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The Irish Eyes Weren't Smiling!
Dublin in General
Member Name: jatkinson100
Dublin in General
Date: 19/02/05, updated on 07/03/05 (471 review reads)
Advantages: You can say you've been., You can pretend you've had a good time., Great if you like twee, plastic tat.
Disadvantages: The people., The attractions., The reputation it can't live up to.
Maybe I’m going to be a bit harsh in this review; I certainly intend to be. However, when one books a few days in the Emerald Isle’s first city, one has certain expectations. I expected to be wowed with architectural delights and interesting museums / attractions by day and have my palate sated with delightful foods and, particularly, beverages by night. The truth is, Dublin came nowhere near to my, possibly, too high expectations in any capacity.
The first day we arrived we took the Dublin Bus City Tour. This is, admittedly, a very touristy thing to do, but we have found these open topped busses to be a great way of finding our bearings, get a good overview of the city, find out areas of interest and attractions to see, as well as get lots of money off vouchers. We were, immediately, disappointed. We put this down to a poor guide who was, maybe, suffering a certain amount of lethargy at saying the same thing day in, day out. However, we have since come to the conclusion that it was poor because Dublin itself is not that interesting or entertaining a place.
Due to limited time (three days), we chose the ‘must do’ attractions, the biggest of which being the Guinness tour. The Guinness storehouse is seven floors dripping with self congratulation, product placement (go figure), and sycophantic homage to Arthur Guinness. Arthur Guinness was, apparently, not simply a brewer but a philanthropist, social righter of wrongs, and all round great person. Hell, he invented Guinness, but he can’t have been quite as great as these people have made him out to be; no one could! Glossing over the actual ingredients and process of brewing, using light shows and large, phallic glass jars full of, erm, hops and yeast and stuff, one actually learns very little on the first couple of floors. The history of Guinness amounts to little more than doffing one’s cap to Arthur and learning of his ‘great’ work outside of brewing and that his father was a brewer. On the fifth floor is some interesting advertising memorabilia from Guinness’ past, from the toucan’s “Guinness is good for you” to Rutger Hauer’s castle sitting, etc. That was the good bit. On the top floor you get a ‘free’ pint of the blackstuff and the real gem of the tour; the view. From the top of the building you get a great view of the city. You can pick out some of the things that were pointed out on the tour, like Wellingtons obelisk, Trinity College, etc., but from up there you see what it took me a further 24 hours to see properly; Dublin is just another city. The gift shop was filled with plastic, overpriced rubbish bearing harps and toucans and zoo keepers. Oh, by the way, despite their attempts that day, I still prefer Murphy’s Irish Stout. (For a more detailed review of the Guinness Storehouse, please see http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/other-uk-ireland-topic s/guinness-brewery/1004224/)
The highlight of the visit was undoubtedly The Gaiety Theatre. We walked there after Guinness had forced its logo down my throat along with its drink. We went to see the fabulous ‘Blood Brothers’. I shouldn’t really go into detail here as it might not be there when you visit Dublin, but it was fantastic! Willy Russel and the cast built us up and knocked us down; fantastic! Strangely, no gift shop.
As you may tell from the above paragraph, but I’m quite into literature and the arts, and that’s why I was so shocked at how rubbish I thought the Dublin Writers Museum (should that have an apostrophe?) was. The information on the writers was second rate and without depth. A brief overview of childhood, occasionally, some nods to their bodies of work, and tired and bitty contextual history. There was little, if any, notable reference to the actual works or insightful looks at the works themselves. I knew that Ulysses was based on the earlier work and ‘followed’ it, and, had I not known this, would have learnt something. As it was, I didn’t. Just for a change, they had a shop filled with, often plastic, tat, although it did contain a decent array of the works which the visitor had learned little of.
