Visitors to Dublin have more than enough established tourist attractions to entertain them, from the Book of Kells at Trinity College to the Guinness Storehouse at St. James’s Gate Brewery. But what about those who like to explore the more unknown aspects of a city’s culture? Dublin has several unusual attractions for sightseers looking for something a little more unconventional.
Dublin’s National Leprechaun Museum opened in 2010, calling itself ‘the first ever attraction dedicated to Irish mythology’, despite the leprechaun rarely appearing in early sources. Celebrating the Irish fairy that is said to grant wishes and enjoy practical jokes, the museum offers a guided tour with a storyteller through an immersive experience of leprechaun folklore consisting of multiple themed rooms. These include a wooden replica of County Antrim’s Giant’s Causeway and a room with giant pieces of furniture, intended to make the guest feel as though they have shrunk to the size of a leprechaun.
The Natural History Museum, or the ‘Dead Zoo’
The Natural History Museum is part of the National Museum of Ireland, and is home to two floors of cabinets full of life-size stuffed zoological models that have inspired the nickname ‘the Dead Zoo.’ Its ground floor is the Irish Room, which houses rare and threatened bird breeds like the Corncrake, mounted skeletons of giant Irish deer, and a basking shark suspended from the ceiling. Upstairs is the Mammals of the World exhibition.
The Kingship and Sacrifice Exhibition
Also part of the National Museum of Ireland, the Kingship and Sacrifice Exhibition is a collection of well-preserved Iron Age human remains found in bogs in County Offaly and County Meath in 2003. Bodies found during earlier excavations are also included in the exhibition. It is thought that the killing and deposition of these bodies in bogs was related to Iron Age kingship rituals. Believed to be royalty, they were found wearing early versions of hair gel and manicured nails. Weapons, clothing, utensils and other found items from the period are also on display.
The Church Bar & Restaurant
St. Mary’s Church of Ireland was built in the early 18th century and is one of Dublin’s earliest examples of a galleried church. Arthur Guinness was married here in 1761, and republican leader Theobald Wolfe Tone and playwright Seán O’Casey were both baptised here. The building – which features an organ built by master organ maker Renatus Harris – was deconsecrated in 1986 and left empty until 1997 when a seven-year restoration project began. Today, The Church Bar & Restaurant is under new ownership, and Ireland’s minister for Arts and Heritage has classified the building as one of ‘intrinsical historical interest’.
The Crypt at Christchurch Cathedral
As Dublin’s oldest building – founded in 1030 – Christchurch Cathedral is sure to have some secrets. Its crypt is the largest in Britain at over 60 metres, and is full of artefacts and historical treasures, such as the stocks that were once used for public punishments in Christ Church Place, as well as a mummified cat and rat. The two – nicknamed Tom and Jerry – were found inside an organ pipe in the 1850s and are mentioned in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
The Shrine of St Valentine
Relics of Saint Valentine are said to be scattered all around Europe, but an Irish priest called Fr. John Spratt claimed to have been given the saint’s remains and a ‘vessel tinged with his blood’ by Pope Gregory XVI while on a visit to Rome in 1835. Both were placed in a reliquary at the church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin, on his return. When Father Spratt died, the relics were all but forgotten, but were later rediscovered during church renovations and a shrine with a statue of the Saint was built in their honour. Couples often visit the shrine on Valentine’s Day.