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11 Things I Was Told About Dublin (not all of them were true)

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“Why would you ever think Irish food is bland?” my friend Úna asked in disbelief.

I have no idea, but this was just one of many misconceptions about Dublin I carried with me recently.

Perhaps it’s because unlike many of my fellow Canadians, I don’t have a single Doyle or Kennedy or O’Connell in my ancestry – so I had no tall tales to shape my understanding of this land. Or maybe my opinion was colored by a recent history of violence in Northern Ireland and my ignorance too broad to tell the difference between countries. Or perhaps I just got it confused with England, a land of polite understatement (where, until the 1990s, traditional food was bland).

Whatever my ignorance and the reasons behind it, a week is not enough to set things right.

But Dublin, you surprised me. And some things turned out to be true after all.

1. Irish food is bland.

This was not one of them. Every Dublin restaurant I visited used the freshest ingredients, as befits an agricultural country. The eggs tasted of dairy, the vegetables were crunchy and green, the meats plump, marbled and meltingly tender. Living in France you wouldn’t think I’d salivate at the bread – but there is a rich, dark Irish brown bread with a hint of molasses whose density and sweetness were at war with my waistline.

Caesar's Salad at O'Connell Restaurant in Dublin

Caesar’s Salad at O’Connell Restaurant in Dublin – possibly my best ever. And that brown Irish bread…

2. It rains all the time in Dublin.

Apparently this is no misconception at all and I landed in a soup of fog and rain and mist that made the runway disappear as though a magician had waved his wand. It does rain all the time – except the week I was there. The sun shone brightly, alternating with splashes that left me indifferent since I’d heeded good advice and carried an umbrella with me, always. I mean, does THIS look like constant rain?

Sunny day in Dublin

Isn’t that blue sky? And glorious sunshine?

3. The accent is incomprehensible.

English is not my mother tongue. I speak it well but when a new accent wriggles by (I can say the same about Australia, NZ, South Africa and Scotland) I can become fainthearted with incomprehension – I strain and stretch, weighing every syllable for familiarity, trying to shape obvious sounds from foreign ones. I didn’t find Dubliners incomprehensible at all. At least not until they got to the pub.

Dublin Pub

One of Dublin’s more than 1100 pubs – not bad for a city of just over half a million

4. Everybody is drunk all the time.

Absolutely not. At least not all the time. Perhaps in the evening, and on weekends, and on visits to breweries, and at meals and the like. I wouldn’t say drunk – I’d say people here enjoy their drink. (As someone who doesn’t drink, my assessment may be slightly warped.) You can’t walk a block without spotting the stencil-type white on black Guinness sign, and a ride beyond the downtown core. A quick ride into Dublin’s western suburbs will confront you with the pungent smell of roasting barley, well before you ever see the brewery. It’s not unpleasant, just unfamiliar to someone who can count the number of beers she’s ever had on a single hand. (Úna likes it – she says it’s typical of Dublin.) Get tickets for the Irish Whiskey Museum or if you’d rather taste, the Teeling Whiskey Distillery.

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness, Guinness everywhere

5. Dublin is all about music.

Absolutely true. You can’t escape music in Dublin. Wikipedia lists 79 ‘musicians from Dublin’ dead or alive who are famous enough to have their own Wikipedia listing. Glance over here, a music hall with a Sinead O’Connor performance. Over there, a hotel renovated by Bono. And over yonder, some U2 street art. So many music shops and musical references dot the city it defines itself at least as much by notes as by words. The sounds compete – buskers, rehearsals, private houses. And the music is good, very good. Both street groups I listened to on a bright sunny Saturday were ready for the big time. The tradition isn’t new. After all, Handel’s Messiah was first performed publicly in Dublin. Soak up some music at Dublin’s Rock ‘n Roll Museum Experience!

Street music in Dublin

Buskers with tremendous talent make walking in Dublin’s streets a fabulous musical experience

6. Everyone tells great stories.

Dublin is also about words, spoken and written. Dubliners respect oratory and hone it to perfection. From the part-time actor on the Ghost Bus Tour who relished the little shivers he sent down our necks to the barman who tartly filled the gaps in my Irish historical knowledge (a thankless task), a story told by a Dubliner is an irresistible story, one I don’t want to end. And look at this biased and partial list of Dublin authors: Maeve Binchy, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats… and those are just the ones I’ve personally heard of.

