Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

2015 Five Lamps Arts Festival

 

In Dublin this week? Check out the Five Lamps Arts Festival, with daily events until March 14th—many of them free. Music, theater, dance, and even a free train ride to Sligo are all on the docket for this year’s festival.

We followed along Dublin historian Pat Liddy for a very well-attended guided tour of the northside Docklands and Liffey bank. The tour was a team effort of the Five Lamps Festival and Dublin City Council’s Let’s Walk and Talk (check it out, lots of great, free walks every week) program.

Samuel Beckett Bridge at High Tide

Samuel Beckett Bridge at High Tide

Dublin’s Docklands have been a story of boom and bust since before the days of the Celtic Tiger and the Crash of 2008, although they certainly bear the scars of this most recent round of development and disaster.

To combat the wildly-fluctuating tidal river level, a series of inner docks was built on both sides of the river to ease loading and unloading of cargo along Dublin’s Liffey banks. As time progressed, and cargo began coming to Dublin in massive container ships docking closer to the sea, the inner docks were open to development by the railroads, housing schemes, and, during the recent Tiger years, speculative office and retail space construction. Today, the now-sought-after apartments and the empty shells of the never-filled bank and insurance buildings are all that remain in much of these once-bustling inner docks.

Apartments in the Docks

Apartments in the Docks

To monitor all this trade, particularly the highly-taxed goods like alcohol and tobacco, trade authorities constructed the Customs House and the nearby warehouse, now called Custom House Quay to hold, count, and collect taxes on these specially-regulated materials. Today, Custom House Quay (called simply, “CHQ”) houses a mostly-empty block of retail spaces, but at one time it stored tons of tobacco and barrels of whiskey waiting for duties to be paid for release. Its characteristic iron-and-glass ceiling was copied all over Continental Europe for train stations, many of which were destroyed in World War II bombings.

The Iron Ceiling of CHQ

The Iron Ceiling of CHQ

Of course, cargo wasn’t the only material shipped in and out of Dublin’s once-busy urban Docklands. During the Famine, desperate emigrants piled to Ireland’s ports by the thousands hoping for a chance at a better life in England, Australia, or North America. A replica of one of these passenger ships, the Jeanie Johnston, is open as a museum—a look at what the living conditions were like for the weeks-long Atlantic passage.

Famine Memorial on Dublin's Riverside Walk

Famine Memorial on Dublin’s Riverside Walk

Jeannie Johnson Tall Ship Museum

Jeannie Johnson Tall Ship Museum

As a memorial to this black spot in Irish history, a thoughtful memorial—depicting real people—stands near the dock from which so many embarked on their journey to a new life across the sea. Interestingly, a similar series of statues stands in Toronto, Canada. All of the people depicted in this memorial (except the dead child being carried) made it safely to Canada and thrived in North America.

After the walk, I was inspired to flesh out my Riverside Walk in The Frugal Guide book and make it the next audio tour in the podcast series. Having learned more interesting factoids about the Famine Memorial, and that CHQ has free toilets, I feel it my duty to make this a proper tour. Look for the book update and audio tour in the coming weeks.

Now that the Irish spring has fully sprung, keep checking the Dublin Event Guide for more and more free festivals and goings-on. The weather is getting warmer, the Irish are coming out of hibernation, and the tourists are once again flooding City Centre. It’s a great time of year to be in Dublin.

…And don’t forget that St. Patrick’s Day is coming up here in the ancestral home of the Shamrock Shake.

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