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Footloose in Dublin

Irish Eyes Are Smiling on a 1,000th Birthday

June 26, 1988|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers .

DUBLIN, Ireland — Dubliners are a warm and friendly lot, full of charm, a bit of blarney and perhaps a Guinness or two. They love good conversation, weighty or otherwise, but much prefer to spin a dark or winsome tale of the imagination rather than a dull one fettered by reality.

Much of this talk goes on in the city's 850 or so public houses, Dublin being a pub town if ever there was one. And they're sure to be more crowded than usual this year as locals and visitors alike celebrate the city's 1,000th birthday.

The 1,000th is really a pub-talk figure, because the city was founded by Vikings around AD 841. But 147 years later, a noble Celtic king routed out the Norsemen, making AD 988 the birthday in Irish eyes.

In the throes of a celebration or not, Dublin is a lovely old town on the River Liffey, a dignified Georgian city where the doorways of 18th-Century townhouses sparkle with many coats of lacquer in lively colors. It is also an eminently civilized place, with historic old churches, beautiful parks, fine galleries and museums, the renowned Abbey Theater and Trinity College with its magnificent 9th-Century Book of Kells.

So why not get in on the party? Come here to the pub of your choice and lift a jar to the millennium of Baile Atha Cliath, a lively lady beautiful beyond her years.

Here to there: Fly Delta direct to Dublin. Also British Airways to London or KLM to Amsterdam, then back to Dublin with Aer Lingus. You may also connect with Aer Lingus in New York.

How long/how much? Two days minimum for all the sights. Lodging costs are high moderate here, very good dining the same.

A few fast facts: The Irish pound recently cost us about $1.60 U.S., making the dollar worth about 63 cents. Late spring to late fall is the best period for visiting. The summers are never really too hot. Best method of getting around is with a Dublin Explorer pass, good for four days in the city and environs on buses or rail.

Getting settled in: Ariel House (52 Lansdowne Road; $83 double with full Irish breakfasts) is an old favorite of ours, a very friendly place on the bus line just three stops from mid-city. There are coal-burning fireplaces in the breakfast room and lounge. The rooms are simple, some with views of a pretty grass slope. Ariel is an old townhouse serving breakfast only.

Egan's House (7 Iona Park; $57 double) is another former private home that we've known for years. It's beautifully run by owners John and Betty Egan. Just 15 minutes to the airport, 10 to the city center, a real homey place with flower boxes on windows, old china and an antique Waterford chandelier in the lounge off the lobby. Lace curtains and fireplace deck the intimate dining room, which serves a five-course evening meal for about $23. Bedrooms have TV, hair dryers and self-catering coffee-tea gear.

Mount Herbert (Herbert Road, Ballsbridge; $70 double with Irish breakfasts) is the former home of an Irish lord, set in a garden in the same general area as Ariel House. This one has more of a modern feel, complete with beauty salon, gift shop, sauna, Jacuzzi and exercise room. Full restaurant with views of garden serves three-course meals for about $18, grills around $11.

Regional food and drink: Irish food is generally rather straightforward, yet a goodly number of Dublin's restaurants have made great strides in finesse with their dishes. Dublin Bay prawns, Galway oysters, salmon and lobster appear often. The lamb is always well prepared, and the grills and "joints" are usually sturdy and succulent.

Smoked pike and salmon are frequent starters and, for some reason, corn on the cob. Just don't forget the old standbys--Irish stew, colconno of mashed potatoes, cabbage and perhaps a little onion mixed in, or the marvelous Irish soda bread, hot from the pan.

Several vegetables come with each main course, and the turnips are always excellent. The region around Tipperary has a cottage industry making fine cheeses--cheddar, castel blue and coolooney. Guinness stout and lagers are the preferred libations at the table; good wines are usually available.

Moderate-cost dining: Kitty O'Shea's Pub (23 Upper Grand Canal St.) couldn't be more typically Irish or more fun, a politicians' haunt that also draws sporting types and local swells. Kitty had a checkered past, including an affair with Parnell, the 19th-Century firebrand Irish nationalist whose career was ruined by the dalliance. Lots of seasoned old wood, 150-year-old stained glass and caricatures of sportsmen, politicians and journalists. Ted Kennedy and our ambassador pop in for a pint from time to time. Fat sandwiches and simple pub food are the mainstays, all reasonably priced. The spirits are high when there's Irish music at night.

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