A Self-Guided History Tour Through Dublin, Ireland
By: Tom Malone - Summer 2017
Dublin is full of history; it has been inhabited by people since prehistoric times. Ptolemy referred to Dublin as an official settlement when he wrote about it in 140 a.d. In 988 a.d., the Irish officially established what would become the modern city of Dublin.
Vikings invaded the city in the 900s and established their own colony, though all of Dublin would be overtaken by the Norman invasion from England in 1169.
Since then, Dublin has been built up, with newer buildings intermingling with older ones. Walking through Dublin is literally walking through history. A brand new apartment building may be squeezing in next to an original 13th-Century Norman church.
We could have taken a guided tour of Dublin for a hefty price. Instead, we decided to stroll through the easily walkable city for a few hours and give yourself a guided tour. Here was our path:
Saint Stephen’s Green
This open space in south Dublin was crafted in 1633, but its most recent history comes from the Easter Rising of 1916, when the Irish rebelled against English rule and persecution. St. Stephen’s Green was occupied by Irish troops and held as a crucial battle field. The green includes key sites and moments from the Easter Rising throughout the park to satisfy the historian in all of us. The park played such a key role in Dublin society that Dublin author James Joyce featured it as a setting often in his novels and short stories.
Crafted in 1752 as another natural open space for Dubliners, this territory was also a major influence for Irish author and playwright, Oscar Wilde, who grew up just next door. In fact, the northwest entrance to the park features the Oscar Wilde Memorial.
Oscar Wilde House
Author of The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Wilde lived in house No. 21 on Westland Row in 1854, just down the street from Merrion Square, though he occupied other apartments in the city throughout this life.
Founded in 1592 near the center of Dublin, this world-renowned college still functions as a thriving place of learning. With building from the original campus mixing with modern industrial campus buildings, strolling through Trinity College is a historical look into the world of education.
Book of Kells
Located in the library of Trinity College, the Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript created by Irish Catholic monks in 800. The pages have been so perfectly preserved that you can see the book just as it was in the 800s, when dozens of similar books were crafted by these Irish monks over the course of many years as their life’s work. Get there early; the line can be long.
House of Lords
Built in 1729 as the world’s first purpose-built two-chamber parliament house, this massive complex served as the meeting place for the Irish Parliament until 1801, when the British government abolished the Irish Parliament in further attempts to derail Irish independence. In 1803, the building was purchased by the Bank of Ireland as its headquarters.
Originally used by incoming ships to pay their tolls and taxes into Dublin’s harbor, the Custom House was built in 1791. It became a government building that eventually housed mainly British government offices. In the 1921 Irish War of Independence, the Irish Republican Army nearly burned the Customs House to the ground, though the new Irish Free State restored it using only Irish products.
General Post Office
Constructed in 1818, this building would become the epicenter for Irish independence in the decades to come. In 1916, Irish rebels came out of hiding and revealed themselves in front of the General Post Office and read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which began the Easter Rising. Battle ensued, cementing the General Post Office as a symbol for Irish freedom from Britain.
James Joyce Statue
Across the street from the General Post Office is a modern statue of the famous Dublin author, James Joyce. The unassuming statue honors the man that wrote about Ireland during one of its most desperate and tumultuous periods in history.
James Joyce Centre
Located a few minutes’ walk north of the statue is the newly completed James Joyce Centre, which seeks to educate people about the author and the times he depicted. With the original door from the since-destroyed No. 7 Eccles Street house from Ulysses, the Centre does a phenomenal job giving visitors an inexpensive look into the life and times of James Joyce.
Built in 1784, this theatre has housed hundreds of shows since before the U.S. Constitution was completed. The theatre still functions for its original purpose and shines as an example of Irish art.
Easter Rising Surrender Site
A few streets west of the General Post Office is the site of the 1916 surrender of the Easter Rising rebels. Though the Easter Rising was squashed by the British military, the spirit of rebellion and freedom echoed through Dublin, making this surrender more a battle cry to push forward with the Irish War of Independence that ensued a few years later.
