Travel: Come home to Ireland


Dublin isn't cheap. But the flat, compact Irish capital is exceptionally walkable, with a wide range of free attractions easily reached on foot from any downtown hotel. Live music might cost no more than a pint. And exhilarating seaside hikes with a salty breeze are just a 15-minute train trip away.


This year, for anyone sporting an Irish surname, Ireland is offering an eclectic and ever-growing list of family-clan events called The Gathering, a year-long effort by this nation of 4.6 million to reconnect with the millions of O'Somebodys worldwide.


Even if your name sounds more like Pogatchnik, Ireland's tourism industry is still hoping you'll leave a good part of your wallet here. These five pointers will make that task harder.


Urban hikes


Dublin Tourism offers free podcasts and maps to help you explore Dublin's heart and the castles and coastlines of nearby suburbs. The most popular is the Trinity College guide 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 hotspots: http://bit.ly/VvRtWq.


Pub music


There's zero chance you'll complete these wanderings without stopping in numerous pubs. And 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-sized venue that inspired the Dubliners and Chieftains in the 1960s. Performers play next to the bar, weeknights from 9pm, earlier and longer on Saturdays and, as the barman puts it, "after Mass" on Sundays. 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.


Parks


No visitor escapes Dublin without walking through its heart, St Stephen's Green, where in summertime there are frequent music performances. But don't miss the two nearby parks inside Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square, surrounded by some of Europe's best-preserved Georgian-era properties.


Merrion Square's northwest corner features a new statue honouring Oscar Wilde, who's portrayed lounging on a boulder.


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, but the prez's pad can be toured free with tickets distributed Saturday mornings at the visitor centre.


Museums


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 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 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 stunning broad necklaces called lunulas and torcs. Children will enjoy the small, old-fashioned Natural History Museum with glass cases full of animals stuffed in the 19th century.


But the best venue is across the River Liffey near Phoenix Park, where Ireland displays historical artifacts in a former army barracks. All are closed Mondays.


Coastal hikes


You're going to want to see a bit of the rest of Ireland, so pack hard-soled boots and a raincoat. The Dart rail service hugs the Irish Sea coastline and can drop you at popular trailheads.


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 harbour. The best local 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 to the upscale village of Greystones, the most southerly Dart stop.


All paths are likely to be muddy in spots - even on sunny days.

 

- Hamilton News

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