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Historic Dublin: Where to Go and What to See

Mary is a native of Dublin and has a deep and genuine understanding of the fascinating ingredients that make this world city a unique place.

Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin

Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin

Welcome to Historic Dublin

Dublin is an ancient city marked by extraordinary, and often violent, occurrences. These instances have given rise to buildings that tell its stories, glories and significant events. The following places mark out this fascinating and turbulent history. Visitors to Dublin should allow three or more days to experience the following tour.

Christ Church Cathedral

Begin your historic Dublin tour at Christ Church, Wood Quay—the cathedral at the medieval heart of the city. Founded in 1028, the earliest church was built overlooking the Viking settlement on Wood Quay. Following the Norman conquest of Ireland, Henry II attended Christmas Day Mass there in 1171. Other historical events include the “coronation” of Edward V, in 1487 (actually Lambert Simnel, a young boy who claimed to be Prince Edward, the elder of the two princes who mysteriously vanished from the Tower of London during the reign of Richard III).

Over the centuries, Christ Church has been rebuilt and added to, and today, its buttressed building and spires make an imposing sight as it looms over the River Liffey. Open to visitors, its credentials include housing the largest cathedral crypt overall in Ireland or Great Britain. The first Norman in Ireland, Richard de Clere, Earl of Pembroke, colloquially known as Strongbow, is supposedly entombed there. On view also is a glass case containing a mummified cat and rat. Visitors can worship there or buy a ticket for one of its guided tours.

Dublin Castle

Hop on board a bus or take a taxi to Castle Street, where you will find Dublin Castle. The castle is actually a collection of buildings, the most ancient dating from the 1100s, built following the Norman Conquest in 1169.

The castle is open seven days a week, and on a guided tour, you can see its foundations together with the more elaborate staterooms that were built in later centuries. Near the castle is Chester Beatty Library. When finished touring the Castle, take a bus or taxi in the direction of Trinity College.

Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College

You will recognise Trinity College by its classical entrance and curved railings. Once inside the grounds, your visiting options include the serene College Park, the Douglas Hyde art gallery in the Arts Building and the Old Library.

Entrance to the Old Library is by ticket, and it is advisable to book in advance to see the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow. These ancient books exemplify the skill of the monastic scribes from the Middle Ages, who rivalled their European counterparts in writing and illustrating sacred texts. Also on display is the Brian Boru harp.

When finished viewing Trinity College, follow directions to the nearby Temple Bar. This is the heart of Dublin's social scene, and here you will find restaurants catering for every taste, plus a plentiful supply of that Irish institution, the public house.

Stephens' Green

Next morning, resume your tour on Nassau Street, alongside Trinity College railings, and in the opposite direction from Temple Bar. Walk along the street until you arrive at Kildare Street. Here, you can see the façade of Leinster House, where the Dail or the Irish parliament meets.

Annexed to the main building is the National Museum of Ireland—Archaeology, which is filled with prehistoric artefacts, gold jewellery and stones chiselled with Celtic patterns. Admission is free, though the museum is closed on Mondays and Bank Holidays.

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When you leave the museum, continue along Kildare Street until you arrive at St. Stephen’s Green. If the day is sunny, you can stroll around this elegant, Victorian garden, enjoying the playing fountains, the ornamental lake and the flowerbeds. Later, leave the Green via the Fusilier’s Arch and make your way down Grafton Street, one of Dublin’s more exclusive shopping areas. On Dawson Street, you will find plenty of cafés, restaurants and sandwich bars.

The General Post Office, Dublin

The General Post Office, Dublin

The General Post Office

Following lunch, take a bus or taxi to O'Connell Street, where you will find the General Post Office, which is a beautiful and historic building, distinctive with its Greek hexastyle portico and classical façade. The architect, Francis Johnson, submitted the first design in 1814 and four years later, the post office opened.

Because of its association with foreign administration, the building became the centre of operations during the 1916 Easter uprising. Today, it is Dublin’s flagship post office, open to everyone during trading hours. Members of the public queue to buy stamps and carry out other mundane business in a graceful, classical atrium, surrounded by stylised fixtures.

Oliver Sheppard’s statue of Cuchulainn, hero of Irish legend, stands proudly in the central window. Annexed to the post office is a visitor’s centre, which is also used as an exhibition area. Stop at the cafe for an afternoon drink.

Kilmainham Jail

Kilmainham Jail

Kilmainham Jail

Arise early the next morning and take a bus or taxi to Kilmainham Jail. It is advisable to book well in advance of a visit, since the jail is old and small, and visitor numbers are limited. It is also the most popular of Dublin’s heritage sites. Upon booking, you will receive a timeslot as well as a date. If your slot is in the afternoon, it is advisable to have lunch in advance of arriving at the jail, since café facilities are limited and accessible only once you have collected your ticket. Once inside, you will have the opportunity to browse around the museum, which recounts the history of prison in Ireland.

On the appointed hour, a trained guide will take you and your party around the various areas of the jail. You will walk corridors lined with decrepit cells where men and women languished as they served their sentences, many awaiting execution. You will be taken into the room where the condemned revolutionary James Plunkett married his sweetheart, Grace Gifford. It was here that they spent but one hour together before Plunkett walked to his execution. Later, you will see the actual “execution wall” where many more revolutionaries died.

Glasnevin Cemetery

Glasnevin Cemetery

Glasnevin Cemetery

In 1823, Irish political Daniel O’Connell, outraged by the lack of Catholic burial facilities in Dublin, founded Glasnevin cemetery. Known initially as Prospect Cemetery, about 800,000 are now interred in the burial ground, which is located just north of Dublin city. Providentially, its founder is himself interred there, as are a host of other famous people, including politician Charles Stewart Parnell, Grace Gifford Plunkett, the social reformer James Larkin, and actress Maud Gonne, beloved by writer WB Yeats.

The cemetery welcomes visitors, who can reach it by taxi and private car. Otherwise, get on board a number 40 bus, on O’Connell Street. The bus stops on Finglas Road, right by the cemetery. Cross the road (carefully) to the entrance gate, where you will find the Museum of the Dead, the shop, bathroom and eating facilities. The food on offer is good, with quiches and salads, baguettes and sandwiches, teas and coffees, and vegetarian options available.

Closing Thoughts

Dublin has many more attractions, including the Phoenix Park, the art galleries and a number of museums, devoted to Ireland’s writing heritage. However, once you have been to the places listed above, you will have a fair grasp of the history of the city and the country.

© 2020 Mary Phelan

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