I’m standing on Dublin’s Kildare Street, and it’s raining. I’m finding this unusually ironic as the voice coming from my iPod is telling me that Ireland’s climate was once tropical, more or less like the Bahamas, and that the island has been moving north ever since. We know this from the 320-million-year-old fossil record that’s clearly visible in the stones in the building in front of me. I’m on an geology-themed audio walking tour, looking for sights and attractions that are of particular interest to scientists. So come with me on a visit to Dublin seen through the safety goggles of scientists.
Science Gallery, Trinity College, Pearse Street
The purpose-built Science Gallery opened in Trinity College in 2008 with an unusual remit: to explore the intersection between science and art. They’ve done this through a series of exhibitions, on subjects like the science of love, epidemics, light and rendering coral reefs in hyperbolic crochet. The current show is Biorhythm, a collaboration between percussionists, bassists and physiologists.
You’ll get the most out of your visit to the Science Gallery if you engage with the helpers scattered around who will happily explain the exhibits to you. It is a gallery after all, not an interactive science centre, but there’s always something to fiddle with if you ask. Entrance is free and there’s a pleasant café on the ground floor. Opening hours vary with each exhibition, so do check the website for details.
National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin
Not far from Dublin city centre is the National Botanic Gardens, which traces its history to 1790.
The centrepiece of the gardens, the iron Curvilinear Range of glasshouses which were opened in 1849, have been lovingly restored as part of a programme that started in the 1990s.
Now the site includes a visitor centre with a restaurant and exhibition space — currently showing travel photography by Mark Edwards and paintings of birds by Michael O’Clery.
Also, until October 15th, 120 sculptures have been scattered throughout the gardens. Even off-duty scientists and their civilian companions should enjoy what is one of Dublin’s more tranquil quarters. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein knew this too — when he stayed in Dublin he “liked to sit and write at these steps” in one of the garden’s glasshouses, as a plaque there notes.
Entrance to the gardens is free.
Natural History Museum
Ireland’s Natural History Museum – known as the “dead zoo” to Dubliners – reopened this spring after restoration work. The 19th century building is itself is something of a museum piece, as little has changed in 100 years. The stuffed and preserved contents of the museum are a delight, and I’ve spent enjoyable afternoons skipping freshman biology lectures to explore the place. Sadly the thrillingly rickety balconies are closed since the restoration – Ireland’s tightening public purse strings didn’t permit the balconies to be included in the work. The museum is still definitely worth a visit; entrance is free.
Dublin on the Rocks
The walking tour that brought me to Kildare Street is called “Dublin on the Rocks”, a downloadable set of audio tracks. Each track corresponds to a particular stop on a sensible 2km route through the city centre, and explains in a few minutes some of the geological features of the city by referring to the building materials, and contents, of the buildings around you. The narrator, journalist Mary Mulvihill, is obviously delighted by this otherwise hidden aspect to the city, and it’s hard not to be caught up in her genuine enthusiasm. The stops are conveniently spaced close together and there’s a PDF map to print out. Since you are your own tour guide, it’s easy to stray from the route for some shopping or a visit to some of the museums the tour mentions. The files (which were provided to me for this review) can be downloaded from ingeniousireland.ie for €4.95.
The tour of Dublin ends with this lovely song sung by Noel Purcell. Listening to him crooning that “Dublin can be heaven with coffee at eleven and a stroll in Stephen’s green”, I found it hard not to agree. “And if you don’t believe me, come and meet me there,” he goes on, “in Dublin on a sunny Summer morning” – perhaps at ESOF 2012?
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