CELTIC CHARM: the Long Room in Trinity College Dublin's Old Library.
Chris Hill/National Geographic Stock
The shift began in the late 1960s, when Myrtle and Ivan Allen launched a local-food movement from their County Cork inn and restaurant, inspiring Irish farmers to produce better goods. That, in turn, inspired chefs like Clarke to showcase what can come from that Irish farmland and to connect with the people who work the land — or the sea. Today, he knows almost all of his suppliers personally — down to the fisherman who reeled in some monkfish off the Dublin coast that’s on the menu the night I visit. “It’s very good,” Clarke promises.

It’s also, as the Irish say, “quite dear,” an adorable phrase meaning “expensive.” But, as Americans say, you get what you pay for. And at L’Ecrivain, you get complex dishes that are at once avant-garde and traditionally Irish, like grass-fed lamb with a seaweed tapenade or the stupefyingly good Guinness-and-treacle bread.

CELTIC CHARM: The Temple Bar in the Temple Bar Cultural Quarter.
Holger Leue/Getty Images
Most Dublin restaurants here aren’t cooking at L’Ecrivain’s level but, to my shock, there are many excellent meals to be found. Clarke’s advice: Seek out eateries that, like his, celebrate Irish farmers, fishers and ranchers. “Provenance is the key,” he says.

The next morning, I have breakfast with Helen Kelly, a leading genealogist in Dublin. Kelly has put hundreds of people on the path to uncovering their Irish roots and has been especially busy in 2013, which tourism officials have dubbed “The Gathering” — a yearlong effort to get local communities all over Ireland to reach out to Irish émigré families all over the world.

As far as I know, the folks in County Tipperary haven’t sent me an invitation, but that’s probably because, until my meeting with Kelly, I thought my Irish ancestors came from County Cork. After Kelly inspires me to do a little digging, I discover my family was actually from Tipperary. Coincidentally, this was also the ancestral home of the man who founded Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel in 1824. And Kelly, who is the Shelbourne’s “genealogy butler,” says I must visit the Shelbourne’s Horseshoe Bar, which has been serving drinks since the 1870s. “That’s where the beautiful people are,” she says.

The night I visit, the bar crowd is indeed fetching. But, then, as I’m sampling from the bar’s well-crafted cocktail list, I’m surrounded by three native Dubliners who aren’t quite so easy on the eyes: Uncle Ray and his nephews, Donal and Tomas. At least, I think it’s Tomas. It might be Seamus. The nephews, both in their 50s, introduce themselves in heavy Irish accents that have been soaked with several pints of something. “We’re havin’ a wake,” Tomas/Seamus says — Uncle Ray buried his wife just the day before.

Tomorrow, Tomas/Seamus heads back to Rochester, N.Y., where he’s lived for the past several years. “My brother, the rich American,” Donal jabs. “He’s got to live there so he can have a fancy car and fancy house.” If that seems an impolite thing to say at a wake, well, it gets much worse. Unprintably worse. For an hour, the brothers hurl insults at each other and at Uncle Ray, who occasionally bursts into song.