St Patrick’s Day, Irish Style – Dublin, Ireland

At the time of this trip I worked for WRFG-FM, Atlanta’s community radio station, which plays Celtic music along with a wide variety of other genres. Through the graciousness, dedication and hard work of Dublin native John Falstaff, a volunteer at the station and host of “The Celtic Show”, WRFG was linked with Radio Station Anna Livia to broadcast the St. Patrick’s Day parade live from Dublin to Atlanta. For John, Tom Davis (my boss at the time) and myself, it was a business trip that could only be imagined.


Friday, March 15th 1996
After clearing Belgian immigration we went to the duty-free shops and had some samples of Godiva Chocolate, which originated in Brussels. Regretfully, I did not purchase any chocolates since I would be flying through Brussels on the way home (that’s another story). While waiting for our connection Tom and John opted for a glass of beer while I stared out window wondering what lay beyond the airport’s windows, sites hidden behind fog and snow.


The fog and rain of winter must keep Ireland green for the rest of the year. That was my first thought as I was landing in Dublin Airport from Brussels, Belgium.


Our first stop was for lunch with John’s mother at her home in Dublin. She was ready to serve a hearty feast of meat and potatoes, my kind of meal. Following lunch we headed towards the Guinness Brewery at St. James Gate. The clouds seemed to disappear once I got inside the brewery. This is the spot where the ruby colored stout began to flow over 240 years ago in the heart of Old Dublin. The tour is definitely worth it for at the end you’re treated to a free pint, or two, of the black stuff which tastes much better over there. It must be the water of the River Liffey.

Following the tour we headed to Anna Livia Radio Station, 103.8 FM, “The Sound of Dublin”. The radio station is located in an old red brick walk-up, which matches the red bricks that line Grafton Street directly below the station. After climbing up four flights of a rickety old staircase, and after months of phone calls and emails, we were finally meeting the people of Anna Livia face-to-face. Not only did the staff of the station greet us, a few cases of Guinness (supplied by whom else?) awaited our arrival as well.

Before checking in at the hotel we stopped off for some tea at Bewley’s Oriental Café on Grafton Street “open all day, early ’til late.” In 1840 Joshua Bewley opened the doors to what would become an essential part Dublin’s, and Ireland’s culture. The Café is well known for their excellent teas and coffee. Going through the cafeteria style restaurant, I was gawking at all the delicious foods: cakes, scones, muffins and all the breakfast foods I cherish. Here’s my favorite part of the Café, breakfast is served all day. If eating breakfast style food all day is not your “cup of tea,” Bewley’s offers international cuisine – “Cafe society, Irish style”.

I’m not a coffee drinker so I opted for tea to ease the cold I acquired before the trip. You get your own teakettle and have a choice of getting your tea in bags or just leaves. I tried it both ways, which were delicious and helped my breathing. Sitting at the table I was watching the staff who are dressed in black and white uniforms, reminiscent of butler and maid attire. Sitting in the café was quite relaxing.

The Mespil Hotel, which provided more than adequate accommodations for my stay, is on Mespil Road at Baggot Street Bridge and directly across from the Grand Canal. Sitting along the canal is a statue of poet Patrick Kavanagh. His friends, to celebrate his intrigue with the canal, placed the statue there. For dinner we ate North Indian cuisine at Rajdoot Tandoori (26-28 Clarendon Street, Westbury Centre, Dublin 2, Tele: 010 3531 6794274/6794280).

After dinner I had to get back to the hotel and crash. I was awake for 36 hours straight and the jet lag took me hostage. I hopped in the shower, which had the best water pressure I ever felt, wrote in my journal then passed out cold at 11:30pm.

Saturday, March 16th 1996

Awoke from a deep slumber at 11am and prepared for the second of many long, 16 hour days. On the way to Grafton Street, I sauntered in the rain down Mespil Road turning left across Baggot Street Bridge looking for breakfast. I found Georgian Fares, a small restaurant on North Merrion Row. Opening the door I was greeted with friendly smiles and sincere “Good Mornings.” I had a delicious breakfast of scones, eggs and tea.

