You'll be familiar with Irish Travel Writer of the Year, Pol O Conghaile, for his Lovin Dublin feature on the city's hidden gems. As his title would suggest, Pol is a prolific travel writer, a National Geogrphic traveller, having wandered far and wide, discovering where and what we should all be seeing. He's also a well renowned food critic. But what is it that keeps him based in this little town we call home, does Dublin still do it for him? He shares his Dublin diary below.
You're a very busy travel writer, how did you end up in this type of work, was it a desire to get out of Dublin?
Ha-ha! Not at all! Of course you need to leave Dublin to see the world, but I always travel on a return ticket. For as long as I can remember I've wanted to write, and travel. Travel writing seemed like a no-brainer, but it took a surprisingly long time to get to the point where I could actually write full time about travel... and get paid for it (which is slightly important). Phileas Fogg went around the world in 80 days. I've done it in 80,000 different books, features, photos and blog posts! The fact that so many of those have been about Dublin tells you all you need to know.
You're an inspiration to lots of aspiring writers now, but what Dubliners have inspired you?
From a literary point of view, James Joyce is a hero - he left Dublin to find it, but you've gotta love the way he tore up the rule book. Flan O'Brien and Paul Murray are other native authors I admire, but I also love that mix of talent and modesty you find in other Dubliners with drive... from Annie Mac to Brian O'Driscoll, Tony Gregory to Veronica Guerin. People like that are inspiring to watch.
Winning Irish Travel writer of the year last year, how was that experience?
Awesome. The minute people hear I'm a travel writer, they think *God, you lucky sod*. But the reality is I spend more time in planes, trains and automobiles than I do with my kids. They also tend to highlight the 'travel' rather than the the 'writer' part of the job description. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, that involves applying ass to seat more than the bum to beach. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that yes, I was bloody delighted to see the hard work rewarded!
Of all the places in the world you could live, what keeps you based at home?
Family. The fact that our biggest city feels so small. The Dublin/Wicklow Mountains. Lunch at the Pig's Ear. The way my barber trusts me completely when I forget my wallet. The fact that seven months of grey skies can be banished by one ridiculously sunny March morning. Our new-found confidence in food. Friday evening pints. Guilty Le Galaxie gigs. Lovin' Dublin & Le Cool. Oh, and O'Donnell's crisps.
Describe your experience of Dublin when things were at their worst, economically.
The Celtic Tiger brought many improvements to Dublin, but it also had an ugly effect on us as a people. In those short years, we lost a lot of soul. When things crashed, we took a big fall (I've got the negative equity to prove it), but overall, I think the process has actually had a positive effect on the city. Dublin picked herself up, dusted herself down. New cafes, collectives, markets, websites and zines emerged. Right now, we're having a moment, and the world is starting to take notice. Call it Dublin 2.0... whatever it is, it needed a development vacuum to find its feet.
Do you see things improving now?
Absolutely (see above). But I hope we learned our lessons. In the noughties, I was horrified by the number of tourists who found Dublin expensive and rude. It's easy to forget that visitors have a choice - Dublin isn't a done deal. They could just as easily pick a) Edinburgh b) Prague or c) Barcelona. All of those cities are cheaper. All have just as much (if not more) to offer culturally. If we ask visitors to choose Dublin, to spend the money that kicks us onto the next level, we have to treat them right.
You're also a restaurant critic. What are your thoughts on the current restaurant scene in Ireland?
Irish food has just burst through a brick wall. For generations, we looked down on our produce; we looked up to France, Italy and Spain. Today, we know that our ingredients, producers and chefs are right up there with the best in the world. What we don't have yet, however, is consistency. It's still possible to eat brilliantly one night and terribly the next - and be charged wildly different rates. To truly compete with comparable scenes like Copenhagen and the Basque Country, we need to fix that.
Favourite bar in Dublin and why?
Mulligan's for Guinness. 777 for cocktails.
Favourite restaurant, why?
Right now, The Greenhouse is the best restaurant in the city. I don't understand why Mickael Viljanen hasn't got a Michelin Star. Forest Avenue is one to watch.
Guilty pleasure restaurant, maybe somewhere you wouldn't be bragging about liking, cheeky take away?
You can't beat Poulet Bonne Femme for a cheeky sambo. God forgive me, but I've also been known to visit Supermacs at 3.30am for a garlic cheese fries.
How important is food in your life?
Third, after air and water.
If you were cooking at home, what's the one thing that wouldn't let you down?
Fish. "If you can cook a sausage, you can cook fish" Martin Shanahan says, and it's absolutely true. Four minutes and you have a perfectly healthy fillet. Steam a few spuds and some vegetables as sides; mix a dollop of butter, a drizzle of lemon and a few freshly chopped herbs for the teaspoon of sauce. Yum.
Your favourite spot in Dublin when it's particularly (if ever) sunny?
Iveagh Gardens. Or a quick gander through Trinity College.
Can you describe your perfect day in Dublin?
Every time I hit the streets, I do it with a list of new places to see. I love that, it's part of my job. But my perfect day would involve tracking back to the places I liked. A stupid good cappuccino at Cafe Napoli, followed by a mosey through the Science Gallery or Little Museum, or perhaps a tour I've been meaning to take - with Fabulous Food Trails or French Foodie in Dublin, for example. I'd spend an hour exploring whatever the hell Capel Street has come up with next. A quiet pint in the back-room of The Palace. A loud one at Twisted Pepper. Lastly, I'd avoid the Nitelink home...
Most likely to find you on a Sunday morning?
Your ultimate hangover cure?
A can of Coke. That, and a pulled pork blaa from Oxmantown.
If you had one day left to live and found yourself on Death Row, what would be your last ever meal?
Brunch at Forest Avenue.
If you were to go home to your family, what would you want them to cook for you, what's your ultimate comfort homely meal?
The stats say spag bol. The romance says roast chicken.
Describe Dublin in three words...
Confused, charismatic and fun.
Describe yourself in 3 words...
Curious. Detailed. Hungry.
What do you think separates Dubliners from the rest of Ireland/the world?
Of all the places that you've travelled to, what would you say Dublin could learn form other cities?
Dublin's greatest characteristic, and its greatest curse, is its tendency to be inward-looking. I don't mean introspective. I don't mean naval-gazing. I mean our instinct to view the city as almost a universe unto itself, a place that doesn't have to benchmark itself against international cities simply because it's, you know, Dublin. At its best, this gives us fantastic pubs, a brilliantly idiosyncratic sense of humour, an electric irreverence, and the makings of an unforgettable night out. At its worst, however, it can make us dumb, apathetic and parochial. Cities like New York, Berlin and London don't have to look out so much because the world has come to them - they are amazingly multicultural melting pots. Dublin hasn't got that luxury... yet!
What's the one thing you'd tell tourists they have to go and see when in Dublin?
The Little Museum of Dublin. It's all there - in miniature.
Lastly, what makes you proud to be Irish?
All of the above!