Friday, November 27, 2009

Dublin, Dubliners and modernity

I've lived in Dublin for two years and I have to say, I don't miss it that much. The famous Irish friendliness is not really a Dublin attraction and is more likely to be found in other parts of Ireland, such as down in the south or west, like Galway and the Aran Islands.

Dublin and Dubliners are very peculiar. I've always been fascinated by the Celtic culture and was definitely disappointed by the lack of character in the Irish capital. In fact, I've only found the common European city, with no particularly striking personality and a strong will to emulate London.

I've ended up in Dublin four years ago because I expatriated with a friend of mine who had been there when she was 14 and has dreamt about it since. When first she went, Temple Bar didn't exist, and her passion stemmed more from the Cliffs of Moher than Dublin itself. But for obvious reasons, it was much handier living in Dublin than on the Cliffs.

The first impact with the city and its inhabitants has been funny, parties almost every night, meeting friends was the easiest of the tasks, a great complicity among foreigners, connected by our common status of expats who, for a reason or the other, shared the same difficulties.

The first thing tourists notice (and how couldn't they) as soon as they arrive in the city centre, is the Spire, a huge metallic, horrendous thing that rests in the middle of O'Connell Street, just before the River Liffey that divides the town into the "rough" North and the "posh" South.

Once overcome the shock of the Spire, tourists are left with a handful of interesting sights to explore, among which are noteworthy the Castle, the (tiny) Writers' Museum, Trinity College, Stephens' Green Park, Joyce House, Guinness Storehouse.

I don't like beer and I'm a major fan of literature and history, but I have to say that among all Dublin attractions, the one that impressed me the most is definitely the Guinness Storehouse: they organise the tour perfectly, and visitors have the opportunity to see how the beer is made and to trace the history of this national pride. At the end of the tour, beer lovers will be pleased to receive a complimentary pint of freshly made Guinness. Definitely, highly recommended (no, this is not a sponsored post).

Seemingly, Temple Bar is the tourism icon. Built in a mock-antique style, it's actually very recent and the best definition for it is "a cluster of pubs". You can also stumble on ethnic, little clothes shops, but besides the street artists, there's not much to see. It's mainly a night-time attraction, but beware: the weekend all pubs are packed, most people are drunk and there is a good chance you'll need to work somebody over in order to reach out the bar and have your pint.

Modern Dublin definitely misses the cheerful atmosphere created by local artists playing traditional music, and is a telling evidence that sacrificing old customs in the name of modernity doesn't always work.


Shannon OD said...

I think you really pinpointed what it feels like to visit Dublin - I know that I had anticipated something much more charming and authentic, but you're right perhaps it's trying to be like London :-) The Guinness tour was one of my favorite Dublin experiences, it's beautifully organized and I loved learning just precisely how it's made!

AngelaCorrias said...

Celtic traditions are charming, that's why I find absurd that they try to emulate another country, and I really don't see the point.

They should have kept their own customs, tourists' experiences would have been much more pleasant, I think...

Matt said...

It sounds like my experience was a lot different from yours - I miss Dublin a lot and I would leave California in a second to go back.

I got nostalgic thinking about that Spire. I remember locals calling it 'The Stiletto In The Ghetto'.

AngelaCorrias said...

Oh, I've never been to California so I can't really draw comparisons, but when I moved to Dublin I had higher expectations, and I definitely preferred other parts of Ireland.

After two years, I thought it was enough :-)

Matt said...

Yeah, I can see your point. I definitely preferred Galway.

One thing I learned is that most everyone thought I was nuts for leaving sunny California. I'd say "But you have castles! And hundreds of years of history! And peet fires!" and on and on.

They'd look at me and say "You can have all that, I'll take the sun and that beach wherever they film Baywatch."

The grass is always greener, I guess :)

AngelaCorrias said...

