Dublin is a fascinating historic city, with a 21st century cosmopolitan feel. My favorite area of the city is Temple Bar, which is essentially a maze of narrow cobbled streets bordered by the River Liffey on one side, and Dame Street on the other. The “bar” part of the name derives from an old term meaning riverside path.
The earliest residents in this now world famous quarter, were the Vikings, who sailed up the River Liffey in their longboats in 795 and made Temple Bar their home. Today the area is home to thousands of people, which lends a vibrancy and intimacy to the streets which make it all the more appealing. Since then this area has developed from the main center of commerce and trade to the vibrant cultural quarter that it is today. In 1707 the Custom House once stood where the famous Clarence Hotel, owned by U2, stands today.
Temple bar is the beating heart of the south side of the city, the place where tourists and locals head to in their droves to socialize eat drink,shop, get their cultural fix, and get to grips with the history of Dublin on the cobbled streets beneath their feet. The area is awash with shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants, galleries, and more than 50 cultural organisations. On the streets bordering temple Bar, can be found some of the city’s best historic buildings, Dublin castle, Christ Church, City Hall, to name a few.
For me part of the charm of the place is the eclectic mix that has for so long now defined Temple Bar. No part of the city seems quite so alive to me as these narrow historic streets, with their centuries of history enshrined in the buildings, the cobbles, and the ghosts of the past. Saturday mornings find them at there best. When tourists and Dubliners alike come out to be part of the atmosphere and part of the story, that is Temple Bar.
Saturday very often finds me, wandering around the streets, browsing the excellent book market in Temple Bar Square, where I inevitably pick up a book or two, and more often than not a few old postcards to add to my collection. The friendly traders are obliging, willing to find books for you, and get to know just what you might be looking for. I love to browse the colorful shops and galleries that make up Crown Alley, or the little shops in Merchants Arch, which leads off the Quays, and then directly onto the iconic Ha’penny Bridge, so called because it once cost a half penny to cross it. Built by the same company that built the Titanic, but don’t worry it is standing proudly over the Liffey since 1816, and used by thousands of Dubliners daily!
Then on down through the streets browsing the shops, enjoying the street entertainment, and eavesdropping on the conversations of tourists, always interested to hear what they make of this little part of our city. Half way down the main street you come to Meeting House Square where there is an excellent gourmet food market held every Saturday. Lunch here in the open air is a pleasure, with a great variety of foods to choose from, and always excellent buskers to listen to as you eat. This space has become an invaluable asset to the city, where lunch time and evening concerts, open-air theater, film and all sorts of family events take place. Before you venture on, why not pop into the National Photographic Archive, housing over 300,000 photographs from The National Library’s collection.
Further down you come to the narrow stepped street that is Cows Lane, which houses a fashion and design market, in summertime. There are also quirky shops selling vintage goods, designer shops, restaurants and bars. One of my favorite bookshops in the city, The Gutter Bookshop is also near here on Essex Street. Their motto in the window always makes me smile, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” (Oscar Wilde). I read it every time I pass by, as though for the first time, and on I go with renewed enthusiasm. A stop at The Queen Of Tarts cafe is must. I simply cannot leave town with out sampling their Queen Of Chocolate Fudge Cake, or their Tangy Lemon Meringue Tart. Fuel to keep me going through the busy city streets.
It was in Temple Bar in the music hall on Fishamble Street, that the German Composer Handel performed his oratorio, The Messiah, for the first time in 1741. This year in April last, Dublin celebrated the 271st anniversary of the event in the old city with a performance of the Messiah. To hear the music fill the streets of this historic part of the city was a delight, and as I stood there I was transported back in time, to when Ireland had its first traffic jam, yes way back in 1741 on that very day, as so many of the city’s well to do came to hear Handel perform. A statue in tribute to Handle stands in a gated area on Fishamble Street.
If you have had your fill of all that the cobbled streets have to offer, head up to the magnificent Christ Church Cathedral, the original construction of a cathedral here, began by the Vikings in the year 1030, and rebuilt many times, until 1871 when major rebuilding took place, and is the structure which remains today. Head across the street to Dublinia, a permanent exhibition covering the city’s history from 1170 to the 1540s. Children and adults alike love this attraction.
On the way back you could drop into Dublin Castle, part of which dates back to the 10th century, once the most important fortification in Ireland, and was the seat of Colonial rule in Ireland, and center of military, political, and social affairs. See the magnificent St. Patrick’s hall, the Throne Room, and my favorite The Chapel Royal. If you visit in summertime look out for the sand sculptures in the main square, each year seeming to be better than the last.
I think any visitor to Dublin city will be seduced by Temple Bar. It offers something for everyone. It is a hive of activity day and night. Some of the best pubs in the city can be found here, with traditional music played in many of them all day long, and excellent pub food served. There is an abundance of accommodation available, from budget to expensive, cheap eateries to gourmet restaurants, market stalls to high end designer shops, street performers to serious theater, and all in the close quarter that is Temple Bar, where the old city comes alive each day all year long.
A word of warning, the area becomes a little crazy late at night time, particularly when the bars and clubs close, and caution is needed as revelers pour out onto the streets often having partaken of too much Guinness!