This year, for anyone sporting an Irish surname, Ireland is offering an eclectic list of family-clan events called The Gathering (thegathering
ireland.com), a yearlong effort by this nation of 4.6 million to reconnect with the tens of millions of O’Somebodys worldwide.
Here are five pointers to make the trip a little easier on the wallet:
Dublin Tourism offers free downloadable podcasts and maps to help you explore Dublin. The most popular is the guide from Trinity College to the Guinness brewery, but the podcasts spur you to every corner of the map exploring themes from Vikings to James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Don’t worry about paying for Internet on the trot. Dublin City Council has just launched a network of free Wi-Fi hot spots.
There’s zero chance you’ll complete these wanderings without stopping in numerous public houses.
No, the beverages inside are never free, but traditional Irish music often is, and there’s no
obligation to imbibe while you listen.
The most famous pub for live “trad” performances is O’Donoghue’s, a living room-size venue that inspired the Dubliners and Chieftains in the 1960s. Performers play next to the bar weeknights from 9 p.m., earlier and longer on Saturdays and, as the barman puts it, “after Mass” on Sundays.
For you non-Catholics, that’s roughly noontime. Other pubs also offer free performances, particularly in the Temple Bar tourist quarter, with Oliver St. John Gogarty’s offering day-and-night sessions in its upstairs bar.
No visitor escapes Dublin without walking through its heart, St. Stephen’s Green, where in summertime there are frequent music performances. Don’t miss the two nearby parks inside Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square, both surrounded by some of Europe’s best-preserved Georgian-era properties with massive doorways and semicircular glass tops.
Merrion is a focal point for free kids’ attractions each St. Patrick’s Festival, running March 14-18 this year. The park’s northwest corner features the city’s best new statue honoring Oscar Wilde, who’s portrayed lounging on a boulder. You’ll laugh reading Wilde’s best quips recorded in his own handwriting on neighboring pillars.
Phoenix Park is the biggest urban park in Europe. You can tour its two major properties: the official residence of Ireland’s president, and Farmleigh, the former Dublin residence of the Guinness brewing dynasty and now the government’s guesthouse for visiting dignitaries.
Farmleigh is partly closed to visitors until July because Ireland is holding European Union events, but the prez’s pad can be toured free with tickets distributed Saturday mornings at the visitor center.
It does rain in Dublin. Fortunately, all of Ireland’s state-funded museums are free and most are beside each other, surrounding the office of Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Ireland’s parliament building, Leinster House, which itself can be toured weekdays. Don’t worry about official advice saying you need some special diplomatic contact; just ask the guards for the next tour time.
Next door, the National Library this year features exhibits on James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, including many of the poet’s letters and unfinished works.
The National Gallery is partly closed this year, greatly reducing its flagship display of impressionist work by Yeats’ brother, Jack, but a special exhibition on Yeats’ travel sketchbooks is worth a look.
No fan of the Yeatses? The National Museum of Ireland has three Dublin bases, all free. The Archaeology Museum displays Celtic gold artifacts, including broad necklaces called lunulas and torcs.
Most children will enjoy the small, old-fashioned Natural History Museum with glass cases full of animals stuffed in the 19th century.
Across the River Liffey near Phoenix Park is where Ireland displays historical artifacts in a former army barracks. All are closed Mondays.
You’re going to want to see a bit of the rest of Ireland, so pack hard-soled boots and a rainproof windbreaker.
The commuter DART rail service hugs the Irish Sea coastline and can drop you at popular trailheads with ocean views.
The longest recommended hike is a three-hour loop around the Howth peninsula overlooking Dublin Bay that you can start or finish in the fishing village’s trawler- and yacht-packed harbor. The best local sandy beach is in posh Malahide to the north.
Or head south to Bray.
From its arcade-studded promenade, you can use an inland path to climb a cross-topped hill called Bray Head with views all the way to Wales.
Or take a 90-minute cliffside hike – don’t worry, fences and spiky hedges separate you from death – to the upscale village of Greystones, the most southerly DART stop.