We had three full days overall in Belfast, and we knew we wanted one of the days to explore Belfast, and one to get a coach tour to the Giant’s Causeway, and this left one more day. We came up with the idea of taking the train somewhere, and at first it looked like it would be to Londonderry on the other side of Northern Ireland, but then we found the Enterprise train service on the internet, and came up with an even better idea…
Status: Dublin City, City, Republic of Ireland
Travel: Enterprise (Belfast Central – Dublin Connolly)
Eating & Sleeping: Spar
Attractions: Christ Church Cathedral, City Hall, Dublin Trams, Dublin Spire, Dublin Castle, Famine Museum, Wax Museum, Writers Museum, National Museum, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Conference Centre, Custom House, College Green, Trinity College, Book of Kells etc
Our reasons for going to Dublin instead of Londonderry that day were simple, we couldn’t resist going to both Irish Capital Cities whilst we were there and as it happened we did both cities for the first time in one day, which was even more amazing.
We arrived at Dublin Connolly train station, the main station in the city. This was the first time the two of us had been to a country other than the UK together, so we couldn’t wait to explore. The thing I had read the most about in Dublin, and really wanted to see, was the Dublin Spire, pictured above, so we headed for that first. We had caught glimpses of it on the way in on the train.
The spire, also known as the Monument of Light, stands 398 feet tall, made out of shining Stainless Steel. It replaced an earlier monument on the same spot, Nelson’s Pillar, similar to the one in Trafalgar Square in London, with both bearing a statue of Horatio Nelson on the top. The pillar, dating back to 1809, was destroyed in 1966 by a bomb. Comparing the two monuments, the pillar was only 134 feet tall, meaning the new spire is significantly larger.
Directly in front of the spire is a statue of Jim Larkin, (1876 – 1947, Irish Republican). They both stand on O’Connell Street, now one of the main streets in the city centre.
There are various impressive buildings up and down O’Connell Street, but one of the most famous is the building sat next to the Spire, the General Post Office building. It houses the headquarters of the Irish Post Service, and was the last Georgian building constructed in the city, completed in 1818. It is a beautiful building, with towering columns at the front entrance. The proud Irish tricolour flies from the top of the building, and many others throughout the city.
We wandered down to the river Liffey, which runs through the centre of the city, and O’Connell streets leads directly to it. On the far side of the river are a number of the cities most famous landmarks, including Dublin Castle and the Cathedrals. To get there, there a number of bridges you could cross, but we took O’Connell Bridge, which is an extension of O’Connell Street. Designed by James Gandon in the late 18th century (1743 – 1823, Famous Architect) the original incarnation of the bridge was completed in 1794, when it was then known as “Carlisle Bridge”. During the 19th century plans to widen the bridge were carried out, and it was rebuilt, culminating in a grand reopening in 1882, although with a name change in honour of Daniel O’Connell whose statue had just been erected on the far side.
The few looking West up the river is stunning, with fine buildings lining either side. The next bridge along is called the Ha’penny Bridge, which despite it’s relatively modern appearance, was actually built in 1816, after being shipped over from England where it was cast. The name is derived from a toll of a ha’penny, charged by Mr William Walsh, who had previously operated ferries over the river here, until he had the bridge built when his fleet was in a bad state of repair. A ha’penny was at the time one of the British Coins, as at this point Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. It was worth half a penny, or 1/480th of a full pound. Britain (now minus Ireland) decimalised in 1969 and the coin ceased to be legal tender.
Beyond the bridge, you will spot the national flags of various countries in the European Union, which the Republic of Ireland joined in 1973 along with the UK. Flags seen here include those of (from left to right):
Belgium, Hungary, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy and many more.
In the background of the picture, to the left, the tower of Christ Church Cathedral just sticks out above the Georgian Architecture. To the right, the tall Tower/Spire of Dublin’s 2nd Cathedral, called St Patrick’s, dominates the skyline in all it’s glory.
We crossed over the river, which I will come back to later as we got some fantastic photo’s further downstream during our explorations. One of the other main streets in the city is Dame Street, leading towards Lord Edward Street. At the top of these is Christ Church Cathedral, and is one of the two ancient Dublin Cathedrals, along with St Patricks. We didn’t have chance to visit the Cathedral as we only had a limited amount of time between our pre booked trains so we kept going around the city, but we did find out a few things about it’s history.
It was founded all the way back in 1030, making it older than a lot of the Cathedrals we have seen so far in the UK. It was granted Cathedral status in 1539, having originally being a priory. Renovations occurred between 1871 and 1878, with some parts being demolished, and others being added, resulting in the stunning building that still exists today.
