22 O'Connell Street Upper, North City, Dublin, Ireland
Welcome to Historic America & UCPlaces’ audio walking tour of Dublin. I’m Rachel, your guide. I invite you to use #historicamericatours on social media while we’re traveling together today. Let’s begin!
You’re standing in the heart of Dublin, on O’Connell Street. A main thoroughfare for centuries, it’s only been called O’Connell street since the Irish won their fight for Independence from Great Britain in 1921. In 1924, the street was renamed after nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell. In the Georgian Era, this thoroughfare was the most fashionable place in the city, but war and political unrest transformed the social and architectural landscape of this historic street. A handful of venerable buildings remain, including the General Post Office, built in 1818, Clerys Department Store, built in 1822, and the oldest of the lot, and the first stop on our tour today, the Gresham Hotel built in 1817.
The Gresham opened as a lodging house that catered to the wealthy aristocracy. Members of Parliament would often stay here en route to or from London. The structure was significantly damaged during the Irish Civil War that followed directly after Ierland’s guerilla style fight for independence from Great Britain, but many of the Gresham’s original features remain, including the Waterford crystal chandeliers that decorate the interior. A Dublin institution, and a landmark building, this 4 star, 288 guest room hotel was renovated in 2013 and then sold to the RIU Hotels & Resorts brand in 2016 for €92 million.
Most of the businesses and buildings on O’Connell street were damaged or destroyed during the Irish Civil War. In the wake of the war’s destruction, city planners seized the opportunity to modernize old O’Connell street, and we can see the mix of old and new as we traverse the busy district today. When you’re ready, make your way to our next stop; a building with large metallic lettering spelling out the word “Savoy.”
17 O'Connell Street Upper, North City, Dublin, Ireland
The Savoy Cinema is the oldest operational cinema in Dublin, and it is the preferred cinema in Ireland for film premières. This massive movie house rose from the ashes of the Granville Hotel, a building leveled during the Irish Civil War. Part of O'Connell Street's wave of revitalization, the Savoy Cinema opened on November 29th, 1929, and boasted nearly 2,900 seats! Designed by architect FC Mitchell, the theater was built in the atmospheric style.
Atmospheric buildings recreate a specific time and place that is different from the reality outside the structure’s doors. In the case of the Savoy, patrons felt as though they’d been transported to a Venetian courtyard. The interior walls featured building facades found in Venice, a decorative arch above the large screen was modeled after the Rialto bridge, and the Doge’s Palace was painted on the title curtain. The breathtaking ceiling was painted sky blue, and soared over the grand auditorium, evoking the sensation of walking down a sunlit Italian canal path. Unfortunately, most of these elements were removed during various renovations, reconfigurations and reimaginations. The Savoy is the oldest cinema, but it is also the most altered. In 1969, the massive single screen was divided in two, and in 1975, it was divided into three screens. The theater is now a 13 screen cinema and features LUXX screens that are equipped with deluxe recliner seats and state-of-the-art sound systems. Although streaming platforms and a global pandemic threatened the movie going experience, the Savoy celebrates almost a century of success and still welcomes an average of 250,000 patrons annually.
Use the navigation to continue on O’Connell and left onto North Earl. I’ll meet you at the statue of a gentleman with a cane.
O'connel street, North City, Dublin 1, Ireland
Irish culture carries a rich tradition of storytelling and an affection for the art of language; poetry and literature are arguably Ierland’s most endearing gifts. Some well known Irish authors include Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, William Butler Yaeats, Oscar Wilde, and the fellow here with the cane, James Joyce.
Joyce’s works often delved into the seedier side of city life, and used a modern, stream of consciousness style to narrate. His most famous works - Ulysses and The Dubliners - are both set in Dublin. In Ulysses the reader is immersed in the markets, brothels, hospitals and pubs of turn of the century Dublin for a single, specific day; June 16th, 1904. Never is Ireland’s devotion to Joyce more apparent than on June 16th each year. “Bloomsday”, the national holiday named after Leopold Bloom, the protagonist in the novel Ulysses. Bloomsday is celebrated with performances, public readings, and other commemorative festivities.
