Louise Jury headed out on the trail of Joyce, Yeats and Beckett. Yet she found herself cheerfully distracted, drinking in the heady warmth of the fair city
James Joyce's Ulysses came fourth in this week's Books of the Century poll. Like every impressionable teenager who ever fell into step behind Leopold Bloom, I think Joyce was robbed. And besides, his Dublin was a far more enticing destination than Tolkien's Mordor. I had long imagined walking through the streets of the Irish capital. As an adult, I appeared to be the only person in Britain not to have nipped across the sea for a hen weekend, rugby international binge or similar occasion involving copious amounts of drinking. So it was with a sense of returning to a long-lost home that I finally flew in for a three-day break.

I had dreamed of the Dublin of Joyce, Yeats and Beckett and intended digging out the associations, visiting the bars they drank in, the houses where they lived and the places they described. Yet as it turned out, the bars were the only part of that itinerary I followed. And I returned quite satisfied.

Dublin, more than almost any other city, is a place to amble - stopping for a drink here and there. Even the most avid of culture vultures can console themselves in a pub because the wealth of traditional music struck up in back rooms and upper bars on almost every street says so much about the culture.

We strolled through Temple Bar, Dublin's trendy eating, drinking and entertainment quarter, and simply listened for the sound of a gig or a melancholy Irish love song to draw us in. At the Brazen Head, a 10-minute walk from Temple Bar on Lower Bridge Street and reputedly the oldest pub in the city, the wooden-panelled walls and bright comforting fires are of the variety carefully sought out in the British countryside and virtually extinct in London. On Sunday lunchtime, the music in the equally panelled and welcoming Lanigan's Bar was a delight.

After a while, we realised it is difficult to find a bad bar in Dublin. A few might descend into karaoke instead of home-grown entertainment on a Saturday night, but most provide a good night out. Sean O'Casey's on Marlborough Street is very much a local, with photographs on the wall and the regulars sitting at the bar. It was not particularly young and swinging - the clientele more Auntie Maggie and Granny O'Reilly than your monied twenty- and thirtysomethings - but as a place for people-watching it could not be bettered.

Yet splendid though the bars are, it would be a pity not to take in at least some other parts of the city. In the wake of the film Michael Collins, more people are likely to understand the significance of the post office in O'Connell Street, scene of the Easter uprising of 1916, where if you look hard enough you are supposed to be able to see the remnants of gunfire on the walls. Trinity College, which will also be recognisable to film lovers as the location of Educating Rita, has the air of an Oxford or Cambridge and a history to match. Some guidebooks warn of queues to gaze on its most precious treasure, the 8th-century Book of Kells, but on a winter weekend lunchtime there were none. No doubt the summer is busier. Even so, a wait and the pounds 3.50 entrance ticket would be worth it. Illuminated reproductions from four calfskin volumes show more pages than can be seen for real - given the impossibility of allowing the public to turn the pages of the genuine volumes under glass at the end of the exhibition. Upstairs, you can marvel at the stunning panelled Trinity College library.

My cultural find of the weekend was one many would avoid, however. The typical city museum with Stone Age flints or 18th-century pottery seems to fill all but the greatest museum fans with dread (I admit I love them), but to miss the National Museum in Kildare Street might be a mistake. Most memorably, it contains a large and jaw-dropping collection of distinctive early Celtic jewellery in shimmering gold. The torques, or twisted gold collar necklaces, would not look out of place in one of the city's modern jewellery shops.

The weekend visit settled into a neat pattern. A stroll through the streets where good-humoured buskers vie for attention. Lunch in one of the bars or the cafe-restaurants which give Dublin the atmosphere of a cosmopolitan European city, followed by a dose of culture. Tea at Bewley's, where it seems as if all the city queues for its mid-morning or mid-afternoon sustenance, then a touch of shopping in stores where the assistants seem as delighted to serve you as the barmen in the pubs and finally time for a drink.

So I am yet to spend a day following the path of Joyce's hero in Ulysses. I might have been irritated beyond words at such a failure, but the laid- back creature I became in the city's bewitching company did not mind one jot. Apart from having an excellent time even without Joyce (or indeed Yeats or Beckett) I had decided almost upon arrival that I was going to have to visit again. And I willn


city essentials

Air: Fares between the UK and Ireland are very low at present. Louise Jury paid pounds 74 (including tax) for a Heathrow-Dublin return on British Midland (0345 554 554). Lower fares are available for two people travelling together on Ryanair (0541 569 569), from Gatwick, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Prestwick or Stansted, or on Aer Lingus (0181-899 4747) - which charges pounds 54.50 per person for return flights from Stansted to Dublin.

Sea: Perhaps the greatest bargain of all, if you want a largely unrestricted ticket, is on InterCity West Coast and Stena Line. Travellers from south- east England - anywhere in Greater London, plus most of the Home Counties and Cambridgeshire - can travel from their local station to Holyhead and zip across to Dun Laoghaire in 100 minutes on the the new HSS vessel. The fare on off-peak services is just pounds 39 return, with under-16s travelling for half-price. Call 0171-387 8541 for details.

Accommodation: Louise Jury paid IRpounds 26 per night for a twin room with breakfast at one of the many B&B establishments on Lower Gardiner Street. Bord Failte/Irish Tourist Board, 150 New Bond Street, London W1Y 0AQ (0171- 493 3201) can supply lists and further information.