Well, honestly, having lived two years in Dublin under the rain and other two in London, still under the rain, I don't really understand your enthusiasm in leaving California...
I do understand that you like history and heritage sites, I love it too, but I think everywhere you can find history. In California maybe you don't have castles, but you must have something else that connects you with your past.
Yeah, castles are beautiful, rich in art masterpieces, but think that royal and all sorts of noble families lived in there and usually were built exploiting the poor!
The history of native Americans is very fascinating and I bet California is rich in that.
Besides, if you REALLY want to move somewhere artistic, Italy or France have more than Irelan and can boast also nice weather ;-P

Matt said...

FYI, this back-and-forth inspired me to write a three part write up on what stands out to me in my experience of Historic California. I posted the first part today here : http://www.tinyurl/hangmanstree/

I'll put up the next ones Wednesday and Friday.

Thanks for the inspiration. :)

AngelaCorrias said...

Wow, how flattering! I've always wanted to be a muse ;-)
Going now to read your post!

Quickroute said...

As a Dubliner who abandoned ship many moons ago I totally agree with you. the other parts of Ireland have so much more to offer.

p.s. I used to work in Howth and saw your post on that - loved being there because it was un-Dublin-ish

AngelaCorrias said...

And this is so sad! Celtic tradition must be so fascinating that I just don't understand why Dubliners have preferred to globalise every single aspect. True, other Irish regions are more authentic, I hope they'll keep their original character for longer.

Anonymous said...

Hi Angela,

Sorry to hear that the magic of Dublin is so scarce these days that even in 2 years you didn't manage to find it.

I, like Quickroute, am Irish, a Dubliner, who picked up sticks and left because I could bare to watch by beautiful country go down the tube.

Ireland is a fantastic place, magical even, the land and the people have a special buzz, an energy that I have never been able to fully explain, only feel. However this buzz has disappeared under the heavy wave of materialism and greed that accompanied all the money and rapid development.

As you said, its still visible in some parts of the country - Cork, Galway, the islands, Donegal...but Dublin, my once fantastic and magical Dublin has been "guide-booked" to within an inch of its life, one more designer handbag and it will die.

I left in order to hold on to my Irishness, keep alive in me and hopefully pass it on to my children some day. I can only rely on others who still feel that magic to keep it going. I can only hope that the recession will snap people out of their money driven stupor and remind them what it really means to be Irish.

You said "Celtic traditions are charming, that's why I find absurd that they try to emulate another country, and I really don't see the point." Ireland was very poor for many many many years. The epitome of success was to emmigrate to the US or Canada, get a job and send home money and impressive pictures. I grew up in an Ireland full of people who desperately wanted to live an American life - not struggling to make a living, having a nice car, nice house, nice clothes etc. This is the root of it, and it spiraled out of control when people finally had the money to live this way.

I hope someday Ireland (and Dubliners) will rediscover their magic, then maybe I can say without a doubt that Ireland is the most incredible little island around, maybe then you'll give us a second chance.

AngelaCorrias said...

I understand your point. Since you are Irish, I particularly understand why this "lost" of identity bothers you. Tellingly, however, I'm finding that many Irish people are noticing this trend, and nobody seems to appreciate it. So why not do anything about it?

You are right when you say that people are money-driven, my impression has been that it was a so newly rich country that its inhabitants were not able to deal with money: I could see so many teenagers shopping at expensive brand stores. I think it is always negative for a kid to handle so much money.

"Magic" I think is a very right word for Ireland. I moved to Dublin with a friend of mine, who was completely fascinated by the "magic" Irish traditions she had found ten years earlier, and was nevertheless disappointed in acknowledging a so big change.

When the Irish longed for the American life, I think they dreamt about what they could see in cinemas and tv shows, which was (and is) quite far from real. The two countries were created under different circumstances and went through a completely different history so it doesn't make any sense to emulate each other.

I've heard U2's Bono once say: "The UK? Oh yeah, that little island near Ireland!" - and I thought "That's the spirit!"

Thanks for your great comment, very thought-provoking.

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