“A little piece of trivia for you, folks,” begins the Santa Claus-looking tour bus driver as we pull away from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. “This cemetery just on the left is where the inventor of the crossword puzzle is buried. You can take a walk through and find his grave. He’s buried at 4-down…and 3 across.” On and on the jokes went as we crisscrossed the River Liffey in the double-decker bus, the old-timer setting them up and knocking them down with the comedic timing of Rodney Dangerfield and the oratory aplomb of Winston Churchill.
“This is the The Anna Livia fountain and statue, though some call her the Skank in the Tank or the Floozie in the Jacuzzi.”
“What do you call a North Dubliner in a suit outside the courthouse? The defendant!”
There are many things to love about Ireland, and Dublin in particular, and at the top of the list is the simple feeling that its inhabitants want visitors to have a good time. Bartenders will advise you to leave their establishment, even when you are quite comfortable on one of their barstools, and visit another with great live music. (Or maybe they just wanted us to leave.) Policemen will even tell your brother where to find a bar that’s still open.
I went to Dublin to rendezvous with my brother (precisely because he is the type of guy who will ask the cops what bars are still open) and two other American friends for a long weekend of tourist-ing and a Jason Isbell concert at the 120-year-old Olympia Theater, which might have the best acoustics of any venue I’ve ever set foot in. Inevitably, each activity in Dublin meandered toward something that involved Guinness because, well, when in Ireland…
We spent three hours on Friday afternoon at the Guinness Brewery at St. James’ Gate. There you can meet people from around the world at the seventh floor Gravity Bar, where the tour concludes…and then seems to continue on for some time depending on the curiosity of your taste buds. The bar was bathed in “brilliant” sunshine the day we visited and it offers panoramic views of the city and even out to the Irish Sea and the WicklowMountains. Because we all have a thirst for culture, the next day, we hopped back on the tour bus and dismounted at the tasting room of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, an experience that was educational, entertaining and a little warm and fuzzy by the end.
Besides the hospitality, the next best thing about Ireland is that restaurants serve potatoes with everything. Even the personable 30-something clerk at St. Patrick’s Cathedral gift shop, where I bought a book called “Irish Potato Recipes” (because that’s where you buy a potato cookbook), blamed his mother’s spud-based dishes for the growth of his waistline upon returning from a stint living overseas. What was less surprising than the fact that he was 35 years old and living at home was that he also dropped F-bombs into the conversation with surprisingly regularity for a guy who was, you know, WORKING INSIDE A GIANT CHURCH!
The highlight of the trip was the show by Isbell. If you don’t know him and you like great lyrics and guitar, do yourself a favor. He and his band the 400 Unit were even better live than I hoped, and my expectations were high. One hour before the show, Isbell actually walked past us on the street in front of the theater. As a young musician, he probably dreamed of moments just like this (sarcasm there), when four American dudes might stop him on a street in Europe and share an awkward fanboy moment. And that’s exactly why I left him alone. Next time, Jason. Next time.
On our final day in Dublin, we escaped the city for a two-hour hike along the coastal trails of Howth, a small town a few miles north of the city where last night’s Guinness and Jamison seem to flow freely from your pores on the up-hills. The sun was shining, the views were spectacular and guess what quenches the thirst at the end of a hike in the Irish countryside? Mmmm Guinness.