Saint Mary’s Abbey Chapter House
Though much of the building has since crumbled, there are plenty of remains from the 1190 a.d. nunnery that you cans till visit. It sits tucked away in a modern alley near a youth hostel, but if you know where to look, you’ll see it.
Fruit and Vegetable Market
Beginning in 1892, the fruit and vegetable market near St. Mary’s Abbey still thrives each weekend. With local farmers coming in from just outside of Dublin, you can buy fresh food from the Irish farms in the same way that Irish people have done in Dublin for about 125 years.
Old Jameson Distillery
In 1780, John Jameson began making Irish whiskey on Bow Street. The original distillery is still here. At its peak, the distillery occupied five acres. Throughout the 1800s, the heat from the distillery barrels provided warmth for the poor Irish people who would curl up against them for warmth. Most of the original distillery walls have crumbled, but you can enter the portions of the ones that still stand. And, you can tour the updated distillery, or just sit at the bar where people have sampled Jameson for centuries.
The original Stoneybatter Road dates back to 100 b.c. when Dublin was an ancient Celtic settlement. More than a millennium later, the legendary Little John figure of Robin Hood fame lived just off of Stoneybatter Road before heading off to England to battle the forces of Prince John (who later became Lord of Ireland himself before becoming King of England).
Sean Heuston Bridge
Constructed in 1828, the Sean Heuston Bridge has remained an iconic symbol of Dublin for nearly 200 years and stands as a testament to Irish development at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
With the same namesake as the nearby bridge, this 1844 train station looks impressive from the outside. But the most impressive feature comes from the fact that this is one of the oldest continually operational train stations in the world.
We all know Guinness and Dublin go hand-in-hand. The iconic dark beer has been a staple of the Irish pub since it first began in 1759. Visit the old brewery and storehouse, and be sure to take a picture in front of the world-famous Saint James’ Gate.
Brazen Head Inn
Near the old Viking settlement in Dublin, the Brazen Head Inn has been a functional tavern since 1198. Though the building has likely been destroyed and rebuilt, and destroyed and rebuilt, people have been enjoying a pint on this exact location for almost 1,000 years.
Old Dublin City Walls
When Dublin was inhabited by native Celts, Vikings, and English invaders, the English section of town constructed a three-story stone wall to keep out the other groups. The wall dates back to 1215; enter through the original main city gate that still stands to this day.
Saint Audoen’s Church
In the 1100s, the English built a church in their section of town just after they captured some territory. The church still stands. It has been expanded over the centuries, but the small original church area remains mostly intact. Unlike a lot of historic churches throughout Europe, this one is free to tour through.
Christ Church Cathedral
This massive cathedral is worth an hour of your time. Built in 1030 as a Catholic cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral exemplifies the glory of the Middle Ages in Ireland. After King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in the 1530s to form the Church of England, Christ Church became the main Anglican cathedral in Ireland, which rivaled the nearby Irish Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The stained glass windows, mosaic tiled floors, and dramatic architecture make this an iconic Dublin historical spot. Take a walk through the church’s crypt and view some of the treasures that the church has acquired through the years, including an original copy of the Magna Carta sent to Ireland from England in the early 1200s.
This medieval fortress was built in 1204, just before the construction of the Old City Walls. Take a tour through the well-preserved castle, which served as the head seat of British government in Ireland until 1922.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
The Irish Catholic equivalent to English Protestant Christ Church (and just down the street), this world-famous cathedral was built in 1192 on the repudiated site of Saint Patrick’s baptismal spring. Once administered by Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels), this massive church stands as a monument to the Irish Catholics in Dublin that undertook centuries of persecution. The cathedral is impressive in scale and art, and completely worth the entrance fee.
Oldest Recorded House in Dublin - No. 21 York Street
According to Dublin city records, the oldest still-standing house in the city resides at No. 21 York Street. Built in 1680, this unassuming historical marker serves as a window into daily life in Dublin in the 1600s.