We also visited the National History Museum. This was, probably, the best permanent tourist attraction we saw, and yet, still, was singularly unspectacular. The highlight was the variety of artefacts from ancient Ireland, mainly from the Bronze Age. Due to Ireland’s geography, many bones, bodies and artefacts were found in peat bogs, which naturally preserved them for us. The Viking section was also of great interest, giving some detailed information on Ireland’s, often stormy, often mutually beneficial, relationship with the Norsemen. It was, however, far too small. The Egyptology section was small, uninspired, bitty and a waste of time. A large section of the museum related to, probably, Ireland’s most important, certainly in recent times, area of history; the break with Britain. This section, however, dealt mainly with the Easter 1916 uprising and its aftermath. It had, relatively, many exhibits from the time, especially uniforms from the Irish fighters from this time and up to the actual formation of Eire. As an Englishman, I was quite perturbed at Britain’s treatment of the Irish at this time, and was quite ashamed at how brutally the various rebellions were put down. The lack of detail, although it was nodded at, on the brutality of the various republicans towards their own peoples who had nationalist leanings was skimmed over. However, what wasn’t made clear was that, at this point, most of Europe was fighting The Great War, and so any domestic (as it could be classed at this point) uprisings were a waste of valuable resources as Britain fought for freedom (and yes, I do see the irony here). The stance of the museum, which follows that of the original rebels, was that World War I was not a mindless and unnecessary waste of people’s lives, but just the “opportunity” the rebels needed. With British forces engaged abroad, the Irish went about diverting resources and collaborating with Germany in order to buy arms. It was the sinking of a German munitions / supply ship en route to Ireland that helped foil the rebellion. In short, I found that the museum was quick to pass judgement on Britain’s ill-treatment, but slow to point fingers anywhere else; rather than retelling and showing history, surely a museum’s purpose, it presided as judge over the actions of the government / occupying force (depending on how you see it), without pointing the finger elsewhere. Moving on, the section upstairs on medieval Ireland was well detailed and interesting. It showed the creation of the Ireland of today, moving from clan based tribes to cities and towns. It showed England’s (as this was before the Union) hand in this and how a social order was set up to mirror that across the Irish Sea. It also showed how the vast majority of the population were not Irish, but English peasants / workers who were, probably forcibly, moved there to work on land taken by English Lords and came to think of themselves as Irish. On leaving, you pass a small shop; plastic abounds. As with all dooyoo reviews, this is definitely a personal one, and one which I stand by; a family we spoke to, who I’ll mention shortly, were pleased with the Museum, in particular the Egyptology section.
One attraction of note was one we were sad we missed. The family to whom we spoke, as mentioned earlier, were over as the son was in a swimming competition, and the locals they had met had said that Kilmainham Gaol was a must see attraction. It tells of its great historical past, with particular reference to internment and execution by Britain, and sounded detailed, interesting and thought provoking. Unfortunately, it was mentioned rather than promoted on our tour and we only found out about it when we didn’t have enough time to visit.
Eating out was easy; Dublin abounds with restaurants. As noted in the dooyoo review “When Irish Eyes are smiling… they’re looking at the till”, these are, generally, Italian and it is difficult to find any ‘proper’ Irish food. Some places have boiled bacon and cabbage and that’s about it. I didn’t come to Ireland for the culinary delights, but surely there is more to Ireland’s table than this!
We ate at Pacino’s (Suffolk Street) on the first night; an average Italian with below average service and above average prices. Although I have slated the service, I was served by one of a meagre band of three, which I will come to later. The service was ‘interesting’, and I quote:
Me: What beer do you do?
Waiter: Some Italian stuff. (Pause of three seconds) Oh, it tastes alright, though.
Other customer: Can I pay by card?
Same waiter: I don’t know! Take it down [to the cash desk] and they might be able to help.
The next night I had cabbage and corned beef at the Quays in Temple Bar. The rice was quite reasonable for a pub in such an area and, I must admit, I enjoyed it. It fell apart and complemented the buttered cabbage well. What was a disappointment was, again, the service. No comical faux pas from the two blokes behind the bar; they were surly, uninterested and bordering on the rude. Perhaps they were the “Dublin characters” noted on the plaque on the wall, but I think not. We ate; we left.
Our final night was spent in Flannagan’s on O’Connel Street. Don’t let the name fool you, it was another Italian, though with some reference to domestic foods. The food was average at best, apart from the ribs we had for starters. If you go to Dublin, have the barbeque ribs from Flannagans; they are fantastic. Then, for main course, have them again. Then leave. Price was good, if on the expensive side, and the service was great (more later).
