When you first arrive on vacation, it seems like you have forever to do what you want… especially if you have at least a week. While I knew early in the trip that we wouldn’t have enough time, it was still a pretty significant realization on Tuesday morning that this was the last full day. There’s no reason we can’t go back and I fully expect that it won’t be long before we do, but it’s not exactly like trying to get to LA for the weekend. When we go to LA, if we miss a restaurant or a store, there’s always a cheap Virgin Air fare waiting to take us back. Traveling to Europe, no matter what the fare, is a bit of a time commitment coming from the West Coast. Nonetheless, we had one day left and intended to make the most of it.
H, K and Baby M were headed into Dublin early in the morning to take care of some business. B, N and I followed in our car about 9AM. We used the GPS, but were finally getting comfortable with the route. We made it back to the city, quickly found our parking garage and were able to check into the hotel early. Off we went to meet H, K and M who were having their breakfast at Bewley’s Grafton Street Cafe where B and I had coffee the first morning. We arrived just as they were finishing up, so we headed back to the Hop On, Hop Off bus. Since the sun was out, we were hopeful we could spend the first part of the day in Dublin seeing a few more sights then go to the Wicklow Mountains.
It was time to make decisions. B and I wanted to see both of the Cathedrals as well as Kilmainham Gaol. It seemed like there was more interest from everyone else in seeing Kilmainham Gaol and it is also a guided tour, so we opted for this. Besides, there are Cathedrals all over the world. While each unique in their own right, Kilmainham Gaol is one of a kind. The weather was turning colder without a doubt. We stayed on the top, outside portion of the bus all the way to Kilmainham Gaol, but got a bit blown around in the process. I had the chance to photograph the cathedrals (apparently I didn’t take many photos of St. Patrick’s Cathedral the first time around) and listen to a little more of the history.
When you arrive at Kilmainham Gaol, it’s impossible not to immediately be taken back by all of the history encompassed in the structure. When the tour started and we all stepped into the first courtyard, it was clear this would be a significant experience.
I love a good ghost story. If you’ve read along with our crazy food adventures for a little while, you know this. There was no mention during the tour or later of ghosts associated with the Gaol, but just standing there, it’s impossible not to feel the magnitude of the history.
There are tons of places for you to read more about Kilmainham Gaol without me telling you my half-informed version, but it’s important to call attention to the amazing political history of this building. It saw the imprisonment of many political prisoners throughout the Irish fight for independence, but most notably the leaders of the 1916 uprising. The tour was amazing. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the whole thing was being forced to realize how recently the Irish gained their independence. Though they’re certainly advanced in age, there are still people alive who lived through the whole horrible ordeal. It’s overwhelming and powerful. Though I left feeling overwhelmed and humbled, it was a remarkable experience and I am so glad we decided to visist the Gaol.
Our Kilmainham experience lasted a little longer than we expected and the clouds were starting to roll in, so the Wicklow Mountains weren’t looking like a real possibility. It was getting a little late in the afternoon and we hadn’t had lunch either. H suggested we get something to eat at the Shelbourne Hotel. Our Hop On, Hop Off drivers didn’t approve. They suggested we eat at O’Neill’s instead. I may wish we could have tried the food at O’Neill’s also, but I wasn’t disappointed in our lunch.
The Shelbourne Hotel is beautiful. Since B and I are already planning our theoretical next trip to Ireland which only includes 1-2 nights in Dublin at the most, I think we may consider the Shelbourne. It must be expensive. It’s just gorgeous. We had lunch in the bar which looked more like a four star restaurant than a bar or any hotel restaurant I’ve eaten in. The menu options weren’t elaborate (and thankfully weren’t pretentious either), but we had some good choices. Fish and Chips for me and H, Steak Frites for B and N and Bangers and Mash for K.
