Published in Dublin’s Evening Herald, 17th July 2009
In which your host takes his first-born on a grand tour of her city’s and nation’s glorious and bloodthirsty past…
‘Daddy, I’m bored.” Words which strike fear and temper into the hearts of even the most patient parent, especially during the seemingly endless summer holidays. Like many five-year-olds, my daughter Madeleine has a low boredom threshold, often requiring full parental interactivity to alleviate her perceived brain-rot.
As a parent, it’s too easy to be lazy about it. Just switching on the telly, or having her running riot in a leisure centre, with its ball pools, vending machines and fast-food/slow-metabolism outlets, may let us off the hook, but it can be pretty unedifying for children — and expensive for us. Could Dublin’s notoriously exorbitant city centre provide kids with a full, exciting, cultural and relatively cheap day out? Madeleine and I set out early to see if this was the case.
Our tour began at 10am, in Dublinia, an attraction which brings the city’s Viking and medieval histories to life. Its newly opened Viking World exhibition comes first, with all the sounds and fury invasion entails.
Informative but wordy panels are a bit much for a five-year-old, but the video displays, sound effects and mocked-up scenes of Viking life elicit fascination, terror and, in the case of a Viking sitting on a toilet, giggles; a welcome distraction from me dodging explanations of violence, rape and pillage.
The obligatory pestering starts in the gift shop, which, among other souvenirs, sells a variety of (hardly) offensive plastic weapons: “Can I have a helmet? Can I have a sword? Can I have an axe?” Whatever happened to Barbie?
In Christ Church, the concepts of silence, ‘Do Not Touch’ or ‘No Admittance’ are slightly lost on Madeleine, making it an anxious experience, but she loves the golden treasures to be discovered in the crypt.
A chocolate muffin later, we’re in the City Hall exhibition, the complete story of Dublin in three rooms, which ties in nicely with our visit to Dublinia. We’re kindly handed a children’s activity sheet: “Can you find Walter in the glass column?” reads the first question. Oh dear, Daddy can’t even locate the glass column. Nevertheless, with plenty of costumes, jewellery and interactive, multimedia displays, the little one is thoroughly entertained and educated for half an hour.
A small breather is had in St Stephen’s Green with the traditional, straightforward pleasure of feeding the ducks and swans. A kind man offers us some bread for the purpose, while some French students, clearly repulsed by the sliced bread and processed ham sandwiches they’ve been given as a packed lunch, surrender theirs too.
Back on the culture trail, the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity proves to be a little gem. Its art works are fascinating, quirky and stimulates Madeleine’s curiosity and imagination.
She is enamoured both of the space in the room and the Spaceman exhibit. That said, coming so soon after the interactivity of City Hall, her new mantra, “I want to play the computer games” almost upsets the duties of an unsuspecting member of staff. Er, sorry about that.
After a well-deserved ice cream, it’s more art at the National Gallery.
The sheer scale of the building slightly overawes her but she’s soon asking awkwardly loud questions about the nudity of Adam and Eve and speculating on the quality of other portraits. We withdraw to view the singular style of the great Jack B Yeats. Madeleine looks utterly appalled. First, she argues that The Liffey Swim depicts “mermaids”, then indicates About To Write A Letter and declares: “He’s not a good artist — there’s black splashes everywhere.” One week at art camp and she’s turned into Brian Sewell.
Finally, with her little legs becoming all-too weary, we visit the National Museum of Ireland. While it’s still a terrible pity about the Natural History building’s closure, the archaeology provides a fascinating return to the historical element of our day. She is lit up by ancient jewellery, weaponry, cookware and clothing, and the historical context thereof.
The last place we visit is the gruesome Iron Age ‘bog-bodies’ wing – it’s CSI Kildare Street, basically .
“What happened to them?” she asks, in all innocence of her nation’s past of ritual killing. Let’s see: Gallagh Man was garrotted; Croghan Man, stabbed and beheaded; Clony Cavan Man, bludgeoned and disembowelled. Perhaps it’s a blessing she’s only learning to read.
With that, it’s time to go home. Madeleine’s sleepy head is full of exciting knowledge and a whole new set of perspectives; happily, there isn’t one place she doesn’t want to visit again.
Meanwhile, her daddy’s wallet is still remarkably intact.
Most importantly, we’ve had a great day out together, proving that, with a little effort but no great expense, Dublin can be as child-friendly and fascinating as any destination city the world over.