In Dublin’s Fair City
I have always thought of Dublin as big-city sort of squished into a small village, or a village steadily morphing into a city. Everything downtown is walkable, as really, nothing seems to be that far away. Even the countryside, clearly visible through a forest of cranes, is just a few minutes out of town.
Today, it’s a truly booming, cosmopolitan capital fueled in part by a recent influx of immigrants and millions of tourists (most of whom seem desperate to try and claim any potential Irish ancestry) who have brought their energy and ideas and infused a multi-layered city with a mélange of new, bold flavours and a riot of vivid colours.
Then of course, there are the Dubliners.
If I thought the Irish from West Cork were garrulous, delightful and witty, these city folk seem to be all of that and then some. They’re a wonderfully charismatic bunch whose demeanour is instantly compelling and altogether infectious.
It’s a pretty odd place, but what it does have in spades is a magnetic charm even though its architecture is nothing particularly special. The capital of Ireland seems to be a place where one doesn’t much care about buildings as one 'feels' the city, osmosis like, through its people.
It’s the height of ‘summer’ (a term certainly open to interpretation) and the weak sunshine seems to be the trigger for the population to indulge in what they do best: to have bucket loads of fun.
There are endless streets of bars and pubs, each one decorated in their own style complete, no doubt, with an elaborate story of its history and even if it’s not true, you should simply trust in what you’ve been told and go with it.
I have always thought that Russians could drink, but in Dublin, people start drinking in the morning and, by evening the streets around Temple Bar are akin to attending a giant festival, celebrating…well, anything you like.
Walking around Dublin you get the feeling that here is a place champing at the bit, eager to be galloping wildly into the future yet finding itself locked into its troubled past.
The 1916 ‘Easter Uprising,’ often referred to as “Bloody Easter,” is a landmark chapter in Irish history and no matter how young or old you are the date is part of every Dubliner’s collective conscience. Poorly planned and executed, the drive to rid themselves from the tyrannical British was a spectacular failure.
Reminders of the infamous date pop up right across the city, whether it be graffiti, festooned across walls of side alleys or the bullet holes plainly visible on the columns of the Central Post Office, worn almost like a badge of pride.
Relations with the U.K have never been particularly cordial as demonstrated in 1966 by the blowing up of Nelson’s Pillar, a large granite column topped by a statue of Horatio Nelson built in the centre of what was then Sackville Street (later renamed O'Connell Street), a loathed symbol of Britain’s arrogance.
The Irish, bless them, replaced the contentious monument with a four million pound, 120-meter tall stainless steel spike that now rises in the centre of the city symbolizing, well, no one is entirely sure. However, this structure has attracted some wonderful nicknames; The Spire in Mire, the Stiletto in the Ghetto or the Stiffy by the Liffey.
Ireland’s most prestigious university, Trinity College, is a wonderful, 16th-century walled a bucolic retreat right in the heart of the city. Ambling about its cobbled squares, it’s easy for one to imagine all those men, for they were only men until 1904, who came equipped with a passion for philosophy, letters and science and an endearing love of Ireland. The walk to the college is delightful as many of the streets are peppered with statues of some of its most famous writers: Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and W.B Yeats seem to greet you around every corner.
Dublin is almost tailor-made for tourism and thus, no visit would be complete without a visit to the town’s most popular destination, that pays homage to the city’s greatest export.
A huge storehouse, at the entrance to the 26-hectare brewery that still inhabits an astounding 26 hectares of the city,
was re-designed to replicate a frothy pint of Guinness.
The building is spread across seven floors and a slick multimedia presentation guides visitors through everything they need to know about the history and the manufacturing process of the ‘Black Stuff” before they get to taste the brew in the top-floor Gravity Bar, with its panoramic views across the city and beyond.
It’s a Guinness floor show extravaganza spread over 1.6 hectares of floor space filled with sophisticated audiovisual and interactive displays. A subject close to my heart was the extensive exhibit on the company's incredibly successful history of advertising. The sheer brilliance of the campaigns is a reminder that, for all the talk of mysticism and brewing magic, it's all really about marketing and manipulation.
After all, it's just stout.
Founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759, the operation expanded down to the Liffey River and across both sides of the street; it had its own railway where small trains trundled through a giant gate that stretched across St James's St, hence the brewery's proper name, St James’s Gate Brewery.
By the 1930s, it employed some 5000 workers and became the biggest employer in the city with the brewer buying hundreds of cottages simply to house the steady stream of workers. Today, technology and automation have reduced the workforce to around 600, producing 2.5 million pints of stout every day.
When you finally get a pint in your hand and let the creamy, silky froth pass your lips in the vertiginous heights of the Gravity Bar you do realize that it is one of the best drinks in the world.
When its time to leave the city you depart knowing that you have left a little of your heart behind, even though, after frantically searching I found not a shred of evidence that I am in any way of Irish.
Photography copyright Paul v Walters & E. J. Lenahan
Dublin August 2019
Paul v Walters is the author of several best selling novels. When not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali, he scribbles for several international and vox pop journals,