Irish cities have plenty of famous sights, says Pól Ó Conghaile. He focuses on smaller, off-radar discoveries in his new book, Secret Dublin.
We all know Grafton St and the Guinness Storehouse. Everybody has wandered through Stephen’s Green, waxed lyrical in a Dublin pub and snapped selfies at the Spire or the busty statue of Molly Malone.
When it came to writing a Dublin guide, however, I was determined to make it as surprising as possible.
Secret Dublin: An Unusual Guide does what it says on the tin. Dublin offers endless opportunities for getting off the tourist grid, and that’s what interested me.
The Book of Kells is world-famous,. But did you know that Trinity College also boasts a zoology museum open to visitors by appointment? Squirrelled away in the zoology department, this bizarre collection contains everything from a stuffed auk to the skeleton of an elephant known as ‘Prince Tom’. Tom was donated to Dublin Zoo by the Duke of Edinburgh, and publicly dissected after his death in 1882.
St Patrick’s Cathedral is familiar to many. What’s less well known is that the relics of another legend — “together with a small vessel tinged with his blood” — lie locked in a small wooden case sealed with wax on Whitefriar St.
St Valentine’s remains ended up in the Carmelite Church after they were gifted to the Irish Carmelites by Pope Gregory XVI in 1836. Every February 14, the reliquary is placed before the high altar, and couples are welcome to attend a Valentine’s Day ceremony that includes a blessing of rings.
It’s not just Dublin that has its secrets. I’ve discovered plenty in other cities too.
Limerick: Hip-Hop & Street Art
If you’ve pounded the pavements of Limerick in recent years, you may have noticed the increasing quantity (and quality) of street art.
Check the bearded man gleaming out from a gable end near King John’s Castle with a Hello Kitty tattoo on his neck — it was painted by Australian artist Smug. At the corner of Thomas and Anne Streets, there’s the haunting face of a spectral child. It’s the work of Dermot McConaghy (DMC).
Several of the pieces were commissioned for the Make a Move Festival of hip-hop and urban culture (makeamove.ie), and there’s more to come in Limerick’s year as City of Culture. This summer, look out for a performance of An T•in that sees Dance Limerick and a host of urban artists unite to develop an indigenous Hip-Hop urban adaptation of the Irish epic tale.
Kilkenny: The Hole in the Wall
The first time I stumbled across the Hole in the Wall (holeinthewall.ie), a wine bar hidden down a lane off Kilkenny’s High St, I found a little post-it note stuck to the front door. On it were two words: ‘Knock Hard.’
I did, and was ushered into one of the quirkiest bars in the country. Captain Arthur Wesley, future Duke of Wellington, is said to have imbibed here in the 1700s, but when Michael Conway bought the 16th century townhouse in 1999, it was badly neglected. He has restored it to include a moody little music venue.
Galway: Lynch’s Window
Key recurring themes in Secret Dublin are the quirky architectural features and historical facts peppered about the city.
In Galway, Lynch’s Window springs to mind as something similar.
Set behind St Nicholas’s Church, this ivy-strewn window is where Mayor and Chief Magistrate James Lynch Fitz-Stephen hanged his son in 1493. His boy killed a man in the family’s care, and Fitz-Stephen oversaw this grisly act of civic justice, despite the general population demanding his son’s release.
Cork: Boolean Logic
Corkonians may be surprised to learn the city could claim responsibility for Google. Ok, I’m going out on a limb here, but it’s certainly true that search engines and computers might not function as they do without George Boole (1815-1864), the first mathematics professor at UCC (then Queen’s College).
Boole invented the prototype of Boolean Logic, and wrote his most famous book, The Laws of Thought, while working in Cork. “He invented a revolutionary way of translating logic into algebraic equations that could be processed by a machine,” as Mary Mulvihill explains on the brilliant atlas.ingeniusireland.ie.
Boole is buried at St Michael’s in Blackrock. A stained glass window in UCC’s Aula Maxima depicts him at his desk, and you’ll also find a plaque at his former house at No 5 Grenville Rd.
Secret Dublin: An Unusual Guide (Jonglez, €17.90) is available at all good bookshops, or on Amazon.co.uk.
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