The statue before you celebrates Dublin’s most beloved author not just on Bloomsday, but all year long. Designed by Irish-American sculptor Marjorie FitzGibbon, it was unveiled in 1990. Joyce stands with his legs crossed and his left hand placed casually in his coat pocket. He was intended to look calm, comfortable, and peaceful. However, the upward tilt of his head and expression on his face have led some to interpret Joyce the statue’s demeanor as smug.
Cross from here to the middle median, I’m sure the shiny Spire of Dublin has already caught your eye. Sometimes called the Monument of Light, this piece of public art was the centerpiece of another rejuvenation of O’Connell street that took place in the early 2000s. Along with the spire, a granite plaza. Designed by architect Ian Ritchies, the spire is both elegant and simplistic, symbolizing a bridging of the gap between art and technology.
Look across the street and you’ll see the General Post Office. Built in 1818, it’s best remembered for what happened here on Easter weekend in 1916. Ierand had been under British control for centuries, when the Proclamation of Independence was signed and read. This act of resistance was on a continuum that eventually led to the establishment of a free state in 1922, and the establishment of the Republic of Ireland in 1949. In front of this building, Nationalist writer and revolutionary Patrick Pearse kicked off the Easter Rising, when he read aloud the Proclamation of the Republic. The document was issued by the Irish Citizen Army, and this post office served as rebel headquarters, during the bloody 5 day siege that followed a public proclamation.
The building bares the wounds of war, upon close examination you'll see the pillars and walls are pocked with bullet marks. The British, although fully immersed in WWII, responded swiftly, shipping in thousands of soldiers and artillery, even staging a gunboat. Sheer numbers and superior weaponry gave the British an advantage and the rebellion was quickly quelled. Sixteen revolutionaries were arrested and shot at a nearby prison, Kilmainham Gail. The executions, rather than the rallying cry of rebels during the uprising, shifted public sympathy and inspired more Irish than ever before to join the cause of independence from the British. They were martyrs, and just a few years later, Ireland was free. Although the uprising failed in military terms, the principles of the Proclamation influenced Irish culture and politics for generations to come.
When you’re ready, use the navigation to arrive at our next stop, Clery’s clock.
1 O'Connell Street Lower, North City, Dublin 1, Ireland
“Meet me under Clerys Clock” is a phrase many Dubliners have heard before, as the clock here at Clerys Department Store has long been a rendezvous spot for folks meeting on O’Connell Street.
Once you snap a pic of the iconic Dublin landmark, cross back to the center median and over to the statue of Jim Larkin just ahead. Atop a granite base is a larger than life figure with arms outstretched, the statue is based on a photograph of “Big Jim” Larkin taken in 1923. Larkin was an Irish republican, socialist, and trade union leader. He played a pivotal role in the 1913 Dublin lock-out, a dispute between roughly 20,000 workers trying to unionize, and 300 employers, which is remembered as a watershed moment in Irish political history. The front of the statue reads: “The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise.”, and on the side of the statue you’ll see an excerpt from the poem written by Patrick Kavanagh, speaking to the deep impact Larkin had on Irish memory.
Continue to walk along the median, passing monuments for more Irish politicians John Gray and Willian Smith O’Brian. We’re making our way to the statue depicting this street’s namesake, Danielle O’Connell. You can use the built-in navigation and meet me there.
1 O'Connell Bridge, lake, Dublin, Ireland
Daniel O’Connell is one of Ireland's most famous, and most admired political leaders. O’Connell was born Catholic in British Ireland in 1775. British colonization of Ierland brought with it the Penal Laws, a series of Seventeenth and early Eighteenth century discriminatory laws, and disenfranchised the Catholic population, regulating religious practice, political participation and land ownership. O’Connell’s family, despite the legal codes, had the means to educate their son in France and England. When O’Connell returned home to Ierland in 1795 he was a man of the Enlightenment, an abolitionist, and was inspired to mobilize the Catholic majority, down to the poorest class of tenant farmers.
