20 May 2013, Monday
In spite of a late start—about half an hour—from Chicago, my flight still landed right on time in Dublin: eight o’clock in the morning. Early! My bags came off the plane very quickly—more good fortune—and I hustled through customs and out to meet Gerry.
From there we went to the car rental desk, but this time we didn’t have to ride the shutttle to their off-site location; the car was right at the airport. Somehow it’s mellower when you get the paperwork done in the terminal. “You got a very good rate on this,” the clerk said. The hits just kept coming.
We ran right home to Gerry’s place for my first official Irish fry-up. Gerry gets his white and black pudding from a butcher who has his own recipe; the sausages were from a grocery chain called Superquinn. (And when you say “Superquinn” around any of Gerry’s family, you immediately get this rejoinder: “Best sausages in Ireland!” I’m a brand-loyal shopper myself, so I can relate.)
There wasn’t much on the agenda for this day, and that’s a good thing. I’ve never thought I slept particularly well on that Atlantic flight, but there is a big difference between uncomfortable, crick-in-the-neck plane sleep (which is, after all, some sleep) and a screaming baby in your aisle (which is, not to put too fine a point on it, no sleep). I was already exhausted. Normally I get a second wind after my first Irish breakfast … but I couldn’t even locate a second breeze.
So we piddled around. Gerry had gotten me a new camera, and he taught me how to use it. (A little Canon EOS-M—I love it!) Then we went out looking for a few grocery items I wanted to pick up. On my last trip to Ireland, I’d purchased a jar of Sarah’s Wonderful Honey at a farm shop—and loved it. Wanted more. We found three varieties at Tesco. We ran over to Superquinn (“best sausages in Ireland”) to have a look, just in case. Then we went to our hotel.
Hotels are not inexpensive in Ireland (you’ll get a better rate at a B&B), but Americans will find the bathrooms (rooms in general) a bit more spacious in a hotel. Elevators are a nice touch too. And if you’re willing to pay in full in advance, you can find very good rates indeed. I did this and was not disappointed. This trip was to be primarily a Dublin tour, with places to be visited both inside the city centre and a little further out—so I split the time between a city centre hotel and one near Gerry’s place.
That was the airport Bewley’s. It’s a weird parking situation, because they’re in the park-and-fly business too. So the lot (the carpark!) is always active; lots of business travelers. (There’s three places to park—outside, or in the basement, floor A or floor B. You should opt for floor B: fewer cars.) In fact, the lobby is always active too. It’s a busy hotel, and the desk staff tends to be a little terse. It’s not a touchy-feely friendly place, but it’s quiet upstairs, and comfortable enough. (Be sure you take the airport shuttle at least once, as you’ll get a little country tour on the way … a sight you might not otherwise see.)
After we got settled, we went for an early dinner at a place just up the coastal road in Clontarf. As in any large city, there are neighborhoods that were once villages in their own right, and that’s the case here. Clontarf used to be an isolated, sleepy little fishing village right on the sea just north of Dublin Port. It’s grown to be a nice, upscale Dublin suburb but it is still quiet and has that village atmosphere.
Margaret and I had looked in at the Sandbar Trattoria last September when we were here, and everything looked fresh and good. The restaurant sits right at the intersection of the Clontarf Road and Vernon Avenue, in the heart of the village.
After dinner we walked a couple doors down to have a look at the church, which is St. John the Baptist’s Catholic church. In his wonderful blog, my friend Patrick Comerford offers this bit of history on the church—
The church dates to the appointment of the Revd James Callanan as Parish Priest of Clontarf in 1829. He bought a house that is now home the Holy Faith Convent, and approached Colonel Vernon of Clontarf Castle for a site for a new church. Archbishop Murray laid foundation stone on 16 June 1835, and it opened in 1838. The church was designed by the prominent Dublin architect, Patrick Byrne. The church was enlarged in 1895, with the addition of 17 ft at the chancel end, a new high altar, pulpit, altar rails, sacristy, bell and belfry.
—and a nice photo taken when the gates were open. (They were not when we were there.)
Then we walked across the street … to the sea.
There’s a beautiful walk along the beach: paved, well-lit, and scenic.
And then I recognized a landmark that Gerry had told me about long ago: the Poolbeg Chimneys, Dubliners call them. They are part of the ESB’s Poolbeg Generating Station at Ringsend, on the south bank of Dublin Port. The thermal station chimneys—number 1 is 680 feet 9 inches tall, number 2 is 681 feet 9 inches—are some of the tallest structures in Ireland, and you can see them from all over Dublin city. There’s been a power station on this spot since 1903, but construction for the Poolbeg station began in the 1960s. Tower number 1 was completed in 1971, number 2 in 1978.
A new, more efficient station was built on the site in the 1990s, so the towers are no longer used or maintained; the ESB wants to tear them down. But for folks born in the last fifty or so years, they are a powerful symbol of home. (Look here if you want to see more.) So … they remain, for now. And there they were, right there!
After that I was pretty much done. I’d been up more than twenty-four hours. So we went back to the hotel and crashed.