After a couple of days in Dubai, it was time for a couple of days in Dublin. That was one of the reasons I was flying Emirates in the first place. I could fly DXB to DUB direct without descending in the seven levels of Heathrow hell.
As we arrived I saw the comforting sign of Baile Atha Cliath at the old Dublin airport terminal but we were whisked to the impressive Terminal 2 where local radio were interviewing people home for Christmas. I was unrequired so bought an Irish SIM, got some Euros and boarded the appropriately numbered 747 bus to the city (though to be true to the Emirates plane it should have been 777). After taking a long tunnel, the bus suddenly appeared by the side of the Liffey in Dublin’s Docks.
When I lived in Dublin in the 1980s there was no Terminal 2, no airport tunnel and no development like this on the Docks. In those days this was a rough industrial area.
Now it’s been opened up by bridges and riverside walkways and has been gentrified into Ireland’s hi-tech financial centre. Companies like Google have their headquarters here. The docks, like Ireland in general, was hit hard in 2008 but is making a good comeback with signs of another boom afoot.
My 747 then abruptly turned away from the river towards Connolly Station and then Talbot St. I thought that was central enough for me, and I disembarked to wade through the busy Christmas shopping traffic.
From Talbot St I veered left into Dublin’s main street – O’Connell St. Crossing the wide road brought me to the GPO, the general post office and iconic headquarters of the 1916 rebellion that eventually led to the 1921 Irish War of Independence (and the Civil War that followed). The building was badly bombed by the British and was largely rebuilt though bullet holes at eye level still remind shoppers of its history. There is now a 1916 museum inside.
I continued down O’Connell St as busy as always it has been, now with the light rail Luas adding public transport options to the ever-present buses. Looking back north I see the statue of unionist Jim Larkin (unlike those two gentlemen in the front of the photo who are more interested in the statue just out of shot). Larkin is almost bisected by a Luas pole and the 120m Spire of Dublin behind him, aka the Monument of Light, is totally obscured. The Spire is built in the spot where Nelson’s Column was blown up in 1966 – the 50th anniversary of 1916. History takes very direct actions on O’Connell St.
Near the lights at the Liffey is the monument those two gents in the last photo were staring at – the Daniel O’Connell statue. It may have been because of the seagull atop or may have been in acknowledgement of the Liberator, and the man who got Sackville St renamed for him. O’Connell is the third name for the street. It was built as a narrow street in the 17th century named Drogheda Street (for Henry Moore, Earl of Drogheda). In the late 1700s it was widened, and renamed Sackville Street (for Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset). One of the first acts of the new Irish government in 1924 was to rename it for the 19th century nationalist who campaigned for Catholics to be elected to Westminster (hence the Emancipist or Liberator).
Looking the other way is a view almost unchanged from my time in the 1980s. The bridge from O’Connell St across the Liffey to the junctions of D’Olier and Westmoreland Sts. Westmoreland (right) like Talbot St is named for the British leader of the pre-independent era – the Lord Lieutenant – in this case John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1789 to 1794. But D’Olier St (left, under the hideous Stalinist high-rise) named for Jeremiah D’Olier (1745–1817) has a more interesting story. Isaac Olier was a Huguenot martyr who escaped to Holland during the Edict of Nantes. Wishing to have his French descent recognised, he assumed the d’ prefix. In 1688, he followed the Prince of Orange to England and went to Ireland where he became a merchant and married Martha Pilkington from Westmeath. Their son, Isaac, was a goldsmith and a member of Dublin City Council. Isaac’s third son, Jeremiah, became one of the first governors of the Bank of Ireland in 1801.
One thing has changed from the 1980s – The Old Lady of D’Olier Street has gone. That was the nickname of the Irish Times which moved to Tara St in 2006.
I did not cross O’Connell St Bridge whose name celebrated O’Connell before the street did – when it was built in 1880. The new bridge had “sandstone balustrades, the pretty garlands embellishing the piers, the charming Parisian lamp standards and the stone steps to the river quaintly tucked away on the westerly quay walls.” I preferred the simpler but more iconic Ha’Penny Bridge immediately upstream. I stayed on the northern bank, turning west along Bachelor’s Walk towards the Ha’Penny Bridge. This cast-iron pedestrian bridge is exactly 100 years older than the 1916 rising that brought British war ships down the Liffey. Because it was built to replace the ferry shortcut to Crow Street Theatre on the southside, it was a toll bridge, fare one ha’penny. Over 30,000 people still use the shortcut to the Temple Bar every day, though the toll and the Crow St theatre have long gone.
It was the only pedestrian bridge in Dublin until 1999 and this photo was taken from the second one, the Millennium Bridge. This pedestrian bridge is easier to cross wheeling a case because it is flat. This view looks back at O’Connell St and the Ha’Penny Bridges and also Liberty Hall the crumbling third largest building in Dublin. Long the home of the union movement the current building dates to the mid sixties and was the tallest building until superseded by two dockside buildings in the 2000s.
Continuing down Merchant’s Quay I pass the Dublin City Council Buildings (just out of picture). I remember the controversy over the building in the 1980s due to the destruction of the Viking artifacts at Wood Quay and the fact it took away the view of Christ Church Cathedral, the oldest and only one of Dublin’s three cathedrals visible from the Liffey. There has been a cathedral on this site since the 11th century but the current building mostly dates from the 1870s. Christ Church is claimed by Catholic and Protestant but has acted as a Protestant Church of Ireland cathedral since the Reformation.
The next building of interest was the Four Courts, home of the Irish legal system, on the northern side of the river. The building is in a four-year restoration project on its impressive dome, hidden under the scaffolds. I joked with my friends, “I see the Rebels have been bombing the Four Courts again”. Dublin’s most famous architect James Gandon built the stately courts between 1786 and 1802 but the building was almost completely destroyed by fire and the original timber dome collapsed when the Republicans decided to make a stand there in the Civil War. The dome was rebuilt in the late 1920s. But in 2011 they found a steel ring encircling the concrete dome had rusted and eaten into the capital.
My bed for the night was near the Four Courts so after freshening up and some food, it was time for Irish nectar. It was cold and wet outside that night, but I was nice and warm and drinking Guinness at the cosy Lord Edward pub – barely a mile from the brewery. Cheers.