Rick Steves' Europe: Episode # 208
Dublin's story is of feast and famine - from its 18th-century Golden Age to its 20th-century struggles for independence to its boomtime today. We explore the town's foreboding castle, patriotic jail, and Trinity College with its Book of Kells-a bright light in the Dark Ages. At night we party in Temple Bar, awash with Celtic music and frothy pints of Guinness. We side-trip to the prehistoric necropolis of Newgrange and the medieval monastery at Glendalough, tucked in the scenic Wicklow Mountains.
- Read the script from the show.
Brú na Bóinne
This famous archaeological site is also commonly referred to as "Newgrange" (actually one of the tombs). The well-organized site centers on a state-of-the-art museum, and shuttle buses ferry small groups five minutes away to one of two 5,000-year-old passage tombs where a guide gives a 30-minute tour. Newgrange is more restored and famous, and allows you inside. Knowth (rhymes with south) opened more recently and is more extensive, but you can't go inside the tomb.
Newgrange dates from 3200 b.c. and is 500 years older than the pyramids at Giza. It most certainly was a sacred spot dealing with some kind of sun-god ritual. During the tour, you'll squeeze down a narrow passageway to a cross-shaped central chamber, located under a 20-foot-high igloo-type stone dome. Bones and ashes were placed here under 200,000 tons of stone and dirt, and as the sun rose on the shortest day of the year (Dec 21), a ray of light would creep slowly down the 60-foot-long passageway and light the center of the sacred chamber. Allow an hour for the excellent museum and an hour for each of the tombs you visit (tel. 041/988-0300).
Opened in 1796 as both the Dublin County Jail and a debtors' prison, it was considered a model in its day. In reality, this jail was used frequently as a political prison by the British. Many of those who fought for Irish independence were held or executed here, including leaders of the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867, and 1916. National heroes Robert Emmett and Charles Stewart Parnell each did time here. The last prisoner to be held here was Eamon de Valera, who later became president of Ireland. He was released on July 16, 1924, the day Kilmainham was finally shut down. The buildings, virtually in ruins, were restored in the 1960s (tel. 01/453-5984).
Two actors take 40 or so tourists on a walk, stopping at four pubs. Half the time is spent enjoying their entertaining banter, which introduces the novice to the high craic (conversation) of Joyce, O'Casey, and Yeats. The two-hour tour is punctuated with 20-minute pub breaks (free time). While the beer lubricates the social fun, it dilutes the content of the evening (tel. 01/670-5602, mobile 087-263-0270).
You visit the upstairs rooms of three pubs and listen to two musicians talk about, play, and sing traditional Irish music. While having only two musicians makes the music a bit thin (Irish music aficionados will tell you you're better off just finding a good session), the evening — though touristy — is not gimmicky. The musicians demonstrate a few instruments and really enjoy introducing rookies to traditional Irish music (tel. 01/475-3313).