Shrieks and ribaldry on the trail of old Zozimus

If yez fancy a stroll through the Dublin of old, where you'll have some good craic, this tour's where it's at

If yez fancy a stroll through the Dublin of old, where you'll have some good craic, this tour's where it's at. Well, this reporter may not be quite the poet Zozimus was but having partaken of the tour, she feels a little closer to the ribaldry his name represents. The "Zozimus experience" is a walking tour of medieval Dublin which describes itself as a "night-time, theatrical walking tour/ ghost tour/street theatre/comedy and circus".

It is centred around the life of Zozimus, or Michael Moran, a charming chancer with a wit to match who was born, bred 'n' buttered in the Liberties around 1794. Blind at the age of two weeks, his handicap proved "an excellent asset to acquire, to have a cutting edge over rivals in the art of begging".

Or so comments Francois Drion, the Irish-born, French-parented, managing director of the tour. "The two talents Zozimus quickly discovered," he says, "were an incredible memory for learning and reciting and a quick fierce wit." These he used to bring in the pennies and slag off the police, thus making himself a beloved character of 19th century Dubs.

The tour takes its guests about some of the back alley-ways and shadowy recesses of our capital. Screams, shocks and heart-stopping jolts punctuate the hour and a half wander as characters variously leap from behind, or alight from above. Bring a hand to hold.


It sets off (almost) nightly from the gates of Dublin Castle at 8.30 p.m. On this particular night we were a group of 22, including Irish, American, German and Australian participants. Major Sirr is loud, rude and dressed in the livery of a 19th century footsoldier, and the first to greet us. Once organised and armed to the teeth with anti-rain weaponry, we are paraded off towards the courtyard.

"Whoooaghhhh!!!" - Zozimus leaps from the first archway. "Whoohgaaaaaay!!!" - and Major Sirr screams with the best of us and scurries away before we have gained any notion of what the hell has just happened. Zozimus, complete with eye patches and sack-cloth garb, quickly nominates one of our number to be his protector for the night. Twenty-six-year-old Rachel Durbin, from Sydney, Australia, becomes his "auld friend, Stoney Pockets". She'll be regularly summoned with a "Stoney! Where are ya?" from the front. The first stop allows a brief glance towards the old Castle prison tower, known as the Wardrobe Tower, whence the only man to escape, we are told, was Red Hugh O'Donnell in 1592. On we troop and another brief stop beneath Red Hugh's first cell for an outline of O'Donnell's escape and how he made for Wicklow once he got through the Dublin traffic.

More whoops of "Aaaargh" and "Jesus, my heart" herald the absailing arrival, from the cell and down the wall, of the bedraggled, crimson-locked man himself.

He scampers away, to the cry from Zozimus that if he's headed for Wicklow he'd be quicker on the DART. There's a lot of this kind of stuff. A lot of startling appearances, a lot of fast humour - and a lot of pretty fascinating history.

From Dublin Castle we progress to the 40 steps of Dean Swift Alley and an anecdote or two on the author of Gulliver's Travels; to Copper Alley behind Lord Edward Street and site of many's a stroll by the young student Bram Stoker; to West Essex and Fishamble Streets - for a quick group rendition of Handel's Messiah on the site where it was first performed - and on towards Christ Church and St Audeon's.

In almost pitch darkness, guided by torchlight, Zozimus leads. Through locked gates and along the old city walls he takes us, up to the old graves - once a hive of activity for body-snatchers: the notorious "sack-'emups". They sold the bodies for medical experiments.

Our friend coughs into his arm and tells us he needs "to be alone" and he crawls slowly away to die. An ethereal Dracula emerges to tell us Zozimus was buried in an unmarked grave in Glasnevin cemetery.

The Count leads us back towards the Civic Office at Wood Quay and finally encourages all to head towards Brogan's pub on Dame Street.

Despite the odd initial comment that Major Sirr was "ridiculous" or the antics "a pain", to a one all judge the Experience to have been "great fun". Many say they will be recommending it. As well as the performance, the laughs and the momentary horror, there is the pleasure of Dublin by night - a sight which few of us take time to linger upon. Wandering through narrow streets, with time to indulge an inclination to actually look at the cobblestones beneath our feet, to take in the balustrades, arches and turrets overhead, to notice that even the Liffey seems to be shimmering in the street - moon? - light, one is struck by how beautiful this city can be.

The Zozimus Experience sets off almost nightly from Dublin Castle, at 8.30 p.m. Cost is £6 per person. Telephone: 01 6618646 or mobile 087 222992.