Five Things To Do In Dublin On St Valentine’s Day

14-02-2017St Valentine’s Day this year falls on a Tuesday, much to the chagrin of restaurants and bars around the capital. It’s hard to really relish every drop of that expensive Pomerol with an early conference call lurking in the back of your mind. Unless you relocate your celebrations to the weekend, here are some romantic ways to celebrate the occasion.

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  1. Do: Tuesday is named after Týr, the Norse god of war and law and the equivalent of the firey Roman god of war, Mars, so capture some of that energy and climb the roof of Croke Park with the Etihad Skyline’s Dusk Valentine’s Day tour. From €25 per person.
  2.  Watch: Let life imitate art and spend the evening at the Abbey’s production of ‘Arlington’, a strange and tender love story set in the midst of a bleak and terrifying world, by Enda Walsh. Buy your tickets here.
  3. Drink: If you must drown your sorrows, do it in style with bottomless bubbles in Beeftro (Balfe Street and Dundrum) for €15 per person (main course must be purchased).
  4. Eat: Keep it simple with a neighbourhood Early Bird and a drink in your local; avoid the hangover AND keep some of that mojo for a big date night. Chances are your local bistro is encouraging diners with some special deals. For example the Intercontinental Hotel has a special four course menu from €65 per person.
  5. Netflix and Chill. It’s a Tuesday night after all, so no need to feel guilty about enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Although you didn’t need me to tell you that! Fancy a takeaway? Here’s €5 off your first Deliveroo: https://roo.it/fionam9541

First Dollar Ever Minted Is Coming to the RDS!

The Dublin Mint Office, just announced The Flowing Hair Coin; the first dollar ever minted in the United States, will arrive in Dublin amongst heavy security to go on show to the public in the RDS, Dublin next weekend.

The 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar is believed to be the first dollar coin ever to be struck by the US mint, and is the most expensive coin in the world, after it sold for over $10m at auction in 2013 to a private buyer; American businessman Bruce Morelan. The coin, which is believed to have been inspected and approved by George Washington, is one of the most highly regarded coins in the coin-collecting world.

It will be accompanied by an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed in Boston in July 1776 which is worth approximately $4million.

DublinMintFlowingHairCoin3

 Pictured at the RDS for the launch of the coin were Clara McCormack aged 8 from Ballsbridge, Jessie Miller 8, from Rathmines and Amelia Rose Burke 8, from Grand Canal Street. Picture Colm Mahady / Fennells 

Exhibition Details:
Venue: Royal Dublin Showgrounds, Dublin
Dates: Saturday, 11th March 10am-5pm
Sunday, 12th March 10am-5pm
Admission: Free
Website: http://flowinghair1794.com/

This is the first time the coin has been exhibited in Europe, and is part of a European tour that takes in seven countries. The tour has been arranged by the Samlerhuset Group, parent company of the Dublin Mint Office.

Mr Morelan has stated that he would be open to selling the coin, subject to reasonable offers. At the current value price of $10m, those interested in purchasing the coin could also consider the following purchases:

What $10million dollars can buy you….

  • 3,636,363 – Grande Starbucks Coffees
  • 1,544 Classic Shoulder Chanel Handbags
  • 2,666 Vintage Rolex Watches
  • 909 trips on the Orient Express
  • 100 seconds of Superbowl Advertising
  • 43 Ferrari 485s
  • Fly 40 people into space on the commercial space travel liner ‘Virgin Galactic’. A seat costs €250,000.
  • 8 Harry Winston Holly Wreath Necklaces
  • No 1 Sorrento Terrace Dalkey (sold for €10.5 in 2013)
  • 1 Flowing Hair Dollar Coin

Owner of the coin, Bruce Morelan explains why he has lent the coin to the Dublin Mint Office for exhibition; “I have collected coins since I was a small child. Collecting coins, and owning items of such rarity gives me enormous pleasure. I always dreamt about owning this particular coin from the moment I saw its image in print. I longed to own it but it was locked away in a world-class collection for many decades. When it finally came on the market after a few years, I figured out a way to acquire it and purchased it to be the centrepiece of my early dollar collection. The Flowing Hair Coin is such a special coin and has so much history attached to it. I am privileged to be in a position to work with the Dublin Mint Office to exhibit the coin to other collectors and coin enthusiasts.”

