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Dublin's in the Mood for a Very Festive Year

January 10, 1988|IRENE CORBALLY KUHN | Kuhn is a New York City free-lance writer

DUBLIN — Although Dublin is one of the smallest capital cities of Europe, it is blessed with an enduring beauty and a distinctive personality that time and change have only made more appealing.

It's that personality that will be highlighted this year during its widely announced celebration of 1,000 years of history, which has coursed through the city like the dark waters of the River Liffey itself.

All the world is invited to Dublin's big party. The festivities will end Dec. 28 with a 50,000-purse (about $86,000 U.S.)horse race at the Leopardstown Race Course on Dublin's south side.

Between now and then, organizers of the Dublin Millenium salute have scheduled all sorts of special events, including an extended St. Patrick's celebration in March.

10 Days of Opera

April will see a 10-day season of operas staged by the Grand Opera Assn. May will bring an international piano competition. In June, Ireland's rich literary history will be highlighted in a number of imaginative ways.

July will provide a re-enactment of a ceremony not seen since the late 18th Century, the Riding of the Franchises, a parade around the old city boundaries, led by the Lord Mayor (who happens this year to be a Lady Mayor).

On the same weekend, July 9, Phoenix Park, which, with 1,760 acres, is not only the largest public park in Europe but one of the loveliest, will be the site of a mammoth public party. The party will feature a birthday cake large enough to supply the base for 1,000 candles, while 100,000 balloons are to be sent skyward.

And so it will go throughout the year. Each week will see special exhibitions to appeal to every taste and interest.

Antiques, the fine arts, design, every form of craft, music and the theater will all have their turns in the spotlight. Sporting events will be almost continuous, from sailing regattas to the famed Dublin Horse Show. There's even a college football game matching two teams from the United States--Army and Boston College, scheduled Nov. 19.

But apart from all the special attractions, the city's charms are constant and ever-inviting. They are best discovered by walking, for Dublin is a compact city with something lovely or interesting or unusual (and sometimes all three) in almost every quarter.

Everyone who has ever visited Dublin, it seems, has a favorite section of the city to walk and wander through.

One of mine begins at St. Stephen's Green, a large expanse of landscaped park in the center of Georgian Dublin. Within its boundaries are trees that go back to its origins as a park in the early 19th Century, winding paths, two sizable artificial lakes and an array of beautifully kept flower beds that are changed seasonally.

In spring the Green is a particular delight, when 10,000 tulips burst into spectacular bloom.

St. Stephen's Green is also the home of one of my favorite hotels, the Shelbourne, which is unpretentiously elegant, a fine hotel where the founders of the Irish Free State met daily for three months in 1922 to draft the nation's first constitution.

Literary Giants Abound

Merrion Square, another Georgian gem, lies close to St. Stephen's Green. Among its architectural splendors from that more gracious age, the 18th Century, stands the house of Sir William Wilde--surgeon, archeologist and antiquarian who was the father of Oscar Wilde. But Oscar Wilde was only one of the literary giants associated with Merrion Square and the streets that lead off it.

Strollers can find a bust of George Bernard Shaw near his childhood home close by, and George Moore, William B. Yeats and James Joyce knew these streets and squares as well as they knew the rooms of their own homes.

Should the day turn rainy, the National Art Gallery stands on the west side of Merrion Square, ready to offer not only shelter but also splendid and varied collection of paintings from many periods.

Another of my favorite walks goes from St. Stephen's Green along Grafton Street past the enticing shops that line it on both sides until it reaches College Green, where the magnificent buildings Sir Christopher Wren designed for Trinity College still stand.

Trinity itself dates to 1591, when it was founded by Queen Elizabeth I on the site of a dissolved monastery. Although none of the original buildings remains, the great Corinthian facade dates from 1759.

Trinity's library is justifiably one of the most famous in the world, and in its old reading room the illuminated medieval Book of Kells is on public display, opened to a different page daily.

A walk along the banks of the River Liffey takes one past two of Dublin's most monumental buildings--the Custom House and the Four Courts. They were heavily damaged in the war for Irish independence, but have long since been beautifully restored to their classical best.

Scars From the 1920s

The O'Connell Street bridge crosses the Liffey and leads directly to O'Connell Street, where another survivor of the war, the Post Office, still bears scars from the bitter street fighting of the 1920s.

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