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Words and Images by Mike Pickup

Looking for a great city break that’s close to home? Dublin should be high on your list. It’s an easy place to get to for most people, and after a short flight from London, I was soon at The Dylan, home for my stay. This boutique hotel is in a quiet part of the city but within walking distance of the centre. My beautiful accommodation even had a TV in the bathroom, presumably for watching the ‘soaps’

After a delicious meal – a recurring theme to my visit – and a good night’s sleep, I set out to explore what the city has to offer.  One of Dublin’s many green spaces is Merrion Park, home to a well-known statue of Oscar Wilde reclining incongruously on a large rock. A short distance away is the National Gallery of Ireland which has been the subject of extensive refurbishment, completed in June 2017. The result is a light and airy Gallery which complements the lovely exhibits which include paintings by Vermeer, Turner, Degas, Picasso, Caravaggio and Monet. 

In total contrast, yet equally intriguing, my next stop was the Little Dublin Museum. Look carefully and you will discover areas crammed with fascinating items such as author Maeve Binchy’s typewriter, and there’s a room dedicated to the pop band U2. It’s a miniature treasure trove.

After a morning’s exploration it was time to head for lunch. On the way I passed the statue of Molly Malone who “wheeled her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow” although the statue hints that perhaps it wasn’t just her cockles and mussels that made her popular. With the hint of Irish humour the statue is known locally as ‘The tart with the cart’.

My lunchtime destination was Fallon & Byrne. On the ground floor there’s what it describes as a ‘proper grocer’, an enticing display of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, coffees, just-caught fish and much more. Strolling round made me feel hungry so I went downstairs to the wine bar to enjoy a great lunch of items from the grocery including cold meats, cheeses, patés, oysters and smoked salmon, washed down with excellent red and white wines. Dublin’s foodie element is certainly of a very high standard.

In need of some exercise I walked across town to EPIC, an interactive exhibition which tells the story of Irish emigration. Over time some ten million people left Ireland, driven out by starvation, religious intolerance and more. Next to the exhibition centre in the docklands area there are statues of people heading for the ships that would hopefully take them to a better life; truly poignant street art.

Outside EPIC I joined the Vintage Tea Tour, afternoon tea served on the upper deck of an old London Routemaster as it takes a guided tour of the city. It’s a unique way of seeing Dublin, and very sociable too.

The city centre has a lot to offer but next morning a short journey north along the coast opened up attractions of a different nature. Howth and its castle, originating from 1177, is the home of the Gaisford-St Lawrence family. One of the family dogs met us inside the castle and was happy to have his tummy rubbed as long as anyone was willing to oblige.

The castle’s current appearance dates back to 1738 and it was renovated and extended in 1911 by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Its huge Georgian kitchens are often used as a cookery school which can include a ‘catch and cook’ course where guests are taken a few miles off-shore and taught how to catch their fish before returning to the kitchen to prepare it and cook it as part of a delicious three-course meal.

Many yachts are moored at the nearby pretty harbour. After a bracing walk along the shore, I popped into the harbour-side Oar House for lunch. Fish doesn’t come any fresher than this and the queues waiting to be seated were testament to yet more great food on offer.

Heading back, I came across Malahide and its marina on Dublin Bay. Just fifteen minutes from the airport and twenty minutes from the city centre, Malahide makes a great alternative centre for visitors. Finds at nearby Paddy’s Hill indicate that the area was inhabited as long ago as 6,000 B.C. Tradition has it that St Patrick visited in 423 A.D. He was followed by the Vikings and the Danes, the last Danish King of Dublin retired to Malahide in 1171. The castle is one of Ireland’s oldest and its links to the Talbot family date back to 1175. I enjoyed an entertaining guided tour of the castle, complete with stories of its five ghosts. It was an educational and fun afternoon.

After yet another lovely meal it was time for the short drive back to the airport and my flight home, with lasting memories of a lively city full of friendly people, good humour and fine food.

For more information, go to visitdublin.com

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