The International Writers Magazine: Dublin New Year
In Search of the Craic
New Year's Eve Dublin
This was going to be a different kind of New Years Eve celebration. I found myself in Dublin on 31st December 2009 thanks to an inventive (and welcome) surprise Christmas present courtesy of my brother, Dominic. I had been to Ireland twice before: once over fourteen years ago and the last time in 2000, so it had been a while. With a mixture of anticipation and excitement I boarded the Ryanair Boeing 737-800 at Bristol airport with my brother by my side. We had both solemnly vowed to find the ‘craic’ once over in Dublin. Craic is a Gaelic expression that basically means ‘fun.’ I sincerely hoped so as the atmosphere at the airport was akin to a hospital. It was unnervingly quiet. The airport staff were cheerful enough, giving knowing smiles and saying ‘You will have a laugh over there!’ Once they found out our destination.
The flight was a strange one, the take off was a little juddery and erratic, with the conditions icy outside it was not the best of starts. Once above the clouds the sun shone through and it was a really uplifting moment. Poor Dominic got a bit of a soaking from a leak above his seat. It was a quirky flight as I said. The cabin crew were all Polish, Spanish and Australian. Suffice to say it did not feel very Irish yet! The landing was consistent in that it was bowel loosening bad. It felt as if the pilot was deliberately trying to induce fear. Maybe I was just a little out of practice with this flying malarkey but it was not smooth!
Over the tannoy the pilot waxed lyrical on yet another early arrival for Ryanair, which was great until we were told that the ladder had not arrived because we were early and could not disembark yet! So the boasts had a hollow ring now. The other passengers could not wait to get out and I was pinned in so I could not get out into the aisle to retrieve our luggage in the overhead locker so I improvised by standing on my seat and pulling our bags out that way. This surprised Dominic who later commented it ‘was unlike you Dan.’ Well, you have to help yourself sometimes.
After a long walk through the airport gate, finding an ATM machine and withdrawing some Euro’s we finally found the bus station for the Park and Ride Red Line service to our hotel. Whilst waiting there we could not help but notice a large woman in combat boots, leggings and bulky jacket yelling into her mobile phone like Dom Jolly in ‘Trigger Happy TV.’ Whether we liked it or not her booming voice made sure that everyone in the nearby vicinity would be privy to all the intimate details of her private life and New Year arrangements. Unbelievable! Why do people do this? Are they honestly unaware that other people will overhear them? Or are they narcissistic and need to be heard? Whatever it is Dominic and the other passengers at the station shared weary glances with me as the woman prattled on.
After finally speaking to someone who was actually Irish (the bus driver) we enjoyed a quick journey to our hotel. We had to walk over a flyover to get to it but it was handy as it was next to the Red Cow Luas Tram Line (Luas meaning Speed in Irish). After checking in (we were served by a Polish girl and a Spanish guy) we stole a few hours sleep before getting ready to get out again.
Despite the nap we were both still a little jaded. Once we worked out how to operate the ticket machine we soon found ourselves on an impressive new tram with other revellers. There was a buzz in the air, but as it was already just after nine in the evening I think we both realized that we would have just enough time for a few pints before jumping back on the last tram at 12.30. I think we both wanted to make the most of New Years Day as we could have a whole day wandering around the city at our leisure. Although it was great to finally be here we were still clock watching just as we had been for the rest of the day.
||I won’t bore you with the details reader, but we went to a few pubs in the Temple Bar area that was packed with visitors like us from overseas. It was very commercial and expensive (the average cost for a pint was 4.50 Euros). That all said, it was a magic atmosphere and with snow falling Dublin looked pretty spectacular.
The time flew by and after a few rugby scrums to the bar and a roar when 2010 finally arrived it was time to leave to make the final tram. We arrived back at our hotel a little disorientated, not from the drink as we only managed a few, but because of all the running around we had managed in just over twelve hours. In a few more hours we would have a day of leisure to do Dublin and the craic full justice.
When we did wake up it was to a World blanketed in snow with the moon still up in a clear blue sky. Fortunately neither of us had a hangover and the sleep had refreshed both of us. Eager to see more of Dublin we caught the Luas tram into Abbey Street. That morning everything had a slightly surreal look and feel to it. There were ducks frolicking on a frozen River Liffey and hardly any other people. A few got on the tram and as we drew closer to the city the crowds increased. Our stop was about fifteen stops from the hotel so we had plenty of time to wipe the sleep from our eyes and get our bearings.
So, this was Dublin, famous for writers like Wilde, Shaw, Joyce and Beckett. The first thing we noticed was how icy the pavements and roads all were and on radios we could hear warnings about only making essential journeys and taking care if out and about. One sight that greeted us early that morning was a girl who may have only just been making her way back from the New Years Eve celebrations walking down the street in three inch heels and in a mini skirt! Not exactly practical attire. As she slipped and struggled to keep her footing she eventually found a dramatic solution in taking her shoes off and walking barefoot through the ice. Purgatory! But at least she made her way more easily. If she was sleepy earlier she was alert now! Dominic and I exchanged bemused glances and agreed coffee and breakfast would be a splendid idea.
