We’re Not Gonna Take It: Irish National & Cultural Identity

“What manner of country is this?” you find yourself asking when you live here long enough and spend enough time reading the newspaper, listening to the radio or walking the streets. Political and economic corruption mirrors on the top of society the criminality and drug-pushing that happens on the bottom and everybody in the middle gets a good thrashing for their troubles. Are these the values Ireland as a nation was founded on?

Actually, what values were we founded on? The first few articles in our constitution are about our rights to citizenship and to be a nation, which was itself a novel enough idea when enacted in 1937 although the international tide had already begun to flow heavily against empire at that point, so we were hardly trailblazers. Clearly these articles proclaiming our right to form our own Government and allowing for the eventuality of a united Ireland are an attempt at cutting the ties from the Imperial British rule that we no longer needed, and felt that it was our right now to be governed by men who inhabited the island itself. And yet in a pure example of the true revolutionary spirit we leapt from one ship to the other. The preamble in our constitution actually begins with the lines

“In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions of men and States must be referred”

And continues

“We, the people of ÉireHumbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial”

So already, from the very opening lines of our establishing document do we behold ourselves to the institutions of Christianity, and it’s no great leap to narrow the specific church down to that of Catholicism, the religion of the gallant overthrowers.

As Christopher Hitchens often observed about the Soviet Revolution when asked about why Stalin’s atheism didn’t deserve to be blamed for his atrocities as those committed by the religious owe to their god-given right to rule, the infrastructure for Stalin’s totalitarianism was already in place long before the Communist revolution in that country. The Tsar in Russia was the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and was thus seen as a semi-divine figure, slightly above the status of the pope in Catholicism, so when Stalin came to power he needed only to navigate the already present hierarchy, a thing that can’t be washed away in a single night in October or even in a few generations. That revolution managed to basically effect a complete reshuffling of individuals into the positions the revolution hoped to overthrow. Similarly in Ireland did we jump from the nipple of the British to that of the Vatican, just as today, as a result of our brash and uninspired founding do we find ourselves suckling upon that of Germany.

It’s a kind of disbelief in our own abilities that has led to the continuation of this mindset in Ireland. Here we marvel at the Americans’ propensity to encourage one another in their endeavours, then wonder why the only truly successful people in this country end up leaving and never coming back. We don’t trust anybody whose ideas are not cemented in the doctrines of an already existing institution, and so the frightening liberal ideas that float in from the continent and combat against the status quo upheld by our two centre-right political parties who alternate control of Government are swatted away for their being frighteningly “new” and “idealistic”.

For this reason the amendments to our Constitution have never been so much idealistic and forward-looking as they have been reactions to unavoidable events, like finally doing the job you’re supposed to do because your boss says he’ll fire you if you don’t do it immediately. Perhaps this is a post-colonial hangup experienced by all countries who manage to squeeze their way from under the thumb of Imperial powers, but consider the first amendment to our Constitution, relating to an article dealing with what constitutes a “time of war”, brought in at the outset of the Second World War:

“Extended to conflicts in which the State is not a participant the provision for a state of emergency to secure the public safety and preservation of the State in time of war or armed rebellion”

Against that of another ex-colony:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So after the establishment of the United States in the original articles of their Constitution, the first amendment to that document says that no institution will be respected above any other – where ours gives the Church our solemn oath in its very preamble – and the second amendment basically goes on to say that anyone who tries to force their crap on American citizens will get their heads blown off.

Now we look at the amendments made to our constitution in recent years and we can’t even recognise it any more. What does the inclusion of the Lisbon Treaty entail? What is legal or illegal in Ireland? Where is our sovereignty, our right to rule ourselves by our own will and based on our own traditions? Or is it in fact part of Irish tradition to be ruled from afar?

Who Are You?

So since our glorious economic plane came crashing into the homes and businesses of our good honest citizenship, and as the monied few who could afford things like ejector seats and parachutes slowly glided off over the horizon, where does that leave Ireland? The rabid debate that has played itself out over radio and television and newspapers and the internet ad nauseum has seemed miraculously to miss one key question essential to a coherent argument; where are we going?

