An Irish Birthday Adventure. Part One: Dublin

Ireland has always been a place of magic and beauty to me. The lush landscapes, the foot-tapping music, the comforting food and who can forget those lilting accents? When my husband suggested perhaps we take a long-weekend trip to the green isle for his birthday, I wasn’t about to argue!

A rainbow over Dublin.

We only had four and a half days to spend in Ireland, so I had to plan carefully. It may be a small country, but there’s so much to see and experience! We decided to spend a day and a half in Dublin on the front end and one on the backend. In between, we’d make our way south to Cork and then northwest towards Galway.

My husband confessed he knew little about Ireland and left most of the planning up to me—which meant I could sneak in a few surprises along the way.

Our Irish adventure started when we landed in Dublin and picked up the car. Neither of us had ever driven on the left side of the road before and I don’t drive manual, so Matt drew the short straw for getting us around. We made our way carefully towards our VRBO rental through Andrew’s Apartments, only getting lost a couple of times. Along the way, we chanted “drive on the left! Drive on the left!”

The cute red door on our VRBO rental.
The cute red door on our VRBO rental.

Eventually we made it to town and were relieved to leave the car in a parking garage for the next day and a half. We dropped our bags at our cute, little ground-floor apartment and headed out for a pint of Guinness. Our pub of choice? East Side Tavern.

There were a few brave souls braving the chilly air at tables outside the pub, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves inside. Well, I guess it was only about 3:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised.

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Much more relaxed after our first pint of the black stuff, we made our way to the St. Stephen’s Green stop for Dublin Bus Tours. We had a two-day pass, allowing us to ride around the city and see the sights, as well as giving us transportation for the next two days. We drove past sights like Trinity College, Christ Church Cathedral, Guinness and Phoenix Park. We rode around until we reached Ha’penny Bridge, where we hopped off to head to the Temple Bar area.

Matt didn’t have many “must dos” on his list for Ireland, but he did want to see an Irish session, so I booked a Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl for our first night. We met the group at the Oliver St. John Gogarty’s (before which we quickly dined upstairs in the restaurant). Our hosts for the night were two wonderfully cheeky and talented lads, Ray Dempsey and Anthony Bools.

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Over the next four hours, Ray and Anthony taught us about the real “typical Irish pub” (hint: it doesn’t have coordinated Guinness paraphernalia all over the walls), Irish instruments (three are indigenous: the harp, bodhran and Irish Uilleann Pipe) and the difference between a jig and a reel. We visited three different pubs and all along the way they played some great songs. We also enjoyed some Irish brews.

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We had a decent sized group, but Ray and Anthony managed to get the crowd going (some were even brave enough to sing for the group) and in the end it felt like we were in a cozy room filled with friends and neighbors—not just a bunch of strangers.

Well, after all that learning and listening to music, we decided we were just getting warmed up. We wanted more! Ray and Anthony listed some pubs that night that would have Irish sessions and, after finding out we were heading close to where he lived, Anthony offered to take a cab with us to one of those pubs—O’Donoghues.

Now, some would assume perhaps he was just trying to get a cab ride. Nope—not even close. Anthony, Matt and I ended up chatting over pints of Guinness and hanging out until well after the bars closed. He even gave Matt his first ever record—a recording from his band, Redroom. Day one ended with us feeling the Irish warm and fuzzies (and I don’t think that was just the Guinness talking).

Anthony and Matt and Matt's first record.
Anthony and Matt and Matt’s first vinyl.

Thursday morning (Matt’s birthday!) we both woke up with happy hearts, but sore heads. Only one thing could remedy it—strong coffee, eggs and rashers (Irish bacon)! We stopped for breakfast at Hatch & Sons (an amazing little restaurant across from St. Stephen’s Green) and fueled up for a long, adventure-filled day.

First stop: Dublin Castle. We hopped on the bus and took it around until we got to the castle. According to the castle website, “For over 800 years Dublin Castle has been at the heart of Irish history. From the founding of the first Celtic settlement in the 1st century A.D. to every Presidential inauguration since the foundation of the State, the site has stood witness to some of the most pivotal events in the country’s history.”

