As an American of Irish Descent, it had always been a dream of mine to go to Ireland. Last year, that dream was realized, and them some. After a week and a half of touring the Emerald Island, I was in Dublin with a friend for the most Irish of holidays, St. Patrick's Day. We stayed at a Bed & Breakfast just across from Phoenix Park, Dublin's answer to Central Park, and a short stroll along the Liffey to Dublin's Center.
Before we had even checked into our room, we walked through St. James's Gate to The Guinness Brewery. What once was the brewery's storehouse is now the museum and visitor center. There is a modern seven floor exhibit designed by MIT that gives visitors an interpretive tour through both the brewing process and the history of the great brewery. The final stop on the tour is the Circlebar on the 7th floor featured a round bar surrounded with windows, so tourists can take in all of Dublin while enjoying a pint or two. This was the perfect way to begin the trip.
We also went to Jameson's Distillery. I was disappointed to find that they don't actually make the whisky in Dublin any more. It's made in Middleton, County Cork. The tour consisted of a movie and several exhibits with models and wax figures. It didn't live up to the Bushmills Distillery Tour on the Antrim Coast, which includes a tour of the working distillery, but if sojourns to Middleton aren't on your itinerary then the Jameson's tour is worth a visit.
The celebration started that morning with a parade down O'Connell St. The weather was spectacular, sunny without a cloud in the sky. Contrary to most of the St. Patrick's Day parades I had seen, Dublin's was a raucous and irreverent affair, which included: Marching Q-Tips, people carrying a giant fish head with all of its bones, and a giant rooster on fire. Sure there were bagpipers blowing "Amazing Grace" and Irish Army battalions, but most of the parade resembled Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio "“ only with more clothes on (it is chilly, of course.) It was a celebration not so much of being Irish like the American versions, but of enjoying life, something the Irish understand very well.
Once the Parade finished, there was a mad dash to Dublin's pub district, Temple Bar. Later I met up with some friends, and we started a long day and night of celebrating the Irish way, pint after pint with great company. The music varied from Pub to Pub. Some had amazing live traditional Irish musicians, while others had more popular and current music with everyone in the bar singing along to Oasis, Pink Floyd and of course U2. By the end of the night there was a group of us. I found a couple of new rugby-playing drinking buddies. One New Zealander living there with his Irish wife who kept saying "I love ya' ye fat [expletive deleted]!" Unfortunately, many of the events of that night are still hazy to me, but I wouldn't really be doing my job if I did it half-arsed now would I?
My last day in Ireland, I signed up for the Bus Eireann (Irelands National bus system) day tour of Newgrange and several other historic sites North of Dublin. The first stop was Monasterboice, an ancient graveyard known for its Celtic Crosses. Next we stopped at the ruins of the Kells Monastery where the "Book of Kells" was scribed. The main stop was at Newgrange an Irish Prehistoric structure designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. It is a large stone tomb built in 3200 BCE. That's 600 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids. The white quartz faÃ§ade and the surrounding countryside are truly stunning. Part of the tour takes explorers inside the tombs chamber. I'm a pretty big guy, so it was a tight fit for me, but it was really worth it. The most amazing thing is that the sun only shines into the inner chamber for 17 minutes during the winter solstice. It made me wonder what was going through the minds of the people that built it. The final stop was the majestic Hill of Tara where the ancient Kings of Ireland ruled the Island. The tour guide was charming and informative and all of the sites were interesting and beautiful. The tours are easy to book from either the tourism offices or the main bus station.
On my final night, the city put on their St. Patrick's Day fireworks show. I heard that it was one of the biggest most expensive ever, and after seeing it I believe it. Small shamrocks exploded while screaming rockets lit up the night sky over the harbor. It wasn't just the volume of fireworks; it was the elaborate design that kept the entire canvas of the night sky bursting with color. It was a hell of a way for Ireland to send me off.
I had a couple of random conversations with friendly locals as I stood on a cliff surrounded by green overlooking the windswept sea. These are the experiences that make Ireland what it is. St. Patrick's Day in Ireland was a great experience, but just being there, around the people, and the staggering beauty of the place is what really makes Ireland a must visit for anyone. Go there for St. Patrick's Day or any time of year for the time of your life.
Written and photographed by Jason Fitzpatrick
For more on Ireland at ITKT