Gathered together in the lobby of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Dublin’s “embassy belt,” the newly formed “band of merry media,” 18 intrepid travel writers and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Treasures of Ireland itinerary, forms up around Big Mike, our 6’2″, charismatic, full-blooded Irish tour director/concierge/storyteller, and makes its way out into the parking lot to board the sleek Mercedes motor coach.
“Céad míle fáilte! A hundred thousand welcomes,” Big Mike proclaims, as we settle into our business-class legroom seats while Eugene, our burly Irish driver — aka The Quiet Man — merges into the busy, late-afternoon traffic.
“We’re off to Trinity College for an Insight signature moment: a VIP viewing of the Book of Kells, the world-famous, 9th century gospel manuscript that’s on display in the college’s Old Library,” our self-proclaimed Liam Neeson lookalike explains.
“But, to get there,” he adds, “our man Eugene will take us on a circuitous route around Dublin while I do my very best to narrate the scenes just outside your window.”
Heading down Leeson Street, we snake our way through the hustle and bustle, crossing over the Grand Canal to St. Stephen’s Green, the large city-center park.
Passing the top of Grafton Street, Ireland’s premier shopping area and the epicenter for the city’s very best buskers, we hang a right and eventually zip past Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral, the city’s oldest building, founded in 1030 by Sitriuc, the Norse king of Dublin.
Reaching the O’Donovan Rossa, one of the city’s 23 bridges that cross over the River Liffey, we pass Wood Quay, site of the city’s original Viking settlement, and wave to the Four Courts, Ireland’s main courts building, as we glide on by.
Up to Parnell Square we roll, turning right at the north end and looping around the Writers Museum, filled with literary memorabilia belonging to the likes of Beckett, Shaw, Wilde, Yeats and Joyce.
Down O’Connell Street, named after Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell, we cruise, passing by the GPO (General Post Office) — site of the 1916 Easter Rising, which jumpstarted Ireland’s push for independence from Great Britain — and the Millennium Spire (aka The Needle) until we cross back over the River Liffey via the O’Connell Bridge — near where the “Daniel Day” and “Jerry Lee” Luas tram lines embrace –and arrive at our destination: Trinity College Dublin (TCD).
Greeted by Joseph, an effervescent, Dublin-born, physics-turned-philosophy professor and the university’s Director of Authenticity Tours, we’re led through the ornate and cavernous entryway into the quadrangle for a brief stroll around campus and an open-air TCD 101 class.
“In a nutshell,” the professor-sans-robe points out, “Trinity College is Ireland’s premier university and one of the world’s top 100 schools of higher learning.”
“Founded back in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I of England,” the passionate educator continues, “today’s Trinity challenges 17,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students with topflight curricula.”
Class dismissed, we head for the Old Library and our fast-track entry — there’s no waiting in the queue when you travel with Insight — into the room displaying one of Ireland’s most prized possessions: the Book of Kells.
Written on vellum (calfskin), an excellent, smooth writing surface back in the 9th century, the Book of Kells is an unbelievably beautiful manuscript containing the Four Gospels of the New Testament.
The professor points out that, “It is the country’s most precious medieval artifact, and is generally considered the finest surviving illuminated manuscript to have ever been produced during its time in Europe.”
Unfortunately, photography of any kind is not permitted in the BofK room, so you’ll just have to take his word for it.
At almost 65 m in length, the Long Room, built between 1712 and 1732, is filled with 200,000 of the library’s oldest books and is one of the most impressive collections on the planet.
“Since 1801,” Professor Joseph notes, “the Old Library has been given the right to claim a free copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland.”
Along with the neatly organized bays of leather-bound books, each with their own rolling ladder, 49 marble busts adorn the Long Room, a collection of male-only poses that began in 1743.
The busts are of the great philosophers and writers of the western world and of men connected with TCD. Reportedly, the finest bust in the collection is of Irish writer Jonathan Swift. Personally, my fave marble headshot is the one of English philosopher John Locke sporting his long locks.
Our visit to Trinity College now over, we bid our summa cum laude escort a fond farewell, hop aboard the motor coach and make our way back to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. Along the way, we pass by Merrion Square and the Oscar Wilde statue, the Dáil (Irish Houses of Parliament), the National Art Gallery and some of those iconic Georgian row houses, with their colorful front doors and brass knockers.
Before disembarking, Big Mike announces, “We’ll meet back down in the lobby in 90 minutes when we’ll head straight out for dinner on Insight’s euro.” He adds, “It’s Friday night in Dublin ladies, so you won’t look out of place if you choose to wear your ‘little black number.'”
Dismissing the query with a wave of his large hand, Big Mike simply responds, “Lads, just come as you are.”
For complete information on Insight’s 100+ premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, including the Treasures of Ireland itinerary, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you soon when we head over to Donnybrook to sample some authentic Irish farm-to-fork dishes.
©The Palladian Traveler