Warning: This blog is full of lame St. Patrick’s Day jokes. Proceed with caution.
The luck of the Irish was really with me in Dublin (ok, I’ll tone it down).
I left for Ireland with three friends on Thursday night. We flew into the Dublin airport and found it decorated with balloons and streamers for the holiday. We took a bus to our hostel, which was very centrally located on the River Liffey.
There was a small surprise (read: shock) when we arrived. We booked our trip with Andy Steves (yes, the travel-guru Rick’s son) and he made the hostel arrangements. Because he is an expert backpacker, sharing a room with complete strangers for the total “hostel experience” probably doesn’t faze Andy.
Luckily (heehee), there were bins with locks underneath the beds so we could lock up our things. The bins were very screechy, so they did tend to wake us up when people used them in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Needless to say, between the hyper-awareness of all of the strangers around me and the snoring of the shirtless guy diagonal from me, I didn’t get much sleep on the trip.
(The room did help me to make friends with American students who are studying all over the world, so I guess I did get something out of the “hostel experience.” I met some very nice girls studying in Copenhagen in Madrid whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise!)
On our first full day in Dublin, we went on a walking tour with Andy’s guides, who are all Irish college students. Andy popped in every now and then to offer us some cookies, which are apparently a travel “must.” (I wonder if his dad mentions cookies in his guidebooks?)
Dublin is much smaller than I had imagined it would be. The city centre is primarily located on a few parallel streets that are very easily accessible from the River Liffey. Along the way, our tour guides cleared up some common misconceptions about Ireland.
Did you know:
- Dublin doesn’t dye the river green anymore? It first dyed the water green in 1997, but the coloring killed all of the fish. In 1998, river-dyers from Chicago came over to show the Irish how it was done, and the fish lived. The next year, Dubliners decided not to dye the river anymore, so it stays blue.
- Corned beef isn’t a native Irish dish? It’s Irish-American! People don’t really eat it in Dublin (at least according to our guides).
- People don’t drink green beer? It’s black Guinness all the way.
- Vikings founded Dublin? Apparently the last name McLaughlin means “sons of Norwegians.” And about 25% of Irish people are also of Scandinavian descent.
We passed endless shops with touristy garb, from wigs to leprechaun hats to scarves. We also toured Trinity College, which is one of Dublin’s oldest universities. Oscar Wilde went there once upon a time and I got to see the outside of his dorm room. I was so excited to be able to continue my literary tour of Europe without even planning the visit! I didn’t see a picture of Dorian Gray, though…
That night we went to Whelan’s, which is the pub featured in P.S. I Love You, and I saw Gerard Butler! No, I’m totally kidding. I wish I had. But it was still fun. The crowd was very similar to the crowd in the movie. There were a lot of Hilary Swank-aged people (not that there’s anything wrong with that). My friends and I danced, waited for a live band that never showed up and just enjoyed being in Ireland.
On Saturday we left relatively early in the morning for the coastal town of Howth, which is a fishing port. It smelled very fishy. Really, it was overwhelming. I took pictures by the cliffs, looked for leprechauns and tried to find a rainbow. I had no luck with the last two.
We then went on a tour of the Guinness Factory along with every single other tourist in Dublin. Thanks to Andy, we got to skip the line, which had to be hours long. It wrapped around the building and went down the street. I learned about the special combination of barley, hops, water and yeast Guinness uses to make the perfect dark beer.
Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year (yes, you read that right) lease at the factory site because he was so confident in the taste of his brew. I guess he was right. Guinness is definitely Ireland’s beer and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. We got free pints of Guinness at the “Gravity Bar” when our tour was finished.
Sunday was the big day. We went to mass at St. Mary’s Church in Dublin. The president of Ireland was there with his wife, and I was surprised that he had no security members sitting in sight. The entire Catholic service was in Gaelic and they even blessed a shamrock!
We next walked in the rain (now that’s more like it, right?) to the parade route. Because Dublin is so small, the route was short, but there were 2 hours worth of floats, bands and Irish jiggers. It was hard to see over the leprechaun hats that everyone seemed to be wearing.
I thought that only tourists would be wearing four-leafed clover gear and face paint, but nearly everyone in the city was wearing some type of ridiculously oversized piece of clothing. While I didn’t have an orange wig or fake beard, I did have on my green Andy Steves sweatshirt, so I think I came pretty close to being crazily dressed.
Everyone wonders how crazy Dublin is. Yes, people were drunk. Some were very drunk. But most people seemed to be in the “I’m a happy sort of tipsy” state where they were enjoying the buzz from their alcohol and not crossing over into the angry, teary or sick type of drunkenness. That probably changed later in the day, though. All of the pubs were packed wall-to-wall with people licking foam Guinness mustaches off of their lips and enthusiastically taking Irish car bombs.
I think I speak for all of my friends when I say it was incredibly cool to be in a city in a time of such excitement and celebration. Although Dublin was probably 80% (or more) full of tourists and leprechaun-wannabees, the locals seemed genuinely excited to have us there.
They gave us directions, smiled as they hurried to busy tables and wished us Slainte, or good health. A lot of the buildings were cast with green spotlights and signs on almost every street corner and pub welcomed visitors.
Even though I was the only one of my friends who isn’t Irish at all, I felt very spirited and happy to be in Ireland! I knew that traveling to a country in a time of celebration was something I wanted to do when I came to Europe, which is why I was so eager to go to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day.
So yes, the Guinness flows as strongly as the River Liffey, but there’s more to St. Paddy’s Day than brew. It’s the feeling of being one green hoodie in a sea of emerald. It’s the feeling of being Irish for a day, even if you don’t technically have the blood lineage. It’s the feeling of seeing a city in its prime, when streets are decorated, musicians are playing outside and people are smiling.
It’s like Christmas as an adult, when no material object can make the day great, but just being where you are in that moment is the best thing you could’ve hoped for.
Until next time,
Allison, who is still looking for the pot of gold