“I heart my city:…”

As part of its March cover story, National Geographic asked a selection of writers from around the globe which cities have stolen their hearts.
By Pól Ó Conghaile.



1. It does the small things well. Dublin is home to over a million souls, but you’ll always bump into someone you know. It does streets, strips and scenes well, but don’t expect full- on neighbourhoods — this ain’t Berlin. At its best, the blend of big-city buzz and small-town bonhomie can be electric, as with the Little Museum of Dublin or those unforgettable nights out. At its worst, it can make us flaky and parochial.

2. It’s a city by the sea. Few people think of Dublin as a city bordered by mountains and ocean. But that’s exactly what it is. Just half an hour from O’Connell Street, you could be mountain biking the gnarly hump of Ticknock or salivating over the seafood restaurants on Howth’s West Pier. The scenery along stretches of the DART Suburban Rail line, particularly the sweep along Killiney Bay, is sublime — and, luckily for me, it’s my commute to the office.

3. Baking is back. After years of bland paninis and chewy baguettes, a new wave of bakers and pastry chefs has rebooted one of life’s simple pleasures. Try Camerino for challah bread and chocolate raspberry cheesecake brownies, or Antoinette’s for gluten-free goodies. Some might say baking never went away, of course — at Bretzel in Portobello, they’ve been baking kosher bread in brick-lined ovens since 1870.

4. Croke Park. I love that Europe’s third-biggest stadium is used not for soccer but for the gladiatorial games of Gaelic football and hurling. The annual All-Ireland Championship sparks an amazing atmosphere, with supporters streaming up O’Connell Street like wildebeest in county colours. It’s our thing.

5. Temple Bar has a secret doorbell. You’ll find it on the black building between Eager Beaver and Skate City on Crown Alley. Look for the initials ‘VCC’ on a steel door, and ring. Temple Bar has a reputation for piss-ups and paddywhackery, but this portal leads to plush lounges, candlelit nooks and bartenders who can tell you all there is to know about craft gin. Welcome to the Vintage Cocktail Club.

6. Everyone has a book in them… if only they’d write it. Literature’s loss is conversation’s gain, however — hours whiled away in circular arguments, surreal flights of fancy and creative slagging are part of the city’s fabric. Key words? ‘Grand’ is the standard response to ‘How’ya?’ It can mean a) amazing, b) ok or c) I’m dying. ‘What’s the story?’ is the quintessential Dublin greeting. After hearing it once, you’ll never settle for a simple ‘hello’ again.

7. Food, glorious food. Ireland’s food scene has burst through a brick wall in recent years, and Dublin is at the vanguard. I’ll go out of my way for the simple and elegant presentations of Irish riffs at The Pig’s Ear, the spiced beef blaas (soft white rolls from Waterford) with Coolea cheese at Hatch and Sons or the pulled pork tacos from K Chido Mexico’s cute food truck on Chancery Street. Yum.

8. It’s going beyond the black stuff. Sure, the Guinness Storehouse remains Dublin’s top tourist attraction and huge amounts of the creamy libation are gulped downed every day, but the capital has embraced Ireland’s booming craft beer scene with gusto. Pubs like L. Mulligan Grocer and The Black Sheep don’t even serve Guinness. Years ago, this would have been heresy — now it’s hip.

9. It wears its scars on its sleeve. Look closely at the Daniel O’Connell monument on O’Connell Street. See the bulletholes? They survive from the Easter Rising of 1916 and the turbulence that followed, including the War of Independence and Civil War. As the centenary approaches, expect to hear of others — pockmarking books at Marsh’s Library, for example. The legacy of 1916 is debated, but the marks remain stubbornly in place.


The one place that epitomises everything I love about my city is: Capel Street. Once one of the finest Georgian streets in Dublin, it’s now a tumbledown mix of all you could ever want — pawnbrokers and craft beer bars, sushi joints and tatty furniture shops, hip cafes like Brother Hubbard and vendors selling fruit from prams. It’s electric, shambolic, indefinable and always on the cusp of becoming the next big thing. I hope it never does.



All things Joyce in Dublin and beyond


Whatever else you plan to do to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 is a grand time to plan a trip to Ireland over June 16, known to all aficionados of James Joyce as Bloomsday.

Joyce’s groundbreaking book “Ulysses” takes place entirely on June 16, 1904, which happens to be the date that Joyce had his first date with Nora Barnacle, who later became the writer’s wife. Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of the book, knows none of this and the book does not address it, but much of Dublin celebrates the date every year.

How popular is this event? In 2004, just before the 100th anniversary of Leopold Bloom’s literary meanderings, some 10,000 people showed up for a free Irish breakfast on O’Connell Street, enjoying sausages, rashers, toast, beans and black and white puddings, all in honor of Bloomsday.

Annual events in Dublin include readings and dramatizations of “Ulysses,” walking tours that visit locations named in the book, special dinners at local restaurants and pub crawls, some attended by fans dressed in period costumes. The James Joyce Centre, on North Great George’s Street in Dublin, routinely sponsors special events for Bloomsday. (See bloomsdayfestival.ie)

When I made my first Bloomsday trip, I stayed for five days, immersing myself in all things Joyce. Here are eight important stops or your itinerary.

1. James Joyce Centre. Opened in 1994, the center is in a restored house that was built in 1784. In the early 1800s, Denis J. Maginnis rented a room in the house, where he taught dancing under the name Denis J. Maginni.

Joyce knew the man, and in “Ulysses,” he wrote about him, describing Maginni as wearing a “silk hat, slate frockcoat with silk facings, white kerchief tie, tight lavender trousers, canary gloves and pointed patent boots, walking with grave deportment.”