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We were a bit limited in time, so we just took a quick tour through some of the rooms that were open to the public. Here are a few photos.

From Dublin Castle, we strolled to Christ Church Cathedral. This Catholic church is nearly one-thousand years old and is one of the most visited sites in Dublin. A stroll through quickly shows why. Not only is the cathedral beautiful, it also contains ancient relics (both interesting and odd) in the main chapel and crypt beneath. There’s a small admission fee to get in, but it’s worth it.


Sticking with a church theme, we then moved on to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, built in honor of, you guessed it, St. Patrick. It stands adjacent to the famous well where tradition has it St. Patrick baptized converts on a visit to Dublin. St. Patrick isn’t the only famous name associated with the Cathedral. Though probably most recognize for his writing (including the book Gulliver’s Travels), Jonathan Swift was Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral from 1713-1745. You can see his grave, among other artifacts here.


That was all before noon! Whew! Luckily our next stop included refreshments—of the adult kind. I booked Matt a Connoisseur Experience at the Guinness Storehouse. Matt knows his beer (I mean really knows—he’s an amateur brewer), so I didn’t think the regular tour would do it. The Connoisseur Experience promised a behind the scenes tasting experience where we could get to know more about Guinness and its brews. It didn’t disappoint.

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Our small group of eight people were taken into a private bar where our guide, Ian, shared the history and evolution of Guinness with us all while pouring us various brews from around the world.

We learned that Nigeria is third in terms of countries drinking the most Guinness (behind Ireland and the UK) and that a new lab will allow the company to experiment and come out with new brews more frequently. We also learned how to pour the perfect pint!

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Arthur Guinness watching over our tasting.
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After pouring our “Perfect Pints.”

We didn’t have a chance to go through the rest of the Guinness museum, which was fine because we learned so much during our Connoisseur Experience, but we did get a chance to eat a quick lunch at the Arthur’s Bar and take a peek at the Gravity Bar (which features a 360-degree view of Dublin).

View of Dublin from the Gravity Bar.

After Guinness we hailed a cab and booked it to the Irish Whiskey Museum. Our driver was delightful and he shared his insights about the city as we drove.

Now, I don’t know what I was thinking—whiskey before beer, never fear. Beer before whiskey… Well, obviously I forgot that old saying when I booked Guinness before the Irish Whiskey Museum, but we still had an amazing time.

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I’d mentioned it was Matt’s birthday so before we even began our tour and tasting at this new museum (it’s only been open about a year), Matt was poured a special sample of whiskey.

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The Irish Whiskey Museum is independent of any distillery, so provides an unique perspective on the history of this beverage in Ireland and the evolution of the industry. It offers a guided tour of the museum, taking guests through key periods and events in Irish Whiskey history.

Our guide was sweet and funny and she kept her wit and energy up even though we had a bit of a shy group. The rooms were just the right combination of cheese and history to tell a good story and have fun doing it. One room even had moving paintings that made me feel like I’d stepped onto the pages of Harry Potter (take that for what you will, but I loved it).

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At the end, we were taken into a bar where we were poured four samples of whiskey. I was nearing the end of my drinking capacity, so I happily tasted each and gave my remains to the birthday boy.

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After the tour, we stopped back at the bar in the lobby to have another drink. It was a quiet day in the museum, so we had a great time chatting with the bartenders and tour guides and sampling a couple of the drinks they make (I had an iced Irish coffee—it was delicious!).

Sadly, we eventually had to leave so we could get ready for dinner, but the folks at the Irish Whiskey Museum made our visit so fun and special, we’d definitely go back.

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Dinner that night was with a couple of friends we knew from Atlanta who moved back to Ireland about a year ago. We went to the Fade Street Social and dined on excellent tapas and creative cocktails.

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Passion fruit and chili pepper martini.

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Well, I think Matt’s birthday was a success—and our adventure still wasn’t over yet.Stay tuned to hear about the rest of our trip to Ireland. As for me, I need a moment to rest after reliving our first, full day in Dublin. Sláinte!

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Just one of the half-dozen rainbows we saw while in Ireland.
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