Dublin is a city for all tastes and all seasons, but this January, nights of glowing pub doorways and amber-lit cobbles will be the perfect host for the city’s biggest traditional Irish music festival. From céilís to galleries, literature to theatre, the capital has it covered.
Dublin’s cultural quarter, creative hub, if there’s something going on you can be sure it’s here hotspot, is undisputedly Temple Bar. The cobbled streets of galleries, theatres, and lively pubs are, on any given day, filled with visitors and long-lunching locals.
So the area has the perfect credentials to kick-start Ireland’s legendary festival calendar on January 25th with Temple Bar Tradfest. Combining cosy pub sessions with outdoor concerts, street performers with pipe bands, and film screenings with storytelling – Tradfest promises nothing less than an Irish music and culture extravaganza. Now seven years old, the five-day schedule is growing in ambition and accessibility – over 200 events are free.
Legendary folk group The Dubliners anchor the festival and are set to perform in the hauntingly beautiful Christchurch Cathedral. The iconic City Hall is another atmospheric venue hosting exhibitions and recitals.
The programme caters to for all levels of interest – you can immerse yourself in back-to-back gigs, or just enjoy the informal sessions in the pubs. Moya Brennan of Clannad deemed the festival “a window for Irish culture”, but then, a Dubliner would argue you’d find windows of culture along every street in the city.
Words worth hearing
Tradfest is not the only show in town – take a break between gigs and you’ll find the city is filled to the brim with museums, pubs and only-in-Dublin experiences.
The literary legacy left by Joyce, Wilde, Beckett, and Swift has ensured this UNESCO City of Literature has stories to tell. Joyce famously declared that if Dublin disappeared it could be reconstructed from the pages of Ulysses, and the streets remain scattered with real-life relics from his novel. Davy Byrnes pub is there, still serving Leopold Bloom’s gorgonzola sandwich. It’s best enjoyed on the Literary Pub Crawl – Dublin’s inimitable pub tour led by actors with literary anecdotes. Victorian chemist Sweny’s, recently saved by Joycean enthusiasts, offers free readings from Joyce’s works, along with the bars of the lemon soap that Bloom carried with him through Ulysses’ pages.
Ulysses actually has competition for the title of Dublin’s most famous book. Beneath the barrel-vaulted library of Trinity College, the wondrously illustrated Book of Kells sits ceremoniously at the center its own exhibition.
Soaking it all in
A pint of Guinness is another icon of the city meriting its own exhibition. Following the smell of hops wafting from St James’s Gate brewery, over a million visitors a year visit the Guinness Storehouse to view a copy of the 9,000-year lease Arthur Guinness signed in 1759, and to taste the fruits of his labour in the panoramic Gravity Bar above the city.
Sharing a pint with a local is a must for visitors, one that a couple of bright-minded Dubliners decided to formalise. The City of a Thousand Welcomes initiative sets out to prove Dublin’s friendly reputation by having a Dubliner meet a visitor for a free cuppa or pint, offering a genuine welcome to their native city.
The astounding value of Dublin’s cultural offerings has not gone unnoticed. The New York Times recently raved about the talent, quality and value of Dublin’s theatrical scene. A ticket for the landmark Gate Theatre and pre-theatre dinner at Michelin-starred Chapter One will give you change from €70.
World-class galleries and museums are free, including the National Gallery, home to Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The Hugh Lane Gallery is finally getting the recognition it deserves for its ambitious relocation of Francis Bacon’s entire London studio.
The Little Museum of Dublin is a quirky new attempt to chronicle the city’s 20th century in hundreds of artefacts. The last item on the guided tour is a letter from Booker Prize winner John Banville, who expresses his regret that the only thing he can think to donate to the museum is his brain, so future visitors can wonder at its smallness.