St Patrick’s Cathedral is only just up the street, and is slightly newer, having been completed in 1191, although it is however the largest Church in the entire country, and the spire reaches a full height of 140 ft. Other buildings of note on the same road as Christ Church Cathedral include Dublin City Hall at the front left of the picture (1779) as well as Dublin Castle directly behind it out of shot, which is made up of a number of buildings spanning several centuries. A large courtyard sits at its centre, and one of the notable parts of the Castle is the Bedford Tower, built in 1761. The Castle was also the seat of the British representative of Ireland when it was part of the UK until 1922.
I love the architecture in Dublin, as a lot of the buildings are built from a similar grey stone, which I believe was quarried in Ireland itself. The larger, more important buildings are also decorated with fantastic columns. We saw lots of buildings like this, and one that stood out was the above Regent House, part of Trinity College, which was founded in 1311. It is popular with tourists as it contains the famous “Book of Kells” written around 800 AD or even earlier, with the four gospels of the New Testament written inside. Regent House is located at the West End of Lord Edward Street, and behind the building the vast campus of Trinity College stretches out, with courtyards, squares and statues aplenty.
Other buildings around Regent’s House include the Bank of Ireland building, that had been the Irish Parliament building from 1729 until 1800 when Ireland joined with Great Britain to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. When Ireland gained Independence a new parliament building was designated, Leinster House. The House of Lords chamber within the Bank Building can still be seen by visitors.
This are of the city is known as College Green and contains a great number of statues, so if you ever visit see who you can find. Speaking of statues, there is one either side of the entrance to Regent’s House, those of Oliver Goldsmith (1730 – 1774, Irish Poet) as well as Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797, Irish Statesman).
The rest of College Green is a great place to explore, with many notable buildings and a plethora of other statues located here. On the far side of the Green is a beautiful old Bank building, built for the Ulster Bank in 1891. The original banking hall was later demolished so much of the interior no longer matches it’s fine exterior.
The Ulster Bank was founded in 1836 when it was called the “Ulster Banking Company” and today they have numerous branches in the Republic of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland. They have since moved out, and we would spot their present HQ later on in our trip to Dublin.
In the centre of the road, over to the right, stands a statue of Thomas Osborne Davis (1814 – 1845, Irish Poet) who sadly died at the age of just 30. The statue was erected in 1966, and in front of him sits a fountain called “Four Angels Fountain” which goes along with the Davis Statue to make one large memorial.
Further down the street, approaching the river again, stands the Bank of Ireland Building, which interestingly was built as the Irish Houses of Parliament. Unlike the original Palace of Westminster in London which had to have chambers built later for the House of Lords and the House of Commons, the Dublin version was the 1st ever building to have the two houses built as part of the inaugural design. Parliament met here until 1800 when Ireland joined the United Kingdom, and Parliament was abolished. The building was now empty, and was bought by the Bank of Ireland in 1803, and the House of Lords Chamber still exists today as it was utilised by the bank as their boardroom. The Bank moved out in the 1970’s, and the building has become a public hall for live music and other functions.
When we had had a good look round this area we headed back towards the river, to see what was further along. We passed by O’Connell street again, and from here you can really see how the Spire towers above the rest of the city. In front of the spire, you can see a statue atop a mighty plinth. This is known as the O’Connell Monument, and consists of a statue of Daniel O’Donnell (1775 – 1847, famous Irish Politician) which was sculpted by a man named John Henry Foley (1818 – 1874, Irish Sculptor) and completed in 1882. He stands on top of a large plinth, and towers over the rest of the street around him, although he is slightly dwarfed by the spire behind him!
The river in question is the River Liffey, and we stayed on the South Side on the same side as the College Green, with the Spire on the North Side. Looking across the river we got a great view of Custom House, and although its grandeur would suggest it being the seat of Government, it in fact houses the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. It was built in the 18th century, and was also designed by the architect James Gandon. Unfortunately the building was all but destroyed in an arson attack by the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence, which destroyed the interior and caused the dome to collapse. Happily the building was restored after Ireland became independent.
Continuing down the river, we passed various bridges across the Liffey, including one called the Sean O’Casey bridge, which bore a sign saying beware of the troll under the bridge, which amused us greatly.
Further on we could see this impressive ship on the other side of the river, called the Jeanie Johnston. The ship is a replica of the original, built in Quebec in 1847. It is used as a training vessel that goes out to see as well as containing the Irish Famine Museum.