Long Room at Trinity College Library

The Long Room at Trinity College Library contains the Book of Kells, Ireland’s most famous, along with more than 200,000 of its oldest books

7. This is a closed traditional Catholic society.

It may well be and although Ireland is changing, one week is barely enough to get my bearings, let alone understand social, cultural and historical intricacies. I did find Dublin to be surprisingly diverse. I expected it to be, well, more Irish. Instead I overheard Serbian waitresses taking sandwich orders from Spanish au pairs and in the streets a mix of every language under the sun. Let’s not forget the city (due to Ireland’s controversially low corporate taxes) is home to the European headquarters of such companies as Google, eBay and Facebook, and today European means at least 28 nationalities, not to mention all the Africans, Asians, North and South Americans I kept meeting.

Flags in Dublin

Everyone welcome – and it’s not just the flags, either

8. Dublin is friendly.

No, not friendly – extraordinarily friendly. When the World Economic Forum recently released a report listing the world’s friendliest countries, Ireland ranked ninth. Despite the financial drubbing the country has been experiencing, this city sings and smiles and is probably the friendliest city I’ve ever visited. I almost found pleasure in losing my way if only to stop people on the street and ask for directions. Each exchange led to a short walk together or a bit of conversation, the standard expression being an animated smile. In a country as economically battered as Ireland has been in recent years, a twinkle of enthusiasm was the last thing I expected to remember Dublin by.

9. Dublin is haunted.

Yes, it is. Nuff said. And people here believe in leprechauns. (The Tourist Office told me so.) Why not try the Gravediggers’ Ghost Bus?

St Kevin's Park, Dublin

St Kevin’s Park (formerly known as St Kevin’s Cemetery) as seen during a night walk

10. Dublin is the capital of a northern European country so it’s a bit reserved and ordered.

Mwaah! Forgive the expression but I-don’t-think-so. Reserved? I just dealt with that above. Ordered? Nothing further from the truth. I think it has more in common with southern Mediterranean societies than its more composed neighbors. Take the streets, disconcerting in their confusion. They can change names every few meters – like Stillorgan Road which becomes Donnybrook Road which becomes Morehampton Road which becomes Upper Leeson Street which becomes… Then, in a perverse practical joke, both even and odd numbers sit side by side on some streets while on others, evens and odds are on opposite sides. Oh, and did I mention a certain aversion to discipline? Pedestrian lights are ‘indicative’ and time is elastic; even the millennium spire wasn’t finished until 2003.

Dublin street sign

…soon to become Lower Leeson Street (street signs are also in Gaelic)

11. Dublin has great architecture.

Dublin’s doors are apparently famous worldwide, as are its (few remaining) rows of Georgian houses. Some of its public buildings, carved from stone and granite and marble, exude a certain grandeur, probably much needed during the country’s nearly constant history of political upheaval. Such buildings provided a veneer of stability, but also acted as symbols of a strong and cohesive Ireland at a time it was anything but. There is plenty to keep your eyes roaming and it is definitely a walking city, albeit one with slightly uneven pavements.

Dublin Castle

The medieval Record Tower of Dublin Castle – its sole surviving tower – dates back to 1228

Dublin door

The Royal Irish Academy is typical of the city’s fine Georgian-style architecture – and I love those doors!

Dublin Convention Center

Dublin has stretched its modern architecture – like the semicircular Convention Center – down along the Docklands

So yes, Dublin, you surprised me, and I like surprises.

I didn’t know enough about you before I came, and now I want to know more.

Have you ever had your misconceptions blasted apart when visiting a new place? Please tell me about it in the comments below!

Things a Woman on the Road should know

  • Dublin is safe, as European cities go, but there are plenty of neighborhoods I’d stay away from at night. Stick to the downtown core. Even here, some streets are dark so make sure you walk where you can easily be seen and where there are plenty of people.
  • I stayed at Donnybrook Hall, a small family bed and breakfast so charming and friendly I thought I’d give them a plug here. I ate a few too many meals at O’Connells in Donnybrook, which serves Irish fare with flair and the best Ceasar’s Salad I’ve ever tasted. It’s a carvery, with brilliant chicken and guinea fowl.
  • The fact that it is home to Ryanair, Europe’s largest discount airline, means it’s cheaply accessible from almost anywhere on the continent.
  • A great way to see the city if you don’t have much time is with a Hop-on-Hop-off bus.

20 Comments

  1. […] In Dublin recently, that spirit – or the spirits – felt quite alive. In the land of mythical leprechauns and faeries, I meandered into shadowy caves, eerie graveyards, and came across (I firmly believe this) things that go bump in the night. […]

  2. Kerwin McKenzie on October 20, 2013 at 12:32 am

    I love your article and Dublin Leyla :).
    I too found the people warm and friendly. Not only in Dublin, but all over.

