Life

Visiting Dublin: An EPIC journey in Ireland's capital

There's always something new to discover in Dublin where Michael Jackson paid a visit to the EPIC Ireland centre, which explores the affects of Irish emigration on the wider world, took a virtual historical tour and got to see the city from a pretty unusual perspective

EPIC Ireland, in Dublin's docklands area, tells the story of Irish emigration and explores the impact that the Irish people have had overseas
Michael Jackson

FROM the hundreds of thousands who left Ireland as a result of the Great Famine and the waves of emigration since, in the 1950s, the 80s and into the 21st century, we're keenly aware that emigration has been huge a feature of life on the island.

What of all those individuals' stories, though? Have you ever wondered what sort of lives they went on to lead?

Sure, you'll know of the Kennedy clan, of the Clinton connection, of how, like those US presidents, Ronald Regan and Barack Obama came 'home' to rediscover their roots. But there are many similarly fascinating stories about lesser-known members of the Irish diaspora – stories of people who would go on to shape the world.

Take, for instance social reformer Annie Besant, the London-born daughter of Irish Famine refugees who left Dublin in 1845. Besant became involved with the plight of the working poor in Manchester; a socialist and a feminist, she was a champion for women's and workers' rights and was the first woman to run and win public office at local level.

Her involvement in politics stretched far beyond England and Ireland; Besant was an advocate for both Irish and Indian home rule, and set up the All India Home Rule League in 1916, which would eventually elect Mahatma Gandhi as its leader. She continued her fight for Indian independence until her death in 1933.

And hers is just one of the many tales told in EPIC Ireland, a newly opened €15 million visitors centre which I visited during an enlightening visit to Dublin recently.

Dublin is a modern, vibrant, and distinctly European city filled with sleek restaurants, high-end fashion outlets, and international business hubs. But it's also a historic city that can trace its roots back over 1,000 years; and in the rejuvenated docklands there's a wealth of history to be experienced among the sleek contemporary architecture, notably in the form of this impressive new attraction, which "showcases the journey of the Irish nation" as its publicity material puts it.

On arrival at EPIC, visitors are given a mock passport which they can stamp at each ‘port' where they can visit immersive and interactive galleries which examine the motives for emigration, and the remarkable stories of the Irish diaspora.

Starvation, war, education, sport, and culture all feature in the exhibition which commemorates and celebrates the Irish journey. Not only does EPIC look at the impact of the emigrants themselves, it also tells of their descendants and how they too have had their names etched into the history books.

The new visitors centre alone is almost worth trip to Dublin. Almost...

Following my EPIC journey, I took some time to relax and have a quick bite to eat at the CHQ building in which the new centre is housed, in Dublin's bustling docklands area.

A listed building, the former wine and tobacco warehouse has been impressively restored and modified for contemporary use. Visitors can enjoy some food and drink in one of its many cafés or delis, do some shopping, or they can visit one of the many exhibitions it hosts. CHQ seems to be equally popular with tourists visiting the attractions and business types stopping to take a break from the daily grind.

Leaving the docklands, I set out on a self-guided walking tour using a handy Discovery Trails App that has been developed by Visit Dublin. A number of different audio tours are available on the app, but for the year that is in it I decided to embark on the 1916 rebellion trail.

Some of Dublin's most historic landmarks are brought to life by the audio commentary, and the in-app maps make it easy to navigate through the busy city. The tour can be walked at the user's leisure, which afforded me the opportunity to stop for a breather in St Stephen's Green, where a century ago machine-gun fire would have prevented Michael Mallin and the Irish Citizen Army from even contemplating a rest. I also had the chance to not-so-inconspicuously rub the bullet holes in the pillars of the GPO, drawing a few second glances from passers by.

In the evening I visited a quaint restaurant and bookshop called The Winding Stair. Upstairs from the bookshop the small restaurant offers amazing yet reasonably priced food, a good wine selection, and a nice view of the Ha'penny bridge.

No trip to Dublin would be complete without a visit to Temple Bar, so after dinner I made my way around the city's bustling cultural quarter and listened to some live music in some of its best venues.

I stayed in a four-star hotel called The Morgan in Temple Bar's Fleet Street, which has a peculiar array of avant-garde furnishings in the lobby but extremely comfortable and well designed bedrooms – and miraculously, given the previous night's antics, woke up the next day feeling relatively fresh. For this, I was extremely thankful as the first item on my morning schedule was 'kayaking on the Liffey'.

I headed over to Custom House Quay where the guys at City Kayaking entrusted me with a paddle and a kayak. I had never been kayaking before, so my inexperience, coupled with my complete lack of physical fitness made for an extremely entertaining couple of hours

After some helpful advice from guide Lauren, I managed to get the hang of it – somewhat. Kayaking on the River Liffey is a great alternative way see the capital's landmarks, and is one of the best experiences I have ever had in Dublin.

My sightseeing at an end, fortunately I did have another evening to spend in Dublin and chose to dine at The Pig's Ear, one of the city's many quality restaurants. It occupies a beautiful Georgian townhouse that overlooks Trinity playing grounds, but best of all it serves some of the best food that I have experienced in quite a while. Awarded the Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand in 2009, it's easy to see why The Pig's Ear has retained the prestigious accolade.

For anyone who is interested in immersing themselves in a historical experience, indulging in some amazing food, trying something new, or even just heading out for a drink and a great night's craic, then Dublin should definitely be on their radar. No matter how many times you visit Dublin, there is always something else worth seeing – it's a gem of a capital.

TRAVEL FACTS

:: Adult tickets for EPIC Ireland from €16, children's tickets from €8. For more information, see: epicirelandchq.com

:: For booking at The Morgan Hotel, see: www.themorgan.com

:: City Kayaking trips from €25, see: citykayaking.com

:: Download the Dublin Discovery Trails App for free from the app store or the play store

:: For more information on visiting Dublin see visitdublin.com

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