Baggot Street

By Fiona Sherlock

Did Paddy Kavanagh ever write a poem on a Monday?

My grandaunt told of how filthy his collar was,

Propped up the bar in the Hibernian Club,

There but for the grace of his lines.

A crème de menth for a quote,

A pint of stout for a story

A currency lost

For a tip from Nama

Or a pointer from Seany

A Toddler and the Grand National

The bookies was dark and noisy as my grandmother led me in, the gold on her wrist as yellow as Spanish Armada treasure. The cigarette smoke whirled around my little blonde curls. It was lunchtime on my second birthday, and the 145th Grand National was just about to be run.

Fiona Sherlock

Not quite dressed for racing

My grandmother hoisted me onto her shoulder and I swirled my chubby fingers in circles around her scalp. With my fist wrapped around her pearls for comfort, she jostled mud-encrusted farmers, florists and the priest to mark her betting slip. Up to the dim booth and the slack-jawed shop girl; the money passed hands.
From the vantage of my booster seat on the way home, Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, twinkled at me from her plastic cover that hung from the mirror.

Reaching through time like feels thicker than the soupy visions from a dream. Most people can’t recall a memory before they are three years old. This day is superimposed with the memory of every other Grand National day as a little girl in a small Irish town. But this is my birthday, it’s special!

The red Volkswagen Golf shudders and vibrates across the cattle grid. At the back door I am handed over to my mother, the sleeves of her Lady Di inspired blouse billowing with the smell of Dune perfume. A dab of non-stick lipstick catches the crown of my head, before she pulls a paper cone hat over my head, elastic snapping on my cheek and entwining in my hair. My grandmother hands her a betting slip from Hackett’s bookmakers and gives her a wink “The odds are getting shorter, you did well to get it at 16/1,” granny tells my mum.

Sleeves, jumpers and shoulder pads were my demesne, a little empress bobbing up to the world of the Grown Ups. Bowls of Jelly Babies and two child cousins signal it is also my birthday party, with sponge cake and candles. Happy Birthday, and smiles from my aunts, bespectacled like the soap actresses they watch.

There’s clapping and singing, and squishy red jelly through my fingers. If Spitting Image could be privately commissioned, it’s how I picture us. Parents wound up ahead of the National, kids foaming at the mouth with sugar and coke. I escape from sight, and clamber on the spindly chair. Seeking the admiration of my cousins, I leap into the air and crash into the hard parquet floor.

Two split shins later I have a face puffed with the melancholy of a fallen baby, back on my mother’s soothing lap. Sugar has exhausted the adrenal glands of my cousins and they slump waiting for someone, anyone, the binman, to take them home.

The grownups grow as quiet as the children and nail biting habits are revisited.

Scratchy wool slows down my movements, I’m now on the floor, as they are off. A tweed outfit bought by a gregarious family friend at Cheltenham weeks earlier. Who buys tweed suits for toddlers?

Near visible sound waves bounced from the TV to the wall. A big, black square box. Pressing my finger into the race the green, red and blue dots squish before I am hauled back onto my mother’s padded shoulder. It’s Becher’s Brook and why are they all so excited? Gentle touches of my mother’s scrunchie get me nowhere, loud shouts and hair tugs are now required.

They don’t listen, my parents are shouting, my father standing on an upturned bin. The biscuit tin is halfway out an open window. This is serious. Very serious. My grandfather is banging his stick and grandmother can’t look. Under normal circumstances, in such stressful situations she would naturally find herself saying the Rosary, but something seems wrong about that today. Two crooked neighbours cough and splutter and spill their tea and make signs of the cross. This is Ireland – and we’re still Catholic.

