As someone who seeks the charm in what many people call ordinary and boring, I have had Dublin on the top of my list for quite some time. Therefore, when I met Dónal in Brussels in 2011, I knew I had to use him as my gateway to the green island.
Dónal is an Irish European. His heart – as mine – beats for Europe and we seem inclined to share a lot of hopes for the future on a continent which at present is experiencing a most devastating crisis, loosing generations of young people to unemployment and despair. We also disagree in many respects, but what I like about Dónal – and what I realised was very much an Irish thing – is that the passion lies in the discussion. We might disagree on some issues, but rather than stop our acquaintance from evolving into friendship, it becomes the very basis of it.
I am sure it is also mostly thanks to Dónal and his roommates that I left the island with a feeling that my vacation had been perfect. Well them and the fact that I was so lucky to be one of the few people to experience days of sunshine in the Connemara, where the sun is only seen 20 days each summer while the rain makes its presence known 250 days a year. But for now I’ll focus on Dublin and how completely I fell in love with that city.
I think it is safe to say that I have fallen in love with quite a few places during my travels through Europe. But never have I felt so much at home. To stay in the relationship metaphor, I met the guy I want to marry. All the others have been flings, lovers that I miss, memories of amazing times, but Dublin is more than that. It is the knight in shining armour, promising me to live happily ever after. While I will attempt to explain what it is about Dublin that makes my heart beat faster, I am aware how difficult it is to explain that feeling of just knowing that this is the one.
Get me to the first whiskey bar…
I arrived in Dublin after a prolonged journey. I had left work early to get to the airport directly, but while waiting in line it became apparent that I wouldn’t have needed to leave so early. Apparently, one of the cabin crew members at least had not felt inclined to come at the scheduled time, leaving all of the passengers trapped in the small gate, since for safety reasons all cabin crew has to be on board when boarding.
An hour later and no crew member, the airline company decided to steal another crew member from a later departure, thus placing the problem on someone else. At this time the very “charming” group of Swedish guys in their 30s and 40s who had spent the hour laughing and singing had become so irreparably drunk and smelling so much of stale liquor that I, who was unfortunate enough to sit in front of them, couldn’t breath without the sour smell overpowering me throughout the duration of the flight.
Thank God, the destination was Dublin, because exiting that plane all I could think about was fresh air and a pint of cold beer. Readying myself for my first pint on the green island, I spent the 25 minute ride by coach into the centre expectantly looking out the window trying to spot an actual Irish pub. However, I had no luck spotting any Guinness signs and began to ponder that the rumours of Irish pubs in Ireland were a hoax.
Thankfully it wasn’t. From getting off the bus near the College Green, it took no longer than a few seconds to notice that Ireland sure enough has Irish pubs. And as soon as Dónal and I had greeted each other, we were heading for my first taste of Dublin. My first evening in Dublin ended with visits to three of Dónal’s favourite pubs as well as a first introduction to his room-mate Micheal – and yes that is the right spelling.
Dublin, the city
Dublin surprised me a lot. One of the reasons was that though the city is full of beautiful red brick houses and some of them have an almost unnatural crimson colour, the city can also boast quite a collection of magnificent Georgian houses adorning both the north and the south side of the river Liffey.
While the houses are beautiful as they stand row after row, it is the doors which have become a well-known trademark for Dublin, as they are painted in all the bright colours of the rainbow. As always I couldn’t help wonder how this tradition began, and thought I’d share it with you.
Many of the tales relating to the custom of colouring your door stems from the fact that there were strict architectural rules regarding the building of Georgian houses, leaving only a few options for those who wanted or needed their house to stand out.
One of these was the colouring of doors, while other options could be the addition of ornate door-knockers and wrought iron boot scrapers as well as the creation of elegant fanlights above.
One of the more popular stories tells that the women of Dublin were sick and tired of their men mistaking the house when they returned late at night as it often also meant that they mistook the bed. It was thus the women of Dublin who decided to paint their doors as beacons for their drunken husbands as they walked home from the pub.
Another story claims that it was Dublin writer George Moore, who was tired of his neighbour and fellow writer Oliver St. John Gogarty always banging on the wrong door when he returned drunk at night. He thus painted his door a screaming green whereafter Gogarty retaliated by painting his a blazing red. No matter who initiated it, there is a lot to suggest that the colouring of the doors relate to the uniformity of Georgian houses.
According to another story the colourful doors of Dublin came about as a protest against British rule – as all other things Irish. When Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria demanded that all doors throughout the empire should be coloured black as a sign of mourning for her late husband. In Ireland this resulted in doors turning all the colours of the rainbow – all except black.
With my camera and a bit of a hangover, Dónal and I walked through the streets of Dublin, eating brunch and enjoying the hustle and bustle. While he, unlike me, is not a historian, Dónal did know a surprising amount of tales relating to the names of pubs and who frequents them.
For instance, The Bleeding Horse on Upper Camden Street, which is one of Dublin’s eldest pubs is named such because it is told that a horse fleeing the Battle of Rathmines in 1649 was bleeding as it ran all the way to the spot where the pub is now standing.
He could tell me what types of people frequented what pubs and clubs and in general had a strong understanding of the ups and downs of Dublin. Should I return, I will know where the wanna-be famous go, where the prime minister hangs out and in which little coffee-shop a group of elders spend all Saturday reading from and discussing the works of James Joyce. At the same time his roommate Micheal could inform me why it was called Merrion Square or Grattan St. or how there apparently are more taxies in Dublin than New York City. Amongst the two of them and their third roommate Gilly, I was in good hands.
…and the people
Perhaps my love for Dublin is rooted in the warmth of the people I have met here. Unlike Danes who are often a tad withdrawn and can seem cold and closed off to the foreign eye, the Irish are a very chatty people. Both in Dublin and on the West coast it seems that you are forced into happy chatter everywhere you go. To a Dane it can be overwhelming as it pulls us out of our little box and away from our own issues and into the enjoyment of the busy life around us.
Often I find myself walking around in my own thoughts, not prone to notice things around me. I might be tired from travelling or working, I might have issues to think endlessly about, I might just want to get home to see the next episode of The Killing or Borgen.
In Ireland, stopping on the way for a coffee, wherever my thoughts might be I will be dragged out of it and into pleasant conversations loaded with a tint of Irish humour and laughter.
It is very difficult to just feel on the low side in Ireland, because at any moment some friendly person will come along and make you laugh or smile or blush or throw you into an interesting discussion. I like it.
I began by describing how I have always connected Dublin to an image of the 80’s and working class life with The Commitments and U2 as my main reference points. And sure the feeling lingers. The red brick buildings, the working class passages which run parallel to the main walk fares. The fact that 30 metres from the busy Temple Bar street, you can encounter heroin addicts shooting themselves in the knee, indifferent to the people walking past.
But Dublin has evolved in the last 30 years and several people I met underlined how even during the most severe economic crisis in Europe since the 30’s, the feeling in Dublin is one of optimism and comparably much better than it was in the 80’s.
While corruption and incompetence is still an issue, things are looking brighter than they have for a long time and for the Irish who have gone through famine and war, colonialism and civil war, an economic crisis is not enough to darken the general feeling of progress as they are stepping out of the Dark Ages.