About half an hour later feeling more fortified we decided to find a bus tour that would take us all around the city. Sadly after a fruitless search we discovered that there were none that day. Fair enough, it was New Years Day. After making our way carefully through the very unsteady pedestrians slipping on the ice and uttering a few involuntary expletives we found that famous landmark of Dublin, the St James Brewery Guinness Storehouse.
Proudly the Home of Guinness we were informed that it was a special time for the company as the day before marked the 250th Anniversary of Arthur Guinness signing the lease to the premises. The lease was for 9000 years! So unless they sell the property it may still be standing there selling Guinness when we are all travelling around in flying cars or hoverboards (or living in caves again depending on your outlook!) You can view the original copy of the lease in the storehouse where it lies embedded beneath a pane of glass in the floor.
The building is designed in the shape of a giant pint of Guinness, which was a creative idea. As we took the tour it did feel like we were walking around a large shopping mall. It was interesting to learn what went into a pint of Guinness and how it was made, but some of the exhibits were a little strange, for example one of them explained how alcohol could affect you. Sorry? Most on the tour were adults and I am sure that is not a mystery! Also, there was one on how to drink Guinness! I am not joking! If you reach the age of eighteen or more and you have not worked out how to enjoy a drink by now then you need help!
As we suppressed our giggles and made our way past all the shameless marketing we finally reached the top and the Gravity Bar for our complimentary free pint of the stuff. It was great to see the city below, landmarks like the Wellington Monument, Phoenix Park, St Patrick’s Tower, Croke Park, Howth Head and many others. It was such a clear sunny day and a real feast for the eyes as we looked down onto the snowy rooftops and panorama. The Gravity Bar did feel like an airport departure lounge and as we surveyed the area we could not help but notice that everyone was wearing black and grey and was either British, Spanish, Italian or French.
The Guinness tasted great and Dominic made the amazing admission that it was his first pint of the black stuff ever! Fortunately he really liked it and perhaps in that bar a great friendship was started! We left after a quick look at all the tat in the gift shop and wondered who would buy all that stuff and hit the harsh cold air once again outside.
Walking around Grafton Street there was a parade and a procession of marching bands, which created a nice atmosphere. There were now lots of families lining the streets. We both commented that apart from a few buildings of historical importance it was like being in any high street or city around the world. Thanks to ‘globalization’ everywhere seems to have the same coffee shops, cafes, fast food places and shops. It was an excellent day and we were very relaxed and happy not to be clock watching but there was a distinct lack of ‘Irishness.’
After a few more twists and turns we discovered ‘O’Neill’s’ in Suffolk Street. This felt more like the real McCoy. It was a cavernous pub with plenty of nooks and crannies and booths. More importantly it was warm inside! This was a proper pub with bar stools, wooden railings, floor and fixtures and a ridiculously varied selection of beverages on offer. I counted twenty-seven pumps along the bar! (I believe the pumps are known in the trade as ‘Single out Porter Lancastrian Chameleon’ the single out refers to the single pump and the Chameleon is the model. Answers on postcards please)
At long, long last we were served by someone Irish (this had become something of an in-joke with Dominic and I). A sweet red headed Irish girl served the Guinness (Dominic insisted on Guinness!) and we could hear other Irish accents amongst all the cockney, French and German ones! It was a little dark and dingy and as it was still daylight outside we felt it would be a shame to waste what light was left so we ventured outside once again.
More high jinks and unintentional comedy ensued on the icy pavements where several pedestrians were heard yelling ‘Oh feck!’ ‘Oh shite!’ ‘Merde!’ ‘Schiesser!’ as they slid on the treacherous surface. Everyone had a startled bewildered expression on their red faces. The city of Dublin looked pretty with the Christmas lights and the snow and ice but it was pretty dangerous too. Eventually we found ‘Murray’s Bar/Grill’ on Upper O’Connell Street. We walked in to a warm atmosphere and a bar packed with lively locals to the strains of Bob Marley’s ‘Could You Be Loved?’ There was plenty of laughter and banter, which was a great improvement on everything so far. There was live sport on the television so we ordered a few pints, ate a delicious meal (our best in Dublin) and enjoyed the boxing, football and rugby on the television.
The barman was oriental but with a thick Dublin brogue and our waitress was Spanish, but she was friendly and helpful and kept bringing the Guinness over so that was fine with us. It was great to be sat with locals in their bar watching the Sale Sharks in an epic struggle with the Harlequins and a summary of all the Boxing in 2009. The drinks and talking flowed and I think that we had finally found the ‘craic.’ It was great to end the day on a high. Every visitor from overseas tries to find something in Dublin and I realized that is the wrong approach. The atmosphere or ‘craic’ is subjective and you yourself create it.
That evening as our tram made its gentle way back to our hotel through the snow I reflected that Dublin is a clean, modern, vibrant, confident and very European city. It is still referential to its past but is not stuck in it. The city is very much alive and with its own personality. My brother and I vowed to return to Ireland but next time we would venture further out. This is the great thing about trips like these, they whet your appetite and make you want to explore more and you only get one lifetime to do it. Slainte! (Cheers!)