Never a Dull Moment
When consulting my calendar during a trip-planning session last week, I selectively sought out the few days that have just passed as a period of relaxation, intended for the resting of both my legs and my wallet. This was in anticipation of the fact that I will be traveling away from Ireland for all three of the next weekends. With busses and planes already booked, I have many adventures in my immediate future. However, there will come a time to recount each of those adventures and my various musing therein, and that time is not now. Now is the time to tell you that my weekend of “relaxation,” which I foresaw as a few days of laziness and relative lameness spent in and around Dublin, turned into one of my favorite weekends in recent memory.
I kicked off a great weekend with a much-desired opportunity to see some live music. Coming from a home university in Nashville, Tennessee, I’ll have you know that I hold live music in very high esteem, and have been incredibly eager to see what Ireland has to offer in that arena since my arrival. This first real opportunity came, interestingly enough, in a bar that previous readers of this blog are already (vaguely) familiar with. In a lecture on traditional Irish music early last week, the lecturer listed a number of sites in Dublin that known for their upholding of the Irish musical tradition. Among them was a place called the Cobblestone Pub. The name stuck out to me. This, I discovered, was because I had stumbled upon the place already. In my last blog entry, I included a picture of a particular block north of the river Liffey made prominent by its massive and colorful mural. However, in the bottom right of said picture, there is a red awning. That awning marks the entrance to none other than the Cobblestone Pub. So, on Friday night, I cajoled a few friends into joining me in heading back to the spot to see what we could see. And my, if we weren’t impressed.
The Cobblestone has two sections. The back room is more of a formal concert and dance hall, with occasional bookings and tickets that cost between five and fifteen Euros (from what I could tell). This past Friday, there was no such booking, so I didn’t get to see this back room, but the posters on the walls alerted me to a number of different occasions during which I could come back and experience said place in full. However, one does not need a ticket to access to front section of the Cobblestone. The front room of the Pub holds a long bar, some seating and tables, and, right at the front, an area reserved for musicians. There, seven nights a week, any person with a traditional Irish instrument, young or old, can show up to the Pub, sit down among the crowd, and play a couple tunes.
On this particular Friday night, this traditional breed of jam session was in full swing. Over the two or so hours that I spent at the pub, we probably saw between twenty or thirty different musicians join in, some for just a song or two, and others for the whole evening. From what I could tell, one person would start a tune on whatever instrument they fancied, and everyone else would listen along until they figured out a way to play along. So, accordions were joined by guitars, pipes were joined by banjos, hand drums were joined by fiddles, and so on. Then, whenever the tune was “finished,” there would be some light golf clapping or other sort of other recognition, and the next tune would begin. This pattern was also occasionally broken for individual performances. Solo fiddle tunes and vocal tracks peppered the nonexistent set list, as well as non-musical story telling. In fact, at one point the elderly man who happened to be sitting one bar stool over from my own stood up, asking me to save his spot. I watched as he then got the attention of the crowded circle and told a five-minute long, rhyming Irish folk tale completely from memory. And, when he was finished, people clapped, he took back his seat, and the music started back up once again. I was impressed and delighted to be a part of it all. From top to bottom, the vibe of the evening was friendly, it was communal, and it was quintessentially Irish. Needless to say, the Cobblestone will be on my radar every night of the week that I spend here in Dublin, and I urge any fans of live music to get themselves there as well.
Continuing with the trend of authentic Irish experience, the next morning a couple other friends and I made our way up the small Irish town of Howth, which sits on a peninsula in the north of Dublin. (For those curious as to the pronunciation, Howth rhymes with “both,” and therefore does not sound like “house.” Now you know. Moving on.)
We had heard from other students that this trip was easy, cheap, and completely worthwhile, and they were certainly correct in all of those respects. For about six Euros round-trip, we hopped on the DART train (one of Dublin’s public transit lines), and within an hour were dropped off in the heart of the quaint and lovely fishing village. There, we found the open-air Howth Market, where the products on display ranged from fresh produce to hand-knit woolly hats to the single most delicious fish chowder I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. From there, we moved to the Howth Harbour, whose picturesque piers are lined with restaurants, shop window displaying the day’s finest catch, lighthouses, and boats of every shape and color. The sea was a bit choppy and the winds were quite strong, but that didn’t stop Howthians and tourists alike from walking along the water, soaking up the January sun.
From the harbour, we worked our way east along the coast. There, we found a wonderfully network of cliff-side hiking paths, with inhabitants ranging from casual walkers to backpack-clad outdoorsmen. Taking one of the middle-length paths, we explored for almost three hours, making our way along the entire eastern side of the town’s coastline and up to the Summit (Howth is on a very slight gradient), where a cute little café and some visitor information. Then, we wound our way back through the village streets, finding more shops, pubs, churches, and other components that make up the small and quiet. By the time we found our way back to the central harbour, we had just enough time to grab another cup of steaming chowder before hopping back on the train and making our way south to UCD’s campus. So, while I had initially thought this weekend would best be spent off of my feet, my hike around Howth was absolutely worth the time and the effort. The balance between Irish authenticity and friendly tourism components was delightful and, with Howth being so close and accessible, I can certainly see myself returning for at least a couple more visits, especially as the weather opens up and the summer starts to show its face over here in Ireland.
Finally, on Sunday came the one aspect of my weekend that I foresaw as being far from relaxing: The Super Bowl. Fortunately for me a the group of friends I had chosen to watch the game with, the Irish quite enjoy the peculiarly epic spectacle of sport, and there were scads of pubs staying open late to accommodate the 11:30PM local time kickoff. From what I can tell, the Irish interest in American Football is primarily focused around using it as an excuse to get piss drunk and yell at a television for a few hours. Very few people around me quite understood the rules of the game and had no real stake in the contest, but the passion was there nonetheless. So, until the wee hours of the morning, I joined them in these passionate pursuits, and was overjoyed to see my beloved New England Patriots rise as the victors of an incredible well-fought contest. But, out of the interest of humility, I will leave it at that (though I can’t say it would be far-fetched to see Tom Brady beatified by the Irish Catholic Church).
All in all, a lame weekend it was not. My feet are once again sore and my voice a bit hoarse, but I have no regrets whatsoever. I discovered two great places close by to Dublin that I cannot wait to revisit, namely the Cobblestone and the town of Howth, and I got to act like an unabashed American for one glorious night without any real fear of judgment. Now, I have four days to actually rest, get some homework done, and prepare for my next adventure. Next up: a weekend in Poland. Stay tuned.