When I landed in Dublin in 2000, it was a sunny day but I could still feel the chill and slight dampness in the air. A long drive from the airport took us to a bed and breakfast in Dublin, just off the city centre. Over the following week we looked at several rental properties and soon coming to realise that houses in Dublin are small and expensive. It is quite understandable given that the total size of the island is 84,500 sq. Kilometers of which approximately 11% is natural formations and forests. So land is at a premium and hence the high cost of real estate.
We finally got a small town home on rent for 6 months in Clontarf which is in North Dublin. I could almost touch the ceiling and the side walls of the living room. The bedroom was tiny and we were having second thoughts about our move. However, we decided to give it a try. The morning after we moved in, we were trying to find the bus stop that was supposed to be next to our house complex. It was then that we discovered that our house was right next to a cemetery. We had wandered into the cemetery in search of the bus stop and were suddenly confronted by a lot of graves.
The following weekend, we explored our neighbourhood and discovered that on the other side of our house was Clontarf Castle. Once upon a time it was a castle occupied by the Vernon family for over 350 years. Inside the castle there is a pub and eatery apart from suites. By the end of the first three months, we had found a better and more spacious home in Clontarf inside a gated community. We had also made a lot of friends and the social calendar was looking healthy.
The Irish are wonderful people and integrated us into the social circle quickly. Fridays would be drinks after work. Saturdays would be golf with friends. Sunday to cool off or have some friends over for dinner before starting the working week. As we settled down, we began exploring the place and discovered new things to do. Around the corner was an Indian takeaway that was run by a Pakistani Doctor who emigrated a long time ago. The cooks inside were Irish and yet the food tasted authentic Indian. We also tried to drink Guinness but it took a little while. Guinness is an acquired taste. It took me six months before I was able to enjoy one. For the new comers, they serve Guinness with black currant juice.
If you walked East for a short distance to Howth road, you could see a paved walkway along the sea. Our house was closer to the base of a lagoon formed by the island and bordered by the walkway. Every evening we would walk along the walkway. Off the promenade is Bull Island which is a sandy beach with wild fragrant rose bushes bordering the road and entrance. The walking route contains a few interesting spots such as the globe and my favourite “Supper’s ready” they sold home made fresh gourmet food that you could thaw at home. My favourite was their bread pudding. The Aviator’s monument is another interesting spot. Shaped like a globe and called “The Eccentric Orbit”, it commemorates the first successful East-west transatlantic flight of 1930 that took off from this beach.
If you decided to drive further North on Howth road, you would reach Howth where private boats are docked. Colorful sails and the sound of bells and sea gulls fill the air. The drive back from Howth to Clontarf is equally impressive because Howth is on a hill and you can see the city and the sea as you drive down. I do not recollect the name of the ice-cream shop in Howth that served my favourite version of a large Belgian waffle with home made Ice-cream.
Then of course there were those Saturdays at Deer park where you could play golf and also get a fantastic view of the sea. Home to the Howth castle where legend has it that there was a pirate queen Gráinne O’Malley (Pronounced as Gronya). It is said that in 1576, she wanted to pay a courtesy visit to Baron Howth, but was told that the family was at dinner, and so the castle gates were to remain closed. This infuriated Gráinne O’Malley. Fuming at the affront, Gráinne is said to have abducted the grandson and heir. He was only released upon the condition that the castle gates were to be kept open to unexpected visitors at all times – and that an extra place be set at the table for every meal, just in case. It is said that the occupants of Howth Castle honour this condition even today. There is more to Ireland than Clontarf, that is for the next post.