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All things Irish: Castles, Shamrocks, and St. Patrick

The clock read 9:05 AM. We had spent the past 7 hours flying from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Dublin (DUB), crammed to the very last row of the aircraft with non-reclining seats, watching movie after movie without actually seeing any of them to completion and we were served a tray of hot dinner, comprising of what they insist to be grilled chicken with rice as raw as the actual grains of paddies smothered with something resembling a creamy oily pasta sauce. With the kitchen and the toilets located behind our seats, the constant commotion is pretty much expected, whether it be patrons standing awkwardly by our seats waiting to use the toilet or flight attendants scurrying about with their carts or hungry passengers looking for a snack from the kitchen, stillness and quiet moments were rare and hard to come by. In short, I’ve been on better flights. Ya heard, United?

But, none of that mattered as soon as we landed in Dublin to a cool, crisp, and sunny day, a very rare occurrence as we would learn during our stay there. Full of anticipation and excitement, we walked towards immigration, got our passports stamped (yea!), and as soon as we stepped onto the arrival atrium, we were welcomed by an orchestra playing the instrumental version of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. This trip is off to a great start!

Our very own welcoming committee

Our very own welcoming committee

We got on bus 16, made our way to the city center, and were dropped off at a stop around the corner from our hostel. The receptionist checked us in and happily told us that our room is available and we can go up right away. SCORE! Early check-in is ALWAYS a plus! While downstairs, I took a mental note of the Free Walking Tour that would start at 2:30 PM in front of the Central Bank.

I am normally against any organized tour groups. I find excitement in planning my own itinerary, finding my own (cheap!) flight, and booking my own accommodations. I shudder at the thought of having someone else dictates the activities of my day. Plus, I just don’t see the point of being catered to 24/7. After all, I believe the journey is just as important as the destination itself. However, city walking tours are a different genre altogether. They give you an overall view of the area while simultaneously teaching you the history and the background of each city, peppered with interesting facts here and there. For example, did you know that St. Patrick  used a three-leaf clover to explain the Doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish pagans? The pagans understood and the theory was well received among them. This is why the shamrock is associated with the Irish!

After walking around Grafton St. and grabbing a quick lunch, we made our way to the Central Bank on Dame Street, where we were greeted by our tour guide, Hannah,  a bubbly girl brimming with energy and excitement as she began to introduce her city to us.

We started off at Dublin City Hall, an 18th century building that houses the government of Ireland up until 1922. When it was first built, it functioned as a meeting place for businessmen to buy and sell their goods. The building itself is very simple and bare, its central point being the intricately decorated rotunda supported by 12 columns. On the floor is a mosaic of Dublin’s Coat of Arms with shamrocks, St. Patrick, and the Dublin Castle prominently displayed.

Dublin's Coat of Arms, statue of O'Connell, and the rotunda

Dublin’s Coat of Arms, statue of O’Connell, and the rotunda

Located next door to the City Hall is the Dublin Castle. We stepped through the Gate of Justice to the Castle courtyard, which is bordered with 28 flag poles from the different counties around the island of Ireland. if you are a history/geography nerd, you probably noticed that 28 is an odd number. The Republic of Ireland consists of 26 counties while Northern Ireland (an entirely different country) consists of 6 counties, totaling to 32 counties in the island. So, why 28? Hannah told us it’s simply because the administrators don’t have anymore poles on which they would hang the other 4 flags, so they just left it as is.

DublinCastle

Clockwise: The courtyard, the Bedford Tower, and the Gates of Fortitude and Justice.

The Bedford Tower actually dates back to 1761 and is flanked by the Gates of Justice and Fortitude. To this day, the Castle is still used to host diplomats and guests, for presidential inauguration, state banquets, government policy launches, and foreign affair engagements.

We walked out of the courtyard, down the stairs on its side, and stepped onto the Castle gardens.

No reason for the colours.

No reason for the colours.

Supposedly this is where Dublin got its name from. During Celtic and Viking civilization, the River Poddle supplied fresh drinking water to the villages and it also filled the moat around Dublin Castle, forming a black pool (or Dubh linn) at this spot, which was then used by the Vikings as a harbour for their ships. Today, the garden is used as a helicopter pad and the river runs underneath the city (don’t ask me how – I don’t get it either).

DublinGardens

Celtic knot pattern decorates the garden

As the sun started to set, we continued our tour towards the enormous Christ Church Cathedral. Its imposing facade stands in the middle of the city, trying its best to fit in between all the small cafes and bars.

ChristChurch

Exterior facade of Christ Church Cathedral

DublinCity

As the sky gets darker and city lights start to flicker on, we found ourselves at the end of the tour in Temple Bar area, precisely in Fitzsimons Hotel Bar where we were treated to a traditional story-telling session on the legend of Niamh and Oisin.

Storytelling

The overall tour runs for 2 hours and provides a great introduction to Dublin. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it if you are going to Dublin.

Just the Facts: 

We went with Viking Free Walking Tour of Dublin, you can easily find their brochures in hostels throughout Dublin. If not, though, just remember this: tour runs daily at 11AM and 2:30PM. The meeting point is at the Central Bank on Dame Street. I should also mention that the tour itself is free, but the guides will make an announcement to say that they accept tips, if you so incline to give them any.

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