Green Ireland, Green Champ, and (Not-so-Green) Castles

Guinness in a Dublin Pub
Photo Courtesy of Oscar Rodríguez Martínez

A stone’s throw, or rather a short train ride from Dublin, sits Malahide Castle on its 250 acres of greenery. The expanse of lawn, formal gardens, and forest surrounding the castle add to its appeal, but don’t let anyone fool you about how near it is to the train station, there’s a good 15-20 minute walk, providing you stay on task and don’t wander off. The path in question winds through what would look like pure wilderness if the trees weren’t so perfectly straight and evenly spaced.

While many tourists are likely here to see the castle, oldest and historic, even for Ireland, a land of many castles and even more ruins, I am here to see a dollhouse.
The castle is a large, and grey with a relatively square main structure with more recent additions unfurling haphazardly among large trees. Ironically, the very towers that make the structure look like a castle to me are recent 18th century additions. After much disappointment in the past, I’m not particularly interested in the inside of castles, so after a short look at all the grandeur very old stone construction has to offer, I’m on my way down the path to the dollhouse museum located on the grounds in the carriage house.

After a brief interlude chasing a beautiful and unpleasant (squawking and sniping) peacock around the courtyard with my camera, I step into the museum. The small stone building houses two floors of dolls and their houses. The first floor is full of worlds in miniature intermingled with comparatively gigantic babies in their cribs and carriages. A prancing horse, paint flaking, stands at attention on the edge of a platform in the hopes of a quick spin around the room. His mistress, a cheerfully dressed doll in a floppy spring hat with flowers around the brim, holds the reins. She knows that the backdrop of blue skies and fluffy clouds are not to be believed; she and her horse are indoors, and must behave accordingly.

Next I creak up a few dozen stairs to the main attraction: Tara’s Palace. Tara’s Palace is easily bigger than my kitchen in Barcelona and definitely better furnished than any house I’ve ever lived in. Tiny hand-woven rugs, peat fireplaces and oil paintings make me envious of the dolls that get to live here. But truth be told, the furnishings are a little too formal, and impractical for my taste.

Tara’s Palace took over two decades to complete and was modeled after three great 18th Century Irish Mansions. The project was inspired by another famous Irish dollhouse, Titania’s Palace. After Ireland lost Titania’s Palace, the idea to create a new doll palace was put forward in order to showcase Ireland’s craftsmanship and awaken the imagination of everyone who saw it, especially children. Dolls and houses of varying sizes and styles are satellite attractions assembled around the palace. I could easily spend a few hours losing myself in the possible life stories and personalities behind these works of art and find myself reflecting on old toys. Toys from the days when children had to actively imagine or move things instead of pressing a button. Toys that were made to last, to be taken care of and cherished instead of consumed and discarded. I wonder, a hundred years from now, what will be in a toy museum…video game cartridges? Screen shots of online entertainment?

Back to Dublin

After a long day of  miniature-house-exploring, and peacock-chasing, I’m glad to be back in Dublin and very ready for a drink. Stepping into the din of the noisy pub, I watch the bartender construct my Guinness, layer by delectable layer. In the lengthy journey back to the table I’ve spotted in the corner, I admire the creamy opaque white of the foam, and the amber sparkles in the chocolaty brown beverage beneath. Guinness is the drink of kings…and queens, like myself…or so I like to believe, and a few Guinness never fail to help that belief along.

March in Dublin favors the lion, and leaves the lamb to shiver and shake, sheltered in the barn and tourists like myself to seek occasional respite in the warmth of one of the many pubs in Temple Bar. Temple Bar has a thriving, young flavor to it. Here ethnic restaurants are interspersed with bars and pubs offering more traditional daily specials of stew and brown bread.

Since I am not especially hungry after filling up on Guinness, I head into a gastro-pub and order a side dish of champ. Champ is the Irish variety of mashed potatoes. Served with chopped green onions and a well of butter in the center, it’s the ultimate comfort food., something to keep me warm on the long walk back to my hotel, a family run bed and breakfast set up on the edge of Phoenix Park, a huge green space that is apparently the largest enclosed park in all of Europe. It’s too late to wander around even in an outdoor enclosed space, so it’s bed for me. Tomorrow’s another day in Ireland, and there’s Irish breakfast to be had.

Irish Champ recipe

If you’re interested in preparing Irish Champ at home, it’s easy. For St. Patrick’s Day, you could even make it green.

You’ll need: 2 lbs potatoes, ½ cup whole milk, ½ cup green onions, ¼ cup butter, salt and pepper to taste, food coloring if desired. (Recipe Serves 4).

Wash and boil the potatoes with the skin on. While the potatoes cook, chop the green onions. Simmer the green onions in a small pot with the milk. Mash the potatoes, mix in hot milk/green onions and half the butter. Add salt and pepper to taste and, if you wish, mix in a few drops of green food coloring until you get the color desired.

Serve the champ in mounds with a thick slice of butter nestled in the middle. If you’re feeling really festive, have a Green Guinness to go along with it. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

End note: Dying things green and drinking an excess of beer for St. Patrick’s Day is not in any way endorsed by the Irish Board of Tourism and is generally an American phenomenon.


Practical Information:

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More on Ireland:

County Clare


Copyright 2011 Chris Ciolli. All Rights Reserved. First Published in “The Joplin Independent”.

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