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Guinness, Joyce and Things Dublin

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 1/03/2016 Illeana Hoffman

Numerous friends asked us, "Why Dublin"; after all, this is not a city typically known for fabulous sites, user -friendly weather or even 'off-the beaten-track' mystery? In our view, it's "yes Dublin" because this is a place where people are the greatest asset; a city of warm and engaged citizens of all walks of life, taxi drivers to locals on the street to pourers in pubs, who make it very clear from moment of arrival that this is a great choice for visit. Could the answer be that the Dubliners and Irish compatriots have endured so many travails over the centuries from invasion, blight, civil war and political struggle that arms open wide to those who come to experience a little piece of the Irish way? Dublin, home to 1.3 million, divided by the River Liffey, capital of the Republic of Ireland, home to Trinity College and its exquisite Book of Kells, incubator of world-famous literati including Yeats, Bernard Shaw, Beckett, Wilde, Stroker and of course James Joyce, offers its greatest resource - its people - free of charge, to visitors.
Dublin both surprised and delighted. Good cheer is always present if for no other reason that so much good beer is seemingly everywhere, even in movie theatres, and mostly Guinness. It is not surprising that the Guinness Storehouse is Dublin's number one tourist attraction, receiving millions of visitors to celebrate Guinness presence in the city since 1759. A real treat is the Connoisseur Bar, a hidden private bar, giving hands-on instruction on how to pour the proper way (not as easy as it sounds; first allow the beer to settle and only after, top it off) and of course plenty of hands-on tasting. Ten different beers and two and half hours later walk out (slowly) with an appreciation and taste for all things Guinness. Before you go, walk to the top of the Storehouse to the Gravity Bar and admire the 360 degree view of the Dublin skyline and maybe even have another pint!
We wanted to experience it all, luxury, culture and good food. The Merrion Hotel is an atypical 5 Star hotel experience, for the property located not far from St. Stephen's Green and Grafton Street combines a group of restored Georgian Townhouses originally built in 1760's for a wealthy Irish merchant into a warm and convivial oasis away from the bustle of the modern city. We especially loved the lobby with one of the largest private collection of 19th and 20th century art and a lovely fireplace centric room serving afternoon tea and snacks.
What is Dublin without Irish culture? Ireland produced 4 Nobel Prize winners for literature in the 20th century alone, Shaw, Yeats, Beckett, and Joyce. We choose our introduction with the James Joyce Center, housed in another 17th Century Georgian Building, dedicated to Joycean life and works. Our personal tour guide held a tattered copy of Ulysses spotting sights of inspiration for this classic. We ended up in a pub sheltered from a particularly frigid day, discussing books, politics and overall Irish life, well worth the price of admission. We then ventured on to Trinity, home to the Book of Kells, a 9th century illuminated gospel manuscript in Latin, decorated by numerous artists, with lavish decoration. The Book was saved from Viking raids and intruders by monks in Ireland and Scotland and eventually came to rest in the Abbey of Kells for centuries but now, since 1953, housed in the Old Library at Trinity. The Old Library with floor to ceiling oak book cases, centuries old bound manuscripts that are stacked, and antiquated marble heads on wood pedestals has an excess of 500,000 visitors a year and, truth be told, a certain resemblance to a school Harry Potter might have attended.
When one thinks food and Ireland, Irish stew and soda bread in traditional pubs come to mind, not Dublin's answer to renowned New York restauranteur Danny Meyer, Dylan McGrath. He is a driven, innovative and ambitious guy, a man called by Irish food critics "creative genius." We ate at two of his restaurants, Fade Street Social, in a huge 8,000 sq ft space focused on organic meats and total freshness. Here, we tried lamb, rabbit and beef stew, but chased with celeriac cabbage apple salad and pumpkin flat bread. The next night we popped into his restaurant The Rustic and there enjoyed a food experience that placed a huge emphasis on using authentic Japanese flavors and ingredients. Looking for a slightly different experience on our last night, we switched gears and dined at Matt The Thresher, a seafood restaurant located in city center focused on fresh seafood. We had chowder with homemade malt brown bread, totally different cuisine, but equally delicious.
Our final night in Dublin we choose the Marker Hotel located in a new commercial district called Docklands, along the Liffey. This district is new and edgy and is home to many tech companies such as Google and Facebook. Marker fits its cool neighborhood trading on style, energy and good fun, a totally different vibe than Merrion.
Dublin is very much its own city and grabbed us in a way that few other places have. We found a warm and engaging spirit with a look towards the future and a people who were happy to share their pleasure that we had come to sample a little piece of their own.

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