Dublin is by far the largest city on the island of Ireland and the main place where all the tourist go. Although many come for the drinks, there is a lot to do besides that. First of all, the people in Dublin are incredibly kind. But, please also note that Dublin is not the prettiest of cities, a lot of the buildings are run down and the grey concrete and stone buildings don’t help to enhance the atmosphere on a cloudy day. And yes, we were blessed with a lot of those clouds and rain. But the advantage of a seaside city is that winds continuously blows so the weather will be clear before not too long.
Day 1 Irish History
As most history, the Irish history is a troubled one. But more than usual, it’s also a history which is still relevant to understand today’s politics, attitude and culture.
To get a broad overview of Irish history, the National Museum is the best place to start. It tells the Irish history from the prehistory to the present. Especially interesting are the Viking collection and the Iron age gold crafted treasures. They also provide information on the whole centuries long struggle for independence. This puts our later visits of the General Post Office and Kilmainham Gaol into perspective.
But before we go there, we pass Trinity College, Ireland’s most famous university. Founded by the English in 1592 as a protestant alternative for the mainly catholic universities of mainland Europe. Most of the present-day buildings date back to the 18th and 19th century, providing a nice background for a leisurely walk through the grounds. The main attraction is the university library and its most precious possession, the Book of Kells. This early 9th century book contains the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It survived despite the Viking raids and is a prime example of early medieval Western calligraphy. For a good healthy lunch, we head over to the science gallery café.
General Post office
After this brief introduction into Ireland’s older history, it’s time to explore the more recent past. We start with the Easter rising of 1916. For this we go to the General Post Office on O’Connell street. It was here that the rising began with the Declaration of Independence by Patrick Pearse. The building served as a headquarter for the rebels until their surrender 5 days later. During that time, much of the surrounding area was shelled by the British, leaving much of the inner city of Dublin in ruins. The basement houses the ‘GPO Witness History’ an interactive exhibition about the rising which takes you through all the events.
For more on the aftermath and the continued struggle for independence we go to the Kilmainham Gaol. It was here that fifteen of the rebel leaders were executed by firing squad. The jail was closed when Ireland gained independence in the 1920s but is now reopened as a museum. The exhibitions paint a grim picture about 19th century prison life. It also tells the individual stories of a couple of prisoners so you get an idea of the wide variety of people who were held here. The east wing is a good example of the ‘Panopticon’ prison design put forward by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The idea is that the architecture allows for a lot of light which is beneficial for the prisoners, but at the same time minimizes the number of guards needed to observe the prisoners.
Be sure to reserve tickets in advance because the entry to the prison itself is limited. Tickets for all the time slots of the day are usually sold out early in the morning.