Merrion Square and Around

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  • 1. Merrion Square

    Georgian Dublin

    Created between 1762 and 1764, this tranquil square a few blocks east of St. Stephen's Green is lined on three sides by some of Dublin's best-preserved Georgian town houses, many of which have brightly painted front doors crowned by intricate fanlights. Leinster House, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Gallery line the west side of the square. It's on the other sides, however, that the Georgian terrace streetscape comes into its own—the finest houses are on the north border. Even when the flower gardens here are not in bloom, the vibrant, mostly evergreen grounds, dotted with sculpture and threaded with meandering paths, are worth strolling through. Several distinguished Dubliners have lived on the square, including Oscar Wilde's parents, Sir William and "Speranza" Wilde (No. 1); Irish national leader Daniel O'Connell (No. 58); and authors W. B. Yeats (Nos. 52 and 82) and Sheridan LeFanu (No. 70). Until 50 years ago, the square was a fashionable residential area, but today most of the houses serve as offices. At the south end of Merrion Square, on Upper Mount Street, stands the Church of Ireland St. Stephen's Church. Known locally as the "pepper canister" church because of its cupola, the structure was inspired in part by Wren's churches in London. An open-air art gallery featuring the works of local artists is held on the square on Sundays.

    Dublin, Co. Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
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  • 2. Museum of Literature Ireland

    Georgian Dublin

    Abbreviated as MoLI (pronounced "Molly," Bloom's wonderful wife in Ulysses), this impressive new museum is dedicated to Ireland's very intimate relationship with the written word. Located in the elegant Georgian Newman House, exhibits tell the history of Irish literature from the earliest oral storytellers right through to contemporary writers. The star artifact is "copy number one" of Ulysses, which was handed to Joyce himself hot from the printing press. The Joyce collection, including the Dedalus Library, is at the heart of the museum, but all the great Irish writers, past and present, are represented. There are lectures, multimedia shows, children's educational programs, and a very tranquil "secret" garden out back. The Commons Cafe is a small eatery with an already big reputation.

    86 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, Co. Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
    01-477–9811

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €10
  • 3. National Gallery of Ireland

    Georgian Dublin

    Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ (1602), Van Gogh's Rooftops of Paris (1886), Vermeer's Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid (circa 1670) . . . you get the picture, or rather, you'll find the picture here. Established in 1864, and designed by Francis Fowke (who also designed London's Victoria & Albert Museum), the National Gallery of Ireland is one of Europe's finest smaller art museums, with "smaller" being a relative term: the collection holds more than 2,500 paintings and some 10,000 other works. But unlike Europe's largest art museums, the National Gallery can be thoroughly covered in a morning or afternoon without inducing exhaustion. A highlight of the museum is the major collection of paintings by Irish artists from the 17th through 20th centuries, including works by Roderic O'Conor (1860–1940), Sir William Orpen (1878–1931), and William Leech (1881–1968). The Yeats Museum section contains works by members of the Yeats family, including Jack B. Yeats (1871–1957), the brother of writer W. B. Yeats, and by far the best-known Irish painter of the 20th century. The collection also claims exceptional paintings from the 17th-century French, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish schools, and works by French Impressionists Monet, Sisley, and Renoir. If you are in Dublin in January, catch the sumptuous annual Turner exhibition, with paintings only displayed in the winter light that best enhances their wonders. The amply stocked gift shop is a good place to pick up books on Irish artists. Free guided tours are available on Saturday at 12:30 and on Sunday at 12:30 and 1:30.

    Merrion Sq. W, Dublin, Co. Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
    01-661–5133

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free; special exhibits €15
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  • 4. National Museum of Archaeology

