These words, forming a pink lettered neon sign, were written across the top of the Clarence Hotel when I first visited Dublin in October of 1997. It was a temporary installation, part of the Dublin Literary Festival. Neon quotes appeared all over the city center, recalling the words of writers who have lived in and written about Dublin – Joyce, Shaw, Beckett, Swift, Wilde … I wish these modern, poetic sign writings had been retained, as a unique tribute to the writers who shaped the literary heritage of this vital city. Jonathan Swift, the 18thcentury author of Gu/liver‘s Ttevels, would not recognize the new dynamic Dublin, which he once described as “the most disagreeable place in Europe.” W.B. Yeats referred to his hometown as “blind and ignorant.” Criticized roundly by most of the writers now lionized by the city they spurned, contemporary Dublin is a favored European weekend destination, the most visited city after Paris by Dublin hookups.
Like the French capital, it is a city for walking – to savor the architecture and rub shoulders with Dubliners. With a fine collection of low-rise l Sth-cenrury buildings, wide streets and intimate pubs, this is a city of human proportions. Molly Malone may be a fond memory, but traders and buskers still work the busy streets. The heart of a revitalized Eire, modern Dublin has more buzz than blarney. The Ireland of leprechauns and begorrahs, for so long part of the Irish myth, is not to be found here, although the brogue is still evident. The Clarence Hotel edges a maze of cobbled streets known as the Temple Bar district, the city’s social hub. The building’s solid stone frontage overlooks the River Liffey, situated on Dublin’s “left bank,” between the Grattan and Ha’penny Bridges.
From its beginnings as a railway hotel in 1852, the Clarence has projected architectural dignity, a quality it retained even at its most shabby in the 1970s. Generations of Guinness and whiskey drinkers have frequented its bars. Bought by Bono and The Edge, members of the Dublin-based rock group U2, the Clarence has been restored as a spacious and aristocratic-feeling small hotel. A pale background of oak, leather and stone sets off its Arts and Crafts style. Traditional and contemporary are cleverly combined, with a simplicity reminiscent of Shaker design. Hotel staff are dressed in sharp gray suits with just a hint of the cassock in the cut of their jackets.
The warm relaxing environment is underpinned by the use of rich color – crimson, royal blue, purple, gold and chocolate – never all combined in the one scheme. Colorful and covetable original artwork by Irish artist Guggi is on show throughout the hotel.
The Study projects the feel of a country house or a gentlemen’s club. This is a comfortable place to settle into the leather chairs, read the newspapers and sip coffee (or something stronger) as the soft Irish light filters through the high windows.
The Reading Room Study
The stylish Octagon bar and especially the snug wood-paneled back bar tempt you to an Irish beer or whiskey, in that quintessential Irish establishment, the pub.
In the former ballroom, the Tea Room Restaurant offers a mouth-watering menu. Posted on the wall of the “back door” to the Ciarence, in Temple Bar, this also attracts passersby in search of good food.
The Penthouse Suite with grand piano, bar, great sound system, private garden terrace and open-air hot tub is a place to feel like a visiting member of the rock aristocracy. It offers one of the best views of Dublin, across to the Wicklow mountains and Dublin Bay.
If you want to get out and about, it is a short stroll to Grafton Street shopping, galleries, theaters, cafes, restaurants, clubs and bars, both traditional and contemporary. An impressive collection of contemporary design is on display and [or sale in the Irish Craft Centre, five minutes’ walk from the hotel. The parks of Merrion Square and St. Step hen’s Green are the city’s “emerald islands.” They are lovely even on “soft days” – an Irish euphemism for rainy weather.
A bedroom view
The “Celtic Tiger” can be heard as well as seen, with renovation and rebuilding underway throughout the city and new hotels, restaurants and bars opening at a rapid rate in response to the growing number of visitors and locals. Ireland’s economic success is founded on benevolent tax laws for overseas investors and European Union money. The mood of confidence and the country’s positive international profile have seen many ex-pats return to their homeland to share in its newfound pride.
‘When the sun goes down, this is a party town. Not much of the old Irish puritanism is here – Dublin has the youngest population in Ireland, and even the no-longer-young act it. The city stays up late. The huge number of pubs caters to virtually every musical taste from folk through to contemporary. Many weekend “riverdancers” who come to trip the light fantastic go home with a hangover they may not think so grand on Monday.
Visitors can retrace the steps of past Dublin writers on the Literary Pub Crawl, the best excuse for drinking and talking I’ve ever heard. Actors, not short of a well-crafted witty line themselves, guide the tours of pubs where many of the city’s famous (and infamous) drank and claimed their inspiration. Soaking up “culture” while testing the local beverages is an appealing combination even now.
For somewhere much quieter, no talking or drinking allowed, the Library at Trinity College is a bibliophile’s dream, with its timber-vaulted ceiling and rows of books. The university is also the guardian of the Book of Kells, the treasured ninth-century illuminated manuscript of the Gospels.
Dublin was the focal point of the struggle for and against home rule. The General Post Office still bears the scars of the violent 1916 Easter Uprising, and it remains the favorite starting point for demonstrations. Also the site of the 1921 Declaration of Independence, the post office is on O’Connell Street, a broad avenue on the north side of the River Liffey, now seen as the less gentrified “new” city.