It is the same question the British have been asking themselves since the partition of India in 1947, but at least their role as Imperialists and even the heinous human rights violations they committed in their history of colony-hopping is something everybody in that country is aware of. They are seen as a failed empire and whether you detest or love the idea of British multiculturalism, you at least have a well-researched and largely credible basis in history from which to believe whatever you choose to believe.

In Ireland we try to propagate our society on lies and myths. We say things like “it wasn’t the citizens fault the economy collapsed, it was the corrupt bankers and politicians”, when the reality is that a citizen’s duty in a democratic republic is to ensure that the people in charge are doing their job, not to look the other way because the powers that be know to keep you satiated with things like bonuses and mortgages and other such pleasant things to make you feel appreciated.

But this is the latest in a long line of self-delusions, only one of which is our so called “independence” which we’re so proud of but that I don’t personally recall dying for. How can we expect to move forward as a nation without realising what our people were. The myth that we were a constantly rebellious people from the time of the first plantations is pure fiction. The atrocities committed by the British in Ireland in flattening the rebellion in 1798, in the famine in the 1840s, of the Black and Tans leading up to 1916 are all validly acknowledged, but as above stated as historical facts they do more to give the British an identity than they do ourselves. The truth is that despite what today we would consider to be our best interests (preservation of culture and language) the Irish people of the past centuries were largely satisfied with the little corners of the world the planters gave them, perhaps assuming that there wasn’t much point kicking up a fuss about the landowners, sure it’d only make them take away even more of what we own. Does that sound familiar in 2013?

We also are bogged down with a tendency to romanticise figures from our history, while forgetting how unpopular these men who challenged the status quo were in their day. The fate of Charles Stewart Parnell, now with a street named after him in the very centre of the nation’s capital, in his day was pelted with rotten vegetables for disobeying the doctrines of the Catholic church by engaging in an extramarital affair. It was the Irish people themselves who killed the 19th Century’s greatest advocate for Irish Home Rule, and why are we to believe that in today’s society a similar figure would not find himself isolated in this manner for holding views contrary to those of the “people”.

The modern Irish do not have an identity. That is why we so readily take the depressed and fatalistic alcoholism that large sections of society medicate themselves on and turn it into that happy-go-lucky vision of simple “good craic” and “having the bants” that American society loves. It’s the same reason we turn ourselves into a national theme park every 17th of March for the Americans, who invented every aspect of St. Patrick’s Day that is now associated with it. Were there parades in Dublin before there were parades in Chicago or New York? Does the idea of turning a holiday into a money-grabbing venture not strike one as intrinsically American, only the selling of alcohol in large quantities is dangerous, unlike toys on christmas, or chocolate at Easter or cards and flowers on valentines day or sweets on Halloween, so let’s hold this holiday of ours in a foreign country.

We pride ourselves as a cultural society, but whose are the faces that front this so-called cultural identity of ours? Only Joyce, Beckett, Wilde, Shaw, Swift, Stoker, emigrés all, who were so disillusioned and constrained by Irish society that they had to leave for the sake of their creativity and undoubtedly for the sake of their sanity. None wrote more vividly of just how abusive the ideas of the Catholic church were to children than James Joyce, nor how horrifying it is to believe that some twist of fate might send you into an eternity of pain beyond any capable of being felt on earth. Child abuse of the highest order, and this even before paedophile priests became a well-known staple of the establishment.

Won’t Get Fooled Again

What is it we have to look forward to? Further years of self-delusion and myth-making about what a great country we are, or as the atrocities of the British became the atrocities of the Church, will we allow the atrocities of the Church transform themselves into the atrocities of the Austerity State brought on by the bureaucracy of the European puppet-government? Our tendency to roll over for Europe is just another in a long list of Ireland’s masochistic relationships with institutions that are only looking for self-preservation but that the odd pat on the head has convinced us is our big brother looking out for us.

It seems obvious to say that what we need now is a vision to lead us forward, some form of society that doesn’t just pander to international corporations who utilise systems of wage slavery but actual attempts to make Ireland a place we would want to live in, and a place other people would want to live in. And yet the discourse is somehow devoid of this. Every piece of journalism on the matter seems to hint towards getting Ireland back to where it was before the crash, but is this really what we want from our country, a society bloated with too much money and with no soul?

