48 hours in Musical Dublin

Ireland's capital city attracts music lovers from all over the world
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The Independent Travel

Why go now?

Why go now?

Music is Dublin's beating heart. And with a civic renaissance fuelled by years of EU investment, now music lovers can enjoy what's on offer, be it a traditional Irish session held in a smoky room above a pub, or chamber music at the AIB Music Festival in Great Irish Houses (8-17 June, 00 353 1 278 1528) in cosmopolitan comfort. What's more, Ireland has at last drawn a veil over its embarrassing run of Eurovision success in the Nineties, with this month's disastrous showing apparently spelling the end of its participation ­ which can only increase the country's musical cred. Finally, with eight airlines competing on the price of flights from the UK to Dublin, paying your respects to the place where U2 are treated like royalty needn't cost the earth.

Beam down

I travelled as a guest of Aer Lingus (0845 9737 747, www. aerlingus.com) which flies from seven UK airports and can arrange car hire for £16 per day. Fares start at £79 return during June. For details of this and other routes to Dublin. There are various coach links at Dublin Airport for the 40-minute journey to the city (IR£4).

Get your bearings

The pubs of Temple Bar, to the south of the River Liffey, are the focus for traditional music in Dublin. Useful maps of the area are posted at intersections. Elsewhere, brown-and-white signs point out the many tourist sites. First things first: head for the Dublin Tourist Centre ( www.visitdublin.com) on Suffolk Street, a converted church. The staff can arrange accommodation and tickets for most events, including big venues such as The Point at East Link Bridge (00 353 1 836 3633) and the Gaiety Theatre on South King Street (00 353 1 677 1717), and you'll be able to pick up a free copy of listings guide The List here.

Check in

Accommodation doesn't come cheap in Dublin, and it doesn't come much more expensive than at the brand new Four Seasons Hotel at Ballsbridge (00 353 1 665 4000, www.fourseasons.com). With rooms from IR£280 a night, this is for the well-heeled music lover only, although its proximity to the Royal Dublin Society's Showgrounds open-air venue (00 353 1 668 0866, www.rds.ie) is a bonus. The Clarence Hotel on Wellington Quay (00 353 1 670 9000), owned by U2's Bono and The Edge, is Dublin's rock'n'roll hang out, with prices starting at IR£210. More affordable is the Clifton Court Hotel (00 353 1 874 3535, www.cliftoncourthotel.com) at IR£70 a double room, with the popular Lanigan's bar. One of the many backpacker options is Avalon House (8) on Aungier Street (00 353 1 475 0001). A double room with a shower is IR£22.

Take a hike

You might have to run to catch the once glitzy, now grimy Hot Press Irish Music Hall Of Fame on Abbey Street Middle (IR£6, 00 353 1 878 3345) as rumours surround its future. Instead, get to know Temple Bar before the hordes of revellers arrive. The Temple Bar Music Centre on Curved Street (00 353 1 670 9202) is worth a look: it's one of the best rock venues in Dublin and features gigs by local bands during weekend afternoons. Alternatively, stroll to the George Street Arcade, a pretty indoor market that's great for second-hand records.

Take a ride

Hire a bike from Dublin Bike Tours and Rental on Fishamble Street (00 353 1 679 0899; www.dublinbiketours.com) for IR£10 a day. Use yours to take in the tourist sites, then zoom to those parts of the "rock'n'stroll trail" (leaflet available from the Tourist Centre, price IR£2.95), which take your fancy. (Sinéad O'Connor's waitressing years are commemorated at the Bad Ass Café on Crown Alley.) Ride past the statue of sweet Molly Malone to the busy ­ and pedestrianised ­ shopping centre of Grafton Street, where urchins sing Molly's song with the lungs of elephants. Remount and cycle to the furthest point on the trail: Windmill Lane Studios (14), erstwhile recording home of U2. The band may have moved on from this gritty docklands area, but the fans' graffiti remains.

Lunch on the run

Nude on Suffolk Street has groovy smoothies decanted into milk bottles (IR£2.80) and tasty wraps (IR£3.95) for take-away. Meanwhile, Juice on South Great George's Street offers light fare for IR£8 a head, and a soundtrack of easy-listening classics for the young and beautiful.

