Dublin is full of rare treasures, but finding the perfect souvenir is all about knowing where to look. For an authentic souvenir of your time in the city, venture into a selection of the city’s oldest and most memorable shops to seek out these unusual and original items.
With many of Dublin’s shopping streets and centres in operation since Victorian times, there’s a deep sense of history to the city’s trade. There is no shortage of interesting things to purchase, ranging from Celtic-inspired craftwork to bespoke paintings reflecting the beauty of the city. If you’re looking for a gift or souvenir from Dublin, these are some of the city’s most unique finds.
Many of Dublin’s talented artists find inspiration in the city’s iconic monuments, creating unique works showcasing Dublin from every angle. Getting your hands on a painting or print of your favourite piece of Dublin’s skyline – whether it be the historic General Post Office, the distinguished architecture of Trinity College or the striking Spire – is a great way to keep a little bit of the city with you forever.
Jam Art Factory has provided a space for independent artists to display their work, and its store in Temple Bar has a number of distinctly Irish pieces from a range of upcoming and established artists. Bold prints from Jando Designs depict landmarks such as the Poolbeg Chimneys and Dublin Castle, and Sketchy Inc’s colourful cityscapes reveal the hidden magic of Dublin’s lesser-known corners. Jam Art Factory also has a range of old Irish maps and prints for sale for a true glimpse of Dublin history.
The Aran jumper has become something of a staple of Irish design and fashion, first appearing in Vogue magazine in 1958, as well as on catwalks across Europe. With origins in the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, Aran jumpers feature designs that symbolise fascinating elements of Irish heritage. The thick, cable-knit stitches are said to be inspired by Celtic designs, and reference to similar knitwear is made in the medieval manuscript The Book of Kells. The jumpers would originally have been water-resistant, as they were made with wool still containing the natural oil lanolin, making them popular with Irish fishers seeking to protect themselves from the harsh elements at sea.
Originally operating from George’s Street Arcade, Ulysses set up shop on Duke Street (just off Grafton Street) during the ’80s, and has been selling old volumes of Irish literature from that location ever since. The shop’s walls are lined with first editions from authors such as WB Yeats, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Flann O’Brien. Their speciality is 20th-century Irish fiction, but they also house a great selection of books dating back to the 17th century, including those on Irish history and topography. Though a first edition or signed copy will cost a bit more, they have interesting finds on offer to suit a range of budgets.
Craftwork has always been an Irish speciality, and The Wild Goose produces a great range of unique statuettes and plaques by a team of talented artists. The studio was founded by Brian Scott-McCarthy and Kathleen Smyth in 1970, who took inspiration from Ireland’s rich history and culture to create carefully designed pieces that merge the past with the present. Many of the works reflect Celtic history and heritage, depicting crosses, Irish-language phrases and themes such as home and belonging. The range features work by prominent artist Nadia Corridan, whose designs focus on the search for joy and connection. A meaningful gift for someone close to you is the Celtic love cross, designed by Kathleen Smyth; this intricate piece reflects the Celtic belief in the infinite nature of true love, without beginning or end.
It’s one of the world’s most famous medieval manuscripts, and no trip to Dublin would be complete without visiting The Book of Kells at Trinity College Dublin. However, for preservation reasons, only one page of the manuscript is on view at a time, so to fully appreciate the significance and craftsmanship, you’ll need to purchase one of the official guides available in the library gift shop. This fascinating book reproduces the most important pages from the 9th-century manuscript, along with a full history from its initial inscription to its journey to Trinity. Famous for its intricate detail and designs, the reproductions within the guide provide commentary on the interlacing patterns as well as the extensive animal imagery running throughout the manuscript.
The practice of heraldry dates back to medieval times, when knights in battle could only be identified by the coat of arms on their shields. Today, a coat of arms can provide a link to the past, and researching a family crest is a fascinating way to discover one’s heritage – something that has always been deep within the Irish consciousness. Dubliners and diaspora alike can find their own coat of arms at The House of Names, which has a vast library of Irish names and heraldic shields. Founded in 1953, they specialise in hand-painted shields and parchments tracing the history and origins of Irish surnames. With two stores in Dublin (one on Nassau Street, the other in Temple Bar) any of their pieces is sure to be an incredibly personal keepsake.
Ireland’s oldest woollen mill, the Avoca Mill, began life producing grain and textiles in 1723. This humble rural mill was taken over by the Wynne sisters in the 1920s, who turned it into an international company exporting luxury wool throughout Europe, including materials for fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Today, Avoca stores throughout Ireland continue producing quality hand-woven goods, combining this traditional Irish craft with contemporary design schemes. Their comforting cashmere-blend throws come in a variety of hues and use all natural fibres. Steeped in history you won’t find elsewhere, Avoca’s products are guaranteed to be a unique addition to any home.
The Irish are big fans of milk chocolate, with companies such as Butler’s, Lily O’Brien’s and Skelligs providing a locally crafted alternative to big brands. One small retailer to look out for while in Dublin is chocolatier Chez Emily, which has been crafting artisan chocolates handcrafted from family recipes since 1996. This Dublin-founded brand puts the emphasis on home roots, and is even named after the daughter of the couple who founded it. Combining the best of Belgian artisanal techniques and local ingredients, Chez Emily chocolates are made using 100% pure cocoa butter, giving them a smooth, mellow flavour, while the fillings are made using only Irish ingredients. A great example of the quality chocolate craft that endures in Ireland, they have a boutique chocolatier in Dublin as well as availability in selected stores nationwide.
Considering that the word ‘whiskey’ is derived from the Gaelic word uisce beatha, which literally means ‘water of life’, it makes sense that the Irish have a particular fondness for the drink. Indeed, there’s a whole museum dedicated to it on Grafton Street. Although Irish whiskey is exported all over the world, one of the more unique blends you will find in Dublin is The Dublin Liberties. Inspired by the fascinating tales of Dublin’s most notorious gangs and the mayhem they created in the historic Liberties neighbourhood, this whiskey distillery near St Patrick’s Cathedral is the best place to pick up a bottle of the little-known spirit and hear the stories behind the flavour.
The brainchild of twins from Greystones, The Happy Pear started off as a small fruit and veg shop and café in 2004, and has since expanded into a delicious food range. Vegan, plant-based and delicious, the Happy Pear represents modern Ireland’s shift towards leading a healthier, more ethical lifestyle. In addition to the food served in their café, they have a range of products to take home and enjoy: highlights include the Lovely Basil Pesto and Sweet Beet Hummus. Their ranges are available to buy in their cafés across Dublin and are also stocked in local health food shops throughout the city. If you want to recreate their signature dishes at home, they also have a number of recipe books. Their second, The World of The Happy Pear, won Ireland’s Cookbook of the Year Award in 2016 and is filled with ideas for fresh vegetarian meals.
Those who want to pick up an iconic souvenir of Dublin should head to Sweny’s Pharmacy on Lincoln Place. Made famous by James Joyce, this is the spot where Leopold Bloom buys a bar of lemon soap that he carries with him during his pilgrimage around Dublin in the novel Ulysses. No longer a chemist, it is now run by volunteers who have maintained its unique Victorian character. In addition to atmospheric old vials and prescriptions, you will find copies of second-hand books waiting to be perused in the centre of the room, along with the now-famous bars of “sweet lemon wax”.
This article is an updated version of a story created by James Hendicott.