January 2004 issue

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Dublin's charm

A blend of the old and the new, Dublin provides a fascinating mix of historic culture and modern development. Bethan Norris profiles Ireland's most popular destination for language travel students.

Ireland's capital city has seen many changes over the last decade, helped by the country's booming 'Celtic Tiger' economy that has created an increase in Dublin's entertainment and service industries. As Jonathon Quinn, from the Centre of English Studies, in Dublin, testifies, 'There are now more restaurants, cafés, bars and theatres than ever before and this has resulted in a cosmopolitan atmosphere in the city. There is always something new to see and do.'

Paul Mullins from American College Dublin says that Dublin is now 'one of the trendiest cities in Europe to visit' and adds, 'Dublin is a young person's city. Young people can relax here and there are lots of social events and music. Students say that there is always something going on in Dublin.'

With a large university in the city centre and 'over 40 per cent of Dublin's population under the age of 35', according to Quinn, a lively nightlife is something that most students find very attractive. Mary Fitzpatrick, from Berlitz Language Centre, adds that in addition to cafés, bars, pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas, there are 'literary pub crawls, musical pub crawls, greyhound racing and various gigs and concerts - something for practically everybody'.

For those interested in experiencing Ireland's strong musical culture, there are plenty of opportunities to see live bands play at many venues in Dublin. And according to Greg Murphy, from Eden School of English, visitors to the city also enjoy musical entertainment during the day on Dublin's streets. 'There are a number of excellent buskers to entertain you as you shop,' he says.

Many of Dublin's most famous pubs and clubs are located in Temple Bar in the city centre, which is also home to the city's trendiest shops and a range of art galleries. Here, students can browse among shops selling homeware, clothes, music, art and jewellery and visit cafés and restaurants with their friends.

While Temple Bar is a magnet for the majority of students and visitors, Mullins is keen to point out that this is not all the city has to offer. 'Dublin is more than just the city centre,' he asserts. 'The best high streets are outside the city centre in areas such as Dalkey and Killiney.'

Murphy adds that mountains, rivers, lakes, beaches and parks lie within minutes of Dublin city centre. 'You can be outside the city in 20 minutes and it is like you are nowhere near a city,' he says. 'It is a great release. [Attractions of note include] the beaches of Malahide, the cliff walk of Howth, Killiney Hill, the gardens of Pwerscourt, the golf courses in Portmarnock and many more [sights].'

For those wanting to explore further afield, Dublin provides a great base from which to see the rest of Ireland, according to Bairbre Murphy from Geos English Academy Dublin. 'Dublin is an ideal location for visiting other parts of the country and many students visit Galway and other cities at the weekends,' she says.

Fitzpatrick adds that, for those with specific interests, there are numerous historic and tourist attractions within easy reach of Dublin. 'The Boyne Valley, Co. Meath, is one of Ireland's most ancient and historic areas where some of Ireland's first inhabitants settled,' she says. 'Located here are the Neolithic passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, the oldest and largest burial chambers in Europe that predate the Egyptian pyramids.'

The Irish people are very proud of their distinct culture and history and exploring this side of Ireland is an attraction for visitors to the country. 'We have a cultural course that explains Irish history and culture and involves going out and about in the town to areas of interest that are [relevant],' says Murphy at Eden School of English. 'This gives students the chance to see everything first-hand and understand why it is important to us.'

Dublin's many museums and historical attractions provide opportunities for students to learn about the local area in their free time. 'For those with an interest in things historic, the Wood Quay area of the city is an absolute must,' says Fitzpatrick. 'The Dublinia Exhibition provides a fascinating insight into life in Dublin in the 12th and 13th centuries.'

Ireland's culture and history is also closely linked to the festivals and events that take place in Dublin throughout the year. The most famous of these is the celebration of St Patrick's Day, on 17 March. The festival consists of a giant parade that runs through the streets of Dublin as well as musical events and a fun fair. 'St Patrick's festival is always a big one and now runs for four days,' says Bairbre Murphy. 'The parade passes right by our school and we have a party for the students and host families.'

Other festivals include the Bloomsday Festival in June, celebrating the work of James Joyce, the Dublin Theatre Festival in September and the All Ireland Hurling/Football finals in September, which is another lively affair. All provide students with the chance to get involved in Dublin's rich cultural life.

To really experience the local flavour of a city, there is no substitute for interaction with the local population and, according to Mullins, this is where Dublin offers international students an advantage. 'Students are very attracted by the availability of work in Dublin - especially those from less wealthy countries,' he says. 'There are lots of casual job opportunities available in bars, shops and restaurants. Most of the hospitality industries in Dublin have lots of foreign people working in them so foreign students find this an easy way to interact with the local people.'

The laid-back atmosphere of the city, combined with the legendary friendliness of the local people, is a distinct attraction, says Mullins. 'Students find it very easy to meet people through the pub scene,' he says. 'If you go into an Irish pub by yourself it will only take a few minutes before someone starts talking to you. Dublin is more multicultural than it was five years ago and the local people are used to different cultures and foreign people.'

Agent viewpoint

'Dublin has a great reputation here in Italy and is far more popular [with our students] than the UK. We continually hear that families are wonderful, the Dubliners are joyous and friendly people and that the city offers everything. [Students enjoy] the atmosphere in Dublin and the main activity is the nightlife and pubs. Happy students are the base of our business and Dublin is the city [to study in].'
Annette Duerdoth, InterStudio Viaggi, Italy

'We send students to Ireland, especially to Dublin. We think that Dublin is safer than London and that's why we prefer it to London. [Students] like the atmosphere [of the city], Temple Bar in the evenings, the pubs, the people [and the] nature. During their spare time, they go sightseeing through Ireland, and they visit other Irish cities. We can say that none of our students have had difficulties while studying in Dublin.'
Vittorina Sartori, Basiani Travels Service di Garda, Italy

'Many Basques claim great affinity with Ireland, as it is a small nation that achieved nationhood only 80 years ago. [Students] also variously offer other reasons for studying in [Dublin], for example, the friendliness of the Irish, [the fact that the] Irish are better speakers of English and it is only four hours away by plane. [Students enjoy] the social life in and around the pubs, traditional music and dancing, visits to the countryside and the monumental and architectural heritage. [One problem that students have encountered] is the relatively high cost of everything, especially food, drink, transport and, amongst smokers, tobacco.'
Joe Linehan, Worldlan, Spain

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