Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

This is the stage being set up for Dublin's official New Year's Eve celebration on College Green. There are lots of events going on over the weekend, with full details available on

There was quite a bit of discussion during 2011 of converting the College Green branch of Bank of Ireland into a cultural centre. I think that's quite unlikely to happen, at least for now, but it's interesting to see the building used for an event like today's. I wonder if the Bank are heading off the possible demand for such a conversion of use by co-operating in providing support for events? And to speculate further, is College Green starting to function as Dublin's main street or main square? O'Connell Street's recent makeover hasn't really changed its character; College Green by contrast was the setting for Barack Obama's address to the Irish people.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

New Year's Eve

This year Dublin's going to have a proper, official New Year's Eve celebration. Details are over on There's a three-day festival of events, with the main event being the countdown concert on College Green on New Year's Eve.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day trip: Solstice days at Newgrange

It's the week before Christmas, and all through the city.... there are seasonal events a-plenty. Earlier in the week I was in Christ Church for the very beautiful service of Nine Lessons and Carols. There are markets and funfairs and shop windows to look at and about a zillion different Santas to visit. For a different seasonal experience, though, you might want to think of taking a trip out of the city, to Meath, and visiting the ancient monument that is Newgrange. I visited yesterday to catch a different flavour of the seasonal mood.

The event of the Solstice morning, when the light hits the inner chamber, is well known,although the event itself may not be very well seen or not seen at all, if the weather is bad, as it often is in this country. Entry to the Solstice event is strictly regulated and participants are chosen by lottery every year. Visitors can fill out lottery forms at the visitors' centre. What I hadn't known before my visit yesterday is that the event is not restricted to one single day, but happens every morning for a period of about six days around the Solstice. The lottery winners are assigned a particular dawn over that period, and they may or may not get lucky.

It had been over fifteen years since my previous visit and much had changed. All access to the monument is now through the visitors' centre, although I understand this is relaxed on mornings around Solstice. The beautiful visitors' centre itself is very worth seeing. It is designed to fit in to the landscape and this makes it look like an extended Hobbit hole, with earth roofs and outside access on different levels.

The visitors' centre contains a Brambles cafe (reliable if pricey), a rather poor gift shop and an exhibition of the history of Newgrange and the people associated with it. Not being an expert, I can't judge how historically accurate the exhibition was and how much of it is speculative in order to provide a better experience to the visitor. Nonetheless, it was interesting and beautifully put together.

The ticket to see the monument/s (in addition to Newgrange you can also go see Knowth, for extra cost) include the entry to the exhibition. In order to see the monuments, you need to take a shuttle bus, across the Boyne from the visitors' centre. The trip to Newgrange takes about five minutes. At the monument, you are met by your guide, who talks to you about the site and then brings you inside. I was very pleased with our guide emphasising that despite all the theories out there, nobody knows for certain what exactly the purpose of the monument was.

The passage into the inner chamber is very narrow, to the point at which I had to turn sideways as my shoulders were too wide to pass through. Inside, the lights were turned off in order to simulate the entry of the beam of light at Solstice, but at this point there was a surprise. The guide told us that the beam of pale white light on the floor was natural, that around the days of Solstice, the ambient sunlight outside is enough to produce a ghostly impression of the Solstice event. The event itself would, of course, be much stronger and brighter, but nonetheless, he noted that what we saw in the afternoon was better than what the Solstice group had seen at that dawn.

Once back at the visitors' centre, I filled in a lottery form for the 2012 Solstice. Hey, you never know.

Information about access, cost and opening times on Heritage Ireland

Dartmouth Sessions

Not sure when this was filmed in Dartmouth Square but it's cool and somehow festive.  It's the West Cork Ukulele Orchestra performing the classic Ra-ra Rasputin by Boney M.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My review of the year

We decided to do some posts on what we loved in Dublin this year.  Most of the links in this one are to our own reviews.

My standout single production of the year was The Abbey's brilliant production of Pygmalion.

On Open House weekend in October, my favourite tour was Leinster House, which is of course open all year round to visitors. 

I saw a few musicals this year and it's a toss up between Riverdance and Mamma Mia as to which I enjoyed more.  Of course they are entirely different.  One thing's for sure though, the Peter Pan musical was the worst I've seen in a long time!

