too far from this main street, you’ll have no shortage of the Dublin accent. Actually, I think you’ll have TOO much of it! The fruit and vegetable markets on Moore St. will give you an aural experience that’ll be difficult to match anywhere in the English-speaking world. I would like to attempt a phonetical transcription of “Five bananas for a euro!”, but you really just have to hear it for real.

IRISH INDEPENDENCE
1916 Memorial, GPO, O’Connell St.
Whenever I give a walking tour of the city, I always try to include this inspiring site. And, if I can, I like to end with it. Installed where the original entrance to the GPO used to be, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic solemnly rests below the statue of Cú Chulainn, the legendary Irish hero, in wonderfully apt complement. The brave, yet doomed solo fight of Cú Chulainn against an army of invaders is juxtaposed with the story of the Easter Rising of 1916. Defeated. Definitely. Yet triumphant in death. Remembered. And celebrated with eternal zeal.

Contemplating the 1916 Rising, its successes and failures, its rebels, their ideals, their hopes, and, more than anything else, Irish freedom that become its ultimate legacy all make this one of the most potent experiences in Dublin.

And while we’re mentioning potent experiences…

THE FAMINE
The Famine Memorial, Custom Quay or The Famine Memorial, St. Stephen’s Green
No true understanding of Ireland’s history can be possible without thick tears, real or metaphorical, in soft eyes. Indeed, this can be said of any country’s history, but I feel Ireland has had more than its fair share of tragedy.

Irish history reads like a checklist of failed rebellions, bad luck, oppressive policies, national physical suffering, economic busts, and the destructions of Irish customs. If we could identify one single crisis that stands as the epitome of this litany, the Great Famine of 1845-52 fits perfectly.

These statues press despair against the viewer’s eyes. Mass starvation, disease and emigration were the symptoms of a veritable apocalypse for Irish culture and, nearly, the Irish race. Its legacy has been ever-present. Emigration continued long after the famine was declared over, even up until the 1990s. The population has still not yet recovered: the island of Ireland had a population of an estimated 9 million in 1944, and now, in 2012, has merely 6.4 million.

Thinking about The Famine and what it has meant for the story of the Irish people sobers any notions of personal misfortune into triviality.

And talk of triviality leads us to...

SOUVENIRS
Maurice Fitzgerald, George’s St. Arcade
As well as wandering through the eclectic mix of goods and services on offer inside the fantastic market, you might actually want to buy something. Particularly, something ‘Dublin’.

So, what is something ‘Dublin’, then? Naturally, something made in Dublin. That means postcards of Dublin made in Dublin, not China. Preferably something artistic and original.

Maurice Fitzgerald is a well-established artist who’s also been a friend of mine for several years now. I always try to recommend his work to visitors searching for a REAL souvenir as opposed to the generic soft toy of a green leprechaun. Supporting local business is where tourists’ capital should end up (stay away from multinationals like Starbucks and McDonalds – you’re only hurting the city you’re visiting), not to mention how intrinsic art is and has been for Dublin life for donkeys ages.

Fitzgerald’s colourful sketches of Dublin buildings, characters, and Dublin life in general are varied and numerous. A framed work to hang on the wall at home or two postcards (one to send to a friend, one to keep for yourself!), whichever option you prefer you’ll know that you’re getting a real piece of Dublin.

If you're heading to Dublin this summer, consider getting in touch with Garvan for more great ideas on how to make a visit to his hometown a truly memorable one.
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