Those with an interest in history will find plenty to do in Dublin. I enjoyed a tour booked through Historical Walking Tours of Dublin (12 euros) and was impressed by my knowledgeable guide, Sylvie. The tour, which leaned on the 18th century as a crucial period in Irish history, began at Trinity College before slowly moving to the old House of Lords and Temple Bar areas. We learned, among other things, why the Irish language, while it may never be widely used again, will never go extinct thanks to extensive civic and government efforts to protect it.
A visit to Dublin must include walking the grounds of Trinity College, established by Queen Elizabeth in 1592 and the country’s oldest existing university. The Old Library on campus houses volumes of valuable and venerable manuscripts, the most famous of which are the lavishly illuminated New Testament Gospels known as the Book of Kells (exhibit admission, 14 euros). Two, John and Luke, were on display when I visited, and the exhibit does a good job explaining the history and significance of the volumes, which were created around 800 A.D.
But it’s the Long Room that has to be one of the most impressive sites in the country. The epic barrel-vaulted library, measuring over 200 feet long and nearly 50 feet high, is packed with 200,000 books, slotted neatly into row after row of wooden shelves stretching to the ceiling. It’s magical and a must-see for any library buff; you can almost feel the spirit of Oscar Wilde walking beside you.
For a different but no less important side of Irish history, head to Kilmainham Gaol, a county jail that held, among others, generations of Irish political prisoners from 1796 through its closure in 1924 following the Irish Civil War. Visitors should book tickets for the jail tour well ahead of time; they can sell out days in advance, as they did when I stopped in one afternoon.
Even without the tour, there’s still plenty to see at the jail, which for many still stands as a symbol of English oppression. An informative museum documents the imprisonment of such Irish leaders as Charles Parnell and Michael Collins, and there’s a room with original graffiti created by political prisoners and soldiers.
The nearby Irish Museum of Modern Art is worth stopping by while you’re in the neighborhood. Entered by means of a long walkway surrounded by lush greenery, the museum has paid exhibits, but I found that the free areas were more than adequate to keep me entertained. The paintings in Lucian Freud’s “Donegal Man” series made the trip worthwhile, as did Brian O’Doherty’s “Language and Space,” intricately detailed drawings inspired by the Celtic language.
But no visit to Dublin would be complete without a hearty meal and a creamy pint of one of Ireland’s fine beers. For the former, I recommend Pickle, which specializes in Northern Indian cuisine and has an excellent 22-euro early bird dinner special. For a deeper dive into the latter, the massive Guinness Storehouse is an obvious choice, a theme-parklike cash grab that is fun if you relax and go with the raucous atmosphere. I paid 17.50 euros online for my ticket, the minimum in their dynamic pricing arrangement, and found it slightly overpriced for my taste. You do get a free pint with admission, however, which I enjoyed with some excellent views of the city from the Gravity Bar on the seventh floor.