After the excitement of London and beauty of Edinburgh, visiting the capital city of Ireland was a different experience altogether.

They say you only have one chance to make a first impression, and the lack of grandeur and architectural allure in Dublin unfortunately left an impression on me…

After arriving at our hostel, the Generator Hostel Dublin (which is everything a hostel should be, I really can’t recommend it enough), we again took advantage of the wonderful Sandemans New Europe free walking tours.

Our amazing guide, Eoin, had graduated from college three years prior with both history and political science degrees so, to a history nerd like moi, the three hour tour was an incredibly interesting walking history lesson. Because I can’t reenact the entire tour for you, I’ll share the highlights I thought most interesting with you here now:

The Dublin Castle (pictured above and below), was built by the English King John I in 1204 to serve as the seat of English rule in Dublin. The English controlled Ireland for almost 800 years, from 1169 to 1921, and essentially treated the Irish as second class citizens during this time.

The statue of Justice standing over the castle’s courtyard (pictured below) is wrought with symbolism. The statue was built by the British and has a couple uncharacteristic details that indicate the strained relationship between the English and Irish people for much of England’s rule.

First, Justice is not wearing her standard blindfold, ie in the eyes of the English, Justice is very much not blind. Second, instead of the sword of Justice holding its usual place, sheathed at her side, the sword is actually drawn, indicating she’s not afraid to distribute justice, a thinly veiled threat to the Irish people. Lastly, the statue is facing inwards toward the English courtyard with her behind facing the city of Dublin, one final insult to the people of Ireland.

Because the Dublin Castle represents the historic British occupation of Ireland (and is now where the present day Irish tax collection offices are located) most Irishmen loath the sight of the castle on their cityscape.

Speaking of symbolism, how interesting to learn that when people refer to St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, they’re actually using the metaphor to refer to his driving out the pagan religions from the country when he arrived preaching Christianity! (St. Patrick’s cathedral pictured above and below.)

Continuing on, as we all know, the shamrock has long been a symbol of Ireland and its culture; well this actually started when St. Patrick started using it to convert the pagans to Christianity. He preached that the three leaves of the shamrock symbolized the holy trinity and, because the flowers were everywhere on the island, St. Patrick took advantage of its familiarity to the people and used it as evidence of authenticity of his new religion.

Also extremely interesting to learn was the background of Irish emigration to America. Back in 1845, a fungus from America was introduced to the potato crop in Ireland, causing a four-year potato blight known as the Great Famine. This was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration in Ireland with almost 2 million people dying and another 3 million emigrating to the United States, Canada and Australia. In only a matter of years the population of Ireland was essentially cut in half! (And so began the backstory of such important films as Far and Away and Gangs of New York.)

The Irish finally gained independence from England in 1921 after years of rebellions, guerrilla warfare and every possible act the Irish could think of to lead the English to the conclusion that Ireland was unruleable. The counties with Protestant majority sided with Britain however, for fear of catholic rule, and this is why Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom to this day.

Now for the truly random factoids!
Did you know that the official language of Ireland is actually Gaelic? It is mandatory in Irish schools through high school and is printed first on all public signs, followed by the second official language, English. (Also the Irish don’t refer to the language as ‘Gaelic’, but as ‘Irish’.)

Did you know that, besides training for combat and being on call to protect the country, thousands of Irish Army soldiers have starred as extras in the movies Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan? Also, shocking to learn, Braveheart wasn’t even filmed in Scotland, but was actually filmed in Ireland due to massive tax breaks!?

And there’s my history tour and Dublin experience in a nutshell, a little bit all over the place, much like my days in Dublin themselves. It was a super interesting introduction to Ireland and I’m more excited than ever to continue traveling through the rest of the country and learn more about the history, culture and people here.

Thanks for reading!

xo Carrie (or Cah-regh as they say here!)