There’s so much to explore in Ireland, but one place at the top of your list? The stunning capital city of Dublin.
Not only does Dublin hold a unique place in Irish culture and history in the present day, but it is also now a cosmopolitan city that has been welcoming all cultures from around the world.
Let’s embark on a quick journey and learn about the life of the Dubs and their county too.
If you are planning a trip to Dublin anytime in the future, check out our ultimate travel guide to Dublin.
What Does “Dublin” Mean?
All words and names have a meaning or a significance. Dublin is no exception, it has a significant meaning in the Irish language. The modern name of the city is Baile Áth Cliath and it has a different meaning. This one means the Town of the Ford of the Hurdles. The story behind the modern name is also related to the structure of the county. In fact, Ireland has four major routeways; they are all joined at a crossing place. That place is made of intertwined plantlets hurdles across the River Liffey.
Other Forms of the Name
The modern Irish form of the county’s name is Duibhlinn and it is usually pronounced as Duílinn. However, it may differ from one location to another within the borders of Ireland. Lots of places refer to it as Duibhlinn, but the English forms of this name vary between Difflin, Devlin, and, sometimes, Divlin. Those forms bear a different pronunciation from the original name and they derive from more than a few different languages. For example, Dyflin was the county’s name in Old Norse; Difelin in Old English; and Divlyn in modern Manx. There were even Dulyn in Welsh and Dyflinn in the modern Icelandic language.
Those variations resulted from slight language differences. According to history, the name of the city was written as either Duiḃlinn or Duḃlinn. Transcribers profess that there was a dot over the b in the Gaelic scripts, giving us the latter two versions. However, lots of people weren’t aware of the Irish language; they eliminated that dot and spelt it as Dublin instead. That slight omission resulted in the various forms of the name that we have been seeing through the years.
The Origin of the Name ‘Dublin’
Throughout Ireland, the Vikings established settlements. There are notions that claim that those settlements were led by Christian and religious ones, known as Duibhlinn. The settlement that took place in Dublin county used the settlement’s name and called the city Dyflin.
However, it is said that there was another Gaelic Settlement during the 9th or 10th century. That settlement was called Áth Cliath, meaning the ford of hurdles. The modern name was taken from that settlement. Besides, Baile Átha Cliath was the name of a Christian monastery that existed in the early times. There are other towns that bear the same name as Àth Cliath in East Ayrshire, Scotland.
The History of the County of Dublin
Dublin is one of the Irish cities that has been around since the beginning of time. It is quite old and bears a large portion of the Irish heritage. A city with so many names had definitely gone through a lot throughout the past centuries. So, let’s take a look at what this land had to tolerate to become the city it is today.
The City of the Vikings
Dublin became the city with the largest Viking settlements at some point in history. The attacks started back in 837 when they attacked the churches surrounding the Poddle and Liffey.
Four years later, they established their long-term settlements. In 917, the county became the largest city of the Vikings in the whole world. They rebelled against Ireland’s first ruler, Brian Boru. He was the High King whom the Dublin Vikings rebelled against along with the Leinster Irish. He was assassinated in a battle that took place in 1014 at Clontarf. The Vikings continued living and settling in Ireland.
They even converted to Christianity and built the famous church, Christ Church Cathedral. However, Dublin was seized from the Vikings when the Irish king, MacMurrough, used the Wales Norman to do so.
The English Royal Control
Dublin was no longer the city of the Vikings in 1171; it became the centre of the Norman and English Colony. Thanks to Henry II, he was the one who landed with a great army and seized the county.
During that time, the Gothic-style Christ Church was established. The destruction took over the city in 1317, for the Scottish King Robert and his brother tried to seize the county. They failed in their attempt, but the devastation was already all over the place. That era was not actually the best time in Ireland’s history.
Besides the destruction, the Black Death started absorbing the city as well. The control of the English royal lasted for years, but it started to demolish during the 14th century. Actually, it was limited to coastal towns and the Pale, an area around Dublin, during the 14th and 15th centuries.
Starting from 1603, the English monarchs had made a decision to transform Ireland into Protestant. They took over Christ Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral; they also restored them after they witnessed the destruction. Forty years later, the English Civil War came to pass, leading a lot of citizens to join the Irish rebellion.
That rebellion had been already around since 1641; they were resisting the English colony. The Irish forces eventually triumphed and took over Dublin in 1649.
