111 Places in Dublin that you must not miss - Frank McNally - ebook

111 Places in Dublin that you must not miss ebook

Frank McNally

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Once the second capital of the British Empire, Dublin is a city of monumental architecture with a history both glorious and tragic. But it's also a city brimming with humanity: home to a friendly, gregarious people, who love to hear and tell stories. The combination has arguably produced more great writers per capita than any other place on earth. And yet, as any Dubliner can tell you, the great writers didn't know the half of it. This unique guide leads you behind the granite facades and postcard-perfect pictures to explore the heart and soul of the city through all its eccentricities and foibles. Encounter a whiskey-soaked windmill guarded by St. Patrick or visit a shrine for lovers with the relics of St. Valentine; pay your respects to the grave of a much-decorated four-legged war hero or stop in for a pint at a haunted pub called the Gravediggers; discover a House of the Dead on an island you can reach on foot or explore a literary micro-museum where everybody buys soap. 111 Places in Dublin takes you on an intimate, insider's tour of the Hibernian metropolis, at the end of which, you'll be an insider too.

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111 Places in Dublin That You Must Not Miss

Frank McNally und Róisín McNally

emons: Verlag

Imprint

© Emons Verlag GmbH // 2016 All rights reserved Text: Frank McNally All photos © Róisín McNally McNally, except: Place 57: John Lavery (1856-1941) The Artist's Studio: Lady Hazel Lavery with her Daughter Alice and Stepdaughter Eileen, 1910-1913. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland. For details of opening hours and events, see www.nationalgallery.ie. Place 15: © Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. Design: Emons Verlag Maps based on data by Openstreetmap, © Openstreet Map-participants, ODbL ISBN 978-3-96041-026-3 eBook of the original print edition published by Emons Verlag

Did you enjoy it? Do you want more? Join us in uncovering new places around the world on: www.111places.com

Table of contents

Foreword

1_Airfield Farm | Milking the cows in suburbia

2_The Anna Livia Fountain | A sculpture in internal exile

3_The Bernard Shaw Pub | A funky twist on a famous name

4_Bingo at the George | An old game with a new twist

5_Blessington Street Basin | A reservoir that turned into a park

6_Bog Bodies | Silent witnesses to an ancient past

7_The Brendan Behan Sculpture | Monument to a writer and jailbird

8_The Brian Boru Harp | Possibly the world’s most reproduced instrument

9_Bull Island | An accidental gift to Dublin

10_Bully’s Acre | A cemetery with a lively past

11_Burdock’s Chip Shop | Dublin’s “oldest chipper,” but is it the best?

12_Cavendish and Burke Cross | A dark episode in the life of Dublin’s biggest park

13_Central Bank Plaza | A popular space under a controversial building

14_The Chapel Royal | Chronicle of a revolution foretold

15_The Chester Beatty Library | Ancient script that made a translator blush

16_The Church | A place of worship to Arthur Guinness

17_Civic Offices on Wood Quay | An epic clash between Dublin old and new

18_Clondalkin’s Round Tower | Pieces of ancient Ireland in a modern suburb

19_The Cobblestone | A magnet for musicians

20_Connolly Books & The New Theatre | A haven for radicals in touristy Temple Bar

21_The Countess and Her Dog | A bite-sized story from Ireland’s revolution

22_The Croppies’ Acre | Tragic past, troubled present

23_Daniel O’Connell’s Bullet Holes | Hit in the crossfire of the fight for independence

24_The DART | A scenic rail route with its own accent

25_Door of Reconciliation | Taking a chance for peace

26_Dubh Linn Garden | A semi-secret garden best seen from the air

27_The Dublin Canals | Royal, Grand, and lovely

28_Dublin Doors | Poster-perfect entrances to a Georgian world

29_The Dublin Port Diving Bell | A tiny museum telling an epic tale

30_Dublin Snugs | Secretive drinking in pubs within pubs

31_Dublin’s Best Pint | A scientific approach to a long-debated question

32_Dublin’s Last Supper | An Irish twist on an Italian classic

33_The Ernest Walton Memorial | Reflecting two sides of a scientific genius

34_Francis Bacon’s Studio | A workplace as a work of art

35_The Freemasons Hall | A secretive organisation now partially open to visitors

36_Fusiliers Arch | A gate dividing two traditions of Irish history

37_George’s Street Arcade | A haven for Dublin bohemians

38_The Gravediggers Pub | A bar with a passing trade

39_The Great South Wall | A bracing walk into Dublin Bay

40_Hamilton’s Equation | One small scratch for man, one giant leap for mathematics

