I could say “good pubs” but for several reasons Ely is a favourite. Besides, that would sound too pretentious. Of course, an awful lot of people seem to consider Ely a little pretentious. While they don’t actively dislike it, it’s bottom of a long list. Too fancy; too “Celtic Tiger”; too yuppy (and when did you last hear anybody use that word – it must really be bad!). I’ll side-step those fears with the simple observation that perhaps it makes sense to judge a pub or bar by the drinks it serves. I’ll even go out on a limb by suggesting that, in general, perhaps it makes sense to judge a business by the quality of its products or services.
At the risk of turning this into a rant (though it will serve to highlight why I like Ely so much), I’m careful to avoid saying Dublin pubs which, by and large, are a disappointment: Heineken, Budweiser, Guinness and Jameson do not a bar make and, despite living in a city where directions really are given in terms of pubs, Dubliners can count on their fingers the number of establishments that make an effort: the Porterhouses and “The Bull and Castle” for beer; Bowe’s and Brooks’ Hotel for whisky/whiskey; Olesya’s, Fallon & Byrne and, of course, the Elys for wine.
I’ll happily suggest going to all of the above at various times but – although it has inexplicably stopped serving O’Hara’s – Ely wins for its locations (a wonderful old Georgian house in the city centre and newer buildings in the docklands overlooking each of the canal docks); its interiors; its refusal to play loud music and, most of all, its book-like, often expensive but always fantastic wine list. I’ve also been known to enjoy their burger.
No, we’re not Hawaii and I realise this may raise a laugh in some quarters but just think: from how many capital city centres can you walk out to the sea-side in just half an hour?
I won’t pretend the weather doesn’t put me off most of the time, too, but when it’s nice outside the beaches are absolutely without doubt my all-time #1 favourite thing about Dublin. Perhaps, however, I should be more precise and say the seaside. Sandymount Strand is actually the only Dublin beach I visit regularly; its low gradient affords it a vast expanse of sand (indeed, the sea is often miles out) upon which huge numbers of walkers spend sunny summer evenings in the shadow of Poolbeg Station, immortalised in every Dublin coastal painting in living memory. Combined with Irishtown Nature Park, it’s one of my favourite places in the world. BBC’s long-running series “Coast” made sure to visit Sandymount when they visited Ireland – worth catching on iPlayer when it appears again – in which a knowledgeable local makes the seldom-noted point that the beaches are one of Dublin’s best-kept secrets.
Beyond Sandymount, a stroll through Blackrock onto Seapoint and finally towards Dun Laoghaire makes for the perfect summer walk: the end of either pier at dusk is rather like a very pleasant version of the end of the world where Armageddon has been averted and actually everything wrapped up pretty well. Usually shared with a handful of determined walkers, you can look out onto the bay across onto the islands just offshore and out further towards the possibility of foreign soil.
Joyce knew the power of the sea: it’s no coincidence Dublin’s coastline is so prominent a character in “Portrait of the Artist”, representing as it does Stephen’s escape from Ireland – escape from the city, for the rest of us. It’s no coincidence either that the DART serves only this hallowed (i.e. wealthy) stretch of coastline: though it may be hard to believe, Dublin’s suburbs developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries in a reasonably sane, sustainable, fashion along its then-extensive transport network. That not-sprawl started with the DART (running at that time only between Westland Row and Dun Laoghaire), the oldest and only surviving part of that network.
Speaking of the DART, I haven’t even mentioned Howth yet…
I will admit there have been one or two angry posts here. Macbooks, the Popcorn Hour and certain films have all incurred my wrath down through the years – a laughable wrath, of course, and I’ve no doubt each has survived the onslaught. However, the venom directed at those items pales in comparison to what Ireland (and Dublin in particular) has injured: the weather, licensing laws, the airport and – of course – the transport have all featured here many times.
I don’t want to retract any of those thoughts but, really, those posts don’t tell the whole story. After all, I’ve lived here almost ten years and if I was really that unhappy I’d have left long before now. A friend of mine enquired about my “Nothing But the Same Old Story” post from earlier this year, posing the excellent question of whether my proposed move was more push or more pull.
So, is Dublin all that bad or is it simply that other countries look so much more attractive? Upon (brief) reflection, it’s the latter. In fact, as I scan back through the archives here, I see many more positive posts than negative – that suggests a largely positive experience and so, as I finally do prepare to leave for fresh pastures, I thought it might be nice to leave behind something nice behind before I leave Dublin behind. Not a rant, but rather a rave.
Or, perhaps, a series of raves: as I wrote this post it soon became dangerously long, so – to paraphrase David Norris (who, come to think of it, should himself be one of the topics) – to save the audience from the risk of fainting from the boredom and give each topic its own post. A highly personal and perhaps controversial list – certainly puzzling to some – of the very best things Dublin has to offer with first in line being…the beaches.