The Recovery Span
The fifteenth century was actually the start of the city’s recovery from constant wars. Even the population witnessed a significant increase throughout that era. However, in the late 15th century, 1689 precisely, James II arrived in Ireland. He evoked a loop of instability once again; however, William of Orange defeated him in 1690.
Then, James II had to go back to France from which he came to Ireland. Thanks to William III, peace has stayed around Dublin for a long while since his triumph against James II. At that time, Dublin was made the largest capital of the Britain Empire.
However, the revolution broke out once again in 1798. The United Irishmen were the ones to carry the revolution out, but the authorities managed to keep the revolution out of the county.
Dublin as the Capital of the Irish Free State
In the 20th century, another rebellion was carried out by the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It was during the onset of the First World War.
Revolutions broke out in 1916; they were pretty destructive, but they were stopped in due course. Despite being put down, the insurrection left the city in the wreckage.
It seems that the 20th century was not very kind to the county of Dublin. It was the era in which the War of Independence started, in 1919. The streets were full of revolutions and fighting. Destruction was spread around many places in the city.
It was only until 1921 that the county became the capital of the Irish Free State. The treaty was made between the Anglo and the Irish. Though it was supposed to make things easier, the Treaty resulted in civil war due to disagreements over the terms.
That war broke out right after bombarding and blasting several structures around the county, including the buildings on O’Connell Street. The war continued for a couple of years until there was an anti-Treaty calling for peace in 1923.
The Crisis and Prosperity of The County
Aside from the wars and obliteration that Dublin witnessed, there were also times of prosperity. Definitely, the streets we see today are a bit, if not drastically, different from how they used to be. The establishment of the whole city started with the Viking settlements in the eighth and ninth centuries.
For more than a few times, the city had gone through wreckage and restorations. The real beginning of prosperity was in the 11th century. Trading links became very prominent, especially with the English towns.
The Reign of the Normans
The Normans ruled Ireland for around 700 years, starting from 1169. At that time, kings were all rivalling to win over the county. Mac Murrough was one of those kings who tried their best to conquer the city. He asked Strongbow for support, but they did not seem to triumph. However, Strongbow became the King of Leinster after Mac Murrough died. He managed to win the city and take over it by defeating the High King as well as the Vikings.
The King of England thought that he had to weigh in and save the day. He was afraid of how powerful Strongbow might become. Thus, he declared himself the new High King of Ireland and took Dublin away from Strongbow. He gave it to the Merchants of Bristol.
A huge fire was ignited all across Dublin in 1190, leaving the city in total wreckage. After many years, the first mayor was elected in Ireland; he helped in making the city grow and prosper. Even the population significantly increased during that time.
In the 16th century, the construction of Dublin’s prominent structures just began. Even the ones that survived to modern times. Ireland was still under English Royal Control and Dublin was the second largest city in the British Empire.
Queen Elizabeth I founded one of the oldest universities in the British Isles, called Trinity College. However, the plague broke out, killing half of the population. It stayed around for years until the city prospered once again.
Further Growth of the City
The county started growing even further and faster during the 18th century. A lot of new sites came into being, including most of the famous buildings and districts we see today. Those sites include City Hall, Parliament House, the Royal Exchange, and Merrion Square. In the 19th century, street lighting was introduced to the city along with the construction of the Gasworks.
Despite the physical development of the city, it suffered from deterioration, economically and politically. However, things started taking a different detour in the 20th century. It was all getting better during the onset of the establishment of the Republic of Ireland.
Building the Streets of Dublin
The year 1757 marks the beginning of the City Corporation. At that time, a large group of men were assigned to pave the streets. They widened, cleaned, and set lights on them. Many sites came to being, as previously mentioned, like City Hall, Parliament House, the Royal Exchange, and Merrion Square.
Moreover, a police force along with the Grand Canal, Kilmainham Gaol, and O’Connell Bridge designed the layout of the city. Those buildings are ones that survived for centuries to save history and bring it to life for whoever walks in. This county plays a big part in history. During the Irish revolutions against occupation and striving for independence, Dublin was the core of different events.
More than a few buildings and sites will show how the county developed rapidly in the 18th century.
However, the population was at its largest at that time. While that may sound like a sign of prosperity, it actually made way for diseases and many deaths. That was because the city suffered from economic deterioration at that time and could not provide sufficient supply for the whole nation.