Taking leave of the restaurant, I continued down North Merrion Row examining all the beautiful townhouses lining the street. I took several pictures of the different Georgian style doorways gracing houses facing St. Stephen’s Green. The Green, donated by an heir to the Guinness Brewery, is twenty-seven acres of grass and trees with a beautiful fountain.

The northwest corner of St. Stephen’s Green led me to the start of Grafton Street, a pedestrian oasis closed off to vehicular traffic. The street is lined with shops, restaurants, pubs, and entertainment. I could’ve spent all day on the street but got diverted by sites on the side streets. As I looked to my right I noticed the sky was blue with the sun shining directly on St. Catherine’s Church.

Trinity College

Trinity College

Continuing down Grafton Street, I came upon the oldest university in Ireland, Trinity College. The main entrance is through a grand stone building of Georgian architecture. Four Corinthian columns support the large pediment containing a clock in the middle. Huge wooden doors lead to the courtyard. The doors are so massive that smaller doors were made to pass through.

Dark threatening clouds loomed over the courtyard of the college. My first stop was the Old Library to see the Long Room and the Book of Kells. Written around 800 BCE by Irish monks, the Latin text contains four gospels elaborately decorated. The book has been in the Library since the 1660s. Nearly 213 feet (65 meters) in length, The Long Room is the main chamber of the Old Library and home to over 200,000 books. The Room also houses Ireland’s national symbol, a harp dating from the fifteenth century. The harp, made from oak and willow with brass strings, is the same harp that appears on Irish coins.

Before leaving the campus I needed to snap some more photos while the sun made a rare appearance. It would be the last time I would see the sun on this trip. Continuing on my solo tour of Dublin, I came upon Aston Quay by the O’Connell Street Bridge. I walked along the River Liffey until I saw one of Dublin’s most identifiable sites, the Ha’penny Bridge. The cast-iron bridge was built in 1816. The bridge received its unofficial name for the halfpenny toll it cost to cross over the Liffey.

Crossing over the bridge, all I could see besides fog was the black water of the Liffey; hence the name of the city, Dublin. The city has many origins; in Gaelic, it is Baile Atha Cliath (BAHL-ya awe-KLEE-uh), literally meaning “the town of the Ford of the Hurdles.” In English, Dublin, if translated literally into Irish, means Dubh Linn or “Black Pool,” which supposedly is meant to reflect the characteristics of the river.

I was in search of a post office to mail postcards and birthday cards I had written out, at last I found one on O’Connell Street north of the Liffey. Until I walked through the doors I didn’t realize I was inside the General Post Office, site of the 1916 Easter Rebellion. O’Connell Street, Dublin’s “Main Street,” is named after Daniel O’Connell who led the peaceful struggle for civil rights for Catholics in the early nineteenth century.

Walking across the O’Connell Street Bridge led me back to the south side, close to Trinity College. A quick jaunt down College Street led me to 3 Grafton Street, home of Anna Livia Radio Station, 103.8 FM. I needed to meet John and Tom so we could prepare for our live broadcast of the parade on Sunday. We conducted a test broadcast to WRFG and told the listeners in Atlanta about the trip.

Leaving the station we headed towards Dublinia. A large-scale diorama, Dublinia is the story of Dublin during medieval times. Located in the former Synod Hall of the Church of Ireland, Dublinia portrays the growth of the town from the arrival of Strongbow and his Anglo-Norman knights to the closure of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Using sets, recreations, a scale model and the Wood Quay artifacts, the story of medieval Dublin unfolds.

From Dublinia, John and I went towards Christ Church Cathedral, the oldest building in Dublin. The Cathedral was founded in 1038 and contains many attractions. Walking down Dame Street, just behind City Hall is Dublin Castle, nestled in the heart of historic Dublin. The largest visible part of the 13th century Norman Castle is the Record Tower which houses State Apartments.

Just a skip away from Dublin Castle is Leo Burdock’s, Traditional Fish ‘n’ Chips (2 Werburgh Street (off Christchurch) Dublin 8. TEL (01) 454 0306 Open Mon-Sun 12:30pm to 12am). Burdock’s has been feeding Dublin since 1913, I know the reason why; fresh fish and chips. Now I can say I have had “The Burdock’s Experience”.