Further down, we looked back up the river, back to Custom House, with the Dublin Spire in the background and the aforementioned Sean O’Casey bridge at the front. This scene has always reminded me of London as the bridge is similar looking to the Millenium Bridge there, with Custom House resembling St Paul’s Cathedral because of its Dome, and the Millenium Bridge leads to St Paul’s across the river Thames. The thought struck me on the day as we were exploring, but the scene is different enough to make it iconic to me now when I think of Dublin, a great city.
There are various modern buildings down the river, mainly offices, but one that stands out is shown on the far left, the tall office block called “Liberty Hall”. When it was completed in 1965, it was Ireland’s Tallest Building, although it has now been superseded by 2 other buildings in Dublin itself, and a number around the rest of the country.
Continuing the statue trend in Dublin, we found another one on the quayside, called “The Linesman”, created by Dony Mac Manus. It was depicts a general dock worker, called a Linesman, who would have been responsible for mooring boats here on the quays.
The next bridge we came to was the Samuel Beckett bridge, built in 2007 – 2008. We decided to cross here, to walk back down the river on the North side. The building at the back of the photograph reminded Gemma and I of R2-D2 from the Star Wars movies, because of its distinctive central cylinder.
It is in fact the Dublin Convention Centre, a very new building that was built in 2010, having taken a full 12 years to be completed. As it’s name suggests, it is used as a convention centre, and is also the world’s first carbon neutral convention centre. There are 22 meeting rooms that can hold up to 8000 people, with a 2000 seat auditorium and a large exhibition hall.
We kept walking back down the river, past the Jeanie Johnston, and back up towards Custom House.
Looking back across the Sean O’Casey bridge, we could see the Aztec Money complex, made up of the various pyramid topped skyscrapers, looking very formidable and impressive at the same time. It is the present home of the Ulster Bank, and strangely I think it fits into the rest of the historic city rather well.
Dublin is full of amazing modern architecture to compliment the lovely old buildings, and it’s truly a joy to explore the many streets.
Dublin has modernised a lot and even has its own tram system, known as Luas, the Irish world for speed. There are two lines with a total of 54 stops, going all around the city including close to a lot of the main tourist spots, although curiously there are no interchanges between the two lines, the nearest stations on the two lines are 15 minutes walk from each other. The two lines are the Red line and the Green line. If you ever want to visit Dublin, check out the tram website to see if they can take you where you want to go: http://www.luas.ie/.
Unfortunately time had run out for us, and we had to catch the train back to Belfast, so we headed back to the station and boarded the train. It managed to break down in Dundalk, a town not far from the border with Northern Ireland, and we had to get another train but it was a pleasant journey back, passing through the Northern Irish cities of Newry and Lisburn.
Dublin is a fascinating and beautiful city, and what I have talked about in this post is but a fraction of the wonders you can find in the city, and I wish we had had longer to explore, and one day we want to go back.
There are various museums throughout the city, the Famine Museum, National Museum of Ireland, Writers Museum, Print Museum, Wax Museum etc, plenty to keep anyone interested during their visit. Various sculptures, statues and pieces of modern art can be found throughout the city, as well as plenty of shops.
For souvenirs, try visiting Carrolls Irish Gifts, which has a number of shops in both Dublin and Belfast, and contains a wealth of great Irish Souvenirs, and we found a few things to take home with us in both cities. Check them out at: http://www.carrollsirishgifts.com/.
Transport wise, the city is well connected, with ferries over to Holyhead in Wales, and Liverpool in England. As I have already said, the Enterprise service connects Dublin to Belfast in Northern Ireland, and the motorway network of the Republic of Ireland radiates out from the city:
M50 (Ring road around the outside of the city)
M1 (To Dundalk and the border with Northern Ireland)
M2 (To Ashbourne)
M3 (To Kells)
M4 (To Kinnegad, connecting to the M6 for Athlone and on to Galway)
M7 (To Portlaoise for the M8 for Cork, and Limerick for the short M20)
M9 from Newbridge on the M7, towards Waterford.
As with the Motorway network, the rail system in the Republic of Ireland is focused on Dublin, with trains going out to Cork, Waterford, Belfast, Limerick, Sligo, Wexford, Westport, Galway etc.
Dublin airport is just outside the city and has many local and international flights to the UK and beyond.
Dublin is a fantastic city, and I hope you all get the chance to visit one day. As for us, we headed back to Belfast, ready for our second day, for our coach tour to the Giant’s Causeway…