WONDERFUL, that’s it, you’ve got the moustache,” I’m being told in that fine Irish accent.
“Welcome to Dublin.”
I am happy. This is my first Guinness tash.
And it’s true – the black stout doesn’t taste half as good without one.
A pint must never be sipped. It needs to be a blend of the creamy head with the dark beer.
For my next lesson, I should try – in one slug – to drink all the way down to the harp emblem on the glass.
I thought the guide was pulling my leg since it was the eve of St Patrick’s Day.
I look into his green eyes and give it a go.
It’s an ordeal and I cover my nose in foam. I’ll take his advice away and practice later.
And so the tour goes on inside the legendary Guinness Storehouse. Having stood for almost 260 years, you’d think the factory would be covered in stains and smelling like a brewery but it doesn’t.
Instead it has a plush entrance where the walls are black and you think it’s filled with mysterious secrets. It’s like a monastery but not irreverent where learning how to pour and drink is all part of the experience.
Once my eyes adjust to the light, I can see that in the portrait of Arthur Guinness, he has that sprightly look in his eyes. And the taste of his Guinness hasn’t changed over time either. We drink to the same stout recipe, this saint-like creator brewed in 1759.
The advertising floor is filled with the company’s most iconic ads including the surfer and horses, which was voted the best television advert of all time by C4 and The Sunday Times.
And just when I couldn’t be impressed anymore, there comes a twist.
Despite its famous black and white branding, Guinness is red.
I wait for the “it’s just a joke” punchline but there was nothing. It wasn’t whispered and no one said not to tell.
As it is my first time in Ireland, I make my way to the seventh-floor Gravity Bar with 360-degree views of the city and tell everyone.
I then sit down to hold my glass up to the light.
It is true. It’s ruby red.
Much later, the 10-century old city had been lit up emerald green for the celebrations ahead. Iconic buildings including Christ Church Cathedral, Trinity College and Government buildings gleam on the skyline.
And “going green” happens across the world with famous landmarks such as the London Eye, Niagara Falls, the Great Wall of China and the Colosseum in Rome joining in the fun.
It’s part of the nostalgic appeal for millions of people especially across the UK and the US to remember their Irish heritage. Dublin is home to just over half a million but during the festival, it swells by 100,000.
Enough drinking practice, I finish my last velvety drop and walk out the huge St. James’s Gate wondering if it gets locked each night with a huge monochrome key.
Prior to Guinness, I had poked around the boutique Little Museum of Dublin which tells the social history and includes a unique display of gold monster munch among other priceless treasures – few locked up behind cabinets. And there’s a room dedicated to rock band U2.
I’d also taken a DoDublin hop-on-hop-off bus tour where the driver announced all the famous Dubliners including playwright Samuel Beckett, singer Sinead O’Connor, playwright Oscar Wilde, author James Joyce and even the Mother Brown’s Boys comedian Brendan O’Carroll. But the fabled St Patrick after whom the festival is named was not included. The earliest records suggest that he arrived in Ireland from England or Wales sometime in the 5th century converting the pagan Celts to Christianity and the rest nobody really knows. The legend goes that he used the Shamrock as a religious symbol and banished all the snakes into the sea where they drowned.
That must be true, because I don’t see any on my brisk walk but that could be because there is drizzle blowing in my eyes.
I stay overnight at Buswells Hotel, a 200-year-old building in the Georgian centre. Dating back to the 1800s, the hotel is one of the oldest in the city and popular with politicians and celebrities.
If you want to stay outside the centre, the Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links on a peninsula has views over Dublin Bay and a rugged sandy beach.
I go to bed with crossed fingers praying for a sunny 17th March.
At breakfast I am greeted with a happy St Patrick’s Day.
To keep me going for the day, I tuck into a feasty Irish breakfast which includes white and black pudding. A clear sign of things to come later on, I think.
Outside, the sky is grey but the pubs are decorated with balloons and the tricolour flutters in the wind.
There are street sellers with their paraphernalia from t-shirts and scarfs to specs and “kiss me, I’m Irish” ties. I pick out a bright green hat with a flirtatious black buckle. The one with the beard makes me look like a Leprechaun gangster.
As I take my place on the main stretch on O’Connell Street, I walk past men in green baby grows, toddlers in orange wigs, and women in ra-ra skirts with shamrocks painted on their faces.
The 500K crowd is a sea of green with people from all over the world.
At about midday we hear the far off sound of drums and in a few moments we can see the parade approaching. The first marchers are soldiers and then comes a burst of music as if the city had been plugged into an electrical current.
For more than an hour we watch 3,000 artists, musicians, acrobats dancers, poets and performers dressed as characters from fairy stories, mythical tribes and pirates.
At this point of the day, still early in the afternoon the celebrations move into the city’s 700 pubs.
Packed with green revellers accessorised with dark pints, I choose Sheenans Bar, which has a great restaurant. They say the colder the country, the warmer the pubs and the Irish stew was a classic.
It is noisy but that means everyone’s having a good time.
Keeping with tradition, I order a black and white pint and I manage a tash every time.
Perhaps I am Irish after all.
At least for today. To be sure.