Fáilte roimh Dublin! Or, for those of you who don’t speak Irish, welcome to Dublin, our fifth Harney Holiday Desteanation! This most charming city is the “smallest” on our itinerary, weighing in around 1.2 million residents, give or take, in the city of Dublin. Beautifully situated on Dublin Bay at the mouth of the River Liffey and bordered by the Dublin Mountains, it’s no wonder its nickname is “The Fair City.”
It is believed that Dublin was originally the site of two settlements, one Viking and one Gaelic, that were formed in the 9th and 10th centuries. In 1988, the Irish government recognized 988 as the year the city was settled and celebrated their official Irish First Millenium. One of the oldest and most visited landmarks is Dublin Castle, which was founded on the orders of England’s King John in 1204 to protect what was then British land.
There are many other well-known Dublin landmarks, including Trinity College, one of the city’s most visited sites; it holds the Book of Kells, an illustrated and riveting manuscript created by Irish monks around 800 AD telling tales of monks, Vikings and remote Scottish islands. Other not-to-be-missed sites include the Ha’penny Bridge, an iron footbridge over the River Liffey and one of the most photographed Dublin landmarks; the ancient Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral; the Spire of Dublin, a newer landmark also known as the Monument of Light; Dublin’s many parks, like the popular St. Stephen’s Green (used for public executions until the 1770s); Kilmainham Gaol, the largest unoccupied jail in Europe and a memorable and informative excursion.
Finally, after thinking about executions and life in jail, you’ll want to make sure to spend quality time at the Guinness Storehouse. While at Dublin’s #1 attraction, lift a pint to Arthur Guinness who, in 1759, took out a 9,000-year lease on the St. James Gate Brewery in the heart of old Dublin. It’s truly a memorable experience, even if somehow you are not a Guinness fan (just don’t tell them that!). Not a fan of “the black stuff” or “Irish champagne”? There’s always the Irish Whiskey Museum. Just sayin’.
The arts are a big part of Dublin, which has inspired many well-known writers, actors and other artists. Dublin has wonderful museums and performance art, including live music on the streets, a common and fun sight in Ireland. The city boasts a vibrant nightlife, which may be due in part to the youthfulness of its population, which has an estimated 50% of its citizens younger than 25. When you think Ireland, you likely think pubs -- and you would not be wrong. You’ll find many pubs on Dublin’s main boulevard, Grafton Street, as well as in the area around St. Stephen’s Garden. The Temple Bar is one of the best-known hangouts for nightlife, popular with tourists and also for bachelor/bachelorette parties, or better known as “stag” and “hen” parties in those parts. In search of a quieter pub experience? There’s plenty of what the locals refer to as “old man pubs” to quench that thirst as well.
Whether you’re looking for an old-world, cobbled street experience, something more modern and upbeat or both, you’ll find it in Dublin. That goes for their love of Christmas as well!
Let’s face it, all of the United Kingdom is in love with tea, but did you know that the Irish rank second in the world for tea consumption per capita? They average four to six cups per day, to which we say cheers! From helping those who could get their hands on tea during The Great Famine as something to help them stave off hunger, to becoming a daily staple and the country’s most popular beverage (sorry, Guinness!), tea is very much an Irish “ting” to do!
Some of our most Irish-inspired offerings, along with other blends from nearby and around the UK, all of which will satisfy the Irish desire for a bold tea that will make a spoon stand upright in the cup :
The Holidays in Dublin
Tired of Christmas lights on our travels yet? If so, too bad! Just like our other desteanations, Dublin lights up like a… well, like a Christmas tree during December.
If you don’t get anywhere else -- and you should -- but if you don’t, make sure you hit Grafton Street. Dublin’s main street in the center of the city and home to Ireland’s finest stores, restaurants and pubs, during December the entire street is decked in lights. One of the best holiday traditions is “busking” on Grafton Street, especially on Christmas Eve. “Buskers” are street performers, and you can find them on Grafton Street busking, or performing, for charity. One of Dublin’s most notable artists, Bono of U2, has busked for charity several times on Grafton Street on Christmas Eve. If he’s in town, he’s likely to be there.
