Travel black book: The pull of Dublin

Travel black book: The pull of Dublin
Shan Wee at the stadium Croke Park with Sean O’Hailpin (centre), a Fijian-Irish hurler, and friend Xavier Teo (right).

Who: Shan Wee, 33, radio presenter on ONE FM 91.3. He will be broadcasting his show live today from the St Patrick's Day party in Circular Road.

Favourite destination: Dublin, Ireland

Why: I have visited Dublin twice, most recently with my friend Xavier Teo. Though my upbringing in Northern Ireland was very British as opposed to Irish - I grew up close to Belfast with my Malaysian father and Irish mother - now that I have emigrated, I always describe myself as Irish.

I have a romantic, artistic association with the Irish people and I like to keep hold of that.

Favourite hotel

I stayed at the Mespil Hotel (60 Mespil Road, Dublin 4, Ireland; tel:+353-1-488-4600; www.mespilhotel.com), which has comfortable rooms, friendly service, good breakfast and is less than a 10-minute walk from highlights such as Trinity College and Grafton Street.

Trinity College is the most famous and elegant university in Ireland. It has the same grand feel as Oxford, with wide, open lawns and statues of past dignitaries.

It also has a famous library, which is a tourist attraction now. It looks like something out of Harry Potter, is filled with many leather-bound books and smells of rich mahogany.

Grafton Street is the main pedestrian shopping street which resembles any main European thoroughfare with buskers strumming and living statues.

Favourite restaurant

We took a tour of the Guinness Storehouse and ate at its restaurant Gilroy's (www.guinness-storehouse.com/en/restaurants_gilroys_restaurant.aspx), where almost every dish has Guinness as an ingredient.

We had smoked salmon prepared with Guinness, beef cheek marinated in Guinness and chocolate truffles prepared with, you guessed it, Guinness.

The stout adds a light earthiness when used in cooking. I usually don't like alcohol in savoury dishes, but it was so subtle that it didn't trouble me at all.

The meal was one of the best we had on our trip.

Main courses at Gilroy's start from €12 (S$17.70).

Favourite sports bar

On my recent trip, we arrived just in time to watch the Irish rugby team defeat England.

If we had planned better, we could have gotten tickets at the Aviva Stadium (www.avivastadium.ie) where the game was played.

But as it was, we went to The Den Bar (lansdownehotel.ie/dublin-city-bar), which has the largest rugby tie collection in the world and because it is just 1km away from the stadium, it is a place where sports and entertainment figures often hang out.

Rugby is the only sport I care about, so to watch my home team defeat England, our most hated team of all, in a Dublin bar while drinking Guinness, I've never felt more Irish in my life.

Favourite tourist site

Take a tour of the four-storey Guinness Storehouse (St James' Gate; www.guinness-storehouse.com), Ireland's No. 1 attraction, and learn everything there is to know about Guinness, from ingredients to brewing to advertising, and pull your own pint.

It was interesting to see the marketing strategies and posters for Guinness over the centuries and how the main tagline used to be Guinness is Good for You. This kind of slogan wouldn't fly today.

An in-house connoisseur told us that the largest consumer of Guinness is actually Nigeria. Apparently Africa has been such a successful export market for the brand that many Africans don't know it originates in Dublin and consider it an African institution.

There is also a huge stadium in Dublin called Croke Park (www.crokepark.ie) where you can watch the Irish sport hurling. The game is of Irish and Gaelic origin and is said to go back more than 3,000 years. It is like a mix of field hockey and lacrosse. We were lucky enough to go on a VIP guided tour with Sean O'Hailpin, a Fijian-Irish hurler who is the David Beckham of hurling.

Must-try dishes

One night, we went to Toners Pub (139 Baggot Street Lower, Dublin 2, Ireland; tel: +35-3-1676-3090; www.tonerspub.ie), a classic, friendly Irish bar. Opened in 1888, it is one of the oldest pubs in Dublin.

The price of beer in Dublin varies from bar to bar, but costs €4.50 to €5 on average.

Toners is where I had a few classically Irish dishes that I love: potato farl, a kind of flatbread or pancake made of mashed potatoes, which is usually served with a bacon and egg fry-up; champ, mashed potato with spring onions, butter and sometimes cheese whipped through it; and Tayto, my favourite brand of potato chips which you can find only in Ireland.

Best place for a good view

Coming from Singapore, it was amusing when guides showed us the "skyscrapers" in Dublin, some of which, they boasted, reach up to 12 storeys tall.

Still, there are two main viewing points to enjoy. One is a fabulous walk along the roof of the Croke Park sports stadium and another is the Gravity Bar (St James' Gate; www.guinness-storehouse.com), where you have a 360-degree view of the city, including the snow-capped hills to the west.

Best hidden find

A bar called Doyle's (9 College Street; www.rubysessions.com), where sensational singer- songwriters perform in what is known as The Ruby Sessions.

The acoustic club has been held in the pub every Tuesday night for the past 15 years and it has names of past performers on the wall, who include Ed Sheeran, Damien Rice and Mumford and Sons, so you never know, the singer you see might be the next big thing. Admission costs €6.

Best tour of the city

Like most cities, Dublin has a hop-on hop-off bus service. One company is Dublin Bus Tours, with more than 30 stops at historic and cultural highlights. It costs about €20 for adults for a two-day pass with unlimited hop-ons. The red buses have pre-recorded audio, but choose a green bus with live commentary from the bus driver, because the drivers in Dublin are like stand-up comedians and it is hilarious to hear their descriptions of the city.

Ideal itinerary

Ireland is not too big and you should aim to cover the whole country on one trip. Three days are enough to see all of Dublin and then plan three more days on the north coast, less than a two-hour drive from Dublin.

Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is a cool city now, far past the sad history of gun battles and the Irish Republican Army.

My hometown in the north-east is Bushmills, renowned for its whiskey. Less than 5km away is Giant's Causeway, a geological rock formation of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns which, according to legend, stretched all the way across the Irish Sea to Scotland.

The area also has world-famous golf courses such as Royal Portrush (www.royalportrushgolfclub.com), so if you are a fan of the sport, you can play a round or two there.


This article was first published on March 15, 2015.
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