This is the 1991 Seagram Grand National, John Major is the Prime Minister and mothers still smoke Rothmans at creches. The French and English meet each other in the Channel Tunnel and the IRA have bombed 10 Downing Street, Paddington and Victoria stations. This year, Seagram is the horsey to win. Not that I remember of course. Two year olds don’t remember their second birthdays or British Prime Ministers. No, we need some solid facts that a baby can’t hold onto.
And so it went. At five, I had a new brother, who got the tweed jacket and the going was good. I walked into the bookies, as if I was born on the carpet and wrapped in the Racing Post.

Underage gambling commonplace, even amusing for the punters, I place my first bet. I laugh at my brother’s ignorance as he sits and stares from the pram, clutching a Cabbage Patch doll.

“It’s the Grand Nashol,” I tell him, sticking out my tongue “I have a tip”.

Now I am twenty five and old enough to notice the weight of lost bets; a sort of Brigadoon descends upon me for the Grand National. A world of possibility, the currency is winks and nods in shadowy bookmakers. It is not one singular experience, like losing one’s virginity or visiting the Louvre. It is the experience of a lifetime, as my life is punctuated by the World’s Greatest Horse race at Aintree.

In April I will turn 26, and as ever, the Grand National will be run. My parents have divorced, my grandfather has died and my little brother will not talk to me – but the National will be the same experience. Although this year, I’ll bet through an app, view the thirty fences in high definition, and converse using a hashtag.

A Toddler and the Grand National was awarded the overall prize in the 2016 Wills Writing Awards for fine writing (fact or fiction) on a horseracing theme. It is as factual as a toddler’s memory could be. First published in the Racing Post on April 20th, 2015. 

All Aboard the Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s answer to the Orient Express

A fine train is a curious place to be. You may remember I wrote about how to host a murder mystery party, the setting for which was the Orient Express. The ‘Belmond Grand Hibernian’ set to launch next summer, will bring similarly salubrious surroundings to Irish train passengers, without the poison, stabbing and double crossing (one hopes!).

The sleeper trains, which have been luxuriously rendered with classical Georgian and Celtic touches by Belmod Limited, will be driven by Irish Rail staff. Up to 40 passengers at a time will be able to experience the best of Ireland in five star comfort.

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The Itinerary

Belmond are currently taking reservations for two-, four- and six-night itineraries.

The four-night tour will depart on Tuesdays from Dublin to Cork, Killarney, Galway and Westport, taking in Jameson’s Whiskey distillery, Blarney Castle, the Killarney lakes, Connemara and Ashford Castle.

The two-night tour will depart on Saturdays from Dublin to Belfast and Portrush, and visits the Titanic museum in Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway and the Old Bushmills Distillery.

Prices for the train journey will start at €3,160 per person for the two-night journey and €5,420 per person for the four-night journey, and €7,000 for a combined option, which are up there with similar journeys on the Venice Simplon Orient Express and the Belmond Royal Scotsman.

You can find more information on the Belmond website.

Romance on the Canals – Amsterdam Weekend Break

amsterdam-wallpaper

The lies started months before. Opening a new email address, I began hiding bank statements. Organising a secret weekend away to Amsterdam, I was having an affair with Google.

In the weeks and months proceeding, I fantasised about telling him, “We’re not going to my mothers in Navan, we’re going to Amsterdam for a weekend of cultural gluttony.”

So the day arrived. I instructed him to change lanes – we were going to the airport. “I didn’t even wash these jeans. My clothes are all crap,” he said. Wardrobe considerations banked headed off on the Aer Lingus flight, which cost about €120 each.

We camped in the Moevenpick, a four star hotel about 15 minutes from Centraal Station, sitting on the waterfront at Piet Heinkade, right next to the Bimhuis jazz concert hall. Despite our best intentions, we only visited the Subway there. Both nights cost €160 through Hotwire.com .

