Dublin City Tours: Meet Alan Swaine

How long have you been a tour guide in Dublin and how exactly did you get into the business?

Dublin City Tours
Alan Swaine, on the left, founder of Dublin City Tours. Photo courtesy of Alan Swaine.

I started tour guiding in 2013. Following my degree at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), I went on to study art and art history education.

After a year of teaching, I felt that I needed to get out of the school system for a bit. I had gone from school to college, more college, and then I was back to school again, but as a teacher.

I always had a passion for history. Even throughout college, it was always something I came back to.

I was talking to a good friend of mine one day and he asked if I would like to do walking tours for him and that was it and when Dublin City Tours was formed. I've never looked back really. This is what I wanted to do.

I like being out, meeting new people with the ability to cater to people's interests. Since then I’ve worked freelance doing mainly tours of Dublin but also tours around Ireland. I particularly liked doing tours in the West of Ireland around the Cliffs of Moher and Galway.

What can a visitor to Dublin expect when they take one of your tours?

I like to show people the hidden parts of the city. A lot of the city's stories are hidden in plain sight so it’s nice for people to come away from my tour feeling like they’ve been let in on a little secret.

Dublin City Tours
The plaque in Dublin that Dublin City Tours founder Alan Swaine likes to bring visitors to. Photo: melfoody, https://www.flickr.com/photos/melfoody/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Things like the Pat Noise plaque, Ireland's very questionable millennium in 1988, and the story of Darkey Kelly.

All of these stories get a laugh but also offer visitors something about the city that not even many locals know about. I like people to come away from my tours feeling like they have a really good overview of our national story while also getting a feel for a vibrant modern city.

Is there a particular facet of history that you like to focus on during your tours?

This changes all the time. I had a huge obsession with 18th-century Dublin for a while. In an era of powdered wigs, the enlightenment, and Handel’s Messiah, Dublin was a playground for the wealthy.

I was big on stories of the Hell Fire Club, the area around Christchurch, known as Hell, and some gritty stories of murder. It just offered such a contrast to what people generally think of when they think of the 1700s.

At the moment, I’m very much interested in the city's sculptures.

Again, it is history hidden in plain sight. Being able to show people the bullets in the O’Connell monument or explain the story of Cú Culainn in the window of the GPO.

Dublin City Tours
The GPO in Dublin. Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland.

They’re all great stories that locals walk by every day. A friend of mine worked in the Dublin Foundry in the 1980s so she helped cast a lot of the statues erected around that time and as a result, she has some great stories from it.

What is the most interesting question that you’ve been asked on a tour?

Do you think Ireland would have eventually become independent through peaceful means and without the Easter Rising?

Dublin City Tours
The history of Ireland is apparent around every corner in Dublin city. Above is a statue of Daniel O'Connell, the “Great Liberator.” Images courtesy of Getty Images and Getty Images Signature.

It’s an interesting question and one that people still debate today. I remember back in 2016 a televised debate around this very subject. Ultimately, we cannot say for sure but Ireland has a complicated history with both pacifist movements and obviously, violent revolutionary movements.

From O’Connell and the Young Irelanders, Home Rule, and the leaders of 1916, right up to the Peace Process and the IRA. The perceived failure of one often seems to be the spark for the other. And so, Ireland has a history of moving between both peace and violence, often at the same time.

What makes your guided tours different from what other tour guides might be offering?

I think my tours offer a few different perspectives of the city. Over the years, I’ve written tours about Irish folklore, architecture, Irish design, sculpture, you name it. Versatility is a big part of it. The tours change depending on who you have with you.

Some people want some in-depth history; others just want some good stories and to find the best pub. I think that’s the fun part of guiding, changing things as you go, to suit your guests so that they have the best experience possible. That’s what’s great about Dublin too. There’s something for everybody.

Tell me about the tours you provide to other parts of the country?

a rock in the ocean County Clare
The beautiful Cliffs of Moher off the coast of Co. Clare. Photo: Mustang_79

The most popular route is still to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway City. It's an incredible day trip but an even better-extended trip. A night in Galway city for me is a must.

However, I have a new tour that I’ve been working on for a while which is an extended trip around medieval Ireland. This tour will bring visitors from early Christian Ireland, the monastery at Glendalough through to the Viking age with an overnight stay in Waterford city, and then an exploration of Ireland after the Norman invasion at Kilkenny.

I haven’t launched it just yet but watch this space, I think it will be a good one.

What makes them different from the tours you offer in Dublin?

The tours outside of Dublin will give you a sense of the island as a whole.

a round tower Dublin City Tours
Reginald's Tower in Waterford. Photo: Mark Wesley, Tourism Ireland.

We can often become Dublin-centric so going to see castles and monastic settlements really puts you into history. Things like Reginald's Tower in Waterford and Kilkenny City really do give you a better idea of medieval Ireland.

Read More: Waterford Treasures Attractions to Discover

What is your favorite tourist attraction in the city?

a cathedral Dublin City Tours
Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin is one of Alan Swaine's favorite destinations to show tourists. Photo: Brian Morrison, Tourism Ireland.

I love the tour of Christ Church Cathedral. It might seem like an obvious choice but it is genuinely one of the most fascinating buildings in the city to visit. Christchurch has been there in some form or another for almost 1,000 years.

I think the highlight of that tour is being able to climb the belfry and ring the bells. It's great to be able to ring the same bells that so many generations of Dubliners have listened to over the years. It has holy relics, Magna Carta, and is the heart of Dublin’s patron saint. It's just great.

skeletons in coffins Dublin City Tours
The mummies in the underground vault of St. Michan's Church in Dublin. Photo: Jennifer Boyer, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferboyer/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Just for the sake of something different, I do love St. Michan's Church. It's not something many people go to visit but is one of the hidden treasures of the city, with its mummies and again, some strange stories of recent grave robberies.

What’s special about Dublin as opposed to other cities across the world?

I think Dublin is special for so many reasons. But honestly, I do think that its people make the city. I’ve traveled quite a bit and I do think that we can often take for granted how friendly our city can be for people.

a man playing a flute Dublin City Tours
A session going on in one of Dublin's Temple Bar pubs during TradFest. Photo courtesy Failte Ireland.

I think it can be quite easy to get talking to locals here and that local connection is what traveling to new places is all about. Music is also a big thing. It's so simple but I have been to other cities where it can be really hard to find a bit of live music. In Dublin, it's seven days a week.

How can visitors to Dublin find out about your guided tours?

The easiest way to contact me is by email at [email protected]. But be sure to follow the Dublin City Tours Instagram page so you’ll get a good feel for the kind of things to expect and even just some funny stories before your visit, in addition to the Facebook page.

Also, I have recently gone back to my teaching roots and set up www.dublinschooltours.com which is aimed at schools and university student groups. If you have large groups of students or know teachers and lecturers bringing a group to the city, it is tailored specifically to those types of groups.

Read more: Dublin on a Budget: 5 Money-Saving Tips to Get You Around Ireland's Capital