Of course, sating one’ palate in Ireland is more about drinking than eating, and the place to do this is Temple Bar. It is described as a lively and popular place, and so it must be as every pub seems full. This is, however, more to do with reputation and size. All visitors go to drink, at least once, in this area, but it is so small, all pubs are busy. Choice is not really a factor as each of them offers a similar theme and sticks to a, no doubt tried and tested, recipe for a night out; expensive Guinness, Murphy’s and lagers in a fake Olde Worlde setting. One gem was a local ale served in a few of the pubs; shamefully, I can’t remember the name, but it is served on draft, has a green label, and begins with “Sk….”. Sorry I can’t give you anything else; at least it gives you an excuse to try a few.
For smokers, the taking of tobacco inside is now a capital punishment in Ireland, and so the pub of choice is The Temple Bar as it has an outside, but heated, seating area. This contrasts to most other pubs which have a door and a pavement outside. Of course, getting a seat in the heated area outside is, of course, virtually impossible as everyone else in Ireland knows about the hidden corner of freedom and civilization. And for purchasers of tat, The Temple Bar has its own gift shop.
For those serious plastic crap buyers, Carroll’s Irish Gift Stores, which are ubiquitous in Dublin, offer an array of overpriced, mass-produced and often plastic gifts for those who you feel obliged to buy stuff for. Each is an emporium of the useless and needless, covered from floor to wall in Shamrocks, Leprechauns and Tricolours. Anything that can be held down long enough has a fake Irish proverb, prayer or picture pasted to it, is stacked high and sold fast. The foreign workers, mainly Spanish or Portuguese, do their best to get you out of the shop, laden with plastic, as fast and professionally as they can; the domestic purveyors of tat add a surliness which, I believed, was the trademark of Parisians. I spent E35.00 (about £20-£25) on gifts (no, no plastic and no shamrocks or leprechauns – I had to search hard). They shoved it in a bag; no please, no thank you. The bag had no handles, and was just a brown paper bag. I asked for a bag with handles, they have them of a similar size, and was told that these are only for customers buying large items. THEY REFUSED TO GIVE ME A BAG WITH HANDLES! Can anyone believe this? I told them, no bag, not purchase. Faced with the prospect of cancelling an order, an obviously tricky thing to do, they relented. I tried to pay with a debit card. It was Switch, which is British, but has the Maestro sign on it, making it useful Europewide. Indeed, I’d used it to withdraw money and pay for goods in Dublin and in France, Spain and Turkey to name but a few. It wouldn’t work. They told me that ‘they sometimes do and sometimes don’t’. I went to the cash machine, got the cash, returned and paid. I was outside before I realised that they’d again swapped bags on me again and I was stuck with the handless variety again. I couldn’t believe it. That visit summed up Dublin for; surly people selling plastic in handless bags; how much of that is metaphorical, well, I don’t know.
I believe that my biggest let down by Dublin was the people itself. As noted with the Carroll’s experience and others, Dubliners are rude, surly and, generally, not interested in tourists, and outsiders, who must be their life blood. They are rude until it comes time to tip and uninterested in you once you’ve paid. Perhaps it is nicotine withdrawal! You are not given the Irish Welcome promised by the plastic fridge magnets, key rings, wall signs or printed in luminous green across 2 out of every 3 T-shirts you see. You are treated as, at best, a necessary evil, and, at worst, as an annoyance.
There were three, or four, exceptions:
1: The tall, thin, ginger haired waitress and the Irish chef at our hotel, The Royal Hotel Dublin.
2: The blonde-haired waitress downstairs at Flannagans.
3: The waiter at Pacino’s who was, to be honest, rubbish, but a nice guy.
To these four individuals, thank you! You are a credit to your nation and city and, I hope, will take up positions within the local tourist board training others to be as you.
All in all, I didn’t enjoy Dublin. I guess you’re not shocked by that, are you. I can think of no area in which it excelled and would have no hesitation in recommending any other city I have visited in the British Isles over this one. The nightlife is better by many, even provincial, cities; it is no match for Edinburgh or Newcastle to name but two. Its museums are bettered in any of the other capitals and cuisine is bettered everywhere. As for the people, go up north to Yorkshire, Lancashire or Scotland, and, indeed, to Belfast, to receive a true welcome. If you feel you must visit the Emerald Isle, still go north to Belfast to get a feel of what Ireland is supposed to be about.
I would hope that my defamatory comments are applicable only to Dublin and not to the rest of the country. I have heard so many talk of the genuine feeling of being wanted as a visitor in Ireland, and pray that my experiences would not be repeated should I go further a field. Regrettably, though, I fear I will never find out as I have no intention of ever visiting Eire again.