The kind of ideas we need to bring forth a truly independent Ireland are not going to come from the people, because they’ve been educated for the job market – which is still writhing in the violent spasms of death – and don’t care to see beyond the life goals such an education endorses. The mind-set of a nation does not change overnight. What would we have to say to the people of Ireland who existed a hundred years ago, or more, to the people who drove horse-carts or tilled the land? We think with our education and our technology that we are inherently better than those who came before us by virtue of our being born after them, but a peasant with an iPad is still a peasant.

It will take leaders and visionaries to change this country, but as we know such people are historically not welcome here, eventhough they find themselves reared here commonly enough. If we decide to become a country that allows women to get the medical care they need to lift them above their natural susceptibility to having their lives taken from them by an accidental child birth (something no man need ever know), to allow the poorest and most vulnerable in society to have at least a roof over their heads in a city teeming with empty buildings, to educate the young to think for themselves rather than to become cogs in corporate machines, to be a place where multiculturalism and the ideas of others are considered more relevant than those of religious bigots, then we have to make that decision, and not expect somebody else to make it for us.

Dublin Cinema Life: An Adventure

There’s something incredibly romantic about the modern cinema. Yes, the modern one. All feelings of nostalgia are generally directed towards the old battered movie houses that have only a couple of screens but I always loved the many screened cinemas. From the outside they look small and inconspicuous, but when you go inside you are led through a maze of corridors and stairways, trying to imagine how this never-ending Wonderland you’ve found yourself in matches to the simple exterior, before you finally come to the door with your number on it. It makes you slightly uneasy to not know exactly where you are and you wonder where do those doors in the screening rooms with the exit signs over them actually lead to?

When you live in Dublin City and you want to see a film – let’s say any film – a number of considerations must be made. What time of day is it? Who, if anyone, should I bring? How much do I want to spend? What kind of film do I want to see? Do I have plans for after the film? What kind of audience will be there? Why go to the cinema at all? That last seems to me the most easily answered. The idea of shutting out the world completely for 90+ minutes is reason enough, but also specifically in Dublin to know you’ll be walking back out on to a city street when you’re done has a wonderful sense of disruption to it. It’s like for the run-time of that film you completely disengage from the life outside, but when it’s over you’re right back in the middle of it again. Watching a film on a laptop, checking your facebook, your phone, answering the door, trying to ignore the traffic or not look out the window, it’s a completely different experience.

One of my favourite cinema memories is going to see Samsara in the IFI about a year ago. I walked into the cinema at about 10:25am and watched this alien’s eye view of my planet unfold before me, especially the section of the film that shows how food goes from the farm to the fast food restaurant, shot and edited together to make humanity look like a completely unfamiliar race, simply by contextualising all these typical human mechanisms and systems we’ve set up for ourselves. Walking back out into the middle of Dublin after that was bizarre, like being teleported from an observation point in space down amongst the strange and strangely efficient animals I had just been studying. That you can’t get off a laptop screen.

The Plan

Even an adventurer such as yourself needs a plan and you will be seriously punished for not having one, as cinemas are probably the last things left on this earth you absolutely must get to on-time (add time for trailers). If you have evening plans in the city then the Irish Film Institute is the best choice. It has the most exclusively art-house line-up in Dublin and if you are really passionate about the art-form you’ll rarely find a night there without something worth seeing. It also has special events quite frequently including retrospectives and thematic seasons, often showing films on 35mm prints. They also host a free monthly film club called ‘The Critical Take’ where panelists and the audience get to talk about three specific films that screened in the IFI in the previous month, which is a particularly enjoyable way to spend a Wednesday afternoon, especially when something about that pesky art-film you saw last week is still trying to click with you.

