Dublin a great walking city

A tourist poses with the statue of Dublin heroine Molly Malone. Local wits have dubbed the statue...

A tourist poses with the statue of Dublin heroine Molly Malone. Local wits have dubbed the statue "The tart with the cart." (MITCHELL SMYTH/QMI Agency)


, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

DUBLIN -- This is a grand walking city, with its squares, terraces and pedestrians-only streets. It's great strolling anytime -- well, anytime except March 17 when downtown turns into a giant open-air festival and tens of thousands "invade" for the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. That's not an easy walking day.

Don't be put off by the grim economic news and the recent political turmoil here. The "Celtic Tiger" of the 1990s may be wounded, but that hasn't affected the legendary hospitality.

James Joyce, who set his most famous novel -- Ulysses -- in the streets of the capital, called it "dear, dirty Dublin." Richard Burton, filming The Spy Who Came in from the Cold here in 1963, called it "grim" and "grubby." None of those words apply any more, as any visitor can attest.

My favourite Dublin walk is bookended by the ghosts of two of the city's most famous sons, both writers, for Dublin is, if nothing else, a literary city (think Joyce, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, to name just a few).

The walk begins at Merrion Square, on the south bank of the River Liffey, where Oscar Wilde lived, and ends at Joyce's house on North Great George's St., on the north side of the river.

In between, the walker has a lesson on architecture, history, wit, wisdom, art and hospitality, beginning with the fine Georgian mansions of Merrion Square, built in the early 1800s when Dublin was the second most cultured and refined city in the British Empire, after London.

In the square there's a statue of Wilde, reclining on a rock, a statue that Dublin wags have dubbed "The quare in the square." (Quare doesn't mean gay, it means jolly, as in Behan's The Quare Fellow.

The wags have a field day with Dublin's many statues. The statue of buxom local heroine Molly Malone pushing a handcart is known here as "The tart with the cart," and the huge millennium obelisk is called "The stiletto in the ghetto," for instance. Both are on this walk.

West of Merrion Square is the National Gallery, featuring works by Irish and European masters. The walk continues down Grafton St., the city's upscale shopping street, to world-famous Trinity College for an obligatory stop to see the Book of Kells, the beautifully illustrated version of the Gospels written by monks in the eighth century.

Crossing the river, we proceed up O'Connell St. to a building that's etched in the consciousness of every Irish person: The General Post Office. The walls are still pock-marked with bullet holes from a siege there in Easter week, 1916, a reminder that this country was founded on strife.

The post office was seen as a symbol of British dominance -- Ireland was then part of the United Kingdom -- and that's why Irish rebels seized it, calling for independence. They finally surrendered and many were executed but the rebellion -- which W. B. Yeats called "a terrible beauty" -- sparked a war of independence which, in 1921, finally ended British rule here.

At the north end of O'Connell St., the Dublin Writers' Museum records the wealth of literary talent the country has produced and in particular the four Nobel laureates in literature: Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Seamus Heaney. (Incidentally, a video admits what we all know: That many, many more people know about Ulysses than have actually read it.

A few blocks east takes us to the museum in Joyce's house and the end of our walk through history.


This reporter's tour was self-guided, but many guided walks are offered. Tourist information on Dublin, including details on guided tours, is available from visitdublin.com (click on "See and do," then on "Guided walking tours"). For general tourist information on Ireland. see discoverireland.com.