I’ll give you a little of the history of Ireland as we travel around the country; I know it’s best to get it in small doses, much the way we did. However, I should tell you that there were people living on the island as long ago as 9,500 years, they probably arrived via a land bridge from Scotland but left little trace of their existence. Neolithic farmers and herdsmen arrived around 4000 BC and built stone walls to enclose their fields and huge tombs such as Newgrange for their dead.
The Celts arrived from Europe and became the dominant culture during the 3rd century BC. Ireland was never invaded by the Romans leaving the early history lost in the mists and myths of the land. When St. Patrick arrived in AD 432 the Celts quickly embraced Christianity, ushering in a period of relative peace. The Vikings made forays into Ireland during the 9th century, but failed to gain control of the island.
It is here that I will begin to focus on the history of Dublin itself, because it was one of the walled cities founded by the Vikings after their longships first reached Ireland in AD 795. The Celts were divided into roughly 100 fiefdoms and their lack of unity made it easy for the Danish Vikings to establish bases along the east coast and up the navigable rivers into the interior where they plundered the wealthy monasteries that had flourished during the intervening 400 years. The monks responded by building tall round towers where they could store their valuables and take refuge during attacks. Some of these high towers still stand.
During the next two hundred years, the Vikings established small settlements along the east coast, one in particular, called Dubh Linn (Black Pool) grew to be the Dublin we know today as the capital of the Republic of Ireland. They also established the towns of Wicklow, Wexford, and Waterford. A huge battle in AD 1014 dealt defeat to the Vikings at Clontarf, but like the Celts before them, they stayed to intermarry with the tribal peoples. The red hair and freckles seen today in people of Irish blood, comes as a direct result of this mingling of Viking and Celtic blood.
The 800 years of English rule began when a group of barons, of Welsh and Norman descent, attacked and quickly conquered the Viking settlements of Wexford and Waterford. It’s a little more complicated than that, but I won’t go into it here. There was a traitor in the mix, a Celtic noble who struck a deal with the invaders and promised the hand of his daughter in marriage to one of the nobles. Over the next 300 years the Anglo-Norman invaders established magnificent forts, castles and cities around Ireland and eventually assimilated into the Irish culture, becoming ‘more Irish that the Irish themselves’.
The English struggled to maintain control over the barons, but they did pretty much as they pleased and by the turn of the 16th century, the Crown had direct control over only a small area around Dublin known as the Pale.
Kapoors On The Road
Like so many of the invaders of the past, who doesn’t want to see Ireland during their lifetime? It’s always been a place I knew I would see one day, but thought I would end up saving it for my old, old age. I’m descended from the Scots-Irish on my mother’s side and after visiting an elderly relative a couple of years ago, and seeing her photos of her visit to County Wicklow to see where we all started from, I felt an even stronger pull to go myself.
However, the past decade has seen explosive growth and prosperity following Ireland’s acceptance into the EU in 1973 and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which set out a framework for self-government in Northern Ireland. Dublin was loudly touted as the most expensive city in Europe to visit, making it less and less likely that we would see its sights in the near future. However, with the economic recession of 2008 causing serious financial woes for Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece, we felt the time had come for us to be able to visit these countries and not cause an economic catastrophe of our own.
Anil and I have always been great fans off films based on Irish history and storytelling, and one of our favourites is ‘The Commitments’, based on the book by Roddy Doyle. It certainly doesn’t show the most attractive side of Dublin, but we knew that the city had a reputation for great energy and beautiful historical buildings. We were most interested in checking out the authentic Irish pubs, having only ever visited the imitations scattered all around the globe.
We arrived In Dublin in the wee hours of the morning after an overnight flight, took the airport bus to a stop near our hotel and settled in for a few nights and a few days of long walks, Irish food and hopefully some great Irish music in a lively pub while drinking a pint or two. After a nap in the afternoon, we set off to walk to the River Liffey and get our bearings. We thought it would be a great idea to start Year Five of our travels in a country where English was the first language, but little did we know, we would have to adjust to the strong Brogue that gives a great lilt to the spoken language there.
You’ll laugh after learning that our first meal in Ireland was at a Thai restaurant. We had wandered the streets along the river and even ventured into the famous Temple Bar district, but we were too early for dinner and the wraps, burgers, fish and chips listed on the boards outside the pubs didn’t appeal to us in the least. We decided to have some starter dishes at a place called ‘Koh’ (Island In Thai) and they were delicious. We chatted with our waiter, who turned out to be one of the owners and complimented him on serving some of the best Thai food we’ve eaten outside of Thailand.
He encouraged us to have a drink, but we weren’t quite awake enough yet, still pretty jet-lagged, and then suddenly he appeared with two large glasses of Chilean red wine, compliments of the house. Now that’s Irish hospitality for you. When we told him we were planning on spending the next three weeks driving around the entire country, he asked us to come back the following day so that he could give us pointers on must-see places to visit. His shift was just finishing and he was off to meet his girlfriend. We did go back to see him, but missed him completely, we had to rely on our guidebooks and our instincts.
We stayed four nights in central Dublin and walked, and walked and walked everywhere. We saw all the major historic venues and spent hours pouring over the treasures in the National Museum. We decided we wouldn’t sign up for the tour of the Guinness factory because we’d read it really just an amazing advertising sell and the bonus is a free glass of the brew at the end of the tour. I’d tasted Guinness years ago when I was in Nigeria, all the women drank the stout there; the men drank ale, and found I didn’t like it much.
The highlights of our exploration of Dublin were the Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) and Trinity College. It was a great introduction to the political history of the city and of Ireland; we would flesh it out during the weeks to come as we moved from place to place and slowly put all the pieces of the political puzzle together and understood how all the events in the different regions of the country contributed to the centuries of strife and turmoil Ireland had endured.
When we decided we wanted to stay a little longer, we learned that all the city hotels were booked solid because the coming weekend was the Gaelic football All-Ireland finals held at Dulbin’s Croke Stadium. We knew it was time to get out of the city, it would be choked with rowdy sports fans, and besides we would be coming back to Dublin in order to catch our flight to Portugal and we could see more of the charms of the city them.
We headed to the airport to rent a car there and found ourselves out of luck again because of the big game. All the cars had been booked for the weekend and the earliest we could get one was Monday morning. No worries, we just headed to the board listing airport hotels and managed to find a great room at a reasonable price at a Marriott, and they even sent a shuttle bus to collect us. I wondered why there were rooms available during such a major event, and then I began to understand as we zoomed northwards on a motorway for over half an hour. No self-respecting football fan would want to be so far away from the action, or from Temple Bar for that matter.
Two days later, we picked up our rental car and headed back towards County Meath to begin our tour of Ireland’s green landscapes and remarkable sights. As we carried on, we were surprised to pass the Ashbourne Marriot where we had stayed, located not all that far from the famous Hill Of Tara, one of the most important Celtic historic sites in all of Ireland.