Places you Shouldn’t Miss While in Dublin
Not only is the county one of Ireland’s largest ones, but it also embraces diverse historic sites. If you ever happen to visit Dublin, you need to go to most of those places. Besides, you will get to meet a lot of Dubs that will tell you interesting stories about their heritage.
For all the arts and performance lovers, the Abbey Theatre shall be on top of your list. It features the top playbill of the most auspicious dramatists and writers. Thanks to the famous writer, Lady Augusta Gregory, and the poet, W.B Yeats, the theatre survived to tell us history.
They were the ones who founded it back in 1904. However, it does not look now as it used to be back then. The theatre actually has a contemporary appearance though it is quite historic. It underwent several renovations. Now, it contains over six hundred seats and welcomes a greater number of guests than ever.
Want a family outing? Airfield House is one of the perfect outings for families and children. The house sits at Airfield Estate, displaying a vast area of gardens and a 38-acre farm. It also features a heritage centre for history and culture lovers. The place has been around for a very long time. On the other hand, it only underwent a renovation in 2014, becoming the place it is now.
It contains a café that serves delicious goods for families, including cookies and hot drinks. Besides, this place is really fun during the cold seasons. Every year, they held a Santa Experience. This experience allows the children to meet Santa and his real reindeer to send their letters to the North Pole.
Head there and spend quality time with your family. You need to hurry up because that place sells its tickets out faster than you can imagine.
Well, there is a whole drinking culture to learn about when it comes to Ireland. There are several places where you get to learn a thing or two about the history of drinking. However, the oldest pub ever in the county is the Brazen Head; it is one place you surely shouldn’t miss. This place has a unique character since it belongs to a time as old as the 12th century.
There are many tales to be told within the walls of that glorious place. It also used to have famous people as regular customers like Michael Collins, James Joyce, and Daniel O’Connell. Aside from the historic tales, it serves the best dishes of Irish food, you can’t help but find them deliberately delicious.
Chester Beatty Library
Unfortunately, many tourists tend to overlook the Chester Beatty Library despite being one of Europe’s most prominent museums. Inside that museum is a large library that houses a great collection of books, drawings, and manuscripts. They are of a rare type and include different genres from all around the world.
Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was the reason behind the establishment of this great building. He donated to Ireland a massive collection of his art before his death in 1969. Thus, the library was established in his memoir. It is also popular for housing some of the world’s religious and cultural information.
This destination’s the perfect choice for history lovers, it also features a gift shop where you can buy adorable stuff. There are also a garden and restaurants, so you can spend time there reading some of the world’s best books.
Cliffs of Moher
Those cliffs sit beyond the borders of the county. They are too spectacular to miss. Even if you happen to visit every corner of the city, a trip to those cliffs is a must. It has a vast area of natural scenery that you will enjoy beholding for as long as possible.
Not only does the scenery is breathtaking, but it also happens to be the location where famous movies were filmed. Among those movies are The Princess Bride as well as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
College Green, Trinity College
Trinity College is the very first university in Ireland. Elizabeth I founded it back in 1592 and it is now one of the main tourist attractions of the country. The university exists in the three-sided square, College Green at the northern end of Grafton Street.
In the 18th century, it used to be home to the Irish parliament before Elizabeth turned it into one of Ireland’s finest universities. It also houses the old library that holds many of Ireland’s national treasures. A lot of famous figures used to attend this university, including Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and Jonathan Swift.
The great thing about that street is that it is not the only amazing site there. Dame Street is close to most of the tourist attractions you will ever need to see. Heading to the west, you will see the county’s most popular castle. Just a few kilometres beyond it, there are the two Protestant cathedrals, the Church of Christ and the church of St. Patrick. Furthermore, there is College Green; the square in which Trinity College exists along with the Temple Bar.
There is also the Chester Beatty Library; entering there is free, so treat yourself to different art objects and manuscripts. They are rare treasures from all over the world.
This is one of the most popular touristic sites in Dublin since it is a prehistoric one as well. The Castle has been around for eight hundred years, condensing a great portion of the Irish history within the walls. It witnessed more than a few events and incidents in the city’s history as well. The Castle also stands on a high edge offering an obvious view over 11 acres of land.
Inside that prehistoric structure, you can find rooms, gardens, and popular museums. These include the Chester Beatty Library, the Revenue Museum, the Chapel Royal, and the Garda Museum.
Dublin City Gallery
The county of Dublin is popular for being a sophisticated source of world-class art. Charlemont House happens to be the impressive building that proudly houses this gallery. William Chambers was the one to design it back in 1763. There are more than a few classics and contemporary Irish art to enjoy.