Another place that puts on the glam is the previously mentioned Temple Bar. You may not find a lot of locals hanging there, but you’ll certainly see a lot of Christmas spirit amidst all the other spirits. If you’re really up for a challenge, give the 12 Pubs of Christmas a try! This worldwide event where you try to make it through 12 pubs in one night is a natural while in Dublin. While few actually accomplish the task, they have a lot of fun along the way with rules for each pub, like only using a non-dominant hand in one, holding hands with your best friend the whole time in another, using a different accent in another and so on!
If hot chocolate is more your speed -- and we can understand why -- head to Butlers Chocolate Café, an Irish-owned company founded in Dublin nearly a century ago. They say the white hot chocolate is life-altering. For all our tea-loving friends, there are plenty of options for a sumptuous Christmas afternoon tea. While you’ll find some absolutely amazing ones outside Dublin, some set in castles (we know, right?), in the city itself you need to seek out The Shelbourne for a delightful Christmas tea. Another exquisite option is the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel for an all-out experience.
As with our other cities, outdoor Christmas markets are a staple in Dublin; two of the largest are Dublin’s Docklands featuring “12 Days of Christmas,” and Farmleigh House in Phoenix Park. Oh, and while you’re in Phoenix Park, check out Wild Lights at the Dublin Zoo, a true kid- and kids-of-all-ages pleaser. Christmas carols sung in ancient cathedrals? Check. How about Christmas carols by candlelight in the magnificent National Concert Hall? Absolutely inspiring. Can’t decide what to check out? If you’re up for it, book a walking tour of Dublin. You’ll be escorted to all the must-see places, and likely some hidden gems you didn’t know existed.
As for how the Irish celebrate Christmas, it is again very similar to Britain or the U.S. with caroling, Christmas Eve mass, trees, holly wreaths on their doors (a tradition that started in Ireland as holly was a plant that flourished at Christmas and allowed the poor to decorate), fairy lights, family and traditional meals. Being the Irish, there are of course some rather quirky traditions, like the Christmas Day swim at Forty Foot Rock, among many other places, into the frigid temps of the Irish Sea. You won’t catch Santa Claus participating in that, however. “Santy,” as he is affectionately known in Ireland, is treated to something far better than milk and cookies when he visits Irish houses: he finds some mince pies and a pint of Guinness! Good thing the reindeers are doing the driving!
Again like Britain, turkey is the favored center of an Irish Christmas dinner. Roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts are also very traditional and not that different from what we might serve. But here are a couple dishes you’ll find in Ireland that you won’t find in most American homes during the holidays.
Traditional Irish Christmas Cake
Ever fed a cake whiskey? You will with this unique cake. This liquor-soaked cake has to be fed once a week leading up to Christmas. It has been said that in the old days, “wee Irish women” would hide the cake under their bed during the feeding process to keep their husbands from tucking into it “after a night on the beer.”
Ingredients for the Cake:
- 225 grams all-purpose flour
- 175 grams butter, room temperature
- 175 grams Muscovado sugar
- 4 eggs
- ½ tsp salt
Ingredients for the Fruit Mix:
- Peel of one lemon
- Peel of one orange
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 100 grams almond flour
- 6 tbsp Irish whiskey
- 200 grams sultanas
- 150 grams raisins
- 100 grams currants
- 100 grams candied orange and lemon
- 100 grams chopped almonds
- Put the raisins, the sultanas and the currants in a large bowl, add 4 tablespoons of whiskey and mix well, then cover and let the whiskey absorb for 12 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 265°F and line an 8” round tin with a double layer of parchment paper.
- Pour together the all-purpose flour, butter, sugar, eggs, lemon and orange peel, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Beat until you have a smooth and creamy mixture.
- Pour the raisins and candied fruits plus almonds and almond flour in the mix. Mix well using a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well combined. Your mixture will be extremely sticky at this point.
- Transfer the mixture into the pan, leveling the surface and then bake for about 5 hours, always at a low temperature. The cooking can be checked by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake until the toothpick comes out clean without any wet batter on it.