Friday – St Valentine’s Day 

Bocinq1Bo Cinq on Prinsengracht 494 would give Paddy Gibauld a run for his manuka. The restaurant has a cool, NYC loft feel with exposed brick – and great service to match. We went for the three course set menu. Lovers of Heston-style theatrics would enjoy Bo Cinq – we sucked the thick custardy deserts through a straw, from a bong sitting in dry ice. Dinner with wine to match course cost €160.

We rolled ourselves out of the restaurant like barrels and found ourselves in the Old Sailor pub on Oudezijds Achterburgwal 39-A. It had a Porterhouse feel, and the beer was cheap at €3 per pint.

Saturday

As we had visited neither coffee shop nor brothel the night before, we decided to visit Anne Frank’s house the next day. Pre-warned to book a ticket online, we skipped the two and a half hour queue, to the annex where the young Jew sheltered from the Germans during the Second World War. Reminiscence aside, if you have read her diary and have limited time in Amsterdam I would give it a miss. That afternoon we caught a canal boat from outside Anne Frank’s house, which is a great way to see the city from the canals for a tenner.

For dinner that night, I had the lobster special at Cinema Paradiso at Westerstraat 186. It’s a big bold Italian restaurant with the freshest of buffalo mozzarella and an indoor smoking area. Two courses with wine was about €35 for me. (We went Dutch!)

Sunday

adamSunday morning we went in search of the Rembrandt museum but ended up at Rembrandt’s House at Jodenbreestraat 4 instead. An enchanting building nonetheless, it charts the fortunes of the artist from rags to riches, and back again.

48 hour city breaks can be hectic, and our trip to Amsterdam was no different, but with some forward planning and an open mind it’s a fantastic reason to stick on the out of office. Make sure to wash his jeans during the week if you’re planning it as a surprise though!

A Weekenders Guide to Bristol and Bath

Do you realise Skins aired on Channel 4 in 2007? That’s eight years ago, and was my first introduction to the city of Bristol, which I visited for a quickie weekend away before Christmas.

Less than a twenty minute train journey from the upmarket and historical Roman spa town of Bath, there is something for everyone’s budget and makes for a great cultural and ‘zeitgeisty’ weekend away, without Hackney prices, mustaches or cereal-only cafés.

Literary Bath

Fiona Sherlock in Regency Dress

Dressing up time at the Jane Austen Museum!

‘Pride and Prejudice’ was the main text I studied for Leaving Certificate, and it was the subject of my first ever lecture during my English Studies days at Trinity College. In the interim years, I have somewhat avoided the babblings of Mrs Bennet. However I do still like the book and visiting the Jane Austen Museum was high on my agenda.

The museum is set in a Georgian house off an idyllic square, a few doors down from where Austen lived. The door is flanked by a plaster of Paris statue of Ms Austen, and there are a number of the Bennets in historical costume milling around ripe for selfie-taking.

Admission was £9, and as museums go it wasn’t the most impressive, however the detail in the exhibitions was fascinating and offered a real insight into the Austen’s life in Bath. Towards the end of the tour, there’s also an opportunity to dress up.

Address: 40 Gay Street, Queen Square, Bath, BA1 2NT

Afternoon Tea in Bath

The Regency Tea Rooms upstairs were fully booked, so we sated our desire for cakes at Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms.

The ladies bathrooms are in the style of an air raid shelter, and the waitresses are kitted out in victory rolls, red lippy, headscarves and eyeliner flicks. It was an interesting alternative to the usual afternoon tea in a grand old hotel! At £14.99 each for Afternoon Tea for two, it was a reasonable price for the sheer quantity of sugar in the cake portion of our tea.

Traditional Afternoon Tea served on a tiered cake stand with a selection of finger sandwiches, a buttermilk scone with strawberry jam and clotted cream, homemade cake and loose leaf English Breakfast or Earl Grey tea for one person £14.95 (without tea £12.45)for two persons £29.95 (without tea £24.95)

Address: 6-8 Saville Row, Bath, BA1 2QP

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Pub Lunch in Bristol

Here in Ireland we haven’t quite nailed a pub lunch as the English have, so my pre-airport outing to the Kensington Arms was a great way to say farewell to Blightly. On a busy Sunday afternoon before Christmas, the service was a tad slow but the waiting staff did their best. We started our lunch with a chilly fresh plate of rock oysters (£12.95 for six), which was served with bread and homemade tabasco sauce.

