St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin

I had spent the last three days adventuring through Ireland’s Rugged West Coast with a private guide. We soared through rural farmland and scaled our way across jaw dropping cliffs. It is oh so essential to explore the countryside, meet the farmers, butchers, cheesemongers and fisherman to then have a better appreciation for the culinary offerings on showcase in the city. I was half asleep as we zoomed along the highway from Galway to Dublin. I was amazed at how barren the roads were but not surprised to come face to face with gridlock as soon as we arrived in the capital.

To say I was excited to be in Dublin would be an understatement. I would be spending the next four days on a group press trip with over 60 media from all over the world in celebration of St. Paddy’s Day and The Gathering. While I have been on many-a-press-trip, this chapter would be my first with a group and the itinerary coordinated by Tourism Ireland looked jam packed, full of unique opportunities. I would spend the next few days sleeping a max of four or five hours a night, running around the city all day and working late into the evening. Needless to say I felt like I was at a Summer Camp for adults. My camp mates were TV personalities, radio show hosts, journalists and bloggers while my counselors were the always smiling and helpful PR team at Tourism Ireland.

The car screeched to a halt at The Brooks Hotel. I bid my guide farewell, checked into my room and had a quick shower. I only had an hour to get ready before meeting a representative from Tourism Ireland in the hotel lobby. I was pleased to be spending my final days at The Brooks, staying in one spot meant I could unpack a bit and set up shop. Brooks is a four-star designer boutique hotel located just a few minutes walk from Dublin’s fashionable Grafton Street, St Stephen’s Green and Trinity College. An ideal location in the heart of the city, old world charm meets modern elegance.

That afternoon I found myself on the most outrageous bus filled with wild personalities featuring accents from Germany, China, India, the UK, Holland, America, Portugal, France, Sweden and beyond. Our bus came to a stop at Aras an Uachtarain, the official residence of the President of Ireland. We lurched past the gates and bustled through sprawling green space, fancy gardens and a plumed fountain. Over the course of the next hour the energy in the air was electric. Once off the bus we found ourselves in an ornate lobby flanked by two armed gards. We were motioned into a long hallway lined with bronze bust heads and green hued ornate rug below. There was a seriousness in the space, my media camp mates were in a dizzy of excitement as PR for the President and Tourism Ireland organized us alphabetically by country. I would be the first of the lot to meet the President as Canada came up first (Algeria and Burma were not present). I sat beside two other Canadians representing the Toronto Sun and Montreal Gazette.

And all of a sudden the room hushed and the three Canucks were ushered into an opulent room. The ceiling was a work of art, chandelier shawn brightly above and fireplace and antique furniture sat quietly as the wee President of Ireland, Michael Higgins stood smiling at us with his hand outstretched for a friendly handshake. I’ve only felt this nervous meeting a personality twice before: my encounter with comedian Amy Sedaris and domestic goddess Nigella Lawson. I will never forget the first words to come out of his mouth, “I love your tweed jacket it looks so sharp.” I couldn’t help but openly laugh as I received a fashionista compliment from the Head of State. After taking a quick photo we were motioned through several opulent rooms to a massive banquet table where attendants offered us hot tea and an assortment of sweets. Later on the President gave a patriotic speech and mix and mingled with his guests, the press. I had the opportunity to chat with him further as he discussed his friendship with U2’s Bono and happily exclaimed he is a fan of Brit pop sensation One Direction. Michael Higgins is a loveable character and sort of takes your breath away. Our final stop at his residence included a group photo shoot in the palace gardens.

We all hopped back on the bus, giddy with excitement from such an unforgettable experience. Next up, a walking tour of downtown Dublin where we strolled past St Stephen’s Green, walked along the always bustling Grafton Street and zig zagged our way through party-tastic Temple Bar. We would spend an unforgettable evening dinning at Church Bar and Restaurant with special guest John McColgan, the creator and Director of Riverdance.