He was initially quite successful in his pursuits for equality, and secured Irish Catholic emancipation in 1829, which allowed him to serve in Parliament, where he was twice elected. O'Connell championed liberal and reform causes against the backdrop of a growing financial crisis and the Great Famine, and contended with dissension and criticism in his final years. His legacy though is treasured and he is remembered as the great liberator of the Irish Catholic majority, for so long oppressed by Protestant minority rule. This statue, designed by John Henry Foley, was unveiled in 1882 and stands on top of a granite base, the four sides reminding us of the values O’Connell embodied: courage, fidelity, patriotism, and eloquence.
Use the built-in navigation, and let’s cross the O’Connell Bridge and let’s take in the view of the River Liffey. Bare right on the bridge.
255 Bachelors Walk, North City, Dublin, Ireland
The River Liffey divides the city of Dublin, and you could easily spend a day crossing back and forth on its unique mix of bridges, from very old to very new. The Ha’Penny, the Samuel Beckett, and this bridge, The O’Connell are my personal favorites. You can make your way across the bridge and enjoy the views as I talk.
The history of all civilization starts and ends with water, and the River Liffey is Dublin’s story. Here on the eastern shore of this northwest European island, where the Liffy and Poddle Rivers converge and empty to the Irish Sea, archaeological evidence has the Celts arriving around 700 BC, and St Patrick brought Christianity in 435 AD. A Viking trading post was established in the 9th Century, and Dublin became the largest Viking settlement outside of Scandinavia. The Vikings called it Diflin, which in the Celtic language of gaelic is Dublin. Ireland experienced generations of strife and war; from the Vikings, the Anglo-Norman conquest, to British Colonization.
Resistance to British rule in Ireland existed as long as the rule did. And while most of the country remained Catholic and rural, Dublin became an urban center of wealth and commerce second only to London in the British Empire. The 18th Century was the Golden Age for British Ierland. At the height of the Empire’s ruthless colonization and rapid wealth building, Dublin emerged as an elegant and sophisticated capital, complete with its own Parliament. Much of the architecture and design we find about the city today, from historic buildings, to wide streets, to the first Guinness brewery–are all products of the late 18th Century! Alongside the prosperity and progress on display in Dublin; notions of Revolution spread from the American colonies to France; talk of human rights, nationalism.
The Irish, too, would fight for their right to govern themselves, but an unsuccessful revolt against the British in 1798 set Ireland up for another century of turmoil. The 1845 potato famine, the closing of parliament, World War 1 and the Easter Rising in 1916 marked the time. Ireland won the war for her Independence in 1921, but this triumph was followed immediately by the tragedy of a Civil War. The 20th Century found Dublin a thriving modern city, rich in history and proud of its past.
And the Liffey supports life in Dublin in a very direct way; about 60% of the river water is siphoned off to become the city’s drinking water. Most of it is returned to the river after a water purification process. The river is also a hub of recreation for the city, supporting various activities such as canoeing, rowing, swimming, and rafting.
We’re making our way to the old Parliament building, Parliament House, just use the navigation to proceed.
10 O'Connell Bridge, Dublin, Ireland
19 Fleet St, Dublin 2, D02 WP97, Ireland
Follow the street as it gently curves to the right, and make your way to the front of the building. The grand colonnaded facade of the old Dublin Parliament building was constructed during the reign of George II, the cornerstone was laid in 1729 and it was completed in 1739. Its deeply Georgian architecture makes it one of the most beautiful and more recognizable buildings in Dublin.
The E-shaped front, supported by Ionic columns, is flanked by a semi-circular layout that spans nearly 1.5 acres . You may also note a lack of windows. Some historians think this was less a design choice rather than a budgetary discretion due to window tax; a popular way to levy revenue, the amount of tax paid on a property was determined by the number of windows in the building.