People usually refer to the gallery as the Hugh Lane. It originally belonged to Sir Hugh Lane; he used to work in the art galleries of London. That was long before he established his own gallery.
Lane happened to own a superb collection that he built up himself. However, Ireland did not appreciate his collections that much since most of them were Impressionists. Thus, he donated most of his collection to the National Gallery in London instead.
Dublinia Viking Museum
Dublinia happens to be the meeting point of the modern and old versions of the county. It brings history to life, allowing everyone to get involved in such an experience of learning and sharing knowledge. The site houses four different exhibitions.
Those exhibitions make you travel in time and see the city during the Medieval Ages and the Vikings era. Dublinia means seeing the whole county from a brand new perspective and learning about the locals. It is an experience that you will neither forget nor regret.
EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum
Well, this museum is called Epic for a reason; it is actually the only fully digital museum around the world. In fact, it displays Irish history for the last 1500 years or so.
It also gives the guests the opportunity to relive the ultimate achievements in Ireland’s history. The museum also narrates the stories of all the Irish people who travelled the world through the past and present times. You will learn about the best aspects of Ireland in terms of politics, music, science, literature, sports, and even fashion.
One of the largest cemeteries and Ireland’s topmost iconic national space is the Glasnevin Cemetery. It covers almost 125 acres of the northern part of the city. The cemetery has been around since 1832 and is full of sculptures and monuments that belong to the Victorian era.
The Gaol is a very vast prison that is unoccupied, yet feels creepy and spooky. You can freely walk into the East Wing of Kilmainham Gaol and explore the cold breeze that howls inside. Definitely, this place holds an endless number of tales within the thick walls.
Ireland stopped using this prison in 1924; it closed it down and turned it into a touristic site, instead. Many political figures were put behind its bars, including President Eamon de Valera, Robert Emmet, Charles Stewart Parnell, and more.
In fact, the county of Dublin seems to be one of those cities that never run out of historic buildings. After all, it has been surviving for very long centuries. Thus, it has many stories to narrate for one generation after another and a few buildings will never be enough. Malahide Castle is another building that deems to be among the most important structures in Ireland’s history.
It dates back to the 12th century when the Talbots used to reside there. There was one of the most influential families all across Ireland. The Castle happened to survive through the Penal Laws as well as the Battle of Boyne. Its survival made it among the significant buildings of Ireland.
Archbishop Narcissus Marsh was a Dubliner that opened Marsh’s Library back in 1701. Around the library, there are vast gardens that are quite pleasing to the eye of the beholder. In these modern times, the building works as both a research library and a museum.
National Botanic Gardens
Gardens are always beautiful and provide magnificent sceneries, especially the botanic ones with rare kinds of plants. The National Botanic Gardens are one of Ireland’s tranquillizing places. Over and beyond, it contains the National Herbarium along with iron-shaped glasshouses that tell history. They actually are an oasis where you get to find relaxation and enjoy the view. Besides, the entry there is free, so you won’t have to worry about that matter. Those gardens sit around three kilometres away from the centre of Dublin city.
Old Library and the Book of Kells
This library is one of the most splendid libraries in all of Europe. It features a large number of books that belonged to Trinity College in ancient times. Thomas Burgh was the one who built it back in the 16th century.
The library is located inside Trinity College; it is a very long room that is about 65 meters long. It will be the greatest satisfaction ever for all of the bookworms out there. Besides all of the oldest volumes you can find there, lies the Book of Kells. It is an Early Christian manuscript that people regard as a masterpiece.
Inside it, you will get to learn all about the history and the four Gospels of the New Testament. Ancient Scottish monks created that masterpiece around AD 800 and it still survives to this very day.
Phoenix Park is one of Ireland’s largest enclosed urban parks that covers around 1700 acres, or perhaps a little more. It holds Dublin Zoo where a great number of deer freely roam. People refer to it as the Deerfield. It also happens to be the official residence of the Irish president. There are also other structures there, including Farmleigh House, which used to belong to the Guinness family, and Castleknock Gate.
Besides, Ashtown Castle is a centre for visitors who would love to know more about the park. In fact, Dublin Zoo happens to be the structure within the park that attracts the greatest number of visitors. Some claim that over a million visitors come every year to see Europe’s second oldest zoo. You can spend the day watching bizarre species of animals, reptiles, and birds. There are also areas for kids to play and restaurants that serve tasty food.