Other things I loved in Dublin this year, which deserve mentions are L Mulligan Grocer, Dublin Bikes (which encouraged me to buy one of my own this year) and the now up and running architecture walking tours.

I look forward to a whole new year of culture (with bonus avoiding the European Cup) next year.

Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Winter Wonderland in Kilmainham

So many Christmas markets! As well as Temple Bar, Docklands, and Christ Church Cathedral, one of the other choices you have today is 7 Up Winter Wonderland in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Unlike those other markets I've mentioned this event has a lot more to it than just a market: there's an ice rink, circus, Santa Claus, and various rollercoaster-type rides.

And thank goodness, because the market part of Winter Wonderland isn't anything special, certainly not worth a visit for its own sake. The food and drink is quite... germanic, like a poor (but pricey) imitation of Oktoberfest. I happen to like German food, but not everyone does.

Frohe Weihnachten!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christ Church Cathedral Christmas Concert

Christ Church Cathedral's annual Christmas concert is on tomorrow, Thursday 15th. Tickets cost €18 (€14 concession) and can be purchased from or by calling 0818 333 231. Doors open at 7.15pm and the concert will begin at 8pm.

The Cathedral is a beautiful setting and well suited to this sort of event. Here's (part of) what Christ Church say about the concert:
Sing along with old favorites such as O Come, All Ye Faithful, be inspired by glorious choral gems such as Good King Wenceslas and Silent Night, and top it all off by singing some popular and beloved choruses from Handel’s Messiah along with the sterling voices of the Cathedral Choir.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Winter solstice celebration in The Complex

The Complex in Smithfield is holding a winter solstice celebration on Wednesday 21st, from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm. Here's how The Complex describe it:
Winter Solstice at The Complex is an ancient celebration in tune with ancestral traditions, for this unique time in the turning of the seasons. Blending ceremonies inclusive of all peoples with feasting, trading, entertainment and community. Join us at this uplifting energising event in the heart of Dublin’s old market centre, Smithfield Square.

Parts of the event look a bit - what's the polite term? - "New Age", and mightn't be to everyone's taste. But I'm guessing that it'll be a fun evening.

The event is free. Under 15s must be accompanied.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Docklands Christmas Market

I dropped by the Docklands Christmas Market on Saturday, which was a cold but dry day - in other words, perfect weather for a market.  Now in its 7th year, the market is on George's Dock beside the CHQ building - the same place as they hold Oktoberfest every year.  In some ways, it feels quite similar to Oktoberfest - there's lots of hot food stalls selling similar fair but otherwise, it's far more Christmas-y and family orientated.  There's not one but two carousels - one is big enough for adults and is an entirely reasonable €3 a go (no kids in my party so we decided to forgo the experience).  The big carousel has been restored and looks very impressive.  Down on the dock itself, there are stands with people selling a variety of weird and wonderful Christmas presents from books to toys to dodgy metallic healing jewellery!  There were charity carol singers on a stage in the afternoon adding a nice festive air to the, em, air.  I imagine it's getting lots of hungry IFSC workers on the weekday lunchtimes but it was reasonably quiet, and therefore quite relaxed and fun when I was there on Saturday.

The Docklands Christmas Market is open every day until 23rd December from noon on weekdays and 10:00 on weekends until 20:00.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Temple Bar Food Market returns to Meeting House Square

Temple Bar Food Market has returned to Meeting House Square. It's a lovely market and I'm pleased to see it back home in the square. For the last while (until today) the market was scattered around Temple Bar while four large retractable canopies were put up to provide Meeting House Square with protection from the rain. As inconvenient as it was for the market to be moved away temporarily, the development will be for the best in the long term - starting now! I've been to events in the square in the rain, and no amount of hot drinks or rain-proof clothing can redeem an event from bad weather.

If you've been to the market before you'll find the stalls back where they were before the move. There are stalls selling bread, hot food, coffee, cheese, oysters, fruit, olives, chocolate, and so on. It's one of the nicest food markets around and reasonably priced considering the central location. The market runs from 10 am to around 4 pm (or perhaps a little later) each Saturday.