There are days in the IFI where you can feel unwanted. It’s nothing tangible and nothing that is the fault of any one person but it’s something to be aware of. I’ve had both my best and one of my worst cinema-going experiences there, the best being a screening of the 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia a screening the pure beauty of which threatened to draw my image as an icon of stony-faced stoicism into disrepute. One of the worst screenings was an even longer film Heaven’s Gate and just before the screening started we were informed the hard drive wasn’t working (digital!) so we spent the next 225 minutes watching a DVD. Some might consider this sacrilege and you’d understand why if you spent nearly four hours watching a film renowned for its beauty completely obscured by blurry images and a sound so flat that you can’t make out large sections of the dialogue. Also this screening took place in Screen 2, which for anyone above, I’d guess, 6 feet in height, is one of the least comfortable places to sit possibly on earth. If I had not been in such a pleasant state of mind at the time things might have gotten ugly.

These are the extremes of the place. I’ve frequented the venue many times and have never had an experience that bad before or since – although during the fire scene in Days of Heaven the screen did go green for about ten minutes (digital again!) – and many that have been above average or very good. The Almodóvar retrospective earlier this year was great and I’ve seen some of my very favourite films of recent times there, films that didn’t show in any other cinema in the city, including About Elly, A Simple Life and Something In The Air. Also those pesky texters who always come late and sit near the front usually get a good tasking from the vigilant punters who do not expect to watch an art-film while being forced to tolerate wayward light-shows from the audience. For the uncomfortableness of Screen 2, Screen 1 always feels like it’s hosting an event, even when you’ve sneaked in for an afternoon screening. In the evenings, due to the cinema’s location right on the edge of Temple Bar, there’s always a great atmosphere in the place. It really is more of an evening cinema eventhough the ticket prices at that time of day do threaten to linger around the €10 mark.

For he who has no plans, and wishes to compose an evening of sensory pleasures then one of the very best things you can do is go to Mulligan’s of Stoneybatter for a beer and a meal, go to the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield for a film and then wind down from that experience with another beer in the Cobblestone, also in Smithfield. After that you will be having such a good night that you will be perfectly willing to freewheel your way back into the city with no specific destination in mind, glad for the cool of the air and the dark of the sky. The Lighthouse gets to boast about being the most comfortable cinema in Dublin, and while it could be considered a subjective thing, objectively it definitely is. The cinema is located in Smithfield which still finds itself in a state of purgatory between renovation and desolation without ever going into either state with much conviction. This has the effect of giving the Lighthouse an eerie stillness at times as, unlike the IFI, it doesn’t often get people coming in just for the coffee.

In terms of price it’s a bit better than the IFI. It’s selection is not as exclusive but they have a wonderfully elastic timetable so some films end up playing there for months that have been long gone from cinemas elsewhere. They also have special seasons from time to time and host event screenings like the GAZE Film Festival and late night screenings of cult films. The long downstairs trek into the cinema’s underground screens is usually decorated by unique art-works celebrating films or sometimes just anything at all. The one draw-back of the Lighthouse is just how far from the city it is. When picking a cinema to attend the 15-20 minutes it can take to get to Smithfield from O’Connell Street might be a deal-breaker, but when you plan your night well you cannot go wrong here.

Down Time

Dublin’s last three big cinemas – excluding the Odeon in Point Village which I’m not yet convinced actually exists – have always felt more suited to day-time excursions, as in you want it to still be light out when you come out of them. Despite this they are very different cinemas. Screen Cinema on Pearse Street/D’Olier Street/No Fixed Address: my last two experiences in that cinema sum up fairly well its flaws and its charms. A screening of What Richard Did, a film that has many moments of quiet and stillness, was disrupted by the intense engine-revving of Drive which was playing in the next screen. This is another one of those great cardinal sins that sometimes get committed by cinemas, that can be enough to turn you off for good, but a more recent sojourn for a screening of Frances Ha was particularly enjoyable. The place smelled bad, like it hadn’t had a good thorough cleaning in a year, but it was incredibly nostalgic for this, like the old small-town cinemas that didn’t have to take care of themselves because they were the only cinema in town and where else were you going to go?

