Ireland, Day 1: The Merrion

I’ve never given a damn about hotels. In fact, I’ve stayed in some places in Southeast Asia that were downright hair-raising — ones that seemed more appropriate for, say, murdering someone and stowing them in small pieces under the bed, than having a nice sleep and a shower. It’s always been a matter of indifference to me where I stayed. Until I met the Merrion.

My sisters and I stayed at the Merrion last year on our first time in Ireland. We had such a great trip we decided to come back for another week this year. There was no question we would stay in the Merrion while we were in Dublin.

I don’t know if it’s the thick carpets, which suffuse the place with a delicious quiet, or if it’s the fact that it always smells really good inside, or that the shampoos and soaps also smell really good — bearing in mind that I generally hate perfumes and scents of any kind — but there’s something special about the place.

They have artwork all over that is genuinely interesting and varied in style. They have elaborate gardens including a little memorial to James Joyce. They make excellent porridge. I don’t know. Maybe it’s pheromones, but I love the place, and so do Beth and Cathy. It is, of course, somewhat pricy, but when you split it three ways it’s not so bad.

Cathy and I arrived first to Dublin this year since Beth had to work Saturday night. We got on the plane at 7 pm at JFK and arrived at 7 am local time the next morning, with no meaningful sleep behind us and a long day ahead. We took the bus into town, hoping against hope that the Merrion would have a room available early. Alas, they did not, so we sat by the fire and drank a latte (me) and tea (Cathy) until the city began to awaken.

Our first destination was the Jeanie Johnston, a replica of a ship that carried some 2,500 Irish emigres to the US and Canada during the famine. While many of these vessels had such high death rates from cholera and typhus that they were called “coffin ships,” the Jeanie Johnston had a reputable doctor on board and enough food and water to keep people healthy. She had a remarkable record of zero deaths on her many voyages. Down belowdecks the exhibit featured creepy fake people enacting common scenes: feeding a baby, sleeping in tiny berths, playing a fiddle.

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After the Jeanie Johnston we walked back to the Merrion, stopping by Sweney’s Pharmacy to see when their next James Joyce reading would be. The man behind the counter sang us a song in Gaelic. That’s when my still-muddled brain and body really began to comprehend that we were in Ireland.

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In the afternoon Cathy led us on something of a wild goose chase to the Martello tower in Howth where Ulysses starts. We got on the train at Pearse station and rode up to the shore. By the time we got off we were hungry so we got enormous boxes of fish and chips at Leo Burdock’s. Mine was smoked cod, and it was delicious.

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Afterward we walked to the tower. My phone died so I didn’t get any photos. There wasn’t anything on the outside about Joyce so Cathy went in to ask. Apparently when she said “Is this the tower from Ulysses?” the woman behind the counter answered “Oh no! Oh dear!” It turned out to be the wrong Martello tower in the wrong seaside town in the wrong direction from Dublin — we should have gone to Sandycove. (The next day, however, we would learn that Yeats went to Howth with Maud Gonne the day after his first of approximately a million unsuccessful marriage proposals to her — so it was still a literary pilgrimage, just not about the right person.)

We caught the next train back and arrived in time to go to the National Museum of Archeology, which has joined my list of Favorite Museums Ever, along with the Hirshhorn and the Van Gogh Museum. I’m usually not a huge fan of artefacts but the National Museum has really amazing stuff, including this stone head. I have thought about the stone head a lot since I met it last year, and I was looking forward to spending some time with it again.

Carved stone head

We were beginning to get a bit loopy with lack of sleep but we wanted to stay awake, so we decided to walk past the Little Museum and make sure our favorite restaurant, Hatch, was still there. We walked to St. Stephen’s Green and to our shock and horror the farmhouse table and chalkboard had been replaced with shiny white surfaces and bright overhead lighting and a menu of expensive seafood. We stood and wailed for about a minute until I looked up and said “Hold on — this isn’t the Little Museum.” We went a few doors down and there was Hatch, not open at the moment but very much alive and well.

We weren’t very hungry after our mountain of fish and chips so that night we continued the Joyce theme and went to Davy Byrnes’ where we got soup and, of course, a gorgonzola sandwich. We stopped by O’Donoghue’s on the way back, thinking it would be quiet on a Sunday night, but finding it instead crammed with musicians. We hung out for an hour until a sweaty seisun player put his arm around me and said “Aren’t you pretty.” That was definitely our cue to go back to the Merrion and crash out in sweet-smelling splendor.

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Author: Trish Anderton

I am a nonprofit communicator, Red Sox fan and amateur streetfoodologist. Once upon a time I worked for the Jakarta Globe & Jakarta Post.

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