41_The Hellfire Club | A beauty spot with a sinister history

42_Henrietta Street | A riches-to-rags story

43_The “Home” Memorial | A monument to the victims of drugs

44_The House of the Dead | Home to the most famous dinner party in literature

45_The Hungry Tree | Nature’s revenge on law libraries

46_The Icon Walk | Reclaiming the back alleys of Temple Bar for art

47_The Irish Camino | Starting gate for an ancient pilgrim route

48_The Irish Jewish Museum | A tiny community that left a big mark

49_The Irish Times Clock | Calling time on Brian O’Nolan’s day job

50_The Irish Whiskey Museum | Bottling history

51_The Irish Yeast Company | A shop that didn’t rise

52_Isolde’s Tower & The Czech Inn | Where the new and old Dublin collide

53_Iveagh Gardens | In the middle of Dublin, but a mystery to most

54_The James Joyce Tower | Built for war, borrowed by literature

55_The Jeanie Johnston | A famine memorial on water

56_Kilmainham Gaol | A prison that became a shrine to Irish freedom

57_Lady Lavery | A beauty who personified Ireland

58_Leinster House | Where the Fighting Irish and the Talking Irish meet

59_The Liberties | The beating heart of Dublin

60_The Liffey Boardwalk | A (mostly) pleasant refuge from the traffic-crazed quays

61_The Little Museum of Dublin | Holding up a small mirror to the city

62_The Magazine Fort | A 300-year-old ruin that nearly went out with a bang

63_Margaret Naylor’s Grave | The war tragedy of a star-crossed couple

64_The Marino Casino | An architectural masterpiece in miniature

65_Marsh’s Library | Three centuries of scholarship, occasionally interrupted

66_McNeill’s Pub | A musical twist on the Charge of the Light Brigade

67_Meath Street | Dear old Dublin at its cheapest

68_Monkstown Church | A building ahead of its time

69_Monto | Where Dublin switched off the red light

70_Mulligans Pub | Where Joyce meets journalism (and journalism wins)

71_Napoleon’s Toothbrush | A brush with greatness

72_The National Print Museum | Where they mind their p’s and q’s

73_Newman House | A clash of cultures on St Stephen’s Green

74_The Old Airport Terminal | A modernist masterpiece and a relic of air travel past

75_The Old Dublin Lion House | A roaring success story

76_Oscar Wilde Sculpture | Colourful tribute, geological marvel

77_Our Lady of Dublin | A medieval statue with a talent for survival

78_The Palace’s Back Room | Inner sanctum of literary Dublin

79_Patrick Kavanagh’s Canal Bank Seats | Two commemorations for a poet who only wanted one