It was worth the wait for the perfectly roast beef, with fluffy Yorkshire pudding, bright purple cabbage and fabulously cheesy cauliflower that hadn’t lost their crunch. The portions are generous and well worth the £14 menu tag.

The wine list is more than reputable, and I ordered a Fiona-sized Argentian Malbec (£7.90 for 250ml)

Address: 35-36 Stanley Road, Redland, Bristol BS6 6NW

Vintage Shopping Fail

Sunday morning may not be the best time to hit the Gloucester Road, renowned for its huge range of vintage shops. Blinking through wine-tired eyes, many of the shops weren’t open, so make sure to do your research! I did manage to pick up a fridge magnet and lavender massage bag!

Flights and accommodation

Fiona Sherlock writing at Jane Austen's writing desk

At Jane Austen’s writing desk

Return flights from Dublin to Bristol in December were €60 and I stayed with a friend but there’s a broad range of accommodation options from hostels and Airbnb to The Bristol Hotel (rooms starting at £89 per night).

If you are looking for a more relaxed weekend and have a bigger budget, Bath has a higher number of luxury hotels, many offering weekend spa breaks such as Champney’s two night spa break for £519 per person.

Bristol facts!

  • Frederick Hervey, the fourth Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry (1730–1803) coined the phrase ‘Ship shape and Bristol fashion’ According to his biographer, “So widely famed was the Bishop as a traveller, and so great his reputation as a connoisseur of all good things, that Lord Bristol’s hotel…came to be the best known and regarded in every city or town where he sojourned and was thus the precursor of the Hotels Bristol to be found all over Europe.”
  • A person from Bristol is known as a Bristolian.

Want to Have a Pint With Robert Emmet? – Top Ten Dublin Ghosts

Ever since Ptolemy mentioned Eblana polis in 140 AD, there has been a settlement in Dublin. A city with such a long lifespan is bound to have a few cantankerous spirits, so here’s our list of the top ten ghosts in Dublin and where you might find them.

1. Darkey Kelly – The Green Woman

Darkey Kelly was a man’s woman. She kept 18th century Dublin men in ladies of the night for years before she was burned at the stake for witchcraft.

Darkey Kelley

Her ex-lover, Sheriff of Dublin, Simon Luttrell feared his reputation would be tarnished when he got this scarlet woman in an awkward situation. She asked for financial support, but instead was charged with murdering her unborn child and witchcraft. She met her fiery end to a cheering rabbelous crowd beside St Audeon’s Church.

She stalks up and down the Forty Steps around the church, which leads to a labyrinth of underground passageways, where all the city’s prostitutes, pickpockets and drug addicts hung out. The area was known as ‘Hell’; and now the passageways are all blocked up.

She walks to the bottom of the steps in an emerald green cloak to the spot where prostitutes left their unwanted children. Her brothel, ‘The Maiden Tower’ on Fishamble St is now a pub named after her.

2. Buck Whaley

Buck Whaley

Thomas Whaley was a member of Dublin’s Hellfire Club, specialising in satanic cat-burnings, orgies, gambling and other nice activities for gentlemen. This rake was from one of the richest families in Dublin, and was quite hot-tempered.

When a clumsy servant spilled a drink on him Thomas one night, Buck had the servant doused in brandy and set alight. His shadow is seen ambling from his house at 68 Stephen’s Green to Cuffe St, a path he would take every night to start off a boys’ night out. Is it possible that Buck Whaley likes to have a sup and a look at the women in Buck Whaley’s nightclub on Leeson St?

