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.