What balls, what attitude, to be placed right behind Trinity College in the city’s very heart and to shrug at the received wisdom of what is and isn’t acceptable for a cinema in 2013. It was wonderful to walk into that old style building in the early afternoon and vanish into the black-and-white world on the screen for 86 short little minutes. No screen-bleeding incidents occurred either and at €6.70 (€5 Monday’s if you have a Student Card) it’s hard to go wrong, but it’s very much a day-time escape cinema, one where you just decide to leap out of the sun for a couple of hours; spending the evening time there is not a particularly endearing idea.

On the complete opposite side of the scale is Cineworld of Parnell Street. It has 17 screens, including a great big hospital room-like IMAX 3-D screen on the very very top of its long spiralling inner tower. It’s films are generally of the more assured popular types, but they also show Bollywood films there quite frequently. Again this is a day-time stop-over, possibly even a rainy day stop-over, where you can stand by the great cylindrical windows on the second floor and watch as the street below is drenched by Dublin’s characteristic rainfall. The early screenings are also appropriate as you can go to Chapter’s Bookshop further down the same street when your film’s over and then wander down the hectic Moore Street and buy some “tobacco” if you’re so inclined.

The great issue with Cineworld is how very expensive it is. Even the early screenings are outrageous but if you are one single adult going to see an IMAX 3-D film after 5pm Monday and Wednesday to Friday you can pay as much as €16.30. That’s before the cost of travel, popcorn (if you are an indulger in such things), drinks, almost a full ten euro more than Screen’s cheapest tickets for the same individual. In the evenings however the place can get quite packed as it’s an inoffensive impersonal venue where you can very much keep to yourself so perhaps popular for dates and the like. Although walking onto Parnell Street late at night is a sad and lonely experience.

The last cinema then is O’Connell Street’s Savoy. There’s not much to say about it really. It’s Screen 1 is the largest in the city, save perhaps the monstrous IMAX 3-D in Cineworld, which is great for losing yourself in a film. The rest of its screens are a bit of a Russian Roulette. One of the screens is about the size of a pre-fab (exaggerating for effect) and when it’s packed, like it was when I went to see Invictus it can be rather uncomfortable. Besides this, the cinema has the most generic selection of films you could think of – often’s the time you’d walk by and not be tempted one iota by the LED sign over its glass doors – and it hosts nearly all the film premieres that come to Dublin. As for time of day, O’Connell Street is a dreary place at the best of times but if you happen to be on a time constraint and it suits both your schedule and the selection of films you want to see then all you have to do is go, and cross your fingers for Screen 1.

Dublin Night Life: A Disease

Picture of Bernard Shaw, used without permission from http://instagram.com/crymonstercry
Picture of Bernard Shaw, used without permission from http://instagram.com/crymonstercry

A particular brain-wave rippled through the pubs of Dublin like a series of minor earthquakes forever reshaping the atmosphere of the city and its most internationally-renowned institutions. Or maybe it travelled with more of an air of paranoia, a great secret whispered in the back pew at Sunday morning mass under the cover of the priest’s monotonous sermonising. However it travelled it’s hard not to disdain the night-club atmosphere that has taken over many of the city’s pubs as I sit trying to communicate my world-view over torrents of digitised sound-waves, present thanks to the keen observation that punters drink more when music is loud.

The traditional Irish pub has always been a vision of quaintness, dark and smoky affairs where segregated groups gossip or proletise in the early hours of the evening only to merge into one large red-faced cyclone by the end of the night, arms around shoulders singing the songs of our grandfathers. By night’s end you’d be goggle-eyed with a head full of smoke, but you’d be well enough to appreciate the classic slapstick as old grey beard Paddy trips over a step at closing time and goes sprawling face first into the street’s only puddle.

Then the more cosmopolitan scenes of holiday destination-esque night clubs started to find their ways to these shores, offering extremely cheap drinks and stereo systems that made your ears ring for days after. These are the places where now you can drink yourself beyond reason, where the closing time spillage consists of nobody to appreciate the spectacle, aimless clowns performing hilarious tricks to no audience.

These are two kinds of drinking houses to be found in Dublin, only polar opposites in the loudness of the music and as the pub exploration expedition I had found myself on had brought us to this venue on Wexford street, the think tank of Dublin pubbery’s grand scheme to pump alcohol through the stereos and into our bellies had had its desired effect; we drank our pints and left.

