The Book of Kells, Whiskey, and a Gaol in Dublin

To read about our first two days in Dublin complete with the theatre, massive churches, and missteps in AirBnB, click here.

On our third day in Dublin, we finally were able to get into see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The “fast track” ticket option was well worth the investment as we breezed past the already massive queue. The majority of the interior was a museum dedicated to the artwork and book-making of the time.

It was interesting to see how meticulous the ancient monks were with perfection. Very few mistakes could be seen from letter to letter on perfectly ruled sheets of paper. And the print was so tiny. I could imagine going blind after writing just a few pages of script.

Believed to be first written in 800 AD, the Book is considered Ireland’s most valued national treasure with illustrations from Biblical passages. It survived several wars and fires through the centuries to now be on display to the public. Typically, however, only two of the four folios are on display at one time. Unfortunately, we were unable to take pictures.

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The Old Library in Trinity College. Rows and rows of texts on display.

From the exhibit, we headed to the Old Library. What a gorgeous space with thousands of old books! I felt like Belle in Beauty and the Beast looking up and down the huge corridor. Of course, we weren’t allowed to take photos of the displays let alone touch any of the books, but the space was beautiful.

As we left Trinity College, we realized how close we were to the National Gallery of Ireland. The building was quite confusing. There was no flow to the museum as we weren’t sure how to see all of the art. We almost missed an entire wing because the next door looked like an elevator shaft.

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The National Gallery of Ireland.

But we saw some beautiful artworks including Claude Monet, Renoir, and Picasso. But much of the museum was closed to the public, so we were unable to see if the museum had more works than the sampling we saw.

In another building down the street from the National Gallery, we found ourselves in the National Library. On display was a small exhibit about the 1913 Lockout where the Irish people were in the fight for industrial workers to unionize. So much was going on during that time in Irish history between the lockout, the rebellion, WWI, and the Titanic disaster, we felt like we really needed to brush up on our Irish history, but the exhibit hall didn’t have the space to devote to all of it.

The rest of the Library was just that–an old school, research library complete with an old card catalog. It was actually pretty cool, but there wasn’t anything further to see.

National Library, Dublin
An actual card catalog inside the Old Library.

The sun was out, and we were ready to be outside to soak in the vitamin D. Thankfully, close by was St. Stephen’s Green, a large park that was quite famous for the Irish. It was nothing like Hyde Park or Gunnersbury Park here in London, but it was a nice space to sit down and relax to watch children fall over themselves.

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A beautiful day in St. Stephen’s Green.

But before we got too relaxed, we had to get ready for the big mission of the day: the Old Jameson Distillery. As we walked through the labyrinth of various streets and back alleys, we first heard some fun and funky music. In the courtyard in front of Jameson Distillery, there happened to be a Nigerian Festival. I couldn’t have imagined something more random to stumble on in Dublin, but as proof, I took a quick video of a girl dancing the traditional Irish dance with fiddlers on the stage.

After clapping along for several minutes, we walked across the brick side alley to the Jameson entrance. Jeff had his time with Guinness, so I was personally excited about this. The wait for a tour was over an hour, so buying tickets ahead of time is definitely recommended. But thankfully, there is a bar where you can indulge in some Jameson delights while you wait, but word to the wise: across the way from the entrance is a small cafe with cheaper prices for their mixed drinks.

The tour was very much like the Guinness Storehouse, and it turned out, so is the process for making whiskey. Much like the previous alcoholic tour, I volunteered to an official whiskey taster! Once through the maze of distillation processes, a tumbler and three shots were waiting for me. We had a taste of Johnnie Walker Black, Jack Daniels, and Jameson in front of us. After the tour guide walked us through the tastes and notes of the different whiskeys, I decided that Johnnie Walker is disgusting, Jack Daniels is very floral, and Jameson is full of vanilla and honey undertones. It was nice to finally taste the differences in the various brands without spending a mint in bottles I won’t later drink.

Sufficiently educated and warm, we decided to walk around the Temple Bar area for dinner. We walked around close to an hour before deciding on a Vietnamese place down an alley far from the loud music and drunk people. While we thought it was a great idea, we learned it was the worst place we could go and sit next to a window. Apparently, the dark and silent alley was the perfect place for public urination–and not just for men. That’s all I’ll say about that.

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The Bull and Castle pub near Christ Church.

We paid the bill and walked quickly away from the dark corners of the side streets, and we realized that we are getting too old to party with college aged kids. When did we become adults? In that moment, I couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting in an extraordinarily loud bar, screaming drink orders and watching where we step. But convinced we were in fact still young, we tested our will and walked into the Bull and Castle pub near our hotel. It couldn’t have been a better example of where we didn’t want to be.

Oldest Pub in Dublin
The oldest pub in Dublin.

The next morning, we had to make a plan before our flight. The last major place to see was the Kilmainham Gaol (Jail). A quick note about it: you cannot buy tickets online. You have to show up and hope the queue isn’t long. Despite our best efforts, we still had to wait almost two hours. We arrived at 1130a and couldn’t get in until 115p. We do consider ourselves lucky, but do keep this in mind for planning your visit.

We were able to wander around the gaol museum while we waited for the tour to start, which was a mix of Irish and gaol history. We learned quite a bit about the 1916 rebellion as well as the building and restoration of the gaol. But then the tour started, and we learned more. It was one of the more informative tours we had been on.

The Kilmainham Gaol was first built in 1796 as a place to bring prisoners not just for incarceration, but to reform people into being better humans. It was here that the single cell per prisoner system became a new trend. The place also holds a huge place in Irish history because in 1916, six men were imprisoned for their role in the rebellion against the British and later killed by firing squad. It was with their deaths that the Irish people realized the men were really martyrs and needed to be celebrated. Even though the initial rebellion was a failure, the next one in 1922, pushed for Irish independence from the British crown.

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An art installation inside a cell representing the human spirit.

The place was entirely creepy and beautiful. In one of the cells there was a large tumble-weed looking structure. When I went to ask about it, our guide explained it was an art installation. It used to completely fill the cell and will be installed there until it disintegrates into nothing. It symbolizes what the jail will do to the human spirit.

When the tour was over, we made our way toward the airport and then off home. It was a wonderful trip to Dublin, but I’m not sure how fast we will be going back. I’d much rather see other parts of Ireland than Dublin, so if anyone has suggestions on what else to see, please feel free to comment!

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