The first documented history of Dublin begins with the Viking raids in the 8th and 9th century. These led to the establishment of a settlement on the southside of the mouth of the Liffey, named Dubh Linn (Black Pool) after the lake where the Danes first moored their boats. This is where the name Dublin comes from.
Despite stone fortifications, Dublin town was sacked many times over the next two centuries but always recovered. By the 11th Century, Dublin prospered, mainly due to close trading links with the English towns of Chester and Bristol and soon became the most important town in Ireland with a population of about 4,000.
Dublin in the Middle Ages
1169 marked the beginning of 700 years of Norman rule. The King of Leinster, Mac Murrough, enlisted the help of Strongbow, the Earl of Pembroke, to conquer Dublin. After Mac Murrough’s death, Strongbow declared himself King of Leinster, defeating both the Vikings and the High King of Ireland to win control of the city. However, the king of England, afraid Strongbow might become too powerful, pronounced himself Lord of Ireland and gave Dublin to the merchants of Bristol.
Dublin was devastated by fire in 1190 and was replaced by a stone fortress built in the 13th century. The first mayor was appointed in 1220. Following this, the city grew fast and had a population of 8,000 by the end of the 13th century, prospering as a trade centre, despite an attack by the Scots in 1317.
From the 14th to 18th centuries, Dublin was incorporated into the English Crown as The Pale and, for a time, became the second city of the British Empire. In 1537, a revolt occurred when the Lord Deputy of Ireland was executed in London. His son renounced English sovereignty and set about gathering an army to attack Dublin. However, he was defeated and subsequently executed.
Dublin continued to prosper in the 16th Century and boasts one of the oldest universities in the British isles, Trinity College, which was founded by Queen Elizabeth I. The city had a population of 20,000 in 1640 before plague in 1650 wiped out almost half of the inhabitants. But the city prospered again soon after that as a result of the wool and linen trade with England, reaching a population of 60,000 in 1700.
The History of Modern Dublin
The city grew even more rapidly during the 18th century with many famous districts and buildings added, such as Merrion Square, Parliament House and the Royal Exchange, later to become City Hall. The beginnings of the City Corporation was created in 1757 with a body of men formed to widen, pave, light and clean the streets. Ireland's famous Guinness stout was first brewed in 1759 and a stagecoach service to other towns began. The Grand Canal was built in 1779 and a police force established in 1786. Towards the end of the century O’Connell Bridge and Kilmainham Gaol had been built and by 1800 the population had swollen to 180,000. However, this overpopulation brought with it great poverty and disease.
The 19th Century brought the construction of the Gasworks and introduction of street lighting, but overall Dublin suffered a steep political and economical decline with the seat of government moving to Westminster in 1800 under the Act Of Union.
Things were to change dramatically in the 20th Century with the 1916 Easter Rising, the War For Independence and the subsequent Civil War which eventually led to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland.
As the seat of English administration, Dublin was the setting for many key events during the Irish struggle for independence and you will find a number of historic buildings, such as the General Post Office on O'Connell Street, Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Gaol, where history comes alive.
Since the mid-1990s, an economic boom christened the ‘Celtic Tiger’ brought massive expansion and development to the city, including the creation of Dublin’s newest landmark, the Spire monument on O'Connel Street. Fuelled by the boom years, Dublin has grown to be the single largest conurbation in Ireland. Some 1.2m people live in the greater Dublin area, that equals 28% of the country's total population of 4.2m. The boom brought many new ethnic groups into the city and created a more international feel, particularly in the north inner city.
House prices vied with those in London, and international music success, from Ireland’s 7th Eurovision Song Contest win (and the birth of Riverdance) to the global domination of rock band U2, further cemented Ireland's new culture of cool. In 1990 Mary Robinson became the first female President of Ireland and was succeeded in 1997 by Belfast born Mary McAleese. The feel good factor spread into sport; back in 1987, cyclist Stephen Roche had won the Tour De France, Ireland beat Italy in the 1994 US World Cup Finals and runner Sonia O'Sullivan won World Championship gold in 1995 and Olympic silver in 2000. In 2002 the Euro replaced the Punt as Ireland's currency.
Free EU movement attracted a large swathe of Eastern Europeans to migrate to Ireland, particularly Dublin. Amid the global financial crash, Ireland's huge property bubble burst and the Celtic Tiger collapsed, leaving many Irish businesses bankrupt and property owners in debt. Westlife took over the Irish boyband mantle from Boyzone. Referendums allowing same sex marriage (2015) and abortion (2018) further separated state from church and reinforced the country's increasing secularism. The UK referendum vote to leave the EU put the Irish border at the centre of negotiations ahead of the expected March 2019 leaving date.
Ireland has fallen on harder times in recent years, but Dublin is, if anything, more vibrant than ever.
