For some of us Ireland is the home of Riverdance, Father Ted and potatoes, but for others it’s known as the old country, which meant many a Summer holiday was spent on the back of a coach to and from Donegal.
My first stop is Dublin. The Garda at customs are cheery and welcoming which is strange in itself, but sets the tone for a wonderful few days in Ireland’s capital.
I stayed at Fleet Street Hotel on, you guessed it, Fleet Street in Temple Bar – Dublin’s culture district. For 73€ (£62) expect a no-frills / no-breakfast room that’s so small you’ll need to walk into your bathroom sideways – I mean, I know I am a larger lady but I’m not that big. Nothing says ‘enjoy your stay’ more than manoeuvring your flab to get into the shower. I leave the next day and opt for something the other end of town that has sketchy Tripadvisor reviews, but at 50€ who’s complaining? The Phoenix Park Hotel is in fact spacious, extremely clean and surprisingly, really good value for money.
Temple Bar is full of wonderful cafés – if it’s a posh breakfast or fancy slice of something calorific you’re after then head to Queen of Tarts just off Dame Street. Try the salmon and eggs with homemade bread! If it’s a quick cup of posh coffee that’s your poison, then drop into The Kitchen on Essex Street East – the landlady has a genius backcombed beehive rocker look going on – nuff said!
Being nostalgic, I pop into Bewley’s on Grafton Street. The last time I visited I was 13 years old, which isn’t the best reason to visit anywhere, but I wasn’t disappointed. In the heart of Dublin’s shopping centre, Bewley’s is a Dublin institution serving posh tea and cake since 1927. Although it’s a bit of a tourist trap and on first glance the prices seem a little steep, it’s well worth a visit. 30€ bought two rounds of Bewley’s own blend of tea, a meze platter and possibly the best brownie I’ve ever eaten. It was the size of my fist, with cream and hot chocolate sauce – fit!
If it’s culture you are after, then Dublin has a lot on offer – your first point of call should be Project Arts Centre, it houses two spaces showcasing a really meaty programme of Irish and international work, as well as a gallery and a nice little café. If you can get over in April for Live Collision International Festival then do. Some really exciting live art is happening in Ireland and this is a great opportunity to see it.
Anyone with a sense of humour who likes a bevvy should head over to The George. It would be lazy to call this a show bar because you’ll be expecting Liza covers in sequin frocks – which is only half true. Wednesday nights are headed up by Veda – a 6ft something red head that comfortably moves from doing Shirley Ellis numbers to Patrick Wolf covers with a wind machine and silly string and the alt’ doesn’t stop there – Davina Devine lip syncs the politics of manhood and Candy Warhol, well see for yourself. You have to stop by on Sunday night for Dublin’s Dame Shirley Temple Bar’s bingo – you’re playing for 200€ for a line so it’s well worth the punt, but Shirley’s performance is the main attraction – she’s cutting, she hates her public but she gives good face and great numbers!
Next stop Cork – Ireland’s 2nd largest city is only 2 hours by Irish Rail from Heuston station. I’ve been told a lot of things about the South, mainly from my Grandad, which wouldn’t be appropriate to repeat, but all of which were proven wrong. Cork welcomes any outsider with open arms.
On my first day in town I leave my bag with passport, euros, laptop and hard drive in Iyer’s – the place for south Asian food in Cork. When I return it’s still there with everything still in the bag – Cork is heart warmingly honest like that. Iyer’s dosas are to die for too! Cork Opera House is a great little hangout; its programme is varied from The Sound of Music to Martha Wainwright. The menu boasts great European dishes and even though it’s busy it has the Cheers-factor – “where everybody knows your name”.
Cork has a great little art scene – Cork Film Centre has a brilliant space that showcases video art from local and international talent as well as supporting local film-makers with equipment and editing suites. Civic Trust Building houses Cork’s cultural companies including the Midsummer Festival that presents innovate performance over 2 weeks in June each year.
My favourite Cork hang out is The Electric – a deco building in the heart of Cork’s high street. 20€ will buy you a great bottle of wine and a sharing board of delicious local cheeses – considering the wine is 18€ on its own, The Electric is value for money in a beautiful setting overlooking the river Lee. If you want local ales try the Franciscan Well and have the Blarney Blonde (with or without the 4 packets of Tatyo’s crisps me and my host Sandra scoffed).
Ireland is welcoming and warm which makes it an ideal get-away for the solo traveller. My feelings towards Ireland are no longer associated with sick bags on bumpy rural roads but of the generosity of its people. Visit Ireland and leave the clichés on the low cost airline plane – you won’t be disappointed.