The following morning my fellow media campers hopped on another bus and zoomed outside of the city for a morning at Malahide Castle and Gardens. I was thrilled to have an old friend join me for the next few days. I first met Amiee in Budapest where we became good friends and ended up staying with her in San Francisco a year later. She had been living in Dublin for the last several years so when I realized she would be in town during my visit I was delighted to add her as my plus one. We caught up on life during an early morning stroll through Malahide Gardens which concluded with a whimsical tour of the castle interior. The estate is set on a 250 acre park in a pretty seaside town. The castle was both a fortress and a private home for nearly 800 years. The Talbot lived here from 1185 to 1973, when the last Talbot died. The house is furnished with beautiful period furniture together with an extensive collection of Irish portrait paintings, many which belong to the National Gallery.

Back on the bus we spent the next two hours enjoying a stunning coastal tour on our leisurely drive back to Dublin. Ravenous for sips and nibbles once back in the city we enjoyed lunch together as a group at the eclectic and recently launched 37 Dawson Street.

That afternoon Amiee and I visited Trinity College and loitered around the famous Book of Kells before gawking at their majestic and cavernous library. We walked along Grafton Street, smiling and waving at lively buskers before arriving at The National Museum of Archaeology. Highlights included celtic jewelry, early Christian artifacts and the infamous Kingship and Sacrifice exhibit showcasing Ireland’s Bog Bodies Research Project. Be sure not to miss this oddball corner of the musuem featuring Iron Age bog bodies, the remains which are dated between 400 BC and 200 BC and in a remarkably good state of preservation.

After a busy day on my feet I returned to the Brooks for a quick shower before heading to a fantastic feast at The Saddle Room Restaurant located in the five-star Shelbourne Hotel. After a delightful dinner I headed out on the town with a few buddies for a pint of Guinness and Cider at a local pub (which was actually rammed to the point I could barely move). “Pinch me, it’s late, I’m a little bit drunk in Ireland.”

The following morning I woke myself up early, alarm blaring, in anticipation for St. Paddy’s Day. It was cold and the city was surrounded by the drizzle of rain. We were ushered into a taxi and bolted across the city to the Dublin Writers Museum which features artifacts from Oscar Wilde and and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I ran up the stairs just in time to catch a press conference with the organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Festival. The room was a buzz as Nicky Byrne lead vocalist for the pop boy band sensation Westlife got up to speak. He would be sitting in a vintage Rolls Royce waving at thousands in the heart of the parade. After the press conference we huddled together, all of us looked half awake clutching warm cups of tea and devouring scones topped with cream and raspberry preserve.

And then all of a sudden we were bolting out the door. The street directly outside of the museum was a bit chaotic as members of the parade practiced their dance routines while music blared: a hodge podge of bagpipe, Chinese drum and children’s choir. We all wore VIP wristbands and were quickly escorted past security gates manned by the army, whisked past an ornate royal carriage (where the Mayor of Dublin would be waving from) and onto a top deck Mobile Media Bus where we would be live tweeting from the heart of the St. Paddy’s Parade. The next three hours were totally bonkers. I’ll never forget the thousands of smiling faces, waving Irish flags, an ocean of Green. Once we had completed the parade route we hopped off the bus and were escorted onto two stationary buses where we had the opportunity to shoot the parade as it passed by.

After the parade I met Amiee at The Guinness Storehouse where we would spend the next hour adventuring through their interactive beer museum. What a wild place to be on the afternoon of St. Paddy’s Day (read: thousands of smug mugs a la day drunk). The team at Guinness made sure to make the day special with an Irish Bagpipe procession in the lobby and DJ spinning at their infamous Gravity Bar which offers stunning 360 degree views of the city. That evening Amiee and I enjoyed an intimate dinner at Fade Street Social followed by a dancetastic night on the town at iconic gay bar, The George.

From one indulgence to the other, I spent my final evening in Dublin dining in the heart of Temple Bar at Gallaghers Boxty House. I was delighted to spend my final waking hours sitting with the restaurants owner, nibbling on his interpretation of traditional Irish pub cuisine. Amiee and I slowly strolled back to the Brooks Hotel. My heart felt heavy, the trip had absolutely exhausted me. I was filed with so many stories that I was eager to share. I gave her a big hug and bolted up an ancient elevator for one final sleep in the lap of Irish luxury.