I was contacted recently by Context Travel to review one of their Dublin based tours. Since I have been enjoying staycations more and more, over the past few months, and it’s fun being a tourist in your own city I thought let’s go. Full disclosure this tour was a gift and all opinions are my own.
WARNING: This post contains an image of a bog body from the National Museum of Ireland.
Who is Context Travel?
Context Travel is an expert-led tour company. According to their website, many of their guides have PhD and masters qualifications in their field and are therefore experts in the area in which they are giving the tour. This was true of my guide, Kevin, who had extensive study and expertise in Irish history. They have city guide itineraries in 60 countries across 6 continents and aim to include major cultural experiences in capital cities around the world. My tour was The Book of Kells and Treasures of Dublin tour.
The tour started at 2 pm and ran for about 2 hours 15 minutes. It began in Trinity College, Dublin, right in the centre of the city and finished at the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology on Kildare Street (a short walk away). I was part of a group tour of 3 and having such a small number on the tour meant we had the ability to stop and ask the guide questions, which is great, especially if you’re that guy! As regards accessibility the tour involves 2 hours of slow walking with a lot of stops to look at artefacts and there are some stairs up to the Long Room. There are ramps into the old library building housing the Book of Kells and I believe there are lifts to access The Long Room in the Old Library itself. The National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology has ramps and accessibility for the ground floor exhibits but as far as I am aware there are no lifts to the upstairs level. This didn’t affect our tour as the pertinent exhibits were all on the ground floor. As this tour was gifted I cannot be sure of the price in euro, the website says $105pp.
- Note that the Book of Kells has been removed for conservation works until March 2020. A replica is on display upstairs in the Long Room at the Old Library *
What do you see?
To kick off the tour I was a bit worried it would be focused on religion when our guide mentioned the tour was about early Christian art and influences but since religion plays such an integral role in Irish history it is inevitably part of the conversation. The tour looks at the culture and society that led to the creation of the Book of Kells, which is lauded as the oldest book in the world. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels in Latin and has some of the most intricate and elaborate work to have survived from the early Middle Ages. It was completed in 800 AD and even if you aren’t religious I feel it is worth a look just to see the beautiful artwork created using natural material inks on stretched vellum. I went to Trinity College as part of my post-graduate study so I enjoy the campus strolls but having never had a guide to explain the book, its significance and the context it made for a more in-depth experience. Plus the Long Room upstairs in the old library has distinctive Hogwarts vibes.
Myths and Legends
My favourite part was most certainly the myths and legends element to the tour especially the Cattle Raid of Cooley mosaic mural off Nassau St. I never knew the mosaic mural was there so having someone explain the elements of such a beautiful piece of work made it so much better than trying to piece together my own guesswork. The information Kevin had about the Tuatha de Danann and how these beings became interwoven into Irish mythology was so magical I almost believed it to be real.
National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology
This museum houses artefacts from longboats, gold and precious stones, the Ardagh Chalice and BOG BODIES as well as a few fancy-looking swords. The bog bodies are always a fascinating sight having been so well preserved in the bog since 392- 201 BC. You can see his fingernails and pine resin quiffed hairstyle. STILL! This museum has so many interesting exhibits. I never even knew Ireland had a gold rush until this tour. Without giving more away I think if you’re looking for a taster tour in the capital city and have even a passing interest in history, archaeology, early Christian art or vaguely familiar Game of Thrones storylines then this tour is for you. IT is specific in that the tour focuses on treasures from the Iron, Bronze, Middle Ages as well as early Christian influences right up to government legislation governing the finds of historical artefacts and significance. Plus, faeries. There is a mystical, magical element to the tour. It’s not a political history, nor is it a visit to a variety of areas in the city. It’s a taster and fitting if you’re on a short city break.
This tour is a good way to get some indoor history and culture on a city break to Dublin especially since Ireland’s weather can be so volatile! Thanks to Context Travel and Kevin for a very informative tour. If you are looking for other historical staycation trips in Ireland have a look at my post on Wexford’s Irish National Heritage Park