Dublin Walk: In the Steps of Ulysses
– Damien Peters
Coming back home after a few years always has a great way of put things into perspective, and as someone who lived in Dublin on and off for six years, it certainly seems like the city has got its stride back these past few months. It’s safe to say that Dublin is considerably more lively than it was a couple of years ago, even if the nightlife still has a way to go before it hits the heights of pre-2009.
There are fewer better times to visit Dublin than this time of year, when the trees that line the streets on the Southside of the River Liffey are all turning yellow, red, and brown, and there is still just a mild bite to the air.
In the early mornings the sun shines over the parks and busy streets, and in the mornings there is a buzz that has been absent for too long. Things are moving again: the national football team appears to have gotten its stride back with a recent point against the German world champions, and in the UFC, Conor McGregor is wading through all that is put in front of him.
People are complaining that things are getting expensive. Dublin just might be back.
It’s no joke that Ireland’s capital, like most of the cities on the island, is quite expensive. Luckily though, just strolling around on one of these fine mornings is free, and in the city center, it’s probably still the best way to see things and soak up the mood of the city.
James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses famously opened on a sunny Dublin morning, and there are fewer better plans than to walk in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, its protagonist, and even to catch the odd glimpse of the Dublin he would have known. Veering from the route he takes in the book slightly, a walk south from the corner of his Eccles Street home onto Dorset Street and then onto Frederick Street will bring you straight into Georgian Dublin.
The houses along here were originally constructed as well-to-do family homes, but after the Dublin Parliament was dissolved by the British in 1801, the area went into a long decline. As the richer families abandoned the former capital, the houses were converted into tenements for the poorer laboring people that were pouring into the capital from the countryside.
Walking south on Frederick Street takes you past the Dublin Writer’s Museum on Parnell Square, and the James Joyce Center itself is just a block over on North George’s Street. A little further along here brings you to Parnell Square and past the Garden of Remembrance, a memorial dedicated to the various Irish independence movements from 1798 to 1921. A little further down brings you to O’Connell Street and to the Parnell Monument, which features a statue of the man who campaigned for Irish devolution in the British Parliament during the 1870’s and 1880’s.
On O’Connell Street itself, Ireland’s main boulevard, restored since it 1990’s nadir, two of the must-sees are both on the eastern side. The first is the neo-classical General Post Office, or GPO, which served as the rebel headquarters of the 1916 Rebellion. Next up is Eason’s bookshop, which stocks a full range of Irish and international titles over the whole of its five floors. As in most Irish bookstores, the history section is particularly well stocked, and it is well worth a browse.
Crossing over the bridge just to the south takes you past the monument to Daniel O’Connell, for whom the street and bridge are named, and who gained the title “The Liberator”, for his carrying of Catholic emancipation in 1829 following a campaign of peaceful agitation. A turn to the right off the bridge on the south side will take you to the “Cultural Quarter” of Temple Bar, but unfortunately the area today is over-priced and over-crowded and best avoided.
Walking further along takes you through College Green, with Trinity College on your left. Ireland’s oldest university, it was founded during the 1500’s and was granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth I. Its campus is a great venue for a stroll in itself, and the Book of Kells, probably Ireland’s most famous historical artefact, can be viewed there also.
Keeping to the straight route past Trinity brings you to the Molly Malone statue at the base of Grafton Street. While Grafton Street is known for its shopping, its parallel neighbor Dawson Street features another of Dublin’s landmark bookstores in Hodges Figgis, as well as a wealth of coffee shops and bars. This continues as you move over again to Kildare Street, where the National Museum, National Gallery, and National Library are all situated. The entrance to the Irish parliament, the Dail is also located here, and it is a popular venue for protests and marches. If you want a taste of the real flavor of local language and character, here is the place!
If you’re interested in keeping the Joycean nature of your stroll intact also, you can stop in at Davy Byrne’s pub, where Leopold Bloom treated himself to a glass of wine and cheese sandwich for lunch during his own tour of the city way back in 1904. The pub is still open a hundred and ten years later, and is certainly still popular with both locals and visitors in its spot just off Grafton Street on Duke Street. It’s bright and open air atmosphere contrasts heavily with another authentic Dublin bar nearby, John Keogh’s. Still decorated in the fashion of a traditional pub, Keogh’s does a fantastic pint of Guinness.
If by this stage the evening has worn on slightly, and music is required, then a quick walk across the street to Bruxxelles might be in order. It is notable for the statue outside of Phil Lynnot, frontman of Thin Lizzy and probably best known in the U.S. for the classic “The Boys are Back in Town”. Alternatively, there are also usually traditional musicians just around the corner again in O’Donahues off St. Stephen’s Green, where the Guinness flows long into the night to a selection of age old tunes and reels.
– Damien Peters