It was another overcast day in Dublin, and rainy at times. We woke up, ate breakfast, and bumbled around outside. I was excited to see the Dublin Writers Museum that day. Since I still lived in Blacksburg, I couldn’t wait to tell one of my favorite English professors all about it. Once inside the museum, you could don headphones and a cassette player and take an audio-guided tour of the rooms. Available for viewing were original possessions of, and other artifacts related to, famous Irish authors and poets like James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw (to name just a few). Taking the audio tour was a fun way to learn more about the history behind the artifacts. In fact, even Crystal, who hadn’t been expecting to like the museum all that much, later said she had a good time and really enjoyed the audio tour. I’m thinking I will look into available audio tours the next time I visit an art museum – I might stay longer than just a couple of hours that way. 🙂
The highlight of the evening was coming up fast … the Guinness Storehouse museum at St. James’s Gate! I was so excited it was hard for me to take our afternoon nap. With all the clubbing we’d been doing, none of us had gotten anything resembling a full night’s sleep the entire time, so we usually found ourselves crashing for roughly an hour every afternoon. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see pints of Guinness dancing … needless to say, I’m a fan.
We set out to get to St James’s Gate. It was raining, but the map in my big Frommer’s guide showed that it was only a mile or so down the street from our hostel. I assured my travel sidekicks of the same. Well, we walked, and walked … and finally came to an enormous brick wall with no entrance or sign in sight. We kept following the brick wall, feeling rather like peasants skulking around a castle fortress. We couldn’t even see what was over this towering wall, but it was clear that this was St. James’s Gate. So we kept walking … and walking .. and walking … soon we passed a giant Guinness logo, but there was still no conceivable way to get past the towering brick. My friends began grumbling as it became clear that Frommer’s was right … the brewery WAS just a mile or so away from our hostel … but the entrance definitely wasn’t!
I can’t tell you how long it took us to get all the way around that brick wall, but I believe it was at least another couple of miles. From time to time we would see a gate coming up and get excited that we were finally there, only to be disappointed as it proved to be a service entrance only which was most definitely barricaded against the rest of the world. Yet, I have to say the few small glimpses we viewed of the approximately 64 acres of brewery grounds showed quite the operation. Security was everywhere, carefully guarding every visible area (and, I’m sure, every invisible area too). In fact, at times I couldn’t help but be reminded of a military base.
The site does have a very impressive history. According to this Wikipedia page, St. James’s Gate was the Western entrance to the city during the Middle Ages. It later became a series of breweries, all of which could not have turned out anything like the magnificent Guinness we enjoy today. In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on the property, and Guinness has been brewed there ever since. Wait, did I say 9,000 year lease? I certainly did! It’s safe to say the Guinness operations aren’t going anywhere.
The Storehouse itself is simply a museum located inside an older building that isn’t used for proper operations anymore. Unless something has changed since we were there (November 2006), visitors are not permitted to view the actual brewing of Guinness or enter the “real” factory. They are, however, treated to a grand museum tour complete with a history of the brewery, Arthur Guinness and family (which still owns over 50 percent of the company today), and information on the four main ingredients – yeast, hops, water, and roasted barley. We saw a big crate of roasted barley with invitations for visitors to sample it, which I did. It was very tasty and crunchy and would make a good snack. I kid you not. I think my friends disagreed with me on that one.
At the end of the tour, we went to the Gravity Bar at the top of the storehouse. The Gravity Bar has a 360-degree view of Dublin and a lounge-like atmosphere. We handed the tokens we’d been given to the bartender, who snapped the plastic rings off the bottom and gave us drinks in return. (Visitors have a choice between a pint of Guinness and a non-alcoholic beverage.) We got to keep our tokens, which look like large plastic pebbles and have a drop of Guinness preserved on the inside. I think I should note that Beth, Leigh, and Crystal are not beer fans, whereas I adore beer and Guinness especially. Crystal ordered a Sprite, but Leigh and Beth went ahead and got Guinness. Beth made a horrible face after tasting hers, and so clearly, I had no choice but to finish it for her. Leigh bravely drained hers. I full enjoyed the luscious creamy taste of my pint!
We went back to the hostel and talked to two of the hostel employees about things we had seen. They approved of many of our choices, but were appalled that we had been eating Abrakebabra. They also wrinkled their noses at Copper Face Jacks. One of them even said, “No self-respecting Irishman would go to Copper Face Jacks!” Ouch. They recommended a couple of other places for us to go out to that night. We ambled around and passed a place called Voodoo where I saw a huge line of people waiting to see The Killers, a famous American rock band. Their second album had just come out and I couldn’t believe we had no idea they were playing in Dublin. Eh! We wound up at Ri-Ra again and this time it was definitely more crowded. We had a blast. We came back for just a couple of hours of sleep before catching our flights back home. A pack of British kids had just checked in to our room and they stayed up a good deal of the night babbling back and forth and making fun of one of their friends who was snoring. I couldn’t sleep (even after I asked them to shut it) and so I wandered downstairs and chatted with a hostel employee for a bit.
We had to get up early the next morning. I mean, I remember it as early but I have no idea if it actually was. Leigh flew back to the Netherlands, of course. The rest of us had quite the wait to get through security to our gate. All I can say is that the security people at Dublin International are so not playing around. I laughed when they massaged my feet to check for explosives because it tickled. We flew on Lufthansa Airlines to Frankfurt. I saw some U.S. military families being reunited at the airport which was quite moving.
Writing these entries has made me realize we missed out on a lot of great pubs that we saw, such as The Brazen Head, which is said to be the oldest pub in Dublin. But none of us were particularly well-off at that point, and we all understood that sacrifices are often necessary when traveling. Traveling on a budget means choosing what you are willing to spend the most money on, and having every single meal at a pub just wasn’t in the cards for us. We definitely did enjoy some of the famed watering holes, and I don’t regret having only a few days to enjoy the city. Some days are better than no days, my friends.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.