Travels & Traditions: Dublin, Ireland - #602

BURT WOLF: For over 700 years, Ireland lived under foreign domination. But in 1921, it became an independent Republic and Dublin became its capital. In 1973, Ireland joined the European Economic Community and Dublin became a center of international commerce. Irish immigration, which had seen the departure of over a quarter of the island’s population, went into reverse. Irish men and women started coming home. Today, Dublin is also fashionable destination for tourists from all over the world.

For over 7,000 years. Celtic tribes inhabited Ireland and to this day, Gaelic, which is one of the ancient Celtic languages, is the second language in Ireland.

The Celts built their Dublin settlement at the point where the Poddle River joined the Liffey River. The spot was marked by a dark pool of water or black pool which in Celtic was called dubh-linn.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the 7th century, the population of Scandinavia expanded so rapidly that the land was no longer able to feed the people who lived on it. The Scandinavians solved the problem by raiding other communities and one of their favorite spots was Ireland. Eventually the raiders became famous as the Vikings.

BURT WOLF: And they loved raiding the Irish Monasteries.

It’s not that the Vikings had anything special against Christian monks; it was simply that the Irish monasteries had all the good stuff. The hit and run raiders who specialized in the Dublin area came from Norway. They enjoyed the hitting part, the running part was really not that interesting.

Over the years, the Viking warriors married local Celtic women and blended their Nordic gods into Christianity. The craftwork of the period shows the interaction of both Christian and Celtic symbols.


BURT WOLF: Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral was founded in 1191 and is one of the oldest Christian sites in Ireland. The land where it stands was originally an island where two branches of the Poddle River came together. 

GAVAN WOODS ON CAMERA: Well this Cathedral and the current building we’re in is 13th Century Old English Gothic. And it was built on the site of an older stone church. The first Norman church here dated back to around 1190. And before that there was a small timber church there that predated the Norman Conquest – a native Irish church.

It’s associated with St. Patrick, the site; apparently St. Patrick used water from a well nearby to baptize locals and convert them to Christianity back in the 400’s.

BURT WOLF: By the middle of the 1800s the building had became rather dilapidated. It was restored by Sir Benjamin Guinness of the Guinness brewery. Inside there is a stained glass window – a gift from the Guinness family. At the bottom of the window are the words, “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink.” – Clearly a reference to the role of religion, but not a bad thought for the owner of the world’s most famous brewery.


BURT WOLF: St. Patrick has a very special relationship with Guinness. During the 5th century St. Patrick marked a series of wells as holy and used their waters in his rituals. The one called St. James’s Well fed into the Grand Canal which was one of the sources of water for Guinness. Its unusually pure water was believed to be the secret ingredient in Guinness.

The St. James’s Gate brewery opened in 1759. Arthur Guinness was only 34 at the time but he signed a lease that ran for 9,000 years.

Today, Guinness is available in 150 countries and 70 million glasses are sold every week. And they still have over 8,750 years left on their lease.

The Guinness Storehouse, a museum devoted to the story of Guinness, has become the number one attraction for visitors to Ireland.

There is a detailed explanation of how Guinness is brewed. How it came to be a world-wide export. And the story of Arthur Guinness.

The tour concludes on the top floor, where the bar offers a 360 degree view of the city and a pint of what is probably the world’s best tasting Guinness, having made the shortest trip possible between production and consumption. In the world of Guinness, drawing a glass from a tap is called “pulling a pint” and there is an art to the task.

ORLA HANRATTY ON CAMERA: There are six steps to pouring the perfect pint.


ORLA HANRATTY ON CAMERA: Yes there are. So the first step being you have to take a nice cool clean glass. Ok. So if you hold it at a 45 degree angle and then you need to pull the tap the whole way down.


ORLA HANRATTY ON CAMERA: Yea the whole way down.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The whole way down.

ORLA HANRATTY ON CAMERA: So as the glass is filling if you straighten it up you don’t have to fill it the whole way. You just have to fill it as far as the 1759.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Ok, right up to about 80% the gold line. Tilt back, turn it off.

ORLA HANRATTY ON CAMERA: And then leave it there. And it takes about two minutes for the pint to settle.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Don’t touch my glass.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: What causes all that smoke in there?

ORLA HANRATTY ON CAMERA: That is the two gasses which is carbon dioxide and nitrogen. So this is the two gasses forming that lovely creamy head on the top of your pint. And then when it goes a dark color - which isn’t black, in fact it’s dark ruby red – you’ll know then it’s ready to finish off.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I pick it up right? And this time I put it under straight.

ORLA HANRATTY ON CAMERA: And to finish it off you need to push the tap back. And when we do this we’re leaving out the two gasses. Get it just above the rim so you’ve got that lovely dome shape on top of your pint.


ORLA HANRATTY ON CAMERA: Just above the rim.


ORLA HANRATTY ON CAMERA: Just about there. And that’s your perfect pint.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Wow. Ha, you thought I was just another pretty face. Stop that.


BURT WOLF: Guinness is famous for its beer but perhaps even more famous as the publisher of The Guinness Book of Records. Sir Hugh Beaver was the Managing Director of Guinness in the 1950s.