Prevention

As any savvy city-walker knows there are certain criteria to be obeyed when selecting a place to spend your evenings. Depending on how strict you are these can vary greatly. The easiest method of finding a place to go is through elimination and the first to be eliminated is Dublin’s very own tourist containment area, Temple Bar. The pubs that find themselves located in the centre of this part of the city are strict no-go areas for most Dubliners, and it is also the place most Dubliners will direct tourists to if stopped and asked for directions, regardless of where the tourist wants to go. Dublin City Council’s brief flirtation with the idea of salvaging Temple Bar came to an abrupt end recently when a large “McDonald’s” sign appeared on one of the buildings in the main square, so no ambiguity remains in this area, it’s quite definitely off the list. The odd thrill-seeker might wager a trip to The Porterhouse, just on the edge of Temple Bar, but even the most death-defiant will only risk it before dark.

Harcourt Street is another easily crossed off area of the city, where the venues play host to Ireland’s very own home-bred tourist population. This street is on the extreme end of the above-mentioned nightclub invasion, the philosophy of each of them being not dissimilar to that employed by most totalitarian states. The people exist only to shed their cash into the great dictator’s pockets. He keeps a few wage-slaves about the place to struggle with the nigh-on unconscious over five euro notes and to slip on pools of vomit and shattered glasses as they drag buckets and mops up and down the length and breadth of these zombified cities of the damned.

This isn’t baseless conjecture. For my sins I spent a grand and wasted time in my college days being dragged to these places by my peers. Three memories stand out; first, that of having spent a good thirty minutes wrestling with and climbing over a mass of bodies at the bar, finally coming away with a pristine pint of Guinness. As I set it down on the table before me for a brief moment a body was promptly thrown in front of me, turning my once pristine pint into a splattered mess like everything else in this place. The second was a conversation with a jeans-clad Connacht woman complaining about the short-skirted high-heeled girls who looked unmistakeably like insects as they manoeuvred their way up and down the steps and in between groups of cattle-like men. The third was a conversation with an almost unconscious man on the street outside about whether John Lennon and Jeff Buckley would have made great music if they hadn’t died when they did. The rest of my many trips to these places are an alcoholic blur.

Treatment

You can’t build anything from negatives, eventually you have to deal with the reality of the situation, to take a stand after you’ve crossed off the noisy, the dodgy, the places with the televisions and the corny guy on the guitar. If you decide to avoid the places with only the generic taps on the bar, Heineken, Budweiser, etc. you find yourself more often than not having to compromise. For one all the best music venues in the city have a fairly generic list of beers to choose from. The point being I suppose that craft beer pubs have their “thing” and music venues have their “thing”.

The great unspoken secret is that the these places tend to share a similar crowd. They get labelled “hipster” spots and so are avoided by the general populace. I don’t know where the label came from but it’s incredibly convenient because whatever a hipster might be it is infinitely better than a scumbag or a drunk lout if only for its discretion and seeming invisibility. That said, there is a definite triumvirate of locations that undoubtedly support a regular hipster constituency. Cassidy’s of Westmoreland Street is the centre-most of the three in the city and has the most regular loud recorded music atmosphere of them all. It boasts a large contingency of Trinity students of all walks, not specifically hipsterish and so is the safest for the wary.

As evening falls on Dublin a seating area expands slightly onto the street in front of Cassidy’s. You hold a conversation with someone as the red and white car lights manoeuvre in blurs behind their head and those not fortunate enough to be in a position to enjoy a pint pass by solemnly. They cast their eyes in at the comic book paintings that fill the windows and walls and as you sit there watching them watch you you don’t for a second wish to switch positions with them. The downstairs is quieter than the upstairs, good opportunities for mischief. The last group I was with there assigned dares. One guy took one of the boardgames that are lying around the place and asked a group of strangers to play with him. One of the girls asked him sympathetically if he comes to Cassidy’s alone to play boardgames with people. He was very convincing.