80_Phil Lynott Statue | Heavy metal tribute to a rock star

81_The Powerscourt Centre | A once fashionable house, now a house of fashion

82_The Record Tower | Scene of a famous escape

83_The Revenue Museum | The long and painful story of taxation

84_The Royal Irish Academy | Not just for scholars

85_Samuel Beckett’s Foxrock | Universal characters, local footprints

86_Shaw’s Birthplace | A binman’s tribute to genius

87_The Sick & Indigent Roomkeepers Society | A sign of times past

88_Silicon Docks | New technology reviving old Dublin

89_Smithfield Square | Where Cold War Berlin met Dublin

90_Smock Alley Theatre | Dublin’s oldest new theatre

91_St Audoen’s Anglican Church | An ancient church with a lucky charm

92_St Enda’s School | A nursery for rebels

93_St Mary’s Chapel of Ease | A church with a dark reputation

94_St Michan’s Church | Shaking hands with history

95_St Nicholas of Myra Church | Scene of a Catholic comeback

96_St Patrick’s Tower | A windmill at rest

97_St Valentine’s Relics | A shrine for young lovers

98_St Werburgh’s Church | Ringing bells and fighting fires

99_Sunlight Chambers | A monument to soap

100_Sweny’s Chemist | Cleaning up after James Joyce

101_The Táin Mosaic | An epic tale, told in tiles

102_Thomas Heazle Parke Statue | Lessons in the struggle for survival

103_Tully Church & High Crosses | Ancient ruins in a leafy suburb

104_Vico Road, Killiney | The Bay of Naples, Irish-style

105_Vonolel’s Grave | The last resting place of a four-legged war hero

106_The War Memorial Gardens | A memorial belatedly remembered

107_The Wellington Monument | An obelisk with a tall tale

108_Wild Deer in Phoenix Park | A herd with a long history

109_Wittgenstein’s Step | A refuge for one of the 20th century’s great minds

110_The Wonderful Barn | An otherworldly wonder of 18th-century architecture

111_Ye Olde Hurdy-Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio | One man’s passion, now an exhibition

Gallery

Maps

Foreword

Contrary to what you may have heard, Dublin is a city where people get straight to the Point. But that's only because “The Point” is a terminus on one of its main tram routes. In most other areas, especially conversation, Dubliners avoid getting to the point any earlier than necessary. They prefer the scenic route.

The Irish capital is a city of storytellers. Indeed, it is seriously overrepresented among winners of that ultimate storytelling award, the Nobel Prize for Literature. Then again, even the city's street signs present at least two versions of everything (one in English, the other – often purporting to be the real truth about a place – in Irish). So it's no surprise the locals can spin a yarn.

In introducing Dublin to the visitor, this guide has also chosen the scenic detour over the main route. It's not that the Book of Kells, Guinness Storehouse, Temple Bar, and all the other tourist clichés aren't worth seeing – they are, mostly. But people will find those anyway. For our 111 places, we chose the less obvious sights, or the ones with good, seldom told stories attached.

The list includes, for example, the statue of a revolutionary dog who may have been responsible for the bit that's missing from one of Ireland's most historic flags. It also features the studio of an artist that's a more popular attraction than any of his paintings. And in a city of monuments, it locates the discreet marker – unknown to most Dubliners – of a 130-year-old event still too sensitive for more public commemoration.

Several places in the guide are linked with James Joyce, a writer who didn't win the Nobel, although he's now at least as well known as those who did. Mind you, his greatest book is more famous than read. But to cut a long story short, it's about a man wandering around Dublin. And if you follow this guide, I hope you'll end up knowing at least as much about the city as he did.

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1_Airfield Farm

Milking the cows in suburbia

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Dundrum is a well-to-do suburb of Dublin these days, but it’s not so long since it was a mere village, surrounded by countryside. In the early part of the 20th century there were still many big houses in the area. And among these was the home of the Overends, a wealthy family whose cousins included the president of the Calcutta Stock Exchange.

The last local descendants were two sisters, Letitia and Naomi Overend, who were well known in Dundrum for their love of cars – including a 1927 Rolls Royce – and their ability to fix them when necessary, both having attended courses on maintenance.

Info

Address Overend Avenue, Dundrum, Dublin 14, Tel +353.(0)1.9696666, www.airfield.ie | Public Transport Bus routes 11, 14, 14c, 44, 44b, 75, or 116; or Luas Green Line to Balally | Hours Sep–May, daily 9.30am–5pm; June, Mon–Fri 9.30am–5pm, Sat & Sun 9.30am–7pm; July–Aug, daily 9.30am–7pm| Tip The milking of the Jersey cows is at 10.30am and 5.30pm daily.

But they were also renowned for their Jersey cows, named after characters from Gilbert and Sullivan. And as the city suburbs encroached, making their land ever more valuable, the ageing Overends remained determined to keep their beloved farm out of the hands of developers. The result, in the 1970s, was the creation of a charitable trust to manage their estate as a recreational and educational facility. So when the sisters died, both well into their 90s, the farm lived on.