One day he was out hunting birds and missed his shot. Later that evening he got into a discussion as to which game bird was the fastest, which gave him the idea of compiling a book of facts that would serve as a definitive reference book.

A book that would settle the nightly debates that took place in the 81,000 pubs scattered throughout Britain and Ireland. The first edition was published in 1955 and contained thousands of interesting facts; however, they forgot to include the fastest flying game bird.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: That error was corrected in the second edition. Ducks and geese are the fastest flying land birds. Since then The Guinness Book of Records has gone on to become the biggest selling copy written book. The only book that sells more is the bible.


BURT WOLF: On the first of May 1169 the troops of King Henry of England invaded Ireland and occupied Dublin. Most of the men were not professional soldiers but tradesmen who had come over from southern England. Many stayed in Dublin and set up shop.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But the Anglo-Normans or Old English as they had come to be called were fearful of the Irish who surrounded their city and also unwilling to share any of their new found wealth. And so they instituted a system of segregation that was designed to destroy traditional Irish culture.

BURT WOLF: In 1204 in order to keep his treasure in and the Irish out, Henry authorized the construction of a Dublin fortress. It was situated at a strategically important site that guarded the harbor and the four long-distance roadways that converged nearby. It was known as Dublin Castle.

DENIS McCARTHY ON CAMERA: We're in the State Departments of Dublin Castle. The State Departments here open to the public and they date from 1750s. This is the Imperial Staircase that leads up to the battleaxe landing. The battleaxe landing as you can see is very ornate and gorgeous. This was the former residence of the Vicroy, the Queen's representative in Ireland, the head of the colonial government. And this is where his battleaxe guards, his body guards would have stood so to gain entry to the throne room to meet the Vicroy you'd have to get by these guys. This as you see is the throne room. Formally known as the president's chamber. When British royals visited this is where they would have met their loyal subjects or where the Vicroy meet people.

BURT WOLF: Standing at the entrance to the castle is a statue representing Justice holding her scales. Dubliners are quick to point out that she faces the Castle having turned her back to the nation.


BURT WOLF: In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I established Trinity College. On the surface it looked like a generous contribution to the intellectual life of the city. But in reality, it was an attempt to keep the Anglo-Irish nobles from sending their children to Catholic schools in Europe. The heart of the college is the great library.

The English Copyright Act gave the college the right to claim one copy of every book, pamphlet, map and periodical published in the British Isles. And this privilege has continued – the library receives over 100,000 books each year, which means that almost every work of value is permanently preserved for use by future generations.


BURT WOLF: The most valuable item in The Trinity Library, and the reason that hundreds of thousands of visitors come here each year, is the Book of Kells.

ROBIN ADAMS ON CAMERA: The Drawing Room is an 18th Century building. 

BURT WOLF: Robin Adams is the University Librarian at Trinity College.

ROBIN ADAMS ON CAMERA: The Book of Kells is often regarded as Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and as a symbol of its contribution to European civilization. Because it survived for 1200 years. 

It’s a copy of the four gospels in Latin written by Irish monks possibly on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland or possibly in the town of Kells which is about 40 miles from Dublin. Europe was in the Dark Ages. The monks of the time copied the text of the Gospels so they could bring the word back to the people who had forgotten or never heard of Christianity.

BURT WOLF: The book emphasizes the symbols of the Evangelists. Matthew shown as a man. Mark as a lion. Luke as a calf. And John as an eagle.

Each Gospel opens with an elaborate ornamental page in which the text is submerged in the design. Brightly colored animals and human figures are woven into the capital letters at the beginning of the text.

ROBIN ADAMS ON CAMERA: The production of the manuscript was the work of a whole community in the monastery. We can see four different styles of writing. The community was involved right from the creation of the calf skin on which the text is written. And in the production of the pens used they would be goose or swan feathers. Some of the illustrations are very imaginative requiring the artistic skills and there would be specialists used to create those. 

The pigments were collected from this country, from else where in Europe and perhaps even from Asia. And one of the most colorful pages you find up to 30 or 40 different pigments. So it was quite a sophisticated society to bring those materials together to create the manuscript.

BURT WOLF: The book is filled with errors which are marked off with boxes and dots. It was difficult to produce a perfect page in the years before spell check.

ROBIN ADAMS ON CAMERA: We believe that the manuscript would have been taken shortly after it was completed to Kells which was inland and safer from Viking attack. And it remained in a stone cell for about 600 years. 

BURT WOLF: The second manuscript of considerable importance in the Trinity Library is the Book of Armagh which was written in 807. It is the only example of the entire Latin text of the New Testament in the form in which it was used in the Celtic Church. The Book of Armagh also contains St. Patrick’s Confessions in which he tells the story of his life.


BURT WOLF: In addition to its books, the Library contains a classic carved Irish harp. It was thought to have belonged to Brian Boru, a High King of Ireland during the 11th century.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Scientific analysis indicates that the harp was actually put together about 400 years after Brian died. So it is somewhat unlikely that he ever owned it. But it’s the thought that counts.