When you go to the toilet in Cassidy’s you wash your hand’s in a white sink completely covered in red spray paint. When you dry your hands the drier tells you “you’re better than you think you are”. The one thing that connects Cassidy’s and the next two venues is that people scribble like mad on the walls. Further down the road and the most “happening” spot is Whelan’s of Wexford Street. Wonderful poems fill the wall of the toilets including a markered in “who brings a marker to Whelan’s?” It’s a pub in front and a great venue in back that a good act can easily transform to their own needs. Upstairs is a smaller venue and a smoking area where you can escape to for a bit of quiet if necessary, that is from the music. Before long the crowds have mobbed and everyone finds themselves shouting to be heard over the shouting.

If you’re very important, as I have sometimes been judged to be and other times not, you can make your away to the up-upstairs part, where the bands hang out before and sometimes after the gigs. The décor is very 1960s, a comfy fireplace stands in the centre of one room with the DJing area just in the corner next to it, playing anything from Hank Williams to Bruce Springsteen. It’s usually a gregarious crowd that congregates here, as I found out the night I was chastised for my youth by a thirty-eight year old singer in a rock band and a forty-two year old Berlin night club owner, with dreadlocks and a strong south London accent. “Travel, stand up straight, don’t care what people think about you, etc.” A bit like your hippy parents trying to get you out of the house.

The final destination is a continuation south through the city to Portobello’s Bernard Shaw. A great picture of Daniel O’Connell with the words EMANCIPATE YOURSELF cut out in large letters greet you as the building comes into view. Without shame or self-consciousness it is the most unabashedly hipsterish venue in the city. A tiny bar area in the opening usually at night needs to be trawled through until you reach another small area done up in a typical night club style. This area is usually deserted, or occupied by first-timers who instinctively go towards the most familiar-looking place. Before the toilets there’s a seating area. The first time I went there they were projecting Sidney Chomet’s L’illusioniste. Before you come to this area however, is the entrance that most people are headed directly for when they come to the Bernard Shaw, that of the smoking area.

Pool tables, improvised seating, pizza on a double-decker bus and a lighting system like a Wong Kar-Wai film are the beginning of describing this area. A great variety of people hang around here. On top of the bus you can look out over the whole venue, which in the naked light of day is really little more than a desolate building site. You can smoke a hookah pipe and eat a pizza and drink a Hoegaarden and it’s all very easy on the senses. On the bus one night we met a Spanish couple and talked about the differences between Irish and Spanish drinking culture. “We usually drink outside,” the man explained, before adding “but we are not knackers.”

Remission

The difference between the nightclubs and the hipster spots are numerous and significant. It’s impossible to speak for everyone but the idea that anyone could be a frequenter of both types of places seems absurd, and that person is undoubtedly a poser or emotionally unstable. Having, at different points in my life, frequented both types, I know first hand the effects of the two. In the first you wake up the following morning, remembering nothing and with an empty wallet. In the second you remember most of what happened, and chances are you will see the people you met there again at some point. As for the places you would actually care to go to Cassidy’s, Whelan’s, and The Bernard Shaw are only three of many. But for the person with a desire for an actual good time without the hassle of exploring Dublin’s many surprises, they’re as safe a bet as you can get.

Ranelagh Chronicler 1

There is a road in Dublin 6. On either side of that road is Ranelagh. Ranelagh is…

…cafés, coffee shops, tea rooms, delis, restaurants, take-aways, bars, pubs, shops, markets, supermarkets, butcheries, off-licenses. It is one taxi rank, one luas stop, one park (slightly overgrown). It’s a Seventh Day Adventist church and the ghost of a Laser Disc store, sadly departed.

But, o so canny reader, I am in no doubt that you have already guessed the direction of this blog post, and I will indeed not disappoint your expectations by saying that these above-listed amenities do not give a true insight into the soul of Ranelagh, for it is the people who inject life into any given place.

Ranelagh truly is the perfect place to people-watch. I have the good fortune to be able sit down between one and three times a day with a freshly prepared meal of my own devising and watch as the faces go by. This activity quickly becomes engrossing, especially when most people do not even think to glance in my direction as I watch them from my kitchen window, fork in-hand performing its dutiful upwards-downwards movements.