It was an urban farm by then. And surrounded by housing developments, busy roads, and the revived Harcourt Street railway – now the Luas Green Line – it has been the subject of a few “Save Airfield” campaigns even in the years since. But the 38-acre farm has survived. After a multimillion-euro revamp in 2014, its future looks secure.

The farm still has Jersey cows. It still has the Rolls Royce too, now almost as old as the sisters were, but in perfect working order. Not much else is unchanged since the 1920s. In fact Dundrum is synonymous these days with a huge, high-end shopping centre: a mecca for those in search of designer fashions and the like. In the meantime, just up the road, the cows still need to be milked daily, and Airfield Farm continues its mission to keep Dublin in touch with its roots.

Nearby

St Enda’s School (1.957 mi)

Samuel Beckett’s Foxrock (2.572 mi)

The Sick & Indigent Roomkeepers Society (2.784 mi)

Patrick Kavanagh’s Canal Bank Seats (3.212 mi)

To the online map

To the beginning of the chapter

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2_The Anna Livia Fountain

A sculpture in internal exile

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Her official name is Anna Livia, and she was supposed to be a poetic representation of the River Liffey, her long bronze hair merging with the fountain waters that once cascaded past her nude and elegantly reclining figure.

Alas, from the day she was first installed on Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, to mark the city’s 1988 millennium, the sculpture was not treated with the dignity appropriate to a lady. Local scamps soon took to adding detergents and liquid soap to her bath to make it bubble. The less witty used it as a rubbish bin. Then there were the nicknames.

Info

Address Croppies Memorial Park, Wolfe Tone Quay, Dublin 8 | Public Transport Various bus routes, including 25 and 66, to nearby Parkgate St; or Luas Red Line to Heuston Station | Hours Varies with the seasons, but in summer, 10am–10pm| Tip Look for the plaque on the nearby Ashling Hotel (Parkgate St, Dublin 8), where the famous Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein stayed during his time in Ireland.

“Bidet Mulligan” (a reference to another Dublin folk figure, Biddy Mulligan) was an early leader in the field. The “Floozie in the Jacuzzi” was the one that stuck, in the process establishing a tradition whereby all new sculptures in the city were considered unfinished until they had a rude, rhyming nickname, like the “Prick with the Stick” or the “Tart with the Cart.”

At the turn of the 21st century, after years of abuse, Anna Livia was finally removed to make way for work on another 1000-year monument: the Millennium Spire. She then spent years in dry dock somewhere, and was in danger of staying there. But in 2011, the city fathers restored her to public view, in more ways than one.

Shorn of her original granite surrounds, and now in pond water rather than a rushing fountain, she cuts a slightly sad figure in the Croppies Memorial Park, near Heuston Station. The pond water being shallow, she also looks a bit overexposed.

On the plus side, Anna is now at least closer to the river that inspired her. And when the park’s gates are open – not as often as they should be – the more appreciative kind of passerby can escape the chaos of the nearby city quays for a while and join the much-maligned sculpture as she sits back and reflects upon the harshness of the world.

Nearby

The Croppies’ Acre (0.149 mi)

The House of the Dead (0.329 mi)

The Irish Camino (0.336 mi)

St Patrick’s Tower (0.423 mi)

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To the beginning of the chapter

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3_The Bernard Shaw Pub

A funky twist on a famous name

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If you’re looking for a good pizza in Dublin, and a fun place to eat it, you could hardly do better than the Big Blue Bus. An actual double-decker bus that once worked the streets of London, it is now permanently parked at the rear of the Bernard Shaw Pub on South Richmond Street. From this location, it sells freshly made gourmet pizzas to customers, who eat on board – in a miniature restaurant, with Moroccan-style decor – or in the bar’s beer garden, where the pizza-on-wheels operation is anchored.

The bus is one of many things that set the Bernard Shaw apart – none of which have anything to do with its namesake. Yes, Shaw was born just a block away, on Synge Street. But literary tourists who turn up there looking for his birthplace museum, which is no longer open, and then think the pub might shed light on his life, will be in for a shock.

