When we talk about the Middle Ages, we most likely imagine fortresses, stone walls, huge castles and all this surrounded by a mystical and gloomy atmosphere. Perhaps Dublin was once like that, but, like most European cities, it has changed. The good news is that Dublin remained low-rise, and that the Medieval traces can still be seen. Some can be hard to find, so we will take you by the hand in a two-hour walk around Medieval Dublin – two hours is the estimated time of the walk, without rush and without entering museums.
Let us start with the most famous of all, Dublin Castle, which stood there already for more than eight centuries. However, it is not really a castle in the classical sense. Of the entire complex that was built in the 13th century, only the Record Tower has survived up to our times – not surprising, when you realize that the thickness of the walls of the Record Tower reaches 4 meters at some points. The remaining parts of the castle were made of wood and consequently got destroyed in the fire of 1678.
Around the original castle tower, you will find a number of other sights which together make up the Dublin Castle as we know it today. First of all, the Royal Chapel, which is attached to the Record Tower. The chapel you see now dates from 1814. It gained particular interest after a visit of the British King George IV.
Inside the courtyard of the Dublin Castle, you can see the so-called State Apartments, which are particularly interesting from the inside, with beautiful classic interior and objects of art. Just below all this beauty, rest the remains of the Viking Dublin's original defences, which were found during excavations in the 20th century. These Viking fortifications of almost 1000 years old can also be visited, on a guided tour. Dublin Castle is open every day, see the official website to learn more and book your tickets.
Do not forget to visit the small inner garden. Once this green lawn was a pond where the rivers Liffey and Poddle met. It was called Dubh Linn, which in Irish means “black pool”. It is this black pool that gave name to the beautiful city of Dublin. The tracks that you can see on the grass here now, may seem ordinary or random, but in fact what you see here is a very common Viking pattern depicting a knot.
An absolute eye-catcher in the Dubh Linn Garden, are the colored buildings and towers. These form the back of the State Apartments, and have acquired the very applicable nickname "Lego Land".
When you leave the territory of the castle from there, you will find a house with a plate on it on your right hand. The plate tells us that 100 feet (about 30 meters) north-west of this place, the abbot of the Saint Patrick's Cathedral was born – better known as Jonathan Swift, the author of the famous work "Gulliver's Travels". Unfortunately, his childhood home has not been preserved.
The street that leads you away from the castle area goes by the unusual name of Ship Street Little. In the Middle Ages, it used to have the name “Sheep Street” but it was bastardized and became the “Ship Street”. In this remarkable little street you can see a preserved part of the ancient city wall. Turn left at the end of the street and go straight until you see the largest church of Ireland arising on your right-hand side. Don't hesitate to have a look at our free map of Dublin to double-check if you're still on our Medieval track!
The Saint Patrick's Cathedral as you can see today with its numerous spiers and single bell tower, was built in 1197-1270 in the Gothic style. It is believed that on this place Saint Patrick baptized everyone who wanted to convert to Christianity hundreds of years ago. In order to perpetuate this famous place in religious history, a small version of the church was already erected on this site in the 5th century.
As is the case for most ancient churches, history hasn't been trouble-free for the Saint Patrick's Cathedral. The church has been destroyed, rebuilt, and stripped of many of its treasures during the Reformation, when its premises were used as a courtroom and a secondary school. By the middle of the 16th century things started to ease, with the gothic cathedral being restored and most sacred relics being returned to their rightful place – the church was getting ready to revive in all its glory!
Across the facade of this majestic grey brick building, you can see lancet windows that are decorated with light carved frames. Its classic oak doors are ready to swing open for every guest, so let's take a look inside.
The interior of the St. Patrick's is no less striking. A long and narrow hall with stained-glass windows depicting biblical subjects behind the altar. The high ceilings are not decorated with any frescoes, but those do not seem required here. The restraint of color looks natural and elegant, where wood and stone perfectly complement each other, and stained glass adds completeness and a bright accent to the setting.
