Dublin and Valley of the Kings

The best way to approach Dublin is from the sea, the route chosen by the Norse Vikings who founded the city almost twelve hundred years ago.  The city sits plumb in the middle of a sweeping, open claw like bay stretching almost twenty miles from the sentinel promontory of Howth Head in the north to Dalkey in the south.  It appears at first as little more than a smudge low on the skyline but, behind it and running south, its dramatic backdrop slowly comes into view.

Few other capital cities are so gracefully overshadowed by heights.  These are the delectable Wicklow Mountains, whose gentle slops rise to a mixture of conical and boar-backed summits, the highest around 3000 feet.  In the evening light of summer these great hills may be either a hazy blue or deep amethyst but nearly always, as cloud shadows jumble across them, they are dappled with golden green or even, where the dying light falls softly on the thick woods that tumble to the southern edge of the city, a luminous carmine.  Drawing closer to Dublin, the omens, one decides, are good.  Perhaps all the fables about this city are true; for is this not, among other things, Bagdad-on-the-Liffey, home of a thousand storytellers, the urban landscape of Molly Bloom, of Juno and the Paycock, and of a motley collection of poets who have for centuries shed blood, including their own, dreaming of an impossible utopian beauty?

In AD 140 Ptolemy marked on his map of Ireland a site called Eblana, approximating to where Dublin now stands.  By the eighth century some churches had taken root around a place on the River Liffey known in Irish as Baile Atha Cliath (baal-yeh-aha-klee) – that is, the Town of the Ford of Hurdles.  That it was ever a town in any real sense is debatable – the Celts never built towns  – and Dublin was born properly only in 841, when the Norsemen raised a defended place here which they called Dyfflin, a corruption of dubh linn, the Irish words meaning the Black or Dark Pool (presumably the Liffey, then as now, was a peat-like shade of brown not unlike stout).  With the arrival of further forces under the splendidly named Ivar the Boneless in 852, the settlement was extended to the ridge above the river where Dublin Castle and Christ Church now stand, and the Vikings settled down to the real business of their lives which was trading and commerce; it is no coincidence that a Norse king of Dublin was the first to mint coins in Ireland.  Dublin was the start of Irish urban life.

On a tour of Ireland with Ireland Luxury Tours we always recommend a visit to Dublin.