BREEDA WARD ON CAMERA: The Irish Harp as folklore would have is that it’s the oldest musical instrument recorded in our culture. Because it had such a strong cultural emblem in our country when Ireland was taken over by a foreign state they tried to dim it down. There was an issue out at one stage to say that if the harp was found that it was to be destroyed. 

BURT WOLF: Today the harp is the national symbol of Ireland.


BURT WOLF: The places where people come together are divided by sociologists into three categories. The first is your home, the second is the place where you work and the third is a neighborhood hangout where people from the area come to talk, to reduce the stress of daily life and to be together with other people.

In Ireland the third group is made up primarily of public houses commonly known as pubs. Very often the local pub is a focal point in the community – the secular counterbalance to the church. Of course, the spirit one confronts in a pub is considerably different from the spirit you find in a church but the sense of group can be similar.

PAUL O’TOOLE ON CAMERA: We’re on a street of pubs now. . .

BURT WOLF: Paul O’Toole is the director of the organization responsible for promoting tourism to Ireland and part of his responsibility is taking me on a tour of the pubs of Dublin.

We started in the Temple Bar district which is a maze of narrow winding streets that run up from the bank of the Liffey River.

The objective of our meandering was the Auld Dubliner which is famous for its music.

PAUL O’TOOLE: Auld Dubliner is a true Dublin pub even though it has moved with the times. And it’s been updated and is probably a bit bigger than it was.

PAUL O’TOOLE ON CAMERA: It’s held true to its sprit and its soul. We've been listening to some fantastic music and that really is the essence of what it’s about. 

As you walk into the Stag's Head you’re going to see it looks a little bit different than the Ault Dubliner…

BURT WOLF: We ended our tour at The Stag’s Head which was opened in 1770 and refurbished in 1895. It is a perfect example of a Victorian pub.

PAUL O’TOOLE: Stag's Head is I suppose is a true Dublin pub as with the Auld Dubliner. But it’s slightly different. You don’t get music at this pub. This pub is very much about the engagement of people. It’s held true to its style and if you look around the pub you see that a lot of the furniture is old. It’s authentic. It’s how it was and it’s a pub known and cherished and loved by Dubliners for many many years. And our visitors enjoy it too.

Pubs are at the heart of where Irish people like to meet most. At heart we are very garrulous people, we’re convivial people, we're talkative people. 

PAUL O’TOOLE ON CAMERA: We like to do that in an environment where we're comfortable. And the pub is that environment. It’s a place we come and share stories. Where we meet friends. We know that if we go to a pub where we’re known we can go on our own and instantly be welcome. It’s a place of warmth of music of humor of tales and exaggerated tales. It’s all of those things. 


BURT WOLF: This is the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin. The public rooms are rather elegant and designed for informal gatherings.

The rooms are what you would expect in a truly deluxe hotel but they have an assortment of special things that I get a kick out of. The mattresses in every Four Seasons Hotel are made to a unique set of specifications as are the comforters and the pillows. And they have become so popular that many guests have purchased them and brought them home. 

The hotel is famous for its afternoon tea. As the British and Irish middle class got richer they made lunch a big and important meal for business men. That resulted in dinner time being pushed back to 8 or 9 pm. And that became a real problem for Lady Anne the 7th Duchess of Bedford. She just couldn’t wait that long for dinner. And so she began to have a little tea in the afternoon. And then a little sandwich to go along with the tea. And a little cookie, and a little cake, and a scone, and a tart, and some butter and jam. At first she would take these little snacks in the privacy of her bedroom. But then her friends came to join her and the afternoon got started.

In 2003, the hotel commissioned one of the largest private collections of original art by leading Irish artists. The work was then translated into tapestries that are on permanent display in the bar called ICE.

The other art on display in the hotel is the art of Irish whiskey. The hotel has one of the largest Irish whiskey collections in the country. 


BURT WOLF: The 18th century was a great time for Dublin, especially when it came to architecture. It was a period known as the time of the Four Georges – a reference to the four kings of England all named George who ruled from 1711 to 1830. The area around

St. Stephens Green, Marion and Fitzwilliam squares, dates to this time. Georgian architecture was a reaction to the ornamental design of the baroque – it was a return to the simpler styles of classical Greece and Rome.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In 1756 the government of Dublin established the Wide Streets Commission. It was one of the first modern government bodies to deal with town planning. And it had the right to purchase any building that it deemed essential to its task. And if the owners of the building did not cooperate the commission would send their workman over during the middle of the night and unroof the building. 

BURT WOLF: The Georgian architects who worked in Dublin were unusual – they not only built private homes like the Georgian architects in England and the American colonies, but in Dublin they also designed magnificent public buildings. The Customs House was built in 1791 and is considered to be a magnificent example of 18th century architecture.

It was also a golden age for music. In 1742, the composer Fredrick Handel arrived in Dublin and presented his Messiah. It was first offered at the Charitable Music Society’s Hall. Because so many people planned to attend the first performance, and the space was so small, a public announcement was made, requesting ladies not to wear hooped petticoats, and gentlemen to leave their swords at home.

Dublin has become one of the most important cities in Europe and is more attractive for tourists than ever before. The food is excellent. The social life is compelling. And Irish hospitality is as welcoming as ever.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.