- Let the cake cool completely, wet it slightly with whiskey and wrap it well in three sheets of parchment paper. Store the cake in an airtight container, letting it soak in the whiskey and wetting it every 3-4 days with more whiskey so that it stays longer.
- If you want to decorate the cake, take some honey and spread it on the surface, then put a marzipan layer first, followed by a layer of white royal icing. Add other Christmas-themed sugar decorations and consume within 24 hours after it was decorated.
While we still think of these as mincemeat pies, they are now more commonly not made with meat but with fruit or sweet things. While you can find premade mince filling, why not make your own? Besides, only the best for Santy! Please note: homemade mince requires a lot of time, at least two weeks, so make sure you’ve planned well in advance to get started. Or purchase prepared mince.
- 3 C mixture of raisins, currants and sultanas
- 1 C dried apricots, chopped
- ¾ C dried cranberries
- ¾ C mixed peel
- ½ C brandy
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 12 tbsp melted butter
- 1 C fresh or frozen cranberries, roughly chopped
- 1 ½ C brown sugar
- 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- Place the dried fruits and mixed peel into a large bowl. Pour over the brandy, zests and juices. Stir, then cover and leave to soak for 24 hours.
- Tip the mixture into a large saucepan with the remaining ingredients and stir well. Set over medium heat and, once the butter has melted, turn up the heat and bubble for a few minutes. Pack while hot into sterilized jars (easy tip: put water in the bottom and microwave for 2 minutes until the water bubbles and steams). Leave in a cool, dark cupboard for at least two weeks, or up to 6 months.
Mince Pie Crust Ingredients:
- 1 ⅓ C plain flour
- 7 tbsp cold butter, cubed
- 1 tbsp confectioners sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp water
- Pinch of salt
- Prepared mince
Mince Pie Crust Instructions:
- Preheat your oven to 400°F.
- Put flour, butter and confectioners sugar and salt in a food processor. Pulse until fine crumbs form.
- Mix together the egg yolks and water and add to the dry ingredients. Pulse until a dough forms, around 10 seconds.
- Wrap the pastry in cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Roll on a floured surface to ¼ inch thickness. Take a round cutter (around 3 inches) and cut out your circles. Place into a cupcake pan.
- Fill with your mince filling, about ¾ full.
- Brush the edge of the pastry with egg wash and lay another round pastry on top.
- Seal the 2 pieces of pastry together with a fork, this keeps the filling and juices inside.
- Bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Dust with confectioners sugar. Serve warm with whipped cream.
What would a true Irish, or European, Christmas be without mulled wine? Want to give yours some extra kick? Add our Mulled Plum Cider Herbal Tea to the recipe. Yield 5 servings.
- 2 small oranges or 1 large
- 1 bottle of affordable Merlot, Zinfandel or Grenache
- ¼ C brandy
- 4 tsp Mulled Plum Cider Herbal Tea, steeped
- 1 to 2 tbsp maple syrup or honey, to taste
- 2 whole cinnamon sticks
- 3 star anise
- 4 whole cloves
- Optional garnishes: fresh whole cranberries (about ¼ cup), cinnamon sticks, additional orange rounds or half moons
- To prepare the oranges, if using 2 small, slice one orange into rounds and slice the other in half. If using 1 large orange, slice it in half through the round middle, then slice one of the halves into rounds. Place the rounds into a medium heavy-bottomed pot or small Dutch oven. Squeeze the juice from the remaining oranges into the pot.
- Pour the wine in the pot followed by the brandy and Mulled Plum Cider Herbal Tea. Add 1 tablespoon of the sweetener for now. Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves.
- Warm the mixture over medium heat until steaming (about 5 minutes) and watch carefully. When you start seeing the tiniest of bubbles at the surface, reduce the heat to low.
- Carefully taste and add another tablespoon of sweetener if it’s not sweet enough. If it’s not spicy enough, continue cooking over very low heat for 5 to 10 more minutes.
- Serve in mugs with your desired garnishes. If adding cranberries, they can be added directly to the pot for a more festive look.
- If you prefer to use a slow cooker, combine the mixture and heat over low for 30 minutes to an hour.