Lunch took a little while, but with the Wicklow Mountains no longer in the cards, the pressure was off. After lunch we returned to the bus stop and waited for the bus. It didn’t come. We waited longer. No bus. We decided to go shopping instead. As soon as we walked away, there was the bus! Nonetheless, we stuck by our shopping plan. I picked up a few gifts and a couple things for myself. While the girls were shopping, B and K had a drink at O’Donohue’s pub. This was another place on my list of historic pubs to visit. Though the building was constructed in 1789, it’s only been a fully operational pub since 1934. I know. It’s practically new.
From there, we sadly parted ways with H, K, M and N as they were headed back to Naas and we were quite miserably headed for the airport in the morning. We’ll see H, K and M when they get home, but I was definitely sad this adventure with them was over. B and I headed back to the hotel to get organized for the trip home and figure out what to do about dinner.
Our last night in Dublin really wouldn’t have been complete if it didn’t involve more wandering. We walked and walked trying to find someplace to eat. After considering a number of places, we settled on a place that just looked like it might be good. Perhaps the best advice I got on the whole trip came from my friend, J, on the first day when she told us not to think too much about where to go and if a place looked good, just to go in. We followed that advice beginning to end and it did not fail us. For dinner on our last night, we wandered into The Green Hen.
We weren’t off to the best start. It appeared they only had one server for the whole place and as we were seated in the bar, we sat for a long time without being acknowledged. Eventually, though, things got better as I think our table was handed off to the bartender. B got some great advice when he asked the simple question of whether he should choose the pork belly (the special) or the Supreme of Free Range Chicken. One would think (especially if you’ve read a little of this blog) that B would choose the pork belly hands down. The bartender acknowledged this is what most people would do, but stuck by his opinion that the chicken was better. Of course, we’ll never know if he was right or not since we didn’t taste the pork belly, but I do know that B absolutely loved his chicken. With celeriac gratin, fine beans, pancetta (yes, wrapped in pancetta), rolled confit leg, madeira and thyme cream, it was really special. I had the Venison Shank with mustard mash, creamed chantarelles, red cabbage and Juniper jus… Also amazing. The bone just fell right out. We had the crab cakes to start. They were very good, but not as special as the entrees. We finished our meal with a complimentary shot of what tasted a bit like an Irish coffee. The Green Hen was probably the most “Seattle” meal we had the whole trip. Excellent food for sure, but I can’t say I regret one bite of all the Fish and Chips and Bangers and Mash I ate in the days prior.
The Green Hen really was a great find. From there we decided to pay a visit to O’Neill’s as our bus driver suggested earlier in the day. It was a Tuesday night, so I wasn’t expecting much excitement and it seemed to be a pretty mellow night. There was a soccer game on, so we ordered our pints and sat down to watch the match with a few folks who surprisingly appeared to be local. Each night on the trip was special and different. We definitely didn’t have any repeat experiences. One of my favorite aspects is that there really was a unique quality to each night. On our last night, it was nice to sit in a slightly more subdued environment, enjoy our last two pints in Ireland and reflect on the week prior.
The next morning brought the usual travel day whirlwind of logistics. Our flight was on time and we settled in for a ride much longer than our trip into Dublin. When the flight attendants came around offering drinks, neither B nor I could stomach the idea of anything with an alcoholic content. I ordered my standard flight drink… a Ginger Ale. What the flight attendant handed me was a nice reminder that I could still drag out my European vacation until we touched down in Chicago.
I’ve returned home from Ireland every bit as intrigued by the country, culture and people as I was when I left. I’m glad for that. Perhaps my greatest fear for the trip was that we would arrive and I wouldn’t love it like I expected to. I love what we saw of Ireland and can’t wait to see more. The next trip will be less urban. For a few different reasons, we both really want to visit Cork. I want to see the whole west coast of the country and journey north as well. It’s a small country and we can travel in a short time, I know, but there’s still so much to see. Our next vacation will probably be somewhere warm and tropical, but our return trip from the Emerald City to the Emerald Isle won’t be long coming.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!