On a ridge above the Liffey, where previously the Vikings had established themselves, the Anglo-Norman invaders rebuilt Dublin in the thirteenth century around a doughty castle. You’re free to walk around the courtyards, an architectural mishmash that’s home to police and tax offices. The castle was the seat of British power in Ireland for seven hundred years, after its establishment by the Anglo-Normans in the early thirteenth century as the main element of their walled city, and successfully withstood all attempts to take it by force. It did, however, succumb to a major fire in 1684 and was rebuilt during the eighteenth century as a complex of residential and administrative buildings over two quadrangles, giving a sedate collegiate appearance. The outline of the medieval castle is traced by the Upper Yard; above its original main gate, the Cork Hill State Entrance, stands a statue of Justice, wearing no blindfold and turning her back on the city – a fitting symbol of British rule, locals reckon.
Built as the residence of the English viceroy and entered from the Upper Yard, the State Apartments are accessible on regular guided tours (dublincastle.ie). It’s advisable to ring ahead, however, as the apartments are sometimes closed for state occasions, when the tour will take in only the Chapel Royal and the Undercroft. Inside the apartments, the Grand Staircase leads up to the east wing of bedrooms and drawing rooms, refurbished to their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century style after a major fire in 1941. The brass chandelier in the Throne Room, with its shamrock, rose and thistle emblems, commemorates the 1801 Act of Union, while the Picture Gallery beyond is lined with viceroys, including – hiding ignominiously behind the door – the First Marquis of Cornwallis, who not only lost the American colonies, but also faced rebellions as viceroy, first of India, then of Ireland (1798). St Patrick’s Hall, formerly a ballroom that hosted investitures of the Knights of St Patrick, is now used for the inaugurations and funerals of Irish presidents. Its overblown, late eighteenth-century ceiling paintings show St Patrick converting the Irish, Henry II receiving the submission of the Irish chieftains, and George III’s coronation.
The tour also includes the Chapel Royal in the Lower Yard, an ornate Gothic Revival gem, and the excavations of the Undercroft, which have revealed the base of the gunpowder tower of the medieval castle and steps leading down to the moat, fed by the old River Poddle on its way down to the Liffey, as well as part of the original Viking ramparts.
Several other remnants of British hegemony are still dotted around the castle: the beautifully restored rotunda of City Hall; Christ Church Cathedral, with its huge crypt and photogenic covered bridge; and St Patrick’s Cathedral, sheltering an intriguing array of memorials. The main highlight for visitors in this area, however, is the Chester Beatty Library, a world-class collection of books and objets d’art from around the globe, in the castle gardens.