The whole city started off at that magnificent river and now it became one of its tourist attractions. It is one of the longest rivers in the county. In fact, it is the main artery that courses for about 75 miles through the whole city. The river pours into the Irish Seas right at Dublin Bay. People take long walks along the two banks of the river. You will get to see marvellous sightings of impressive architecture.
There is also a famous bridge down the river called Ha’penny Bridge. At night, it lightens up, making the whole place look fantastic.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
It is actually the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland. The Cathedral is also only 7 minutes away from Christ Church Cathedral, a 7-minute walk as well. Legends claim that this place was the one where Saint Patrick converted people to Christianity and baptized them. Before the foundation of that cathedral, there was a church made entirely of stone.
It existed back in 1192 before it had undergone a revamp to be that cathedral of today. One of the interesting facts about it is that Jonathan Swift, the Irish author, was its dean for 35 years. His tomb exists inside the cathedral, just at the right of the entrance. Besides him lies Hester Johnson, his everlasting love.
St. Stephen’s Green
St. Stephen’s Green may sound like a name of a street, but it’s actually a park; a splendid one as well. The name reveals the fact that it has remained green for as long as ever. This park provides guests with calmness and relaxation to spend a nice day.
It covers around 27 acres and before being a nice park, it used to be a site for public punishment. This actually sounds very surprising, but it was true. That was during the Middle Ages before Arthur Guinness bought it and transformed the land into a more peaceful one.
Apparently, the Guinness Family had worked at their best to make Ireland a nicer place. Nowadays, the Office of Public Works runs the park and maintains its facilities. It contains a garden and a playground. The area is quite vast, so it easily includes eighteen monuments of eighteen different Irish figures. They belong to people who had an impact on the history of Ireland.
One more iconic bar in the land of the Dubliners is Temple Bar. This place attracts people from all four corners of the globe just to enjoy a drink within its historic walls. The bar is as old as time; it dates back to the early 14th century. It is still among the most popular sites today since it actually lies in the core of the city, making it easy for tourists and guests to reach.
The Guinness Storehouse
Here is one of the most prominent places there that you will keep hearing about; the Guinness Storehouse. In 2015, people ranked this place as one of the most popular attractions in Ireland, specifically, and in Europe, generally. Thus, you will definitely regret it if you forget to add it to your list. This place belonged to the Guinness Family. A tour around that factory is a splendid experience that will leave you awed about the creation of pints. Get yourself familiar with the history of brewing.
You will learn all about when it started in Ireland, how they marketed it, and how it is drunk. The factory consists of seven floors and you can have the tour totally for free, so don’t miss it. Above all, you will enjoy a free pint right after the tour.
The Little Museum of Dublin
While you are there, you will realize that this museum is better known as the People’s Museum. The story behind that naming is through the centuries, Dubliners have donated treasures to that place. Their main goal was to create an extensive and eccentric exhibition that contains everything, ordinary and not. Such an idea helped the visitors to see the history and culture of the city through the eyes of the locals. You can’t help but fall in love with such a superb place.
The Old Jameson Distillery
If you know one thing about Ireland, it definitely should be that beer and whiskey are very significant to it. They are even popular for having their own Irish toasts. The Old Jameson Distillery is another gem of Ireland. You can find it off Smithfield Square and it was the original site of manufacturing the popular Jameson whiskey. Purification and distillery took place at that location as well, hence the name. People can take a tour around the place. You will hear stories about the creation of the finest whiskey and all of its history.
The factory had stopped production in the 70s, but it still gives whiskey-tasting experiences to its guests. Interestingly, every guest gets to have a Whiskey Taster Certificate at the end of the tour.
The Spire is a stainless-steel long-standing structure that is proudly erected in the centre of O’Connell Street. It towers up to almost 120 meters above the ground and is about three meters in diameter at the base. This monument is very easy to spot no matter how far you stand. Besides, it illuminates during the hot days, making itself more visible to everyone. At night, the tip of the Spire still lights up with the aid of an external source of light.
Not only does it look beautiful, but also acts as a guiding light in the dark sky.
Wicklow Mountain is an incredibly splendid landscape that lies on the borders of the city. A tour to that mountain is surely a must. Interestingly, it is quite affordable to visit. That tour will teach you a lot about history. You will be served a traditional Irish lunch there, so get ready, bring your camera, and enjoy exploring!
So, you can see why Dublin has such a huge role in Ireland old and new.
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