A football fixture change from a Saturday to a Monday night meant a trip to Baile Atha Cliath. Or Dublin, as it’s commonly known. More on the Irish language later. Veteran Rochdale fan William found himself with a chance to travel overseas and couldn’t think of anyone better to do such a thing with than yours truly. Hence a 48-hour excursion to the Irish capital.
Ryanair at £32 return from Manchester was on the cheap side, as was a two-night stay in a Travelodge, so we only had to contend with beer prices, many sources having told us that a pint would cost us upwards of 14,000 euros. I had to hold William’s hand through check-in and security gates as he hadn’t travelled by airplane since probably before 9/11, and if it weren’t for me, he would have boarded with an oversize suitcase full of aerosols and had to pay a whopping Ryanair fine.
Flight was smooth, we both slept; a couple of pints in Manchester holes were to thank for that, and in no time at all we were boarding the 747 airport bus service into the city centre, having purchased a Leap Card for 19.99 euros at one of the proliferous Spar stores found at the airport. I’d really recommend this to would-be travellers as you can jump on any bus, train or tram in the city for 72 hours. My Google Maps expertise came in handy and the local bus I hoped would take us from College Green to our hotel did so.
As all simple males do, we dumped our stuff, changed our clothes and didn’t shower before hitting the streets (sraids in Irish) and hunting down some pubs. By this point we had noticed that every sign and bus stop announcement was said in English and then Irish. Without wishing to offend my Irish brothers, I’d proffer that barely any people speak the language to a decent level and that it’s almost imposed in public so as to retain a little history and culture. Because if Irish was that important, wouldn’t the announcements be in Irish, then translated into English, and not vice-versa? Don’t get me wrong, as a linguist I’m fascinated by language differences, though some Irish words offered up just seemed to be English words with some kind of prefix or suffix for show.
Anyway, on to where we got to. Not wanting to “burn out”, we thought we’d only stay out a couple of hours, as the following day had been set aside for what we termed “power tourism” from early on. We got to the street that flows along the river and went in a rock bar called Gypsy Rose which had a live blues singer on. To be honest she wasn’t my cup of tea, but I was delighted I didn’t have to take a loan out to buy a pint of lager, as the pint of Becks came in at 5 euros a pint. A venture to this club the following evening would reveal a loud and dark heavy rock area in the pub’s entrails which I’d imagine would be rather atmospheric on band night, even if there was no viable emergency exit downstairs.
Everyone pre-trip had told us to avoid the so-called tacky Temple Bar pub like the swine/bird/SARS flu due to its hefty prices, advice we duly ignored because William wanted to hear some “twiddly” Irish music live. I took on the responsibility for getting the beers in, and not wanting to get drinks readily available back in Albion, I plumped for two pints of Kilkenny, described on the pump as Real Irish Beer. Error. It tasted like soapy water, though it did cause William to buck his trend and finish a pint in less than thirty minutes. Not the best 7 euros ever spent on a pint. There was a little live music on, but not enough to satisfy my companion’s craving for authentic Irish sounds.
Next we went to Long Bar, something online forums had recommended to William, and while it’s décor was aesthetically-pleasing, our presence certainly halved the average age of the pub’s clientele. Thinking our hotel was close by, we opted to walk back and drop by a pub for one for the road. By now it was gone midnight, so we only came across Flannerys bar, a large establishment with a couple of rooms including an open air area with lots of Oasis being played by a cover band. Noticeably, many of the Irish smoke, and one way to get round the public ban was to open up a hole in the ceiling. Despite the good music, the result was shivering and the inhalation of tobacco, something I’d not experienced since regular rendezvous to Sinclair’s back in about 2005.
A long chilly walk back to the hotel and a good sleep later, we embarked on our day of rapid tourism. First, we headed to the tourist office to pick up a Dublin Pass (39 euros for a day card which gets you into basically any attraction in the city) and after being held up by an over-helpful member of staff, we made our way to Landsdowne Road, now known as the Aviva Stadium, to try and get on the 10am tour of the football and rugby venue.
We arrived just on time and ended up being the only two on a tour, which thus became rather exclusive and allowed us to have a good chat to the guide. An interesting fact about the stadium is that one of the stands is a lot lower than the others so as not to block out the sun for local residents. We took photos in the changing rooms, though I mistakenly sat with the rugby shirts instead of the Roy Keane jersey I was aiming for, and I made sure that Brian Barry Murphy made an appearance at the football home of Ireland.
Next, we headed back to the centre for some grub before hopping on the LUAS tram service to the Jameson’s (pronounced JEmeson’s) Whiskey Distillery to have a tour and a few afternoon tipples. A bedraggled Leeds United fan accosted us on our way in, but we managed to escape him and didn’t have to wait long before being taken on a tour by a very self-deprecating yet amusing guide. My sole aim of this visit was to neck some whiskey and get value from the Dublin Pass, but the tour turned out to be rather interesting and informative. At the end, we got to sample Irish, Scottish and North American whiskey and then opted for our further complimentary drink to be combined with ginger ale and lime. I wasn’t a huge fan of whiskey, and I’m still not, but the visit was definitely worth our while.