Most fascinating about the architecture is the intent behind it: it's the world's first purpose-built bicameral parliamentary building; meaning it was built to house Ireland’s two chamber parliament, rather than an existing structure being converted to host the political process. Indeed, the building’s design was revolutionary and has inspired many copycats, like the British Museum and the United States Capitol.
However, despite its intentional design, the building wouldn't be a house of parliament for very long. In 1800, two parallel pieces of legislation, both called the Act of Union, were passed through both the Irish and the British Parliament. William Pitt the Younger, then Prime Minister of Britain, had promised sweeping reform of the anti-Catholic laws in Ireland if Ireland agreed to a formal union with Britain. They passed the Acts of Union, but Pitt was deposed by King George III, the reforms never happened, and the Irish lost what little self-government they had. When the acts took effect on January 1, 1801, the Irish Parliament was dissolved, and this building was left unoccupied. The business of governing Ireland would now happen in England.
In 1803, the building was sold to the Bank of Ireland. A condition of the sale was that the building could not be used for political assemblies, and it’s still the Bank of Ireland today! Unfortunately, the historic building is not open for the public to tour, but if you peek in you might catch a glimpse of oak woodwork, 18th century tapestries, and sparkling crystal chandeliers. When you’re ready, let’s head to our next stop.
27 College Green, Dublin, Ireland
Chapel, South-East Inner City, Dublin, Ireland
Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth, and built on the site of a former monastery, Trinity College is Ireland's oldest and most prestigious university. Ierland is often referred to as the land of saints and scholars…it could hardly have forged that reputation without Trinity College!
Now a busy 47 acre urban campus,Trinity offers both undergraduate and postgraduate courses of study, and is particularly revered for its programs in law, humanities, and literature. Trinity’s Library is a legal deposit library for Ireland and Great Britain, meaning that Trinity has a legal right to a copy of anything published in these jurisdictions. Today, it houses a massive collection of over 7 million items, including printed volumes as well as manuscripts. The most precious of their holdings are housed under one soaring roof. Built between 1712 and 1732, the Long room is the largest single chamber library in the world, with a towering collection of 200,000 of Ireland's oldest books. The barrel vaulted ceilings were added in the 1850s when the roof of the long room was raised to accommodate a growing collection.
The Long Room’s 65 meter walls preserve and display 3 iconic sources of Irish pride and Irish identity: an original edition of The Proclamation of the Independent Irish Republic, a 15th Century Celtic Harp, and The Book of Kells.
The Proclamation of the Irish Republic is a cornerstone artifact for the country, and deeply important to the Irish identity. It’s the document that was read aloud at the Old Post Office and kicked off the Easter Rising of 1916. You can see an original copy here at Trinity Library, or in a few stops, we'll see an enlarged replica on the wall of a pub.
Also in the Long Room, a Celtic harp, considered to be the oldest in Ireland. There is hardly a greater influence on modern Irish culture than the ancient Celts. From the Gaelic language to the Irish spirit, from storytelling to musical, Celtic culture is Irish culture. The 15h Celtic Century harp on display represents both royalty, and resistance. These traditional instruments were part of the King's court; royalty, but were banned by the English crown; resistance. The Celtic harp inspired the design of Ireland’s official coat of arms, as well as the design of Ireland’s unofficial coat of arms: the Guinness logo.
Lastly, the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a monk-made set of the four gospels of the New Testament, estimated to have been written and painted by hand between 750 and 800 AD. Making books was tedious, painstaking work back then. Irish monks would spend a lifetime meticulously transcribing precious text, using the cover pages and chapter heads to showcase artistic flair, creating vibrant colors with crushed bugs, plants and stones. The pages of Medieval books were not paper, they were calfskin, scraped clean with a knife, into a thin, membrane canvas, called vellum. It’s estimated that 185 calves were slaughtered to make the vellum for the 680 page Book of Kells. The Book of Kells represents both the scholarly and spiritual traditions of Irish culture and identity.