Music and more Guinness were calling as John and I headed towards the Temple Bar District to get a taste of the Guinness Fleadh. The Fleadh was a four-day feast of traditional Irish music with live performances in 22 venues throughout the Temple Bar District, which lies a block from the River Liffey.

The Fleadh began on Friday, March 15 and went straight through to St. Patrick’s Night filling the streets with all different kinds of music and merrymakers. Celebrating a wide range of styles and influences, the Fleadh was a provocative mix of old, new and unexpected styles. We watched renowned uilleann (ill-un) piper Tommy Keane perform to a large crowd. At 11:30 p.m., John and I went to see and interview Melanie O’Reilly who performs a special blend of Celtic and Jazz at the Irish Film Centre.

Sunday, March 17th 1996

ST. PATRICK’S DAY (& MOTHER’S DAY)

Tom and I finally met John at the radio station to pick up the equipment. We then headed out to the streets. Tom interviewed locals and visitors while I recorded the Parade on Video and John tried to capture some the excitement with still images. The streets were lined with throngs of people. Some spectators had dyed their hair green, white and orange while others had shamrocks adorning their faces. The one adornment everyone had was a smile from ear to ear. We interviewed people before the parade started which proved to be a good idea. Once the parade got underway, we scattered around the route to get different perspectives.

Taking a new route, the parade commenced at 11:15am and moved non-stop to O’Connell Street via Christchurch Cathedral, City Hall, Dame Street and Westmoreland Street. By high noon I found myself perched on a slanted, outside windowsill just before the O’Connell Street Bridge for the duration. It was not easy keeping my balance while holding a camcorder and camera. The dank weather did not hamper the cheers and excitement of the crowd.

The parade included floats of all kinds. The distinct sound of a steel drum could be heard coming from a float displaying a Caribbean theme. At the end of the parade I headed back to the radio station where John and Tom were already broadcasting live back to Atlanta where it was only 9:30am.

It was the first simultaneous broadcast from Dublin to both the Irish and Atlanta audiences. The WRFG team appeared as guests on Ian Thomas’ program “Nostalgia” on Anna Livia. An Anna Livia engineer and I were busy editing the numerous tapes we had filled with interviews, highlights and sounds of the crowd to broadcast to both countries.

St Pat's Celebration

St Patrick’s Day Decorations

What a thrill it was to share the experience with the Dublin audience as well as the Irish population of Atlanta. When the broadcast was complete we popped open a few Guinness to help celebrate this momentous occasion. Tom, John and I left the station well after 5pm and headed towards Bewley’s for some tea and food. From there we went to McDaid’s, a pub housed in an ornamental yellow and green brick building on the corner of Harry Street. Inside we interviewed some partygoers who were more than happy to talk to American radio.

Thing Mote, on Suffolk Street across from Trinity College, was next on our tour of pubs to get a feel of how the Irish celebrate their National Holiday. John and I made our way to the Fleadh at Café Leopold, on Cope & Angelsea Street, to see Tommy Keane & Jacqueline McCarthy. It was standing room only to watch them perform on the uilleann pipes combined with concertina for a lively session.

When the show ended I made my way solo to the Arthouse to experience a new phenomenon which I’ll discuss below. On the way, another parade was taking place down a side street in Temple Bar. Drummers wearing camouflage and dragon heads were marching down the street while others marched with bright torches to light the way. Bystanders began to get involved in the procession so it was only a matter of time until I found myself walking with them.

Just as the Parade was the highlight of the day, St. Patrick’s Night marked the culmination of the holiday weekend and the Fleadh when Temple Bar hosted one of the world’s first Irish Music Jams on the Internet. Dubbed “Digital Island,” Dublin, Paris and New York were linked together simultaneously during this historic transmission. One highlight of the night was the world’s first Transatlantic Irish music session featuring Hot House Flowers live from the Arthouse in Dublin. At the Knitting Factory in New York, Maritin O’Connor, Davy Spillane, the Corrs and musicians from Riverdance were together while Sharon Shannon, Donal Lunny and Cooney & Begley performed in Paris at the Café Electronique au Web.

