Temple Bar, in the heart of Dublin City, is known for its nightlife, its pubs, its tourist oriented Irish music and dance productions. There’s another side to this essential part of Dublin though, one that can be quieter, at times more thought provoking, and always just as much fun as its more raucous and better known side.
One good way you experience this hidden side of Temple Bar is to plan time there during daylight hours. It is during that time that you can take in the boutiques selling unique fashion creations and sometimes artisan made jewelry, art, and craft. Claddagh Records, long time leader in the world of Celtic music, has a shop in Temple Bar, too, and there’s a good bookstore.
Not all the art is in the shops. Take a look around you (and look up) at the varied architecture, keep an eye out for sculpture, look at the lively signs of the storefronts and pubs, and check out the murals. Sure, you can see these in the evening, but you’ll get a better view — and often a more unhurried chance to take it in — during the day.
Temple Bar is right at the oldest part of Dublin City. Though it has been through many changes in its long life, it’s likely that people lived out their lives in this place close by the banks of the River Liffey in prehistoric times, and its certain that Vikings had a settlement here in 795 if not earlier. Walk down by Christ Church, just to the west of Temple Bar, and you’ll see Viking tools and other objects marked in the art along the pavements near Wood Quay, a major site for archaeological excavation.
You might not expect to find this in Temple Bar: there’s a great arts center for children. The Ark offers programs for those aged two to twelve, including art projects, workshops, exhibits, and plays.
Temple Bar is known as Dublin’s Cultural Quarter, so there’s plenty to explore beyond shops and outdoor art. Filmbase is a center for those interested in making films, offering information about and resources for working in the film industry in Ireland. The Contemporary Music Center has an extensive library and sound archive on music by Irish composers, which is open to the public. The works of talented artists and designers may be found in many of the shops in Temple Bar, too.
Two of Dublin’s most interesting photography centers are in Temple Bar. Across Meeting House Square from each other, The National Photographic Archive and the Gallery of Photography offer different approaches and changing exhibits. The Archive houses the photographic collection of the National Library of Ireland, which runs to more than five million images. It often stages themed exhibits of topics in Irish history as well as other subjects. The Gallery of Photography is home to a bookstore on all things to do with photography, two small light filled galleries which feature wide ranging exhibits, photography courses, and other services for photographers. It is supported by the Dublin City Council and the Arts Council.
But wait, you might be saying, what about all those pubs? Do I have to wait until it gets dark to down a pint or two? No, of course not. You can find a good lunch, with or without your pint, with or without music, during the day in many Temple Bar pubs. You can find food outwith the pubs, too, from traditional Irish to Indian to Spanish, high end to casual.
The Queen of Tarts offers classy pastries and fine sandwiches as well as a good place to relax that’s not a pub. The Pieman is a source for savory pies of all sorts. Though you might not think it, the Burger Kitchen in Temple Bar Square has great selections for vegetarians as well as meat lovers — in fact, you can find class vegetarian food at many places in Temple Bar, seafood too. Speaking of food, if you happen to be visiting on a Saturday morning, Meeting House Square often hosts an outdoor market featuring foodstuffs. If fashion is more your interest, head to Cow’s Lane on summer Saturdays to check out the outdoor market there. Temple Bar Square its home to a weekend market focused on books.
Where can you hear great Irish music in Temple Bar? There’s enough to say about that for another story. What I’ll say now is there is quite a bit of music, trad Irish to rock to grunge to indie to country to whatever your taste may be, to be found in Temple Bar, both day and night. Clubs and pubs get going late in the night and stay going to early hours of the morning, but you can find music during the day as well. Much of the traditional Irish music you’ll hear in Temple Bar is meant to appeal to tourists, and I mean no disparagement of the talent of those who make it, or the taste of those who enjoy it by saying that. There are other ways to experience traditional Irish music, and more to know about the music of Ireland and those who make it.
It’d be my wish that what you experience in Temple Bar may cause you to explore the music further. One great way to do that is to visit during late January when the Temple Bar Trad Fest takes place in venues across the area.
Another idea is to check out who’s playing at the Olympia, a class venue dating from the Victorian era which hosts major international stars as well as top Irish artists in styles ranging from classical music to comedy, opera to singer songwriter. The Olympia is on Dame Street, just a short walk up an alley from the heart of Temple Bar.
A lot to take in about such a small part of Dublin, isn’t it? It’s just a taste, too, of what you may experience. Take a wander through Temple Bar during the day, and see what treasures you may discover. Whether you explore night or day, it’s good to remember that with all its sights and venues, Temple Bar is also a residential area. Be respectful and courteous as you go.
Photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.
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