Right to the Liffey

Trip Start May 25, 2005
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Friday, August 26, 2005

SO! When you've had a night of Irish Shenanigans and you have a bus to catch at 6am, and you are still out partying at 5am, there really is only one solution. Run as fast as you can, back to your hotel and pack very quickly.

Luckily, as so much of my luggage had been torn and stolen on the place from Johannesburg, it was all rather more straight-forward than usual.

Of course it was raining as I dropped my key off at the front desk and began my walk to the bus station. But I wasn't the only delegate to act so insane; others at the party were catching the same bus out.

'I wasn't sure you'd make it!' said one of the chaps

"You can talk!" I said, 'The last time I saw you, you were almost dancing off the table!"

*****

I don't remember much about the journey. I think I fell asleep, but the bus continued to make its way across the centre of the isle, reaching the Eastern side by mid-morning.

Dublin felt like an enormous city after the tranquillity of Galway. It looked grey in comparison, but I still couldn't wait to explore. Plus I had a meeting to get to! Not content with working hard all week, I had even booked some project related endeavours on my day off! No one could say I had just wanted a holiday!

However, some work is easier than others, so after dumping my bag and ever-expanding paperwork at the hostel, I headed towards the castle. Dominating the skyline (at one time), the grey stone walls of the completely preserved castle rose up towards the top of the hill. Built in AD 1204 to replace the original Viking fortress of AD 930, it remains one of the main sights along the River Liffey.

I was impressed, but I had to get inside somehow. The meeting I had scheduled was within the domain of a high-level conference taking place inside the castle. Could I gain entry where so many armies had failed? I stood next to the 'Sick and Indicent (sic) Roomkeepers Society' buildling, founded in AD 1790 and watched the gate. People were walking straight in!

Once past the security guards I turned into the courtyard and realised that entrance to the grounds was free! In the centre of the courtyard was an exhibition of statues, comprised of the most random subjects and freewheeling subjects I had ever seen. 'How unusual' I thought as I approached a giant skeleton, 'It looks like it is made of sand!'

And there, in the persistent rain, I stood and looked at the most incredible art, fashioned from a special, but completely natural form of sand. The artists had used pressure and moisture to form the intricate beasts, which were now evolving as the rain made its mark.

Enough of this enjoyment, I had to get inside. Time to look important and that I belonged there. So I strode purposefully towards the conference entrance.

'Good Morning!' I greeted the guard as I walked in. Fantastic!

So after a successful meeting, and a quick chance to explore the posters on display, we parted company and I was free to enjoy the day.

As I walked through the Georgian limestone buildings, towering three, four, five storeys high, I felt enlivened by the atmosphere. It was a Friday, the first day of the weekend, and people were obviously in the mood for sneaking off early and enjoying a pint.

Perhaps I should go to Temple Street!

For anyone who has never been to Dublin, this is the place to be. It is an area of town lined with bars, including the famous Temple Bar. Music and laughter spills forth from every door way, as the brightly lit rooms bulge at their accommodated maximums. I walked along the street, taking in the atmosphere, peering through the misting windows to see which bands were playing where.

The tiny streets were littered with unexpected gems; 'Murder City Records! AND Red Ink Books!' I couldn't quite believe it. So my time slipped away as I perused through the music and books, the comics and the clothes. 'Frizbee's now in stock' read one sign. 'Don't go bald' said another. It was an eclectic mix of the daily necessaries and the necessary daily distractions. It was great to be surrounded by so many cultural complications. There was life in Dublin beyond the norm.

A fifty band, twenty venue festival was bringing the crowds out in droves. Teenagers began to hang about in doorways, in their red and black stripped clothes. Couples clasped their hands together as they navigated the lines, and I tried in vain to get a tickets for anything and everything.

Alas. Alak. They weren't letting me in. So I decided to try entertainment of another kind. Along a little side street was a doorway of potential; the Irish Film Institute. Looking like I knew where I was going I strolled in, only to find an open courtyard environment. There was a restaurant and bar, and a box office.

I glanced through the brochure, and was reminded of my Sheffield days of independent cinema. Even the brief reviews sounded better this way than in the commercial glossies. What to choose, what to choose.

Three hours later I emerged a better person. Independent films have a depth so uncommon in the media grabbing types. But at ten o'clock the night was still young. On to the Stag's Head - a place I had been told to visit by the guys back in Galway.

As I squeezed my way along the street, feeling more like I was at a football match than outside on a pub-filled lane I passed music-filled air and vibrant crowds. The Stag's Head was just off the main drag, but easy enough to find. But it too was packed. No breathing space in here. One pint later at the upstairs bar and it was already time to leave, my mind just couldn't take it.

I tried a few other places but found the same atmosphere - so loud that you couldn't hear a note of the music. I was suddenly longing for the Blue Crane. Maybe my strategy was all wrong? It was a Friday evening after all and here I was on the main tourist and nightclub drag.

Ok, one last chance. My hostel was located in an altogether different part of town. It was not on a trendy street, surrounded by others of the same. The daytime atmosphere was one of cheap shoe shops and old-men's salons, and I'd noticed a few pubs dotted in between.

I set off along the wet shiny pavement and crossed the Liffey; back to the other side. The streets were emptier here; apart from the occasional group staggering their way home. It was more like the closing time feeling I'd remembered from home.

But then, some lights were on in the distance and musical sounds spewed forth. The pub was small and old looking, but worth a try at that time of night. I walked in. Sitting in the corner was a man singing and playing the acoustic guitar, and folks were listening. I walked up to the bar.

"Pint of Guiness please!" I said

The bar tender winked. 'Good choice!'

As I stood and waited for my black gold to settle, I took the chance to look around. The folks here were dressed differently, normally, not as if they were on a night out. They sat at tables together, no one was alone. Eyes were glinting recognition as the song went along.

'WHOOHOOOOEOO! Play us a fast one Mic. This girl's been promising me a dance all night so she has.'

And the mood changed, the tempo quickened and the tables were pushed to the edge. I picked up my drink and walked closer to the action, using the unattended piano as my guard.

The girls were twirled around and the guys grinned from ear to ear, hair flying everywhere. The chorus! Everyone joined in. The older seated men banged their fists on the tables along with beat. This place was flying.

'So, what's your name?' said the older chap standing next to me.

"Claire" I said

'Surname?'

"Geoghegan."

'Christ, that's a name I know, Geoghegan. What are you doing here?'

"Oh, I just wanted a night out in Dublin before I go back home. It looks like I've come to the right place!"

'Oh yes, that you have. The next dance is mine ok. Now, what'r ya drinking child?'

And the rest of the night was a blur. I danced and chatted and drank and danced. The atmosphere was all inclusive. If you were there, that meant that you were good enough. You'd made the grade, passed the test. I have never felt so non-threatened and happy in such a space.

Oh Ireland, you wonderful land of happy souls.

By 4am the night was coming to a close. The streets were empty and I had to head home. I considered the few paces to my hostel.

'Well then Claire, when will we see you again?'

"I'm not sure I'll be back this side for a while." I said in dismay "but I would if I could. It's been a great night, thanks for your company."

'She's not coming back' he yelled into the thick night air.

'Well in that case we'd best all take a hug while we can' came the reply from the emerging crowd.

So there and then I said goodbye to all my new old friends, and watched as they walked away into the night.

What a wonderful day, full of history and laughter. Dublin is a place where I felt like I was home.
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