Campus tours, including entry to the Long Room for a Book of Kells viewing, are available daily and bookable online. You can also get a ticket for the library, without the campus tour. Look around the campus a bit now, or simply use the navigation to make your way to our next historic stop; the Molly Malone statue.
14-18 St Andrew's St, Dublin, Ireland
Molly Malone is a mythical maiden, who is the subject of Dublin’s unofficial anthem, usually titled “Cockles and Mussels”. The song is set in Dublin, and tells the story of Molly Malone, who sells cockles and mussels from her cart, dies of a fever and returns as a ghost to haunt the city streets. Some people think the song was written about a real person, others disagree. Some think she’s the wife of a fisherman–as typically it was the fisherman's wife’s job to sell her husband’s catch at the market. Others disagree, and think Molly wasn’t selling fish at all, that she was actually a prostitute.
Appearing in written record as early as 1876, the ballad of Molly Malone was composed in a music hall style. In Victorian Era Music Halls, patrons could eat, drink, and smoke tobacco while enjoying a show. Music hall shows featured catchy songs, often with scandalous themes, as well as comedy and other specialty acts. From its music hall roots, the song would grow to become a fabulously famous classic and Ierland’s unofficial anthem. It’s been covered and remixed by high profile artists like The Dubliners, Pete Seeger, Sinead O’Connor, and U2.
This statue, inspired by the song, was designed by Irish sculptor Jeanne Rynharthis, and was unveiled during Dublin’s 1988 Millennium celebrations. June 13th was declared National Molly Malone Day the same year. The 1980’s were a bleak time of economic depression for Ierland, and the Millennium festivities aimed to cultivate civic and national pride. In July 2014, the statue was relocated from its original location on Grafton Street to here, in front of the Tourist Information Center.
Whoever Molly was and whatever she sold, this depiction of the woman in the song is a local favorite, often referred to as the tart with the cart. They say it’s good luck to touch the statue, we will let you take a guess as to where. Once you’ve snapped a selfie with Molly, we’re off to the next stop. Head down St. Andrews Street and make a right on Trinity.
9A Trinity St, Dublin, D02 RC58, Ireland
1 Dame Ct, Dublin, D02 TW84, Ireland
We’re just on the edge of the Temple Bar historic district, so if I lose you to a pub or two, please don’t forget to come back! Just ahead you’ll see a bright red building, The Dame Tavern. On the side of the building, a larger than life rendering of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The document that led to the Easter Rising and the execution of all 7 of its signers. Their deaths swayed public opinion, and ensured that Ierland was committed to seizing her independence.
Pop into Dames for a pint, or head to our next historic stop; City Hall.
2 Dame St, Dublin, Ireland
Here in front of a 13th Century castle, we find another fine example of 18th Century Dublin architecture. Designed by Thomas Cooley, and constructed between 1769 and 1779, this was originally built to house the Royal Exchange. A meeting place for Dublin's businessmen, conveniently located near the Old Custom House, it functioned as the stock exchange. In the 1850’s it was repurposed as a government building, and became City Hall.
During the Easter Rising in 1916, City Hall was used as a garrison for the Irish Citizen Army. Following the public reading of the Proclamation at the Post Office, Nationalist Sean Connonly seized the building using a key which he obtained through his employment with the motor department. There were 35 people based here during the uprising, mostly women. Several hundred women took part in the 1916 Rising, fighting alongside their male comrades, carrying dispatches and providing medical care.
Our next stop is the 13th Century Castle. See you there!
8 Castle St, Dublin, Ireland
You’re standing in the Upper Castle yard of Dublin Castle, a must see attraction for any visitor to the city. From 1204 until 1922 it was the seat of English, and later the British Empire’s rule in Ireland. In those years, it served as the primary residence for the British monarch’s Irish representative, the Viceroy of Ireland, it was also the ceremonial and administrative center of the city. The Castle was originally developed as a medieval fortress under the orders of King John of England. It had four corner towers linked by high curtain walls and was built around a large central enclosure. Constructed on elevated ground that was the site of an earlier Viking settlement, the old Castle stood approximately where we are now. It remained largely intact until April 1684, when a major fire caused severe damage to much of the building. Despite the extent of the fire, parts of the medieval and the Viking structures survived and can still be explored by visitors today!
