Southend Airport, rated by Which? as best London Airport for four consecutive years, was certainly a good place to start my trip to Dublin. With hardly a person in sight, not even at the security check, it was in total contrast to the mayhem of airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick.
My base in Dublin was the Dylan, a relaxed five-star boutique hotel. Accommodation consisted of a hallway, bedroom, sitting room and bathroom and there were TVs in all three rooms, including the bathroom, presumably for watching the soaps!
After a delicious dinner in the hotel and a good night’s sleep I set off to explore Dublin on foot. The city has many green spaces and Merrion Park is home to a well-known statue of Oscar Wilde, incongruously reclining on a large rock. A few minutes later I arrived at the National Gallery of Ireland which has been the subject of extensive refurbishment, completed in June 2017. The result is a light and airy Gallery which complements the lovely exhibits. Paintings on show include works by Titian, Monet and Picasso.
A totally different experience awaited me at the Little Dublin Museum, crammed with more modern artefacts including author Maeve Binchy’s typewriter and a room dedicated to the pop band U2.
After a morning’s walking it was time for lunch. On the way I passed the statue of Molly Malone who ‘wheeled her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow’.
I was on my way to Fallon & Byrne. On the ground floor there what it describes as a ‘proper grocer’, offering fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, coffees, just-caught fish and much more. Just strolling round made me feel hungry so I went downstairs to the wine bar to enjoy a great lunch of cold meats, cheeses, patés, oysters and smoked salmon canapés, washed down with excellent red and white wines.
Suitably refreshed I walked across town to EPIC, housed in the CHQ building, which tells the story of Irish emigration. Over time some ten million people left Ireland, driven out by starvation, religious intolerance and more. Outside the exhibition centre in the docklands area there are statues of people heading for the ships that would hopefully take them to a better life, a truly poignant piece of street art.
Outside CHQ I joined the Vintage Tea Tour, afternoon tea served on the upper deck of an old London Routemaster, a unique way of seeing the Dublin.
The city has a lot to offer but a few miles away there are attractions of a very different nature. Next morning a short drive north took me along the coast. This is a great area for golfers with St Anne’s, Royal Dublin and famous Portmarnock in close proximity.
I visited Howth and its castle, originating from 1177 and the home of the Gaisford-St Lawrence family. One of the family dogs met us inside the castle and was happy to have his tummy rubbed as long as anyone was available, giving the castle a lived-in family feel. The castle’s current appearance dates back to 1738 and it was renovated and extended in 1911 by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
After a brief tour I went down to the huge Georgian kitchen to sample the Cookery School. The classes on offer range in length from one day to a week including a one day ‘catch and cook’ course where you are taken a few miles off-shore and taught how to catch your fish before returning to the kitchen to prepare it and cook it as part of a delicious three-course meal. I and other guests were given a cookery demonstration by Sarah and John which was both instructive and great fun.
It was a short drive to the pretty harbour at Howth and the many yachts moored there. After a bracing walk along the harbour wall I popped in to the Oar House for lunch. Fish doesn’t come any fresher than this and the queues waiting to be seated showed just how popular it is.
Another short drive took me to the pretty town of Malahide and its marina, stretched out along Dublin Bay and overlooked by the Grand Hotel. It’s just fifteen minutes from the airport and around twenty minutes to the city so it makes a great alternative centre for visitors to Dublin. Finds at nearby Paddy’s Hill indicate that the area was inhabited as long ago as 6,000 B.C. and tradition has it that St Patrick visited in 423 A.D. He was followed by the Vikings and the Danes, the last Danish King of Dublin retired to Malahide in 1171.
I visited Malahide Castle, one of Ireland’s oldest, whose links to the Talbot family date back to 1175, and enjoyed an entertaining guided tour of the castle, complete with stories of its five ghosts.
After another lovely meal it was time for the short drive back to the airport and my flight home, with lasting memories of friendly people, good humour, great hospitality and fine food, both in the city and outside.
For more information on Ireland to go www.ireland.com You can fly to Dublin from London Southend Airport up to three times daily through Stobart Air’s franchise partnership with Flybe. Tickets start from £29.99 per person one way (including taxes and charges). Book now at www.flybe.com
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Kirker Holidays.