    I don’t really have any preconceived notions before I visit a place. I just go…

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 20, 2013 at 8:12 am

      Glad you liked it, Kerwin! I try not to have preconceived notions either… but Dublin was unknown to me so people painted all sorts of pictures on my white canvas 🙂 Still, I’m glad they did because it gave me a chance to peel away the layers. Or at least start to.

  3. mamosblog on October 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Reading your piece on Dublin makes me feel proud to be Irish – I am not a city lover myself, I live in rural Ireland – but if I did not know Dublin and wanted to visit a city I would go there! It does not get such good press from our own Media!!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      That’s such a nice thing to hear, especially coming from Ireland! Sometimes a place looks very different seen from the outside – we don’t have the same history and perspective and come at a place with a certain innocence. So happy you liked it.

  4. Clara Arnold on October 21, 2013 at 12:56 am

    What a fabulous site! So much info. I love this post as Ireland is on my bucket list.

  5. Una on October 22, 2013 at 12:06 am

    Leyla, your piece on Dublin is great, thank you. I live in Dublin part of the time, travel for work part of the time and part of the time I live on the West coast, so I see a lot of my beautiful country and intriguing capital city Dublin. You have touched the tip of an iceberg as you write about 11 things, there are hundreds of things about Dublin and even thousands of things about Ireland that are now wide open for exploration on your next visit.
    Thanks Una

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 22, 2013 at 8:21 am

      Thanks Una – and I was speaking from the heart. I have every intention of returning! Dublin did conquer my heart but the real reason was the people. Now I want to see the rest of the county!

  6. […] 11 Things About Dublin – Women on the Road […]

  7. Ciaran on October 23, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Great piece Leyla! I’m a Dubliner and delighted that you enjoyed our city so much. From a safety perspective I’d recommend that female visitors download the Hailo taxi app when they visit. This way you can order a registered cab to your current location in minutes. Before Hailo I know a lot of my female friends would have been nervous getting a taxi home alone.

    Considering you are a non-drinker I’m pleased that you didn’t find us too rowdy in the wee hours. There are 1 or 2 places that are pretty terrifying at 2am … Temple Bar at Harcourt St chief among them. But I guess if you’re up in these areas at these times then you are part of the madding crowd 🙂

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 23, 2013 at 11:55 am

      I’m glad you liked the piece, and thank you for the extra info, Ciaran – registered taxis at night are always helpful. As for the rowdiness, I did go out for a few nighttime strolls but the good thing about raucous partyers is you can hear them well before you bump into them!

  8. Tamara on October 24, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Unlike you I do have Irish roots on my dad’s side but with the last name Dunn, that one was obvious. However, besides beers, pubs, leprechauns and a four leaf clover silver medallion left to me by my great great grandma (who I actually did meet) and a few stories told about her grand-parents and where they came from, I have never been to Ireland. But thanks to your articles which gave me the little push I needed to organize a trip for a visit in March… Will use your tips for sure!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      Glad to hear I’m contributing to seeking out your roots – I have no idea why I’d never gone to Ireland before but I definitely know I’ll go again!

  9. Sheila Archer on December 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Signing on!

  10. […] living in Europe for three decades I somehow had never made it to Ireland and I found Dublin was a bit different from what I’d been told to expect. And I also believe Dublin may be […]

  11. Milena Yordanova on March 4, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Great post! Dublin looks like such a nice city. I hope to visit it someday. The rain is no big deal for me, I love rainy weather. 🙂

  12. Claire on November 22, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    Hi Leyla! This is making me homesick! Great to have met you the other day, and hope you carry on with your amazing travels – including making it back to Ireland soon 🙂

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on November 22, 2015 at 11:51 pm

      Hah! I thought you might like it… 🙂 And I MUST return…

  13. Christine Roderick on March 11, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    I was traveling in Ireland a few months ago and, although it might sound strange, what surprised me was how modern Dublin is. Everything I read about Ireland focused on traditional culture, but there’s more to it than that. I expected a more reserved society, even the advice on dress was conservative, but I found Dublin to be very contemporary. I was pleasantly surprised, and it taught me a lesson about making assumptions.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on March 11, 2017 at 6:54 pm

      I think we all make assumptions when we travel but – I was surprised by some of the modern architecture. Like you I somehow didn’t expect it!

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