We then dashed over the bridge towards the Guinness Storehouse, which I’ll have you know is a little hidden away and difficult to locate. Upon arriving behind schedule, we rushed a little around the museum, guideless as the museum doesn’t offer this service. Exhibits were interesting, especially the talking portraits, though I’d give Jameson’s the edge as it’s a little more educational, whereas Guinness seemed to have prioritised size and panache over substance. Once again, our objective involved alcohol, and we made our way to the top floor to taste a fresh pint of Guinness, and William subsequently lost his virginity to the black (m)ale. I hadn’t had the drink since my teenage days, and must say that although it was a little heavy and bitter, it wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered.
We were running late for sure now, and despite William’s claims that we were never going to make it to Croke Park for the 3pm tour, I insisted we try. Typically the bus was held up in traffic, and I had to stop him from marching off the bus, but we still managed to get to the stadium on time to join a tour just after it had started.
This tour was insightful and the guy who led us round was really passionate about hurling and Gaelic football, and a few anecdotes here and there were memorable. We learned that clubs, some of them tiny, from all over the country participate in the competitions and that finals day is held for both sports in September. You supposedly have to support the team from where you are, no matter how small they are.
Kind of ironic then that the Irish then get on the Man Utd glory bandwagon in association football.
The guide also told us of British soldiers shooting Irish sports players dead on the field of play, and of how the decrepit stand to the west is there to commemorate how many Irish fans carried rocks from the rubble created by British bombs to sit on at the matches.
That’s if I heard the story correctly.
On to the night out, Guinness virginity broken and “twiddly” music on the agenda. Didn’t start too well, finding ourselves in a chavvy pub, but we then happened upon O Neill’s, an authentic Irish bar comprised of a few buildings joined together. We followed the music and came across the back end of a live show of Irish tunes and jigging, even managing to find a decent seat in the thick of the action. William almost orgasmed upon discovering his new favourite lager, Clonmel, which he reckons will have taken over the world within a few months.
We did a lot of people-watching over the weekend and William has coined the new phrase of “first night out”. This refers to revellers who have apparently never been to a pub or club before and accordingly dress and act like idiots.
Background information. An Irish guy is chatting up a Spanish girl, and has managed to isolate her from her group of friends. Body language is positive and there’s potential there.
Then out of nowhere arrived this mid-forties fella in a ridiculous shirt and upturned collar. To be honest, he’d been in the vicinity for a while, and I was quite sure he had hooves, rather than conventional human feet, such was the amount of clomping he was doing. Credit where credit is due. The man could dance, but there’s a time and a place, especially when the live entertainment has finished. He miraculously avoided kneecapping passers-by with his hind legs and then proceeded to trot towards the young male talking to the Spanish girl. He literally waded in between the pair and destroyed whatever was happening between two youths who could have been his children. Needless to say, the visitors from the Iberian peninsula found their excuses to get on their way, and the poor Irishman was left on his diddle with the jigging stallion.
On the theme of incidents, let’s move on to the next bar and a rather violent occurrence. Pints of beer, Guinness and the like had taken their toll on William and he was lagging. I was just on my way back from the men’s room to down the dregs of my last drink, when I almost bumped into an outstretched leg blocking my route. A German girl was sat there. I half-apologised and light conversation ensued. I think William was snoring at this point, but we continued chatting for a while. She was accompanied by a Chinese girl and a blonde Dutch girl about as tall as me who seemed to want to go home and was growing a bit restless. Nevertheless, my Prussian friend and I continued chatting until we were interrupted (and William woken up) by a large smash.
I looked up to see shards of broken glass all over the adjacent table and the Dutch girl looking at me menacingly. I assumed an accident had occurred, but the look on her face told me it was intentional. She had actually smashed a glass on the table, very close to her friend, to make a point. I didn’t really know what to say or do, so just stammered: “Did you do that on purpose?” to which the Dutch girl glared at me and asked: “Are you drunk?” I didn’t quite comprehend what was happening, but quickly bid my farewells to the German girl and William and I headed off into the night.
After about 3 yards walking, William decided he wanted to take a taxi, but I insisted he ask the driver the price before getting in. Bear in mind we’d also been told not to use expensive rip-off cabs in Dublin either. Our chauffeur, Miroslav, somehow contrived to hit traffic at 2am, which rather irked me, but he didn’t react to my diatribe about taxi drivers being small-time conmen.
We arrived at the hotel, crashed out in bed, and woke up the next morning to go and get a Subway Spar breakfast (there are Spars in Dublin on every corner). Our next stop was a visit to the free Military Museum, in which I insisted on reading every text and looking at every artefact. Afterwards, we hopped on a bus to the airport, hung around in Departures for a while and landed in Manchester an hour later to news that t’Bradford City had knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup.
All in all, a fun weekend. Alcohol and sports tourism objectives met, traditional music heard, and a couple of stories to tell. What more to expect from a 48-hour city break?