Info

Address 11–12 South Richmond Street, Dublin 2, Tel +353.(0)85.1658406, www.bodytonicmusic.com/thebernardshaw | Public Transport Various bus routes, including 14, 15, 15a, 15b, 44, 65, and 140 | Hours Bar: Mon–Fri 4pm–late, Sat & Sun 1pm–late. Big Blue Bus: Mon–Fri 5pm–midnight; Sat & Sun 1pm–midnight| Tip For a more genteel experience on the same street, at No 45, try organic tea and homemade cakes, perhaps while playing a game of chess, at Wall & Keogh’s.

The Bernard Shaw doesn’t look like the sort of place he would have frequented. It also – despite the “Established 1895” sign left over from a previous business – doesn’t resemble any other Dublin Victorian pub. Instead, it’s a funky, vibrant, young people’s bar, set up in the early noughties by a “Dublin DJ collective.”

The tone is set by the building’s front, which was not so much decorated as attacked by graffiti artists. It continues with the music, which includes reggae, dub, house, “general electronic noodlings,” and several other genres that, famous music critic that he also was, Shaw might struggle to recognise.

Then there’s the drinks range, which would hardly have appealed to him either. He once described himself as “a beer teetotaller, but not a champagne teetotaller.” And beer aside, in keeping with its disregard for Dublin pub convention, this is also one of the city’s few bars where you can buy “Buckfast Tonic Wine”: a brand better known elsewhere for being consumed out of brown paper bags, in parks.

Nearby

Shaw’s Birthplace (0.087 mi)

The Irish Jewish Museum (0.211 mi)

Iveagh Gardens (0.28 mi)

Newman House (0.391 mi)

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4_Bingo at the George

An old game with a new twist

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A communal low-stakes version of the lottery, bingo retains a lingering popularity in Ireland, especially among women of a certain age. But the version played in the George bar every Sunday evening is not quite like any other.

The George is, among other things, Dublin‘s best-known gay pub. And its flamboyant Bingo caller is the pig-tailed drag queen Shirley Temple Bar, aka Declan Buckley, a former Alternative Miss Ireland (1997). In her hands, the picking of the bingo balls is as much a cabaret act as a game. But it‘s a winning combination, clearly. After packing the crowds in for almost two decades now, it has become almost as much of an institution as the pub itself.

Info

Address South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2, Tel +353.(0)1.4782983, www.thegeorge.ie | Public Transport All City Centre bus routes | Hours Mon–Fri 2pm–2.30am, Sat 12.30pm–2.30am, Sun 12.30pm–1.30am. Admission is free Mon–Thu, and weekend nights before 10pm; after 10pm €5–€10| Tip For a more conventional bingo game, head to the National Stadium on South Circular Road (www.nationalstadiumbingo.com), where thousands play every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday night.

The George opened in 1985, a time when homosexual acts were still illegal in Ireland, and gay lifestyles had to be discreet, or preferably, invisible. The bar was a safe haven for people who might have suffered refusal of service, verbal abuse, or even violence elsewhere.

But in the intervening decades, a whole generation of Dubliners has grown up in an increasingly tolerant society. In 2015, as the George turned 30, it also enjoyed its finest hour, when Ireland became the first country anywhere to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. The referendum result was announced in the courtyard of nearby Dublin Castle, from which cheering crowds spilled out onto the streets for flag-waving celebrations reminiscent of the World Cup homecomings of Irish football teams.

Gay venues are not nearly as rare in Ireland now as they were when the George entered the scene. In fact, a new wave of bars and clubs including the Pantibar – fronted by another famous drag-artiste, Panti Bliss – may be cooler and edgier than the venerable establishment on South Great George’s Street. But the George was out and proud long before it was popular. And in a milieu where royalty matters, it’s still the queen.

Nearby

The Chapel Royal (0.081 mi)

Central Bank Plaza (0.087 mi)

George’s Street Arcade (0.087 mi)

The Record Tower (0.093 mi)

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5_Blessington Street Basin

A reservoir that turned into a park

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When the Blessington Street Basin opened in 1808, it served a mainly functional purpose: as an urban reservoir holding 4 million gallons of water drawn via the Royal Canal from County Westmeath, to serve an ever thirstier city.