1. THE GUINNESS STOREHOUSE
It takes a LOT to become iconic, but Guinness has done it. The “Black Stuff” may be famous the world over, but this slow settling porter started off life in St James’s Gate at the heart of old Dublin. Back in 1759, an enterprising brewer by the name of Arthur Guinness took out a 9,000 year lease on the brewery here for an annual rent of £45. A couple of centuries later, the Storehouse was born. Built in the style of the Chicago School of Architecture 1904, it was originally used as a fermentation house. Today it is Ireland’s number one visitor attraction – a gleaming, multimedia exhibition on everything from retro advertising to the craft of brewing, topped off with a pint in the 360-degree Gravity Bar. When you get there, do not forget to raise your glass to Arthur’s wonderful creation!
Make yours a pint to remember at the Guinness Storehouse Dublin by ordering the signature STOUTie, a picture perfect pint featuring your own selfie on the head of the iconic black and white stout. ("Rubie red" is this famous stouts real colour)
Make sure to include this signature pint in your tour, in addition to the pint you get at the iconic Gravity rooftop bar on top of the Guinness Storehouse.
2. ST PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL
Ancient, dramatic and intriguing, Dublin’s two cathedrals make a striking pair. Built beside a well where Ireland’s patron saint baptized converts, St Patrick’s dates back to 1220 and is filled with monuments, 19th century stained glass and a beautiful Lady Chapel.
3. CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL
Just a 10 minutes walk away from St Patrick’s Cathedral, is Christ Church Cathedral, which has attracted pilgrims for almost 1,000 years, and today one of its biggest attractions is its medieval crypt. There are plenty of other reasons to visit, but some may be fascinated by the Chapel of St Laurence O’Toole… a heart-shaped shrine contains the saint’s embalmed heart.
4. THE BOOK OF KELLS AND TRINITY COLLEGE
With a backstory that includes monks, Vikings and remote Scottish islands, the Book of Kells will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. This glorious Early Christian illuminated manuscript is quite simply a masterpiece. Located within Trinity College’s Treasury, the tour here includes a visit to the Long Room library, one of Europe’s most magnificent libraries housing over 200,000 of Trinity’s oldest books.
Afterwards, wander around the charming campus of Trinity, which dates back to 1592 and boasts an impressive list of alumni including Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift. The Front Square and Campanile are a delight, while the college also houses the modern Science Gallery, and the Douglas Hyde Gallery, with changing contemporary art exhibitions.
5. EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
Located in the historic vaults of the CHQ Building at Custom House Quay, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum delves into the past of Ireland's diaspora in brilliant interactive detail. The state of the art visitor experience explores the inspiring journeys of over 10 million people who left Ireland's shores throughout history. Fancy learning more about your Irish ancestry? The Irish Family History Centre is also located here, where you can access valuable records, speak with a genealogy expert and join the online community of people on a quest to learn about their Irish roots.
If you are looking for another location laden in lineage, Glasnevin Cemetery is a treasure trove of records accounting for 1.5 million burials, in fact, you could say a visit here will give you an intriguing look into the birth of the nation.
5. DUBLIN CASTLE
Perched on the site of a Danish Viking fortress from 930 AD, and with its first stone cast by King John of England in 1230, Dublin Castle’s historical significance did not stop there. Under British rule from that point until 1921, it was a key target during the 1916 Easter Rising, it has been a court, a fortress, even a site of execution in its time, and its architecture has evolved and grown with each metamorphasis.
In truth, it feels more like a rambling campus than an actual castle, not many turrets in sight, but it is the setting for every big state event, including presidential inaugurations. Wander the grounds, or take a guided tour to the state apartments, medieval undercroft and the Chapel Royal.
6. KILMAINHAM GAOL
There is a real “wow” moment that comes with walking into the East Wing of Kilmainham Gaol. Eerie, vast and deserted, the gaol is the largest unoccupied prison in Europe and holds countless tales within its thick, cold walls.
By the time it had closed in 1924, many of Ireland’s foremost political figures had passed through its cells, including Robert Emmet, Charles Stewart Parnell, President Eamon de Valera, and the leaders of the 1916 Rising, 14 of whom were executed in the stonecutter’s yard. The tour here gives a dramatic insight into the history of this forbidding prison, with its overcrowding, hardship and brutal conditions.
7. DUBLIN’S FREE MUSEUMS
Gaze at one of the largest and most spellbinding gold collections in Europe; come “face to face” with the incredible preserved bodies of Iron Age people; and look in wonder at a 4,500 year old log boat from County Galway. The National Museum Dublin is just one of the city’s must visit museums, housed within a lovely Palladian building from 1890.
And it does not stop there. The National Gallery of Ireland includes wonderful European and Irish fine art, with an acclaimed collection of works by Irish painter Jack B Yeats. Soak up the past and see Irish design through the ages at the National Museum of Decorative Arts and History in Collins Barracks, and head to the Hugh Lane Gallery to see the world renowned Francis Bacon Studio. And the really good news? Admission is free!
8. CITY PARKS
Whether you want to spend the evening watching a retro film in a leafy Georgian square or putter around a lunchtime farmers' market, Dublin’s parks will fit the bill. Cherished and adored, the city’s green spaces include the hidden oasis of Iveagh Gardens, perfect for afternoon picnics, and the city center gem of St Stephen’s Green, which was used for public executions until the 1770s.