In 1922, following Ireland’s independence, Dublin Castle was handed over to the new Irish government. It is now a major government complex and a key tourist attraction.
Open seven days, the castle grounds are free and open to the public. There’s a nominal fee for a guided 70 minute tour.
Explore a bit of Dublin Castle, or use the navigation to head to our next stop.
3 High St, Merchants Quay, Dublin 8, D08 R990, Ireland
We’re standing in what was once the heart of the former Viking village, and you’re looking up at the oldest medieval church in Dublin. Christ Church Cathedral was founded in the early 11th century by the Viking King. When the Normans arrived in Ireland in the 12th Century they brought with them new skills and techniques in church building, and rebuilt the church in stone. In the 13th Century the stone church was enlarged considerably, and then, after a partial collapse in the 16th century, the church was in architectural distress until the late 19th century. That final rebuild and renovation included addition of the tower, flying buttresses, and distinctive covered footbridge. This working Aglican cathedral is open to spiritual pilgrims–and the general public. For a small admission fee you can experience the cathedrals' magnificent tiled floors and vaulted ceilings, and the cypt’s curiosities like an Archbishop’s heart and a mummified cat and rat! You can also see a rare copy of the Magna Carta inside.
When you’re ready, we can head to our final stop; St Patrick's Cathedral.
Cathedral House, Patrick St, Dublin 8, Ireland
As the largest cathedral, the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, and one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Ireland, Saint Patrick’s has been at the heart of Dublin and Ireland’s history and culture for over a thousand years.
Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ierland and credited with bringing Christianity to the country. As the story goes, he arrived in 432 AD, when Ireland was a pagan country. Patrick traveled about an hour north of Dublin, to the Hill of Tara. Tara was long a place of spiritual significance and was home to the seat of the High Celtic throne. There he used the Shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the High King, 3 leaves, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and one stem, one God. He and his Shamrock were granted permission to spread Christianity through the land, and legend has it that he baptized individuals into the Christian faith in a well here on the grounds of the Cathedral that now bears his name.
There has likely been some kind of church here since around 450 AD, and the long history of this church is a microcosm of the story of Ireland. For example because of the English Reformation, Saint Patrick’s was operating as an Anglican church by the 1500s. However, most of the population of the country during this period continued to practice a form of Christianity which was more associated with Roman Catholicism. The Cathedral was demoted to the status of Parish Church during the short reign of Edward VI. The building was then restored to Cathedral status in 1555 by Queen Mary who also sought to restore Roman Catholicism as the established religion across Britain and Ireland. This was once again reversed by her successor Elizabeth I. The turbulence and resilience of this church reflect that of the nation.
At the start of the Twentieth Century Celtic grave slabs were found at the entrance to what is now the park next door to the Cathedral. The stones have been dated to approximately the Tenth Century AD. One of these stones covered the entrance to an ancient well and it is possible that this is Saint Patrick’s Well. However very little is known for definite about where he traveled and what he did; in reality there are thousands of sites around Ireland who claim a connection with the saint.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is a place of worship, a visitor attraction and as a host for many events. Ticketed entry here offers self-guided exploration of the highlights including the magnificent stained-glass windows, the 4,000 pipe organ, and the expansive Bell Tower.
Whether you tour the Cathedral or find other fun in Dublin, I want to leave you with a popular Irish blessing, derived from a Celtic prayer:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
This audio tour is a Historic America and UCPlaces production. To learn more about our trip planning services, public & private tours and digital content make sure to visit us at www.historicamerica.org and to find more audio tours, go to historicamerica.org and UCPlaces.com.