Saturday, March 24, 2018

Doing Dublin on the Greenest Day of All

Many years ago, I was excited to find myself in Acapulco on May 5th. Surely, Cinco de Mayo in Mexico would be a tequila-fueled bacchanal for the ages. I went to the hotel's front desk to ask what I should expect. "Well, the banks will be closed. The post office too." "Uh, ok, that's fine. I'm really more interested in the parties. Is it going to be crazy?" -blank stare-

As it turns out, Cinco de Mayo, which is not the Mexican day of Independence (that would be Diecisies de Septiembre) is primarily an American excuse to don sombreros, drink Coronas and eat unlimited nachos.  In Mexico itself, it is not much more than a Federal holiday commemorating an  unlikely victory over the French.

Fast forward to last month, when I learned that I would be spending St Patrick's Day in Dublin. My initial thrill at this news was tempered with the sinking feeling that this could be 5 de Mayo all over again.  And technically I was not wrong. The green beer drinking, leprechaun kissing, fiddle playing festivities, as we know them, originated in the US when Irish transplants were looking to celebrate their heritage (read: wanted an excuse for a good party). In Ireland, it was traditionally a religious holiday during which, shite in a bucket, the sale of alcohol was prohibited.

Not being ones to miss out on a party, particularly one that was ostensibly theirs to begin with, the Irish have come around. Now St Patrick's day in Dublin is the country's biggest party with an estimated 100,000 visitors joining in on the fun.

Make that 100,001. I arrived the day prior, just in time to catch up with the day's last Sandeman Free Walking tour.   As with all their tours, it was an ideal way to get oriented with the city while learning some of its history.

Dublin Castle

Trinity College
For example, do you know what the world's most under-appreciated job is? That title has to belong to Ireland's monument makers. Case in point, the artist who designed what was to be called the Millennium Spire surely thought that this would be the highlight of his career.

Holding a prominent spot on the north side of the river Liffey, it would be a symbol for the city. Of course, that is not exactly how it worked out. First of all, the project was so delayed that the Millennium part had to be dropped from the name. Then the residents of Dublin caught sight of it and more colorful names appeared. It is now known as the Stiletto in the Ghetto, the Erection on the Intersection and my personal favorite, the Stiffy on the Liffey.

A sweet pair of statues of two ladies sitting on a bench with shopping baskets by their feet: The Hags with the Bags.

See how blissfully unaware I am that I, too, am now a hag with a bag.

The tour would normally go through the Temple Bar area, where most of the touristy pubs are but although it was only March 16th, the party was already underway and the guide wisely feared leading his group through the madness. Instead, we walked along the river to the next spot.

As we were walking, he explained the meaning of craic. Pronounced crack, it means a fun time or a party.  One Irish person may ask another "How was the craic last night?" If things went well, the response could be "The craic was mighty" or they may bemoan that "there was no craic" The guide suggested we take the opportunity to ask a cop where we could find some craic, this being the only place where we could get away with such a thing.

When the tour finished up at Trinity College, we took that as our opportunity to get our own craic going across the street at the Whiskey Museum.

Not all of these are mine...
By the time we went back outside, night was beginning to fall and the city was turning green. Literally.

Many of the buildings were lit up as part of the four day St Patrick's celebration.

Eventually we made it back to the Temple Bar area, where the streets were still overflowing with drunken revelers.

We joined them for a little while- when in Dublin- but were home by midnight in order to proceed with the next day's plan. The next morning was the St Patrick's Day parade and even though the temperature was in the 20's, we were going.

I am certain that the parade had a theme. What exactly that was, was a question that kept us puzzled for the duration. At the time, I thought perhaps my brain was frozen and that was why I saw no obvious connection between the bug people, the spikey things and the benevolent bird god.

But no. Looking back at the photos, I still have no clue. One thing we can all agree on is that Purdue does have one very large drum.

Another point of universal agreement is that standing in that kind of cold for several hours can make anyone long for a warm pub and a cold pint. Once the parade was over, we joined all 100,000 visitors and an equal number of locals trying to find just that.

The day before I had asked our guide for St Paddy's recommendations. His advice was simple. Find any bar, get there early and stay put. 

This took a couple of tries as every place was jammed pack but we ended up hunkering down at the very festive Vat House Bar.  To quote one of the musicians "I was planning on drinking anyways because of St Patrick's but if Ireland wins today, I getting doubly soused."

Yes. In addition to everything else that was going on, the Irish rugby team was playing in the finals of the Six Nations Tournament. Against England. In England. On freaking St Patrick's Day! It was all anyone was talking about.

I have stated before that I am convinced that Rugby has no rules and they are making it up as they go along.  Nothing I saw during this game changed my opinion one bit but Ireland did win 24-15 pushing a frenzied crowd way beyond the breaking point.

Strangers were hugging, drinks were flowing and the band played Whiskey in A Jar for possibly the 5th time that hour.

Eventually, it was time to go to church. Not to pray for our sins, because  frankly I regret nothing. We were hungry. The Church is a restored 18th century church that is now a giant bar/ restaurant. Back in its church days, the founder of the Guinness brewery was married there, possibly sealing its eventual fate.

For the remainder of the evening, we enjoyed a great Irish meal, listened to traditional Irish music and watched as the snow really started coming down outside.

Any concerns about being disappointed with Dublin's St Patrick's day celebration had now been permanently dismissed. We had come, we had partied, we had the most of mighty of craics.

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