You can visit the Maginni Room in the center, which also houses a Joyce reference library, portraits of Joyce’s family members and photos of the real people on whom Joyce based many of his characters.

2. Dublin Writers Museum. Opened in 1991 in a Georgian house on Parnell Square North once owned by George Jameson, this small museum honors Joyce as well as other famous Irish writers. Take advantage of the informative audio tour – it’s free.

3. James Joyce statue. A life-sized statue is on North Earl Street, just off bustling O’Connell Street. A bust of Joyce is on display in St. Stephen’s Green, a popular public park near Grafton Street.

4. Sweny’s Chemist Shop. Many a walking tour of Dublin includes a stop at the shop, which operates as a museum. In “Ulysses,” Bloom buys a bar of lemon-scented soap, and it’s still a big seller. Right around the corner is Finn’s Hotel (now closed), where Nora Barnacle worked as a chambermaid. Look for the sign on Clare Street.

5. Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Pub. You can hear traditional Irish music at this pub on Fleet Street in the Temple Bar neighborhood. Joyce immortalized Gogarty in “Ulysses” as “stately, plump” Buck Mulligan. Another pub in the book is Davy Byrne’s, on Duke Street, where Bloom stops for a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of Burgundy.

Three stops outside of Dublin are worthy on any pilgrimage to honor Joyce.

6. Howth. In Dublin, head for a DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transport) station and buy a ticket on a train traveling north. Howth Head, about nine miles from the city, is where Leopold Bloom proposed to Molly among the rhododendrons.

7. Bray. Head south about 12 miles on the DART to see Bray, where Joyce lived with his family from 1888 to 1891. In “Ulysses,” Joyce describes Bray Head as “the blunt cape that lay on the water like the snout of a sleeping whale.”

8. Sandycove. The DART also will take you to Sandycove (about nine miles from Dublin), to see the Martello tower where Joyce lived for a week. “Ulysses” opens in this very tower, which is now a James Joyce Museum. Do climb the winding staircase to the top of the tower, but don’t expect to be the only person up there quoting the opening lines from the book.

As I left the tower, I overheard a wonderful conversation between a man and his son, whom I guessed to be about 11.

“Dad,” said the boy, “What is `Ulysses’ about?”

“Well,” said the man, “It’s about everything.”

It is – and if you love the book, you will enjoy spending Bloomsday in Dublin



A Literary Guide to Dublin, Ireland

In a country with a rich literary history, it’s no surprise that travelers journey to Dublin to find those inspiring places made infamous by the writings of Joyce, Wilde, Beckett and Doyle.

From historic buildings to the pubs of Temple Bar, the capital of the Emerald Isle offers an endless array of must-see places to find the lasting mark of Irish writers past and present. Discover and learn about Irish literature’s best-known scribes (and a healthy dose of Irish history) through these well-known neighborhoods and places.



Journalist and novelist Maeve Binchy grew up in the pretty seaside suburb of Dublin that is now home to Irish A-listers. Starting her career at The Irish Times, Binchy soon turned to writing novels and short story collections like Circle of Friends and Tara Road, which can be easily found in Dalkey’s The Gutter Bookshop, a popular local independent bookseller.


Abbey Theatre:

Opening its doors in December of 1904, this theatre (also known as the National Theatre of Ireland) was founded by poet W.B. Yeats and dramatist Lady Augusta Gregory. The first state-subsidized theatre in the English-speaking world, the Abbey Theatre is also noted for staging the first (and highly controversial) production of The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge.


The James Joyce Centre:

The avant-garde poet and novelist has left a lasting mark on his hometown. Local revelers dress up as Leopold Bloom for the annual celebration of Bloomsday on June 16, the date on which Joyce’s novel Ulysses takes place. If you can’t visit on that day, the James Joyce Centre (hosts of Bloomsday) has permanent and rotating exhibits that give you an intimate look into Joyce’s life. Learn about Joyce’s legacy, and then toast his life at Davy Burn’s Pub, a 100-year-old gastropub well known for its amenable atmosphere, tasty cuisine and mention in Ulysses.


Saint Patrick’s Cathedral:

Also known as The National Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Patrick, this is where St. Patrick baptized converts in Dublin. Its best-known literary connection is cleric and writer Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal. Swift was dean of the cathedral from 1713 to 1745, and is buried in the church’s graveyard.


Merrion Square:

Make the pilgrimage to this pretty Georgian park to gaze at Danny Osborne’s colorful sculpture of poet, essayist, novelist and playwright Oscar Wilde. But what’s more important is across the street at One Merrion Square; the author’s childhood home is now restored and part of the American College of Dublin.



Although his stories showcase fictional Barrytown, readers of novelist Roddy Doyle can visit the real life inspiration. One of the oldest neighborhoods of Dublin, Kilbarrack is where Doyle grew up and worked as a teacher. The suburb also became a star in the filming of his book The Van, as local pub The Foxhound Inn was included as a movie location.


Trinity College:

The oldest university in the city has many literary alumni, including Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker. Trinity College is also home to the largest library of Ireland. Featuring The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament dating to 800 AD, the library also includes The Long Room, containing 200,000 of the library’s oldest books and one of the remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.


National Library of Ireland:

With over eight million items, this reference library focuses on preserving Irish cultural identity through its collection of personal papers, letters and writings of many Irish writers. Fans of writer Colm Tóibín can learn about his early years as a journalist and burgeoning novelist/playwright at the library, where his literary papers, as well as works from his teacher/father Michael Tóibín, are accessible.