3. Robert Emmet

Robert Emmet

Like all good Irishmen Robert Emmet enjoys a pint, even though he was hanged and beheaded for treason in 1803. Death and a few centuries won’t separate the ‘bold’ Robert Emmet from a pint of the black stuff in his local, The Brazen Head on Bridge St. Emmet held meetings of the United Irishmen there, before the building was demolished and rebuilt.

Other customers of the pub notice he sits in the corner, with his eyes peeled for enemies. Who’d blame him, sure his executioner used to drink here too.

4. Jonathan Swift
Patients and medical staff see Dean Swift croaking along the corridors of St Patrick’s Psychiatric Hospital under his coiling grey wig and mortally black religious garb. Swift donated money to the hospital in his will. The Dean has been spotted in Glasnevin and Clondalkin, where he regularly visited friends for late night literary and political discussions. Swift was famous for pulling off controversial hoaxes, maybe he is still at it?

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5. Boyd’s Dog

Captain John McNeill Boyd died in 1861 during a storm in Dun Laoghaire trying to rescue drowning seamen. His devoted dog, a black Newfoundland refused to leave the side of Boyd’s grave and slowly starved to death. Bow-wow is still at Boyd’s grave in Glasnevin Cemetery strolling about quietly, keeping his master company. Boyd’s doggie is also spotted sitting on the cold floor of St Patrick’s Cathedral beside a memorial statue of his master.

6. The Shelbourne Ghost
Ghost hunter Hans Holzer arrived in Dublin in the 1960s seeking an Irish ghost with his friend Sybil Leek. Staying in the Shelbourne, Sybil made contact with a little girl who had one lived in the houses the hotel was converted from. The little girl, Mary Masters, died of cholera in 1791 and was looking for her friend Sophie. Mary Masters has been seen after various refurbishments of the hotel.

7. Narcissus Marsh
Readers in Marsh’s Library have come back from the toilet and found books they were reading on the floor or closed on a different page. Primate Narcissus Marsh frequents the inner gallery, which was his personal library when he opened the library in 1701. He is buried just outside his library, on the grounds of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Marsh’s niece eloped with a vicar one night and married him in a tavern. She is said to have left a note for her uncle in one of his books apologising for upsetting him, but he never found it. Poor Narcissus. His ghost continues his search for Grace’s note amongst the books today.

8. Molly Malone
Dubliners and tourists alike have reported seeing the figure of a scantily clad 18th century woman, wheeling a wheelbarrow at the bottom of Grafton Street. Ok so no one knows if the tart with the cart actually existed but according to the song she took up the family trade and became a fishmonger, before contracting an incurable fever, and now her ghost navigates streets of varying width around Dublin advertising fresh seafood.

9. The Jester of Malahide Castle

Malahide Castle

Malahide Castle

The four foot bearded jester of Malahide met a grizzly end with a knife through his heart on a snowy December evening over 400 years ago. Puck, who lived in a turret, fell in love with a relative of Lady Elenora Fitzgerald, who was imprisoned in the castle by Henry VIII.

With his dying breath the poor creature swore he would haunt the castle until the reigning lord chose a commoner to be his bride. He was photographed in 1976 with a wrinkled face, but was noted as looking rather young for his age.

10. The Headless Coachman
Eighteenth century Dublin lived in fear of this infamous character, who didn’t actually exist. Ok so he wasn’t really a ghost, he was a cover story cooked up by conscientious gravediggers or ‘sack-em-ups’.

These men stole freshly buried corpses and sold them to medical schools, which were in rather short supply. The coach driver bent his head down into the shoulders of his great overcoat, and delivered the bodies to the blade happy medical students. The legend scared people into staying at home, and the gravediggers happily went about their business in the dead of night. When people woke to the sound of the coach driving by, they thought it was the headless coachman, out for a late night terror jaunt.

Winter Hat Roundup

In this video, I talk through four types of winter hats, including a navy felt trilby from House of Fraser; a pillbox from Village Hats; a baboushka style hat from Jack Murphy and a faux fur headband from Marks and Spencers