It did, however, also have a walkway around it, so the authorities made it available as a park for “well-conducted persons” in what was then an upmarket area.

Info

Address Blessington Street, Dublin 7, Tel +353.(0)1.8300833, www.dublincity.ie | Public Transport Bus routes 38, 38a, 38b, or 46a | Hours Usually open from 9am. Closing times range with daylight hours, from 4.30pm in January to 9.30pm in June and July| Tip A narrow gateway at the eastern end of the basin leads to the Royal Canal Bank walk.

But as the century progressed, other developments made the basin redundant, except to supply the whiskey distilleries. In the meantime, railways opened Dublin’s seaside resorts to those in search of recreation. And by then the wealthier residents were migrating to the suburbs anyway, leaving the inner city to the poor.

So when the basin was first redeveloped as a park in the late 1800s, it was aimed at a different class of user: people with neither the time nor means to reach the city’s bigger leisure areas – Phoenix Park and St Stephen’s Green.

Another century later, the reservoir had entirely ceased to function, and was derelict. Then, in 1991, when Dublin was European City of Culture, an interesting possibility emerged. A famous German sculptor and “urban repair artist,” Dieter Magnus, devised a plan to landscape it with ecological features, children’s play areas, and more. Subject to local consultation, the German Cultural Institute agreed to fund the project.

But when residents were asked, they politely declined. The park had already been colonised by wildlife, they pointed out. It was already a local amenity. What they wanted was nothing elaborate, just an enhanced version of what was already there.

So in 1994, the basin reopened as a full-time park and bird sanctuary. It’s a charming place, an oasis in an urban desert. But its charms are low-key and it doesn’t advertise itself much. Which is why, more than two decades later, it’s still a secret to most of Dublin.

Nearby

St Mary’s Chapel of Ease (0.168 mi)

The Hungry Tree (0.292 mi)

Francis Bacon’s Studio (0.304 mi)

Henrietta Street (0.304 mi)

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To the beginning of the chapter

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6_Bog Bodies

Silent witnesses to an ancient past

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He’s known as Old Croghan Man, after the area where he was found in 2003. But he was probably only in his late 20s when he died more than 2000 years ago. And he must have been an extraordinarily fine physical specimen at that time, because what’s left of him indicates that he was 1.91 metres (6.3 feet) tall: an impressive height even today, never mind in Bronze-Age Ireland.

His impeccably manicured fingernails and smooth hands tell us that he was of high social station too – perhaps even a king, or someone in line to become one. They also suggest he had recently enjoyed a meat-rich diet and so died early in the year, before his diet would have become more vegetable-based. But the contents of his stomach, preserved like the rest of his torso by Ireland’s peat bogs, reveal that his last meal was wheat and buttermilk.

Info

Address The National Museum, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Tel +353.(0)1.6777444, www.museum.ie | Public Transport Various bus routes, including 4, 7, 15a, 15b, 46a, and 145; DART rail to Pearse station, then a 5-minute walk; or Luas Green Line to St Stephen’s Green, then a 5-minute walk | Hours Tue–Sat 10am–5pm, Sun 2pm–5pm. Closed Mon. Admission free| Tip Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney wrote Bogland, about the extraordinary preserving properties of the peat bogs near where he grew up. He also wrote Tollund Man, about the most famous bog body of all, found in Denmark in 1950.

He died violently, from a stab wound to the chest, and after that he was decapitated. Gruesome too: his nipples were cut off. One theory for this last indignity is that it marked his symbolic disqualification from kingship. In ancient Ireland, subjects demonstrated loyalty to a monarch by sucking his nipples, as a child does its mother.

In any case, his death was most likely a ritual sacrifice, perhaps in punishment for bad harvests (kings were always blamed for such things) and to help ensure better fortunes. His body was then staked down at the bottom of a pool close to a territorial boundary, sometime between the years 362 bc and 175 bc.

Today it’s one of several such bodies displayed at the National Museum of Ireland. They include “Cloneycavan Man,” of similar vintage, who retained his head and with it his crowning glory: a shock of long red hair. He too must have been a man of means, because although the rest of him is in bad shape, his hair is beautifully preserved, thanks in part to the expensive foreign gel he used on it, probably imported from France or Spain.