Let us share an interesting fact about the St. Patrick's. At the end of the 15th century, there was a small skirmish in the city between two significant families (the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds) who competed for high governing positions in Dublin. The tensions got so high that the Butlers feared for their lives at some point, and hid themselves in the cathedral. But the Fitzgeralds had followed them there, and demanded them to leave. Without result… Now as a good faith gesture, the Fitzgeralds decided to cut a hole in the door and reached out a hand in an attempt of reconciliation. Seeing that the head of the family was ready to risk his hand, the Butlers agreed to peace and shook it in return. That is how the famous Irish expression “to chance your arm” appeared. And you can still see this door inside, in the cathedral’s north transept. Don’t forget to buy your tickets to have a look inside the St. Patrick's.
The main cathedral of Dublin City is surrounded by a lovely park with mowed lawns, comfortable wooden benches and fountains. So if you want to relax a moment, the Saint Patrick's Park is one of the better options.
When ready, let's move away from the cathedral via Patrick Street and head for the Christ Church Cathedral. But before that, we have a small quest for lovers of Medieval architecture, seekers of antiquity and in general those who like to imagine how everything was before: try to find Power’s Square 2.
Power’s Square 2 seems like a small and particularly quiet corner of the city, surrounded by one-storey houses. But if you look closely, you will see a small fragment of the wall that once protected the city. Just like that, in the middle of someone's garden. More and larger pieces of the ancient wall can be found down Lamb Alley. As you can see, Dubliners cherish these milestones in history, with the Medieval Wall being conserved or integrated into new buildings, not further demolished. From the end of the street, make a right, and head for the oldest building in Dublin, the Christ Church Cathedral.
On the way you will find another Medieval structure on your left-hand side, the St. Audoen's Church. The outer features of this temple are made in full accordance with the Gothic architecture and, perhaps, this explains why most of the urban ghost stories in Dublin are connected with this church. The St. Audoen's Church is typically open every day with free admission.
The Christ Church Cathedral was founded already in 1031 by the Viking King Sigtrygg II Silkbeard Olafsson. Today little has been left from the original construction: further rebuilding and reconstruction of the cathedral were frequent and substantial. By the 19th century, the cathedral was in an extremely poor condition and the rich whiskey distiller Henry Roe decided to help; he invested over € 20 million (in current money value) for the renovation of the cathedral. It is said that because of this, some call the cathedral the "Whiskey Church".
Besides viewing its gorgeous Gothic interior, you should definitely go to the underground part of the cathedral – the crypt. This is the oldest construction in all Dublin, dating back to the beginning of the 12th century. The permanent exhibition "Treasures of the Christ Church" presents artefacts associated with worship services in the temple: manuscripts, candlesticks and other church utensils. However, the most amazing exhibits here are the rat and the cat that once chased it, mummified in a natural way. They were removed from the organ of the cathedral during its cleaning in 1860. For more legendary stories and tickets, have a look at the official website of the Christ Church Cathedral.
An interesting feature of the cathedral is the stone passage to the building, where meetings of church representatives (also known as synods) used to be held. Nowadays it houses the Dublinia Museum, which offers visitors a journey into the Medieval Dublin. It is a place where you can visit a rich merchant's kitchen or walk along a bustling Medieval Street, complete with beggars asking for change. Board a Viking warship or become enchained like a slave, in Dublinia it is about reliving these big episodes of Dublin's history. The museum is open every day, and particularly suitable for families – see the official website for more info and tickets.
To actually find out where the Vikings first settled, you won't have to go far. Directly behind the cathedral you can find an illustration made of paved stones that depicts a house of the very first settlement of the Vikings here. Inside the borders of the illustration, you can see two rectangles that depict the place where the beds were. They say that up to 20 people lived in such small houses!
The last place on our list will not be a church or a museum. This is a pub! There are hundreds of them, you would say. However, there is no single pub in the city with such a history. “Brazen Head” on 20 Lower Bridge Street exists since 1198! There is always great beer here, with Celtic and Irish live music every evening. No wonder this place got beloved by world-famous Irish writers and local heroes like James Joyce and Daniel O’Connell. Finishing such a busy day with a pint of Guinness is the perfect solution.
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