I'm pleasantly surprised by how bright the market is even with the coverings deployed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New plays in Project Arts Centre

Two new plays open in Project Arts Centre this evening.

The Making of 'Tis Pity She’s a Whore. This performance combines film and stage, inspired by the play 'Tis Pity She’s a Whore.

Six Characters In Search of an Author also starts tonight, performed by Dublin Youth Theatre and directed by Jason Byrne. The play was written decades ago by Luigi Pirandello and its concept is as described in the name - six characters abandoned by their playwright demand the chance to tell their story.

As a general rule, I'm quite wary of films or plays about films or plays. Project Arts Centre though tends to do a good job of choosing its plays so I hope I'm wrong and that both of these production prove successful.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Big Smoke Writing Factory

Big Smoke Writing Factory are holding another Literary Cafe today. Here's what they have to say about it:

Big Smoke Writing Factory are proud to announce the return of their ever popular Literary Café! Always the highlight of the Big Smoke calendar, this event is set to take place on Sunday December 4th from 2 to 5pm in the ideal surroundings of The Loft Bookshop, The Twisted Pepper Building, 54 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1.

Start the festive season in style with a wonderfully relaxing afternoon featuring readings from our students, mulled wine and plenty
of Christmas cheer. Be the first to meet some fantastic emerging Dublin writers and hear all the exciting new work happening at the
Big Smoke Writing Factory.

As always this event is FREE and open to everyone. We look forward to seeing you there!

I enjoyed the last Literary Cafe I was at, in Ormond Wine Bar. It was quite popular so I expect that the Loft Bookshop - a smaller venue - could be quite crowded.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Government Inspector @ The Abbey

The Abbey's Christmas offering is The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol.  It's a new version written by Roddy Doyle and commissioned by The Abbey.  Gogol's original version was written in 1836 and revised in 1842.  It takes place in an unnamed provincial town where a corrupt bureaucracy reigns.  They get wind of an inspector coming from St Petersburg incognito.  At the same time, a young civil servant has already arrived in the town on his way to Saratov and the mayor & co mistake this eejit for the inspector.  Mayhem ensues.

Roddy Doyle's new version doesn't change the setting, time, Russian names or story.  He has updated the language (which of course is in English) and given everyone Irish accents.  The provincials all have Irish country accents and the young fop, Khlestakov, played with a flourish by Ciarán O'Brien and his servant, Osip, have Dublin accents.  As a Russian speaker, it is hilarious to hear a culchie accent say names like Piotr Ivanovich and Amos Fyodorovich.  The new dialogue is littered with references to a modern bankrupt Ireland with brown envelopes, mental reservations and economic terms being bandied about.  And needless to say, a huge amount of laughs.

The opening scene, where all the town officials gather around a long narrow table, somehow reminded me of RTÉ's Primetime.  The action centres around the mayor, played brilliantly by Don Wycherley.  He bumbles, he stutters, he bribes, and at one stage climbs the set.  A joy to watch.  I also want to single out Damian Kearney as the Postmaster with a particulary amusing delivery of his lines.  There's a lot of physical comedy in this play and the set was designed for it.  However, the stark industrial look of the stage, filled with rubbish bags was the least attractive feature of the whole production.  For me, a slightly more traditional and less utilitarian stage would have gone down better. 

The program deserves a paragraph all of its own.  It contains a cutout cartoon drawn by Martyn Turner of the Irish Times.  I have loved all the recent programs from The Abbey but this one is the best.  It features sketches for the costumes, lots of backstage photos and all the usual bits.

My evening's companion very much wished to be featured in the review. She loved it as much as I did and felt that there was a certain sense of familiarity here with Roddy Doyle's version of The Playboy of the Western World.  Both plays feature an interloper and mistaken identity.

The Government Inspector runs until 28th January, so you've ages to get around to seeing it.  I promise it'll be worth your while.

Christ Church Cathedral Christmas Market

There's a Christmas market on today in Christ Church Cathedral today from 11 am to 4 pm. It'll be on again next Saturday (10th) and the one after that (17th). I went along last week to take a look - the market is in the crypt of the cathedral, which is pretty interesting in its own right. There are about 15 stalls featuring a range of arts, crafts, jewellery and a few seasonally-themed goods. The venue has a lovely, warm atmosphere.