Nearby

Leinster House (0.043 mi)

Thomas Heazle Parke Statue (0.068 mi)

The Freemasons Hall (0.075 mi)

Napoleon’s Toothbrush (0.087 mi)

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To the beginning of the chapter

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7_The Brendan Behan Sculpture

Monument to a writer and jailbird

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In his later years, Brendan Behan used to joke that he was “a drinker with a writing problem.” But long before he devoted his life to those twin activities, he was a self-styled freedom fighter, militantly opposed both to British rule in Northern Ireland and to what he saw as the sell-out Free State in the South.

As a 14-year-old he joined the youth wing of the Irish Republican Army. Two years later, he signed up for the IRA itself and embarked on a freelance mission to bomb the Liverpool docks before he was arrested in 1940 and sentenced to three years in Borstal, Britain’s juvenile prison system; an experience that would be the basis for his best-selling memoir, Borstal Boy.

Info

Address Royal Canal, near Binn’s Bridge, Dorset Street Lower, Dublin 7 | Public Transport Bus routes 1, 11, 13, 16, 40, 40b, 40d, 41, or 44 | Tip Among the best versions of “The Auld Triangle” are those by Luke Kelly and the Dubliners. You can find them on YouTube.

Back in Ireland after his release, he was promptly rearrested for the attempted shooting of two detectives. Luckily for literature, he missed. Killing members of Ireland’s Garda Siochana was a capital offence then and might have seen him hanged.

But his subsequent sentence in Mountjoy Jail inspired another work, a play called The Quare Fella, whose title character is a man awaiting execution. It was in this play that the ballad “The Auld Triangle” first appeared, describing the loneliness of prison life as regulated by the metal triangle rung to signal the daily routine, and echoing “all along the banks of the Royal Canal.” The ballad has since been widely recorded by performers ranging from the Dubliners to Bob Dylan. And it’s usually credited to Behan now, although he never claimed to have written it and almost certainly didn’t.

At the height of his literary career, Behan was indeed as well known for drinking as for writing. But contrary to the joke, alcohol became the bigger problem eventually, causing the diabetes that killed him at 41, in 1964. Forty years later, his native city commissioned a life-sized sculpture of the writer sitting on a bench near Mountjoy: listening, not to the triangle, but to the song of a blackbird.

Nearby

Blessington Street Basin (0.522 mi)

Francis Bacon’s Studio (0.534 mi)

The “Home” Memorial (0.578 mi)

St Mary’s Chapel of Ease (0.59 mi)

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To the beginning of the chapter

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8_The Brian Boru Harp

Possibly the world’s most reproduced instrument

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While the world beats a path to the nearby Book of Kells, another of Trinity College’s treasures is often overlooked, although its symbolic importance to Ireland is arguably greater.

The Brian Boru harp is so named because it was once believed to have been owned by that High King of Ireland, who died in 1014. In fact, we now know, the instrument is not quite that ancient. It dates from the late 14th or early 15th century.

Info

Address The Long Room in the Old Library, Trinity College, College Green, Dublin 2, Tel +353.(0)1.8962320, www.tcd.ie/visitors | Public Transport All City Centre bus routes; DART rail to Tara St or Pearse St, then a 5-minute walk; Luas Red Line to Abbey St, then a 5-minute walk; or Luas Green Line to Stephen’s Green, then a 5-minute walk | Hours May–Sep, Mon–Sat 9.30am–5pm, Sun 9.30am–4.30pm; Oct–Apr, Mon–Sat 9.30am–5pm, Sun noon–4.30pm| Tip Trinity College offers summertime accommodations to non-students. Visit website (see above) or call +353.(0)1.8961177.

But that still makes it one of the oldest Gaelic harps in existence. And age aside, it may be the most famous, for two reasons. One is that it provided the model for Ireland’s national symbol, ubiquitous on coins, stamps, and official stationery. The other is that, facing the opposite direction, it also became the logo of Guinness.