The Curious Traveller

Secret Dublin - An Unusual Guide by Pol O'ConghaileSo you think you know Dublin? This month we’re delighted to feature some little known gems hidden away in the capital - and unearthed for the curious visitor by Irish Travel Writer of the Year, Pól Ó Conghaile, when researching his fascinating new book, Secret Dublin: An Unusual Guide. Given the month that’s in it, he begins, naturally enough, with St Valentine...

You can look for love anywhere, but the chances of finding it are higher at a rather unexpected location: the Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin.

“This shrine contains the sacred body of Saint Valentinus the Martyr,” reads a beautifully matter-of-fact inscription set beneath the church’s statue of the saint. “Together with a small vessel tinged with his blood.”

The relics are contained in a small wooden box. It is tied with a silk ribbon, sealed with wax and locked inside a casket bearing the coat of arms of Gregory XVI.

When I went looking for hidden gems, off-radar attractions and quirky statues, parks and museums for my book, Secret Dublin: An Unusual Guide, St. Valentine was the last thing I expected to find. But he was just the start of the discoveries.

Napoleions ArtifactsDid you know Napoleon’s toothbrush is in Dublin?

Together with a pair of snuffboxes, and a small lancet used to bleed the French Emperor, it’s kept on display in the Royal College of Physicians on Kildare Street. The items, I learned, were donated to Barry Edward O’Meara, an Irish physician that cared for Napoleon during his imprisonment on St. Helena.

Were you aware that George IV’s footprints are encased in stone at the end of Howth’s West Pier, or that deep within the Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street sits a ‘Museum Flat’ unchanged since its last tenants first arrived in 1915?

Maid of ErinAnother of my favourite discoveries was the Maid of Erin.

This peeling wooden sculpture is one of three beat-up statues stashed away within the offices of the Dublin Civic Trust (Henry Grattan and Daniel O’Connell are the others). They were rescued from the Irish House, a legendary pub renowned for its flamboyant stuccowork before it was demolished in 1967.

Located at the corner of Winetavern Street and Wood Quay, the Irish House had dated from 1870, and its Celtic Revival panels, friezes and plaques offered a famously romantic vision of Irish history and myth. The Maid of Erin represents the plight of her children in bondage, but the pub’s exterior also featured Grattan addressing the Irish Parliament for the final time, O’Connell clutching his Act of Repeal… and several round towers fashioned from cement!

After the Irish House was demolished to make way for Dublin’s new City Council offices, casts were taken of the stuccowork, and eventually found themselves under the guardianship of the Dublin Civic Trust – located today on Castle Street.

St. Valentines Shrine, DublinAs for St. Valentine, he ended up in Dublin after Pope Gregory XVI gifted his relics to the Irish Carmelite, John Spratt, in the 1830s.

Today’s shrine is found in a little alcove to the right of the altar. Above it you’ll find a spiral-bound notebook, into which visitors can write their petitions. “Thank you for helping Natalie and I sort out our troubles,” reads one, with a smiley-face after the name. “I’m never going to let her go. I love her forever and ever.”

On St. Valentine’s Day, the reliquary is placed before the high altar at Whitefriar Street. Couples are welcome to attend a ceremony that includes a blessing of rings in as weird and wonderful a celebration of love as you’re likely to find.

Best of all, it’s just the start of Dublin’s secrets.

Pól Ó'ConghaileSecret Dublin: An Unusual Guide (Jonglez, €17.90) is available to buy or order in all good bookstores, and online at

Pól Ó Conghaile is Irish Travel Writer of the Year. He contributes to National Geographic Traveller, RTE radio & TV, The Irish Independent and Cara Magazine among other media outlets. He is the author of Secret Dublin, and you can read more of his tips, features and discoveries at

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