On Friday, September 20th, we set out to experience the Culture Night in Dublin. I think I first came upon the idea/mention of Culture Night from a Facebook post that had popped up in my news-feed. This being our first year in Ireland, I had no idea that something like this existed and I was intrigued.
I learnt more via a small discussion on the Whatsapp chat group that I share with my neighbours. One of them had a physical copy of the booklet on the Night, and she handed it over to me when we met for coffee.
And I was so pleased on finding out what was on offer. So for those like me, who have never been to such a night before or did not have an idea of what a night like this would offer, I will try and sum it up, quoting from the booklet as well.
So for this one night in September, a lot of organisations and venues organise events and the entry is free, there are also Culture Night buses provided by Dublin Bus that help you go from one event to another ( again this is free as well.)
Depending upon what your interests and what you would like to experience and how far you are willing to travel from where you live – you had an array of options to choose from.
Say you have a liking for tours and a little bit of history and love anecdotes and storytelling. You could pick the tour called A Stroll Through Publin which ‘lets you explore Dublin’s culture and history through the prism of the pub.’ Or you fancy good coffee? You could take the Dublin Coffee Tour in which you could ‘discover where each shop sources its coffee, meet some of the baristas behind your favourite cup, and take in the city’s history and architecture along the way.’
There were dozens of free tours like these, from Diplomatic Dublin, Music History Tour, Record Store Tour, Monto, Red Lights and Revolution Tour…
(We picked two tours for the evening – Where in the Chapel Street…Around the World in 60 Minutes and River Liffey Tour)
But the tours were only one part of the Night. You could also choose a place from the city’s quarter and zero in on the activities that interest you. Say for instance, from the Liberties and Historic Quarter, you pick the Roe and Co Distillery. The booklet gives you all the details in terms of whether or not an advance booking for the event is required, what time it is on, and what is on offer. So for the Distillery, it said ‘…You will start your Power House Tour by getting a tour of the working distillery and learn the art of blending Roe & Co Whiskey through a sensorial tasting experience…’
The events and experiences on offer included everything – music, art and craft, literature, free dance classes, even spiritual talks!
The reason we chose the tours was because we wanted to know more about Dublin, and we have enjoyed the walking tours that we have participated in elsewhere – in Bruges, Belgium, in Exeter, England and also the one I had done back home in Baroda, India!
We reached a bit early at the Henry Grattan Bridge and soon spotted the Culture Night volunteers and the guide Jen Condon.
They were easy to spot – the volunteers held an yellow flag with the Culture Night logo on it.
I have to tell you that the beginning of the tour was rather hilarious. While we were chatting with volunteers, a man, obviously drunk and if I am not being politically correct, he could be described as quite large as well, walked past us and the other people who had gathered for the tour.
I have no clue whether it was the alcohol or it was the sheer sight of people crowding the bridge that annoyed him, so much so that he began to shout a few expletives at us.
The volunteers kept a straight face and said, ‘Well, welcome to the culture night.’ All of us burst out laughing. We had another good laugh as the guide pointed out to one of the benches on the bridge and read out what was written on the commemorative plague. It said/read – ‘This bench is dedicated to those proud and true Irishmen and women, who have lived with a terrible secret; they don’t like Guinness.’
So from the bridge on, we explored a bit about the start of the North/South divide, the history of of high society, the architecture, the Green Street Courthouse and Debtor’s Prison, city markets and early bars…
It was very fascinating for both the husband and me as we spotted the ghost signs, learnt about how the North and South side of the city developed, the little stories and anecdotes about its past, as also the little quirks and anecdotes that made Dublin what it was. (That Dublin had a pub which specialised in serving alcohol free drinks came as a complete surprise to me.)
The tour was about an hour long and it ended also on a laugh. As the pub owner of Ireland’s first Poitin Bar was regaling the group with the history of the area, a taxi driver who was driving past, said – ‘He is making up lies, he’s feeding you lies. Don’t believe him!’ It was said in jest of course and the owner was like – ‘There goes the Irish cabbie for you.’
The group dissolved into laughter and as the tour came to an end, some of us joined the guide to have a drink at the pub while some of us went our way.
The husband and I headed to the meeting point for our next tour, at the Viking Longboat Statue, Wood Quay.
This was the River Liffey Tour and it was conducted by Olivia Rusk – she’s an architect and was very passionate and full of stories and facts and anecdotes about the Liffey river and its role in the life of Dublin.
We were very glad that we picked this tour. Olivia was a power house of information, and had a lovely voice and we felt as if we now knew the river more intimately – all thanks to her narration and her expertise over the subject matter. We listened as she told the group about some of the dismal plans, that were thankfully never put into action – like filling up a part of the river with concrete, and how different men had different designs for the river and what to do with it.
And it was about at the end of the tour, that something funny happened. Again!
A dimunitive Chinese young man came and stopped at the point where the group had stopped as Olivia was telling us a bit more about that particular spot and the bridge. I saw him immediately, he had a paper cup in his hand, a huge grin on his face and he was waving. I thought he knew someone in the group. But he stood there waving and no one seemed to recognise him and so I thought, well, he looks a bit odd.
And then, as our guide finished speaking, he came up to her and said, ‘Hello. Do you have some weed? I am looking for some weed, please.’
I thought I didn’t hear it right. So I turned to my husband and said, ‘Did this man just ask our guide if she had some weed?’
Well, said my husband, he did.
(When our guide replied that she didn’t have any weed, the man smiled some more and then waved and then went off. How on earth had he assumed that this group of people and a guide holding a Culture Night flag had any weed to offer him was beyond me, but well, he certainly gave me a good laugh.)
At the end of our tour, we thanked the guide. We told her that we had been in Dublin for about a year now and this was our first evening when we learnt so much about the city.
We were now hungry, but we decided to walk a bit, taking in the river and the lights and the city by the night.
We had a plan to go to the night market (also a part of the Culture Night) but we instead decided to head near the St Andrew’s street and have a sit down meal. There was a bit of a waiting at a Lebanese restaurant that we fancied eating at, and since we were very hungry by that time, we went just a bit further and had our dinner at the Red Torch Ginger (a Thai restaurant).
We decided to head home after the dinner, but if we could have squeezed in more events, or say, gone for other things instead of the tours, what would it be? It is very difficult to choose given the extensive choices, but perhaps, we may liked to go for the performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, or attend the 30 minute immersive live performance involving trained actors in costume as Film Noir characters at the Flying Turtle Productions?
Who knows? But what we did end up doing certainly brought us great joy, and who can ever forget the experience of a random, grinning guy just stopping by and asking for weed? Doesn’t happen to us every day, does it?