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Beyond the Book of Kells, what is the best of hidden Dublin?


Alex Rocha (18) praying at the relic of St. Valentine at Whitefriar St. Church, home of the relic

Alex Rocha (18) praying at the relic of St. Valentine at Whitefriar St. Church, home of the relic

Dawson Lounge, Dawson St.

Dawson Lounge, Dawson St.


Alex Rocha (18) praying at the relic of St. Valentine at Whitefriar St. Church, home of the relic

People in Venice are getting so sick of their 27 million annual visitors that a ban on suitcases that make a racket when wheeled over the cobblestones has been suggested.

Ireland hopes to attract 7.7 million tourists next year. This year visitors injected €3.7bn into our economy.

Tourism chiefs are launching an international marketing blitz. Personally, I'd spend the money on a flotilla of helium-powered Zeppelins positioned in strategic parts of European airspace, all embossed with a shamrock, an arrow pointing to Ireland and the words: "Noisy suitcases welcomed this way."

But a more practical idea might be to nudge visitors to Dublin towards lesser-known attractions so they can see hidden gems in or near the city.

The big names are well-known: the unforgettable vista of the Long Room in Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse and literary pub crawls through the watering holes from which many of our most celebrated writers were barred.

But there's more. Here are 10 recommendations to give visitors (and curious locals) a more rounded sense of Dublin.

1 You may be coming with someone you love. If not, the 16 bus from the airport is so packed that you'll probably fall in love with a fellow passenger. This calls for a romantic visit to view the relics of St Valentine at a beautiful shrine in Whitefriar Street Church.

2 If foreign drivers want to know if they're on the right road to Howth, a good clue on a busy weekend is the fact that they're sitting in an hour-long tail-back. Turn off at the wooden bridge in Clontarf and discover a wilderness closer to the city.

Bull Island's sand dunes are home to Brent geese, oystercatchers, foxes and hares, forming a rambling nature reserve that any child would love to explore. And some summer evenings the Kinara Pakistani restaurant, just at the bridge, sets out a pop-up stall selling finger food.

3 Traditional musicians perform for the public in pubs such as the famous O'Donoghue's in Merrion Row and the Cobblestone in Smithfield.

But they relax and perform for each other in the welcoming, unpretentious Hughes Pub in Chancery Street near the Four Courts. For health and safety reasons don't join in on your newly-bought bodhran.

4 No Dublin visit is complete without one afternoon engaging in an ancient Celtic meditation technique called Doing Feck All. The most relaxing place to Do Feck All is in the Library Bar, upstairs in the Central Hotel in Exchequer Street.

5 History doesn't record if CrossGuns Snooker Club in Phibsboro was founded by the Normans or the Vikings, but this oasis of calm has stood on the canal bank at Crossguns Bridge for ever.

Entering it is like stepping back in time. Flann O'Brien summed up a good university education as the ability to achieve a break of 20 in snooker, no matter how bad the table.

These tables are immaculately manicured by John who works there and, judging by the breaks, its clientele must all possess doctorates.

6&7 Transatlantic visitors suffer from jetlag. Dublin's smallest pub, the Dawson Lounge, is the perfect place to adjust to changing time zones, being a tiny subterranean space (like a comforting decompression chamber), invariably filled with good cheer but bereft of natural daylight.

Once adjusted to Dublin Time (which was once 25 minutes and 21 seconds behind Greenwich Mean Time, so we weren't late but accurate), the Sackville Lounge off O'Connell Street is an ideal Dublin pub to make friends in.

8 Tucked away in the Naul, that small north count y Dublin village, the Seamus Ennis Centre is a hidden gem located in a traditional cottage.

On many Sunday afternoons traditional musicians gather for informal sessions in the parlour, with bigger gigs in the hall behind the cottage, but they all feel more like being at a gathering of friends than a concert.

A lamp lights up the window as dusk settles over the square outside where, beneath an old tree, a life-sized sculpture of Ennis sits playing his pipes. Children love to put their hands over his and marvel at his extraordinarily long musical fingers.

By day it has a Cottage Cafe, and the fascinating Skerries Mills (with working windmill) is a short drive away.

9 Glendalough's lakeside walk can be more crowded (albeit with fewer suitcases) in summer than St Mark's Square in Venice, but experienced walkers can find solitude and wonderful climbs five minutes off the beaten track.

The big discovery for book lovers, however, must be the Writers' Room in the nearby Wicklow Heather Restaurant.

A vibrant melting pot of hikers, bikers and local family celebrations, diners in the Wicklow Heather are surprised to eat among an eclectic, fascinating collection of first editions and memorabilia by writers including Joyce and Wilde. There is even a photo of this author taken in London in 1987, with a wild beard that makes Rasputin resemble an earnest, clean-cut insurance salesman.

10 You can't visit Dublin without buying a book, and the Gutter Bookshop is a treasure trove. Discover parts of Dublin you never knew with a copy of Karl Whitney's superb Hidden City: Adventures & Explorations in Dublin By Foot, Bike, Bus, Train and Tram.

Whitney even brings you into the sewers and underground rivers, along the edges and behind the hoardings. Park the noisy suitcase: you're going to be busy.