Dublin, Where Stories Come Alive
Yeoh Siew Hoon experiences Ireland’s heart and soul.
You can see how the beer is made through images; smell the hops in an aromatherapy room, taste the drink in a how-to-drink-Guinness class; and learn how to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Academy.
As travellers, we are moved by stories – the story of Shangri-La, as told in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, for example. And when it comes to storytelling, no one beats the Irish. After all it is the stuff of Irish folklore, and you begin to experience this the moment you land at Dublin Airport.
During the taxi ride to my hotel, my driver James, told me about the economy – “It’s still struggling, love. They don’t want to admit it but we’re still feeling it”; the politics – “This man, his father was a right old rogue, I won’t be voting for him”; and the music – “You must be going to our pubs and dance a jig or two”. His Irish lilt made me think of babbling brooks and rolling hills – which I hoped to see after a few days in the city.
But first, the city which always makes my heart sing – mainly because the Irish love their songs too. I was travelling with first-time visitors, so we booked a musical tour, which takes you from pub to pub where you listen to folk singers spin stories and sing songs of love and woe. In between songs, you can pop off to the bar for a pint and a game of billiards. That night, we were taken to two pubs and decided to end the tour at the second establishment. All we wanted to do was sit down, drink and make friends with the bartender who told us many stories.
The best story, however, was told at the Guinness Storehouse where General Manager Paul Carty had kindly arranged a special tour for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the story of this drink which, in my childhood years growing up in Penang, loomed large on billboards and on television. The jingle “Guinness is good for you” still remains in my head, and at the Storehouse, which attracts more than one million visitors a year, I learnt that it was created back in 1929.
The story of Guinness began much earlier though, in 1759, when Arthur Guinness signed a lease for 55 acres with an unused brewery for 9,000 years at £45 per year. The business stayed in the family for six generations before merging with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo PLC in 1997. I also learnt that up to 3.5 million pints are brewed everyday at the St James Gate Brewery, and that the secret ingredient that gives Guinness its dark distinctive colour is the 10 per cent roasted barley.
The tour engages all senses. You can see how the beer is made through images; smell the hops in an aromatherapy room, taste the drink in a how-to-drink-Guinness class; and also learn how to pour the perfect pint in the Guinness Academy. Those who pass the test receive a certificate. My favourite was Guinness advertising room, which showcased print ads from the 1920s, which were a real gem. The iconic harp logo was adopted in 1862 and there was an interactive harp that plays when you move your fingers over it.
After all that learning and playing, you can have a Guinness beef pie and pint at the café and if you still have room, go to the rooftop bar for another pint and take in the views of Dublin city. Leave the shopping till last as there’s a huge store. Guinness crisps are popular with Asian travellers, and my friends requested that I bring home two boxes.
As I hopped into the taxi, lugging the two boxes of crisps, the driver asked “What have you got there?” When I told him, he chuckled and said, “Ah, Guinness – let me tell you, my grandfather worked there when…”
Note: The stories of Dublin are not far away from London where Shangri-La has just opened its newest hotel at The Shard. For the ultimate British adventure, spend a few days in the English capital before embarking on your Irish getaway. This is sure to provide plenty of material for yet another story.
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I have fond memories of Dublin and the Guinness Storehouse as well. A great treat when visiting the city. Just a note, I haven't had the pleasure of staying at the Shangri-La Shard yet. It must be a unique experience.