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A happy return to a lovely old friend: Dublin

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

Good luck if you are the city after Paris on a European trip. The deck is stacked.

We are now in Dublin, where the answer to the Eiffel Tower is the Millenium Spire - a very tall, pointy, stainless steel spike.

But while the beauty of Paris is breathtaking, the beauty of Dublin is deeper. Paris is the city that wants you to know how grand it is. Dublin is the city that wants you to know how grand it is to meet you.

This was my seventh visit to Ireland, and I’m biased as a proud Irish American. Six of my eight great grandparents were born here, and I don’t remember a time in my childhood that I didn’t own an Irish sweater, a gift from whatever relative had most recently visited.

Truth be told, I generally tell people looking for Ireland travel advice that, as lovely as Dublin is, they don’t need to spend too much time here. A day or two should do it, then it’s off to the country. This time around, however, we only had three days, and were dropping our daughter off at Trinity College. So Dublin it was. After several days of Parisian indifference, I was happy to be among people who seemed genuinely happy to see me.

Don’t get me wrong. We had a magical trip to Paris. But when you find yourself among so many friendly people, you remember that Parisian waiter who, upon noticing and acknowledging your “check please” gesture, smiled, took out a cigarette, lit it, and smoked the entire thing before delivering the check.

At a distance Dublin is a bustling city with an ample share of tourists and tourist attractions. You’ll want to see the Book of Kells, which shows the story of how Irish monks, literally, preserved civilization during the dark ages. There are all manner of Irish history museums and attractions, if you are so inclined. And there is a very proud literary tradition that lives in plaques that point out various spots that were featured in Ulysses, the James Joyce masterpiece that chronicles a day – June 16, 1904 – in the life of Leopold Bloom.

No place I know of holds its writers in as high regard as Dublin. And lest you think it is some sort of tourism marketing ploy aimed at romantic travelers like me, consider my visit to the Hodges Figgis bookstore, a stone’s throw from Trinity College. The amount of space reserved for new Irish fiction is staggering. There are literally hundreds of new novels, produced by a country of about 5 million people, less than the population of metro Chicago.

We found a lovely little place called the Little Museum of Dublin, which entertainingly takes visitors from the Vikings to U2 in about an hour. Our tour guide, Amanda, didn’t merely point out the great Patrick Kavanaugh in one of the pictures. She quickly recited the first verse of one of his poems.

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue; I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way, And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

Many people say they love poetry. Look for the people who can recite it.

It is no coincidence that people who love conversation and storytelling would become such great writers. The Irish had their own native Gaelic taken away by English colonizers, and they took revenge by becoming the greatest writers in the English language.

Here is where I might try to write poetically about Dublin, and Ireland. But it would just be sentimental fluff. Trust me when I say that it is a happy, friendly place. And people tell good stories.

If you want to know what Dublin is, you have to know about the word “craic.” Pronounced “crack,” it is a word that more or less means a particular kind of fun. You can go into one of the big bars on the Temple Bar (or Rush Street in Chicago, or Lower Broadway in Nashville) and find boozy throngs of people singing along to “Country Road” or “Brown Eyed Girl.” This is fun, or can be. But it is not necessarily craic.

Craic is laughter and lively conversation, ideally with a large group. Jokes and pints are shared. Stories, perhaps even true stories, are told. There’s a lot of laughter, and maybe a few songs. You make new friends. That is good craic.

Craic sometimes enters the realm that the Irish call “mighty,” as was the case several years ago when I was in a pub for a phenomenon known as a “lock in.” This is when the crowd is having so much fun that the owner locks the door at closing time, essentially turning it into a private party.

There were about 50 people left in this particular bar, and songs were being called for. Some people had beautiful voices and sang beautiful songs. Others tested the limits of the words “sing” and “voice.” And then there was my Irish friend James. At one point I returned from the men’s room to find him, in a thick Dublin brogue that was lubricated by - oh, let’s just say several - pints of Guinness, passionately fighting his way through an entire unaccompanied version of Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue.” The pub roared its approval.

That, my friends, was mighty craic.

I’m rambling here, as usual. Trust me. Dublin is a happy place. The Irish are happy people. Visit if you haven’t. Go back if you have.


1 Comment

Steve Sanders
Steve Sanders
Nov 02, 2022

Another enchanting post. I appreciate the way you describe places by way of their essence, their soul. My wife and I have many travel adventures planned for our empty-nester years, and your tales are stoking the fire. We now look forward to some Irish Craic! 😆

Bon Voyage!

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