Saint Patrick's Cathedral should definitely be on your list of things to see in Dublin—even if at first sight the church looks a bit forbidding, and is tucked away in an urban area that does not really show Dublin’s best side. Saint Patrick's Cathedral is also a bit off the beaten path for most tourists. Though located fairly near to the Liffey and (if you must know) Temple Bar, the walk can be long-ish and (admittedly) a bit uninspiring.
In fact, most tourists probably arrive by bus as part of an organized tour. But would it be really fair to leave this old (though massively renovated) Christian edifice out of your Dublin agenda? Definitely not, as Saint Patrick's Cathedral holds some important historical artifacts and is full of history itself.
Dublin's Saint Patrick's Cathedral in a Nutshell
As one of Dublin's two Church of Ireland cathedrals, St. Patrick's is actually designated the "National Cathedral of Ireland." And it lacks the main ingredient that usually makes a cathedral out of a church, whatever the size—a bishop! Yes, St. Patrick's is a bishop-less cathedral...and thus not the only inconsistency regarding the three cathedrals of Dublin: the Catholic Church calls their Saint Mary's a "pro-cathedral" for historical reasons.
A little bit of history: St. Patrick's was built on (or at least next to) the site where the great missionary himself supposedly baptized the first local converts, besides a "Holy Well," now lost, but remembered by a stone in the park.
Being the largest church in Ireland, size alone makes St. Patrick's well worth a visit...though it is a bit of a walk from Dublin's city center. But for friends of world literature, this is a pilgrimage, and a must—Jonathan Swift of "Gulliver" fame was dean of and is buried in the cathedral.
The Pros and Cons of Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin
On the plus side, we have the following:
- Saint Patrick's is the National Cathedral of Ireland
- It has several interesting tombs and memorials
- It contains the graves and memorials of both Dean Swift and his beloved Stella
- In the cathedral you'll find the chapel of the (now defunct) Knights of St. Patrick
- There are historical connections to Ireland's patron saint, Patrick himself
The main negative? Apart from the location (though it is not at the back of beyond)...the surrounding areas are run-down and uninviting in places.
What to Expect at Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral
Don't expect ancient or even medieval things...though the locality has Christian tradition reaching back to around 450, the present Saint Patrick's Cathedral is a product of a renovation, bordering on a rebuild, in the 19th century.
Even so, we would rate St.Patrick's as one of the top sights of Dublin, though the nearby Christ Church Cathedral is not to be overlooked either. And though standing amidst tenements and sometimes run-down Victorian houses, St. Patrick's is still imposing.
A church reputedly stood here since Patrick's time, and a slab on display attempts to "prove" the connection to the patron saint of Ireland. Even though the current building was not even erected until 1191...and underwent a massive rebuild in the 1860s, mainly financed by money from the Guinness family.
In the cathedral, the visitor is confronted by hundreds of memorial plaques, busts, and monuments. Pride of place goes to the Boyle Family Tomb from the 17th century. Smaller mementos are dedicated to Turlough O'Carolan (the famous blind harpist) and Douglas Hyde (the first President of Ireland), and, not to forget the main man, to Jonathan Swift (formerly dean of the cathedral) and his beloved "Stella" (Ester Johnson).
Do not miss another unusual monument, a door with a hole—here Lord Kildare literally chanced his arm to shake hands with his enemy Lord Ormonde.
One criticism leveled at St. Patrick's (as well as Christ Church) is that "you have to pay to enter a house of worship." This is not strictly true, the entrance fee is only collected from casual visitors, not from bona fide worshippers.
Address: Saint Patrick's Close, Dublin 8
Please go to the website of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, for current opening times, admission prices, and special events. This will also give you the service times if you wish to worship there.