The Arthouse was packed with people from all areas of the globe. I interviewed people from France, the US and England along with proud Irish natives. I had my Marantz hanging from one shoulder and the mic in my left hand while interviewing some attendants. One guy I interviewed took a hold of the microphone and dragged me all around the Arthouse while he interviewed others saying “This guy’s from American Radio, what do you have to say to America?”

While I was roaming around, the Guinness was flowing and the TV monitors were ablaze with the performances. Speakers spewed the music around the venue and yes, the sound quality was excellent, as was the video, which moved in real time. Upstairs, people were busy typing, clicking the mouse and reading the monitors as much as they could for they were treated to a free connection to the Internet. There were some people who resolved to play solitaire and other games as lines grew behind them to gain access to the Internet.

At midnight, local time, it was time to “Shut Down/Party On Down!!!” which was a great way to say goodbye to St. Patrick’s Day 1996 and start preparing for the festivities in 1997. Meanwhile, back at Anna Livia Radio Station, the last of the many cases of Guinness didn’t have a chance. I got there just in time to have a few cans of the black stuff the Brewery so graciously supplied us with for the weekend. For us the celebrations lasted until the wee bit hours of Monday morning.

Monday, March 18th 1996

John drove his friend Michael and I to Glendalough in County Wicklow. Glendalough is about an hour’s ride from Dublin. On the way through the mountains by Blessington Lake we were stuck behind some sheep on a paved road that’s wide enough for one car. We happened upon a luckless couple who’s car slid into a ditch trying to avoid the sheep. It was so cold up in the mountains that a fresh blanket of snow covered the tips. The land contained in Wicklow Mountains National Park has many natural wonders such as glacial lakes, uplands and bogs.

Glendalough, which means The Valley of the Two Lakes, sits in the center of County Wicklow, just south of Dublin County. The fog was very thick which hid some great sites. The main site in town is a monastery founded by St. Kevin sometime between the 8th and 12th centuries. St. Kevin, who lived to be 120, was a hermit who made his way to the valley years before he found the monastery that flourished for about 600 years until a fire in 1398 destroyed it. Many of the buildings still remain some as ruins.

St Kevin's Kitchen

St Kevin’s Kitchen

In the cemetery among the giant Celtic crosses and gravestones sitting at all different angles is the Round Tower, which reaches 111½ feet (34 meters) high with a circumference of 52½ feet (16meters). All of the buildings are made of stone. St. Kevin’s Kitchen is a small stone dwelling that still stands intact. In one building the tombstones are so old they fell to the ground face down forever hiding the clues as to who is buried beneath them while stones from the ceiling litter the floor.

On the way back to Dublin we stopped for dinner at Johnnie Fox’s in Glencullen in the southern portion of County Dublin. Fox’s dates back to the 18th century making it one of the oldest pubs in Ireland. Fox’s also has the distinction of being the highest pub in the country.

Walking into the restaurant I was taken back to another time. Which time it was, I’m not sure. The place is filled with tables and chairs that did not match. Some tables were made from tree trunks. Stone fireplaces were aglow with roaring fires, while people bundled up in wool sweaters ate, drank and didn’t seem to have a care about the world outside the doors. For dinner I had the Wild Irish Oak Smoked Salmon which was delicious. It was a huge chunk of salmon, poached and placed on top of a salad. It was quite filling and delicious.

Tuesday, March 19th 1996

Once again the dreaded sound of the phone woke me up, this time at 4:45am. Returning the rental car was a breeze. Little did we know the problems we would walk into inside the airport. It was another gloomy day in Dublin. The gloom seemed to be all across Europe. Our flight to Brussels was cancelled when the airport closed due to snow and ice. We changed airlines and flew back to Atlanta by way of Shannon on the West Coast of Ireland.

The flight to Shannon was 30 minutes, which gave us plenty of duty-free shopping time before our noon departure time. I did manage to get a hold of some fine Irish chocolates in the shop. The flight was fine since I slept and woke up just in time to eat. Clearing through US Customs and baggage claim I hopped in my friend’s car and headed home. I went to sleep at 9 pm and didn’t wake up for another 12 hours…I was very late to work, but then again, I had just returned from a business trip.

I must thank those who made this trip a success: Guinness, Bord Fáilte (Irish Tourist Board), and Anna Livia – Dublin 103.8 FM and John Falstaff.

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