Make like a local by spending an afternoon cycling through the Phoenix Park, one of Europe’s largest enclosed city parks, with a large herd of fallow deer for company; seek out the statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square; or take time out at Dubh Linn Gardens, tucked just behind Dublin Castle.
9. LITTLE MUSEUM OF DUBLIN
Tucked away on St Stephen’s Green is the Little Museum of Dublin, an eccentric collection of fascinating items donated by Dubliners themselves. Intricately curated and thoughtfully displayed, the museum is a delightful place to spend an unhurried afternoon, uncovering a more intimate history of Dublin in the 20th century through photography, letters, advertising and art. Music fans will particularly enjoy the second floor exhibition – U2 Made in Dublin, which starts the story of the city’s most famous rock band from 1976 to the present day. Afterwards, head downstairs to the basement kitchen of Hatch & Sons for a hearty lunch of traditional Irish smoked fish.
10. RIDE A BIKE TRAIL AT TICKNOCK
The best way to work off the night before is in the mountains that ring the city’s southern edges. The bike trails at Ticknock in Ballinteer have something for riders of all levels, even the basic one hour trail is a proper workout and gives you great views to boot. We rent bikes, protective gear and away you go.
ST PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL
CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL
THE BOOK OF KELLS AND TRINITY COLLEGE
EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum
The National Museum Dublin
The National Gallery
St Stephen’s Green
LITTLE MUSEUM OF DUBLIN
Take a bike ride from Ticknock in Ballinteer
Best Pubs in Dublin for Food
Dublin pubs are not just good for drinking. Whether it is a comforting weeknight meal after work or a leisurely lunch to punctuate a day of sightseeing, casual does not have to mean compromise when it comes to food, these picks offer some of the best meals in the city, which just happen to be in that cosiest of spaces, the Irish pub.
1. O’Neill’s Pub & Kitchen Pub
A licensed pub for over 300 years, O’Neill’s sits on the site where Dublin’s Viking leaders once held their councils of law. Just across the street from the Temple Bar Cultural Quarter and around the corner from Trinity College, this city centre institution has survived as long as it has by sticking to its principles – serving excellent quality food and drink in a welcoming, comforting setting. Offering everything from a full Irish breakfast of farm pork sausages, dry-cured streaky bacon and free range eggs to Carlingford Lough oysters on the half shell dressed with red wine and a shallot vinaigrette, O’Neill’s remains the champion of traditional Irish pub food.
2. L. Mulligan Grocer
The belief that ‘Irish produce is special and worth celebrating’ is reflected throughout the approach to food at L. Mulligan. Grocer pub in Stoneybatter. The beautifully preserved shop front façade of this former grocer sets the scene for a foodie experience using only the best of Irish ingredients. The menu is replete with simple and creative presentations of exquisite elements, like a golden beet, smoked tomato and mushroom roast or a chocolate and earl grey mousse served in a teacup alongside a poached pear and cornflower shortbread. The pub also sources an incredible array of craft beers and ciders and provides excellent pairing suggestions for all of their dishes to ensure your holistic happiness.
3. Peruke & Periwig
Just a moment’s walk from the gates of timeless St Stephen’s Green park, vintage beauty Peruke & Periwig sets an old world ambience with dark walls, old portraits, age pocked mirror signs and a library wall of well worn volumes. Vintage lovers adore the cosy and rustic yesteryear charm here, but the food menu is thoroughly modern fare made with premium Irish ingredients. Try the whipped Ardsallagh goat’s cheese with beets, toasted nuts and seeds or the pan fried stone bass with scampi crumb. Their small bites are equally delicious and perfectly designed to accompany one of their luxurious cocktails, which are nearly too pretty to drink.
4. The Brazen Head
Dating from 1198, The Brazen Head on Bridge Street is officially Ireland’s oldest pub. Its exterior is an Instagrammer’s dream of exposed stonework and colourful flowers tumbling out of impossibly large hanging baskets, while the inside is a warren of bars and snugs in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Just a quick hop down the quay from Temple Bar’s main drag, The Brazen Head can still be touristy but in its own more relaxed way, with visitors and locals mingling over slow pints and bowls of delicious Guinness stew or seafood chowder while enjoying live traditional music sessions, which take place nightly. Check out their regular Irish storytelling evenings, which were voted the top choice on TripAdvisor for concerts and shows in the city in both 2015 and 2016.
5. The Duke
If only ‘meat and two veg’ will do, you need not look further than The Duke, a classic Irish pub just off Grafton Street. Their roast of the day, served with a mountain of potatoes, seasonal veg and gravy, is the ultimate comfort food, especially when served in this cosy Victorian space filled with wood accents and soft lighting, you will definitely need a nap after a lunchtime visit. The Duke is also the starting point for the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, which starts at 7.30 most nights, so it is a perfect spot to line your stomach before filling up on prose and pints.
6. Temple Bar
Temple Bar is obviously the most FAMOUS pub in Dublin, giving its name to the quarter Temple Bar. You have to see it and take a picture of its beautiful exterior, but as you might guess, it is a very touristy pub and always crowded!