Cultural afternoon

Skim through all of Dublin's culture, from Joyce to Guinness, by joining one of bus tours of the city (IR£8, www.dublinbus.ie). Make sure you leave time to stop off at Ceol, The Traditional Irish Music Centre at Smithfield Village (00 353 1 817 3820, IR£4), which traces the history of Irish music. A highlight not to be missed is the chance to line-dance with yourself in a hall of mirrors. For IR£4 a glass lift in next-door's Jameson Distillery chimney will, er, spirit you to a viewing platform, where you can take in the whole of Dublin ­ cultural or otherwise ­ at a glance.


Annoy your friends back home by buying a bodhrán, the hard-to-play traditional Irish drum (IR£29.99) from the Celtic Note Irish Music Store at 12 Nassau Street (00 353 1 670 4157). But bear in mind that after watching a bodhrán being played properly you'll probably be too ashamed to attempt it yourself.

An aperitif

Warm up by supping Guinness on the Musical Pub Crawl ( www.musicalpubcrawl.com; 00 353 1 478 0193), which leaves from Oliver St John Gogarty's pub in Temple Bar at 7.30pm every night. An essential element of any weekend in Dublin, the crawl costs IR£7 and consists of two musicians dragging an increasingly chipper crowd round various pubs in Temple Bar and playing traditional Irish music at them. By 10pm, the "noble call" will even prompt shy journalists to get up and play Scottish reels on the fiddle. Unmissable.

Dinner with the locals

Settle down to elegant continental and modern Irish food at Eden (00 353 1 670 5372; roughly IR£20 each) on Sycamore Street. If the weather is mild, eat your meal outside on Meeting House Square and applaud the congo-lines of stag-night Elvis impersonators as they burst into free-form versions of "Love Me Tender".

Night on the town

Stay near Temple Bar for a late-night traditional music session at the Brazen Head on Bridge Street Lower, or O'Shea's Merchant, which is opposite. Alternatively, the Harcourt Hotel on Harcourt Street is one of the best-known traditional venues in Dublin. Basically, you're spoilt for choice: just stop when you hear music and cheering. Otherwise, clubbing: there are loads of options, but the techno nights at The Kitchen (00 353 1 677 6635, downstairs at the Clarence Hotel) are always popular. Classical music fans should eat early and make straight for the National Concert Hall (23) on Earlsfort Terrace (00 353 1 417 0000; www.nch.ie), home to the National Symphony Orchestra.

Bracing brunch

Local boy Oscar Wilde once said, "Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast", so in that spirit, head for the tastefully wooded interior of the Mermaid Cafe on Dame Street (00 353 1 670 8236), where quiet contemplation of the day's newspapers over a bruschetta-based all-day brunch and a Bloody Mary will set you back IR£12.

Sunday morning: go to church

As far as interiors go, the most rock'n'roll church in Dublin is the Newman University Church on St Stephen's Green South (admission free). The painted ceiling and neo-Byzantine interior is strange and glorious. Alternatively, for spiritual music, sung Eucharist and choral matins take place at 11.15am at St Patrick's Church (IR£2 admission).

A walk in the park

Swap the throbbing techno beat of your Guinness-provoked hangover for the birdsong of Merrion Square, where the summer blooms are spectacular. Alternatively, head for St Stephen's Green where, from mid-June, you can take in a relaxing lunchtime concert at the bandstand.

Write a postcard

...And then post it into one of Dublin's many green post boxes ­ a strangely disorientating sight for British tourists. Guinness-themed cards are the most popular, so perhaps as you write home you'll reflect on the view ­ self-deprecatingly held by some Irish folk musicians ­ that their ballads are always about one of five things: emigration, lost love, poverty, war or drink. And that the first four are always the consequence of the last.

The icing on the cake

What better than to catch a glimpse of local heroes Bono or The Edge? The wood-panelled Octagon Bar at the Clarence Hotel is your most likely bet for celeb-spotting. But if it really is cake you're after, combine rock'n'roll and sticky buns by visiting Bewley's Oriental Café on Grafton Street (00 353 1 635 5470). Fill your face in the sumptuous, stained-glass surrounds of the ground-floor eatery and ponder on the fact that it was here, when punk was king, that a young Bob Geldof penned "Rat Trap" for the Boomtown Rats. Cool.