There are also several food stalls outside in the open air.

As an aside, I was delighted to see a display in the crypts showing costumes from the TV series The Tudors. Parts of the series were shot in Christ Church, and I had the interesting experience of being an Extra for the day.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas at Farmleigh

Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park has a lot going this month leading up to Christmas.

Every Saturday & Sunday leading up to the main event, they have a Christmas food market running from 10am to 5pm.  There's storytelling, a festive crib (what would a non-festive crib include, I wonder?  The one in our house always had a rhinoceros in it since my 2 year old brother decided he was a farm animal) and other kid-friendly events going each day too.  Most Sundays will feature some kind of carol singers, with various different groups participating.  6 different days of activities, you've no excuse not to get down there. 

Full details are here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

National Crafts & Design Fair

My Christmas traditionally starts at the National Crafts & Design Fair at the RDS. In the past it has often taken place over the second weekend of December, so it came to me as something of a panicked surprise when a designer friend remarked earlier in the week that she was going to be there at the end of this week. Some quick juggling of things later, I found myself marching towards the RDS this afternoon.

In the past I have also usually visited during the weekend days, so I was expecting crowds to be thinner. All the same, the halls were busy, which on a weekday afternoon in recessionary times was very good to see. All three halls were still in place: two dedicated to crafts and design, and one to food, although I did get a feeling that the two smaller halls had more space around stalls than in previous years.

There was the usual variety of crafts to be bought: clothes, woodwork, jewellery, cosmetics (including soaps and the like), paper crafts, decorations, art, foods and much more. I am always very impressed with the general quality at the fair. I think it's a brilliant reflection of the sheer amount of Irish and Irish-based creative talent available. I would urge visitors to take a breather from shopping and to pay particular attention to the design exhibition held in the Industries Hall. It is always good but this year's pieces were particularly breathtaking. Regrettably I was not able to note the names of designers, but I loved the large anvil made of solid glass, the knitted/crocheted dresses and the lacy parasol.

As ever, I was able to get a lot of my seasonal shopping sorted even while enjoying the festive and creative atmosphere. I would recommend the fair for all, not least because supporting our own artists and designers is crucial in gloomy economic times.

National Crafts & Design Fair runs at the RDS until Sunday 4 December; Friday 10 am - 10 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am - 7 pm; Admission €10, OAP €8, Accompanied children under 16 free.

First Thursday - December 2011

Oops! I've left this a little late to mention, but tonight is another First Thursday, when galleries and art spaces around the city remain open later than usual. A lot of these are around Temple Bar, so I should also mention that for the next few weeks as we approach Christmas the shops on Cow's Lane are due to stay open late on Thursdays.

Book launch: The Albert Bender Collection of Asian Art in the National Museum of Ireland

Dr Audrey Whitty, the Collins Barracks curator who very kindly did an interview with Dublin Culture earlier this year, has published a new book in the National Museum's Monograph Series on the Albert Bender Collection, just in time for Christmas!

Albert Bender was born in Ireland but went to live with an uncle in San Francisco at an early age.  He went into the insurance business and was a multi-millionaire by his mid-twenties.  San Francisco was a gateway from the East and Bender developed an interest in Asian art and later became a great philanthropist.  He donated a fantastic collection of over 250 items to the National Museum in the 1930s.  The Louvre actually wanted it but Bender gave Dublin, his native city, first refusal and luckily they didn't.  Ireland didn't have much in the way of Asian art at this stage and our fledgling museum kept it.  The collection includes some particularly beautiful Tibetan Buddhist Thangkas (painted textiles depicting Buddhist scenes) and Japanese ukiyo-e (wood-block prints).  Through almost benign neglect, it was stored and ignored for several decades until Audrey got her hands on it.  The permanent exhibition opened in the Barracks in 2008 and this book is the result of several years research by Audrey.  She not only documents the collection but goes into the backdrop of how the museum ended up with it.  It's beautifully photographed as well.

The book was launched last night in the Barracks by Roisín Ingle of the Irish Times and is on sale now in the Museum Book shop.