In Dublin’s fair city

New Year’s Eve in Dublin

The echo of words were in the air as we made our way to Dublin to tramp the streets of Ireland’s Big Smoke on the last three days of the year.

Our hotel off Leeson Street Upper was a stone’s throw from the Grand Canal, and a quick cut across St. Stephen’s Green — or a detour past the rigid brick symmetry of Fitzwilliam Square’s Georgian facades — to the River Liffey.

Grafton Street was still decked out in Christmas lights, and crowds shuffled past at a window shopper’s pace, pausing to listen to the odd street musician who may be the next Bono.

The Stag’s Head pub

I began the evening as I intended to continue, with pints of Guinness in the back room of the Stag’s Head, one of the city’s best preserved Victorian pubs. 

Our Dublin days passed in a blur of pubs as we sought to stock up on Irish foods while wandering through closed historical sites.

Bumped into this man of Aran near Temple Bar. He’d just come back from fishing.

I never did manage to find boxes of Bewley’s Dublin Morning Tea, which seems to be in short supply. But after a dozen fruitless forays I did finally locate a grocer off O’Connell Street selling packets of fadge, of which I bought them all.

The ghosts of Samuel Beckett and Bram Stoker still haunt the nighttime courtyard of Trinity College, but the Old Library was currently closed, and I was unable to revisit the Book of Kells.

Trinity College Dublin

We drowned our sorrows with a pint of Beamish stout at the Long Hall, a former Fenian hangout where the poet and self-described “drinker with a writing problem” Brendan Behan was said to be a regular.

A pint of Beamish at The Long Hall

I was regaled with an oft-told tale about Behan, who’d been invited to Oxford to participate in a debate about the difference between poetry and prose. His opponent droned on and on for nearly two hours, and when it was Behan’s turn to speak, the poet recited a Dublin rhyme:

There was a young fella named Rollocks,
Who worked for Ferrier Pollocks.
As he walked on the strand,
With a girl by the hand,
The water came up to his ankles.

“That,” said Behan, “is prose. But if the tide had been in, it would have been poetry.”

The tide of our remaining Dublin days was largely influenced by the pull of the pint rather than the pull of the moon.

Christ Church Cathedral
Floor tiles of foxes in pilgrim’s garb, Christ Church Cathedral

We wandered through Christ Church Cathedral, where the wall of the nave is still slightly askew since a ceiling collapse in 1562 left it leaning to the outside by an easily visible 18 inches (46cm).

The walls of Christ Church are slightly askew — have a look at the top left

We ate proper full Irish fry ups in Temple Bar, where the black pudding and rashers tasted sublime but the fadge was far too crisp for me, verging on French fries. 

A proper Irish fry up

And I tracked down most of the books I’d been hoping to find at Hodges Figgis, Dublin’s oldest bookshop (est. 1768), including short story collections by Maeve Brennan and John McGahern, and a volume of poetry by Eavan Boland.

Hunting for books at Hodges Figgis (est. 1768)
A table of Dervla Murphy’s at Hodges Figgis

The night ended on a highly cultured note with the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, a venerable trudge to multiple pubs where stories about and recitals from the work of some of the city’s best writers accompanied the raising of the glass. There was always time for a pint at each stop, a pace I maintained until the end. 

The venerable Dublin Literary Pub Crawl

The tour culminated in a quiz, with questions drawn from stories we’d heard and some that we hadn’t, concerning local luminaries like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. 

Points were awarded for each correct answer, and it soon came down to a cutthroat finale between your only slightly inebriated scribe and a woman who had scorned my assertion that Seamus Heaney was a Nobel Laureate.

It helped that I’d recently read Ulysses and Beckett’s trilogy, and that I listen to bookish podcasts. A carefully calculated guess allowed me to answer the rather difficult tie breaker question and walk away with the prize.

All that reading finally paid off

My wife actually swooned as I was awarded the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl t-shirt, which makes me think I’ve been setting the bar pretty low all these years.

But I didn’t have much time to think about that, having to focus my efforts on finishing a final Guinness at Davy Burns, where Leopold Bloom had his gorgonzola sandwich and glass of Burgundy in Ulysses.

At Davy Burns, where Leopold Bloom had his gorgonzola sandwich and glass of Burgundy

And that’s about it, really.

A wander along the River Liffey from Temple Bar to Custom House on the 31st. 

A New Year’s Eve walk along the Liffey

A late afternoon feed of oysters to mark the end of the year.

A platter of oysters to see out the old year

And two more pints at O’Neill’s, the sprawling Pearse Street pub that was already becoming our regular haunt. 

O’Neill’s pub (est. 1885), owned and operated by the same family for more than 100 years.
Pint of Guinness in one of many rooms at O’Neill’s

I’d have loved to celebrate the countdown with strangers by a peat fire, but we were in bed well before midnight — a rare event even on a normal evening — because we had to catch a 3am airport bus for a January 1st redeye to Berlin.

Could I have managed another pint of Guinness after eight diligent days that overflowed with them?

At times like that, I wonder what Samuel Beckett would have said.

“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Goodbye to 2022 from some random Irishman

Photos ©Tomoko Goto 2022

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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