The past nine months have seen our world change in many ways. From health to the economy, it has been a wild roller-coaster ride for everyone. However, one thing seems to have been affected more than any other: international travel.
Just weeks before the pandemic began, I completed a global photography journey to 52 countries in a single year. At that time I could have never imagined that just a few short weeks later the world would come to a complete standstill. From traveling 150,000 kilometers last year on more than 60 flights, I suddenly found myself spending month after month in one place, with the furthest travel being to the local supermarket.
By May I was itching to get back on the road. By July I was desperate for a change of scenery.
However, even by midsummer most countries still remained closed to international tourists, and my choices were limited, to say the least.
In this sea of travel restrictions, one country stood out: Ireland. The land of shamrocks and leprechauns was open to visitors. The only requirement was a 14-day self-quarantine, something I was prepared to endure after spending so many months indoors.
So after some hesitation and several flights that got canceled along the way, I packed a suitcase filled with food, books and warm clothing, and boarded a flight to Dublin.
The first two weeks of quarantine went by remarkably quickly, and as soon as I could, I grabbed my camera and set out to photograph the city. The first thing that caught my eye was the green color that is so distinctly Irish. It was everywhere, from the parks to the trees to people’s clothing. Even in the middle of summer, everything was bright green.
The second thing I noticed was that all of the famous Irish pubs were closed. For the first time ever, the local government had ordered all pubs to close in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus. For the locals, this was the most extreme measure imaginable. After all, pubs are central to Irish life, and the ones in Dublin are famous the world over.
I’m not a drinker, but the effect of this one change was dramatic. From a lively, bustling city, Dublin had come to a virtual standstill. And yet there was something charming about the new atmosphere.
Dublin was founded by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago, and is now home to almost two million residents. Yet it still retains a small-town feeling and an old-world charm. Most of its tourist attractions are close to each other, and the city is very walkable, especially during the cool summer months. From green parks and Victorian architecture to fascinating museums and colorful street art, there’s something interesting hidden behind every corner. You just need to look beyond the brown facades and gloomy weather.
However, as they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words. So allow me to take you on a photo journey through Dublin – during the pandemic.
If you’re an architecture lover like me, you will surely appreciate Trinity College, the oldest academic institute in Ireland. Founded in 1592, the college is home to one of the most famous libraries in the world, which also served as the inspiration for the Hogwarts library in Harry Potter.
A few minutes’ walk from Trinity College is Grafton Street, a pedestrian shopping street filled with high-end boutiques and department stores, where excellent local musicians perform on weekends.
AT THE SOUTHERN end of Grafton Street is St. Stephen’s Green, a large park featuring sprawling lawns, classic benches and lakes with dozens of swans and water birds. On weekends the park fills up with hundreds of students and families looking to soak up every precious ray of sunshine, while adhering to social-distancing rules.
A short walk from St. Stephen’s Green is Temple Bar, the city’s main entertainment district. When I first visited Dublin last year, Temple Bar was bustling with activity. From dozens of antique pubs came the sounds of Irish music and lively sing-alongs. This time around it was completely different. With all of the pubs closed, the streets were virtually empty. However, the lack of revelers offered a unique opportunity to appreciate the classical architecture, cobbled-stone streets and colorful murals on the surrounding buildings.
Just a couple of blocks from Temple Bar lies the River Liffey, which divides the city in two. During the Middle Ages, Dublin’s residents were forced to use ferries to cross from one side to the other. In 1816, William Walsh, an owner of several aging ferries, decided to change things. Instead of refurbishing his dilapidated fleet, he built the city’s first pedestrian bridge. The Wellington Bridge, only 43 meters (141 feet) in length, enabled city goers to cross the river by foot at the cost of half a penny, a sum only wealthy residents could afford. It remained a toll bridge for over 100 years, a fact that earned it the nickname “Ha’Penny,” by which it’s still known today.
Crossing over the Ha’Penny Bridge leads to another of the city’s famous landmarks, The Spire of Dublin. Towering at 120 meters, this silver structure resembles a gigantic needle, and is considered to be the world’s tallest sculpture. It is visible from almost anywhere in the city center, making it a perfect landmark to orient yourself among the city’s many small streets and alleyways.
When it comes to museums, Dublin has a large variety to choose from and many of them are open to the public free of charge. One I was especially impressed by was the EPIC Museum, which focuses on the history of Irish emigration throughout the years.
While Ireland is prosperous today, it wasn’t always this way. Over the years, millions of Irish citizens were forced to emigrate due to poverty, hunger and political persecution. Today, only five million people live in Ireland, while it is estimated that there are more than 70 million people of Irish descent around the world.
Many cultural icons came from Ireland, such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, music bands U2 and Westlife. However if there’s one thing that the Irish are known for more than anything else, it’s their beer – particularly Guinness, the Irish beer that has been a global phenomenon for over 260 years.
So for those seeking a traditional pint, even during the pandemic, it’s worth visiting the Guinness brewery at St. James’s Gate. The massive brewery, which has been producing beer since 1759, sits on more than 242 dunams in the Liberties neighborhood. The company’s visitor center showcases the beer-making process, as well as the brand’s long and colorful history. At the end of the tour, visitors are invited to enjoy a pint of cold beer on the top floor, while taking in a breathtaking 360° view of the entire city.
For good and for bad, the coronavirus created unique and unforgettable experiences for us this year. Last year, more than 1,200 visitors visited the Guinness storehouse every hour. When I visited this summer, I had the place all to myself.
What a difference a year can make!
Ilan Rogers is a photographer and travel expert who photographed 52 countries in a single year. He is now launching a new online exhibition titled The World before Corona. Photographs will be posted daily on his website, Facebook and Instagram: @ilanrogers.official and IlanRogers.com.