Dublin overflows with history, pub exploits, and cultural experiences. Maybe the best way to participate in them is not as a tourist, but to move in for a few years.
When my daughter started graduate school at Trinity College Dublin, we learned historically that the middle and upper classes lived in Dublin 2, south of the River Liffey, while Dublin 1, north of the river, was more working class. Over time, this has changed with nice places to live on both sides of the river, and we’ve enjoyed exploring both areas on our own and following various tours.
Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s National Tourism Development Authority, and its partners have coordinated to give 10 of the city’s most famous statues the gift of gab as part of the Talking Statues project. All you need is a working telephone, the map of the statues, and a little shoe leather.
Editor’s Note: Some QR codes have been removed since this article was first published. The author has shared many of the recordings from her initial experience on her YouTube channel.
Tips For Experiencing The Talking Statues Tour
While you can start or finish this free, self-guided tour at any statue, I started at one of the most famous statues, Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square, and completed Dublin 2 before crossing the Ha’Penny Bridge to see all of the Dublin 1 statues.
The only statue with somewhat restricted access, based on museum hours, is George Bernard Shaw within the National Gallery of Ireland.
The two statues within Trinity College’s campus are the George Salmon Statue, to the left of the Campanile; and the Atoms and Apples celebrating Ernest T.S. Walton’s Nobel Prize-winning work in Physics (1951), located near the Physical Laboratory building.
Dress as comfortably as you like for this trek. The most important item you’ll need? A sturdy pair of walking shoes. If you’re interested in completing the entire tour in one day, plan to spend three to four hours. If you’ll be in Dublin for a few days, you may enjoy exploring each section of town around the statues at a more leisurely rate.
The entire tour covers less than two miles. There aren’t many free restrooms nearby, so it’s good to know that there is one within the National Gallery and others within the plethora of coffee shops and restaurants along the route.
The tour is completely accessible by wheelchair. Keep in mind, though, that wheelchairs can’t pass over Ha’Penny Bridge. They can easily cross either of the nearby bridges.
Statues Not To Miss
First stop, Oscar Wilde. I’ve visited his statue in Merrion Square more than any other in the city. The emerald coat, the expression on his face, and the writer’s lounge as he stares out across the street to his childhood home all fit so well with what you read of his quips and other literary efforts.
Scan the QR code (sometimes you have to hunt to find them; this one is on a pillar to the far right) and press the green button that says “Go!” Your phone will ring. Answer it and the statue will speak to you via some very talented actors.
The map says, “As a man, he was known for his wit and flamboyance, and his statue is equally elegant.”
George Bernard Shaw
Next, I moved to the National Gallery of Ireland. They require a reservation for entry, but it’s free. You’ll go all the way through the museum with its current one-way traffic, so enjoy what’s available along the way — art, sculpture, a play area.
George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1912) became the movie My Fair Lady (1964). He felt strongly about the National Gallery and bequeathed a third of his royalties to the museum upon his death, which has funded programs for disadvantaged youths and society at large.
At the Clare Street entrance, you’ll see his statue in the grand hall.
Down to Suffolk Street to meet Ireland’s most famous (and fictional) fishmonger, Molly Malone. Her eponymous song has become the city’s unofficial anthem. Her statue even acknowledges it.
While she is fictional, the song references historically accurate expressions like “Dublin’s fair city” and street vendors’ shouts of “Alive, alive O.”
Step back in time at the Wolfe Tone statue on St. Stephen’s Green, a poignant reminder of sacrifice and determination. As the bronze figure gazes toward history, it’s a stark tribute to Wolfe Tone’s unwavering commitment to Ireland’s independence. His selfless pursuit left behind a young widow and fatherless children, a sacrifice etched into the city’s fabric. Just as his story echoes through the halls of Kilmainham Gaol’s library, the Talking Statues capture his spirit, inviting you to listen to the whispers of a brave visionary who gave everything for a nation’s dreams.
Statues No Longer Talking
As a special bonus for TravelAwaits readers, have a listen to some of these statues that no longer have easily identifiable QR codes.
About a block past the General Post Office, you’ll reach the James Joyce statue on Earl Street North. A favorite resting place for weary shoppers and revelers, Mr. Joyce contemplates his permanent return to Dublin, the city he considered central to his writing, though he lived abroad most of his life.
Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Dubliners are amongst his works.
Walk toward the River Liffey to find the James Connolly statue at Beresford Place.
Connolly moved to Dublin from Edinburgh at 14, and following his time as trade union leader, political theorist, author, and revolutionary socialist became a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising.
It was his (and the other leaders’) execution that so deeply angered the Irish and brought new light to their plight, rousing sympathy in America and Britain that led to Irish independence in 1922.
Touring Dublin following these statues and the others that are part of the Talking Statues project and visiting the city around them gave me a new perspective on this city I’m loving more intently, more profoundly as I immerse myself in its history.
“Hags With The Bags”
Located on the Dublin 1 side of the Ha’Penny Bridge in front of the well-liked restaurant, The Woolen Mills, these shopping ladies sit and chat with an Arnott’s bag front and center. The bench remains a popular place to sit. It’s as though you’re joining two old friends.
His statue, with outstretched arms in front of the Spire on O’Connell Street in Dublin 1, represents the work he did for Dublin City unions. On the pedestal rests a quotation in Irish, English, and French, “The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise.”
For additional inspiration, consider these 17 free things to do in Dublin.