    Georgian Dublin

    Just south of Leinster House is Ireland's National Museum of Archaeology, one of four branches of the National Museum of Ireland, and home to a fabled collection of Irish artifacts dating from 7000 BC to the present. Organized around a grand rotunda, the museum is elaborately decorated, with mosaic floors, marble columns, balustrades, and fancy ironwork. It has the largest collection of Celtic antiquities in the world, including gold jewelry, carved stones, bronze tools, and weapons. The Treasury collection, including some of the museum's most renowned pieces, is open on a permanent basis. Among the priceless relics on display are the 8th-century Ardagh Chalice, a two-handled silver cup with gold filigree ornamentation; the bronze-coated iron St. Patrick's Bell, the oldest surviving example (5th–8th century) of Irish metalwork; the 8th-century Tara Brooch, an intricately decorated piece made of white bronze, amber, and glass; and the 12th-century bejeweled oak Cross of Cong, covered with silver and bronze panels. The exhibition Ór - Ireland's Gold gathers together the most impressive pieces of surprisingly delicate and intricate prehistoric goldwork—including sun disks and the late Bronze Age gold collar known as the Gleninsheen Gorget—that range in dates from 2200 to 500 BC. Upstairs, Viking Ireland is a permanent exhibit on the Norsemen, featuring a full-size Viking skeleton, swords, leatherworks recovered in Dublin and surrounding areas, and a replica of a small Viking boat. A newer attraction is an exhibition entitled Kinship and Sacrifice, centering on a number of Iron Age "bog bodies" found along with other objects in Ireland's peat bogs. The 18th-century Collins Barracks, near Phoenix Park, houses the National Museum of Decorative Arts and History, a collection of glass, silver, furniture, and other decorative arts, as well as a military history section.

    7–9 Merrion Row, Dublin, Co. Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
    01-677–7444

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon.
  • 5. Government Buildings

    Georgian Dublin

    The swan song of British architecture in the capital, this enormous complex, a landmark of Edwardian Baroque, was the last Neoclassical edifice to be erected by the British government. It was designed by Sir Aston Webb, who did many of the similarly grand buildings in London's Piccadilly Circus, to serve as the College of Science in the early 1900s. Following a major restoration, these buildings became the offices of the Department of the taoiseach (the prime minister, pronounced tea-shuck) and the tánaiste (the deputy prime minister, pronounced tawn-ish-ta). Fine examples of contemporary Irish furniture and carpets populate the offices. A stained-glass window, known as "My Four Green Fields," was made by Evie Hone for the 1939 New York World's Fair. It depicts the four ancient provinces of Ireland: Munster, Ulster, Leinster, and Connacht. The government offices are accessible only via 35-minute guided tours; phone for details. The buildings are dramatically illuminated every night.

    Dublin, Co. Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
    01-619–4249

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free; pick up tickets from National Gallery on day of tour
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  • 6. National Library of Ireland

    Georgian Dublin

    Along with works by W. B. Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969), and Seamus Heaney (1995), the National Library contains first editions of every major Irish writer, including books by Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, and James Joyce (who used the library as the scene of the great literary debate in Ulysses). In addition, almost every book ever published in Ireland is kept here, along with an unequaled selection of old maps and an extensive collection of Irish newspapers and magazines—more than 5 million items in all. The library is housed in a rather stiff Neoclassical building with colonnaded porticoes and an excess of ornamentation—it's not one of Dublin's architectural showpieces. But inside, the main Reading Room, opened in 1890 to house the collections of the Royal Dublin Society, has a dramatic dome ceiling, beneath which countless authors have researched and written. The personal papers of greats such as W. B. Yeats are also on display. The library also has a free genealogical consultancy service that can advise you on how to trace your Irish ancestors.

    Kildare St., Dublin, Co. Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
    01-603–0200

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun.
  • 7. National Museum of Natural History

    Georgian Dublin

    One of four branches of the National Museum of Ireland, this museum is little changed from Victorian times and remains a fascinating repository of mounted mammals, birds, and other flora and fauna. Locals still affectionately refer to the place as the "Dead Zoo." The Irish Room houses the most famous exhibits: skeletons of the extinct, prehistoric, giant Irish elk. The International Animals Collection includes a 65-foot whale skeleton suspended from the roof. Another highlight is the very beautiful Blaschka Collection, finely detailed glass models of marine creatures, the zoological accuracy of which has never been achieved again in glass. Exhibitions include Mating Game and Taxonomy Trail. Built in 1856 to hold the Royal Dublin Society's rapidly expanding collection, it was designed by Frederick Clarendon to sit in harmony with the National Gallery on the other side of Leinster Lawn. When it was completed, it formed an annex to Leinster House and was connected to it by a curved, closed Corinthian colonnade. In 1909 a new entrance was constructed at the east end of the building on Merrion Street.

    Dublin, Co. Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
    01-677–7444

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon.
  • 8. Royal Hibernian Academy

    Georgian Dublin

    The Royal Hibernian Academy, an old Dublin institution, is housed in a well-lighted building, one of the largest exhibition spaces in the city. The gallery holds adventurous exhibitions of the best in contemporary art, both from Ireland and abroad.

    15 Ely Pl., Dublin, Co. Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
    01-661–2558

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free

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