After a while you start to notice familiar expressions. Young people carrying backpacks, dragging suitcases, red-faced and sweating, clearly exhausted. Haggard expressions that could be anything from love-sickness to a sore foot, but it’s always fun to try and interpret these transient expressions. Then there’s the less transient-looking expressions, those of the elderly, who don’t wear whatever thoughts happen to be passing through their brains on their faces, but seem to be expressing their entire lives.

A particular grey-haired gentleman I’ve noticed a few times walks by with a hunch, one that looks like a lifetime of keeping his head down and not drawing attention to himself. It certainly started in the classroom, where the other boys would make fun of his overly tidy hair or dangling awkward arms. It probably decided his career for him, hunching in front of a desk, keeping the head below the level of his fellow workers, the joy, or simply non-misery, of not being picked out and regarded. His cheeks sag and drag his mouth into a natural frown, so that you imagine what would make you smile would put his mouth back into the neutral position. He makes his return journey having acquired a tabloid newspaper.

What’s most shocking is the amount of people I know here. My first Monday as I walked into the city I passed by a guy I went to school with, crossing the road. When I returned several hours later he was crossing the road again in the exact same spot. Then a few days later I noticed a brother of a friend cycle by, and when I relayed this fact to another friend the following day another person I went to school with called out to me. And I went to school in Wexford.

Already there’s new familiar faces forming a position in my brain. For one there’s the young romani guy who sits on the ground against the post box and makes a gesture of acknowledgement every time I walk by, by pointing at the sky. I’ve been watching him and he doesn’t do this gesture to anybody else. It’s like our little game, he points, I ignore him and then I smile to myself after I’ve walked past him. It’s a perfect relationship we have.

I’ve really only skimmed the surface of this little suburban corner of Dublin having moved in a mere two and a half weeks ago. I’ve begun to expand my culinary range with help from the local Superquinn and I’ve tasted a rather good macchiato from Nick’s Coffee Company for €1.50 a pop. Also Redmond’s off-license has one of the best beer selections in the city including a whole range of Odell’s which I’ve been advised is “the best”.

So Ranelagh, not exactly a frontier waiting to be explored or a people waiting to be conquered, but an obvious sense of community hangs in the air, so the future here is promising and further exploration and insight is forthcoming.

Dublin, City Absurdia

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“Until you have wasted time in a city, you cannot pretend to know it well.” – Julian Green

“If I can get to the heart of Dublin, I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world.” – James Joyce

It must be impossible to give a true representation of a city in words. Dublin is the city I know best, but my Dublin is not the Dublin of any other person. The tourists have their Dublin, and that is the one they are shown, of Guinness breweries and Oscar Wilde statues that they will remember through a thousand photographs that look exactly like the photos taken by millions before them.

There is the Dublin of the young family, a city where nothing reaches the senses beyond the fabric of the push-chair or the smell of the car-seat. This also by chance is the Dublin of my childhood, where the city itself as I now know it was only a thing that flashed by the car window, the unconnected images of purposeless and nameless sites and buildings and people and parks and piers that still have the narrow smell of plastic footballs and balloons and ice creams.

I also lived in the Dublin of the blow-in college student, eleven years after leaving the city to return as a visitor, rarely breaking the pattern of wandering from college campus to whatever night club was popular at certain times of year or nights in the week and back home again for those quiet weekends when the college campuses were deserted, when that particular Dublin died every weekend.

These are only two Dublins, the two I happened to live in, but what of the Dublin of the African or the American immigrant, the Dublin of the inner-city, where the erroneously labelled “real” Dubliners are said to dwell, the rich man’s Dublin, the busker’s Dublin, the Dublin of police officer or the night nurse, the Dublin of the violent criminal or struggling business man, of the disabled, of the single working mother, or of the hundreds of variations on each of these things.

All of us are Dubliners but many of us don’t inhabit the same city. I know because the Dublin of my childhood was a Dublin of street football and crayons, of ducks and Crash Bandicoot, of discarded crisp packets and arbitrary alliances, but that is not the history of Dublin that you will read elsewhere. It is purely personal and my own, just as those hazy twilit streets that led up to those homogenous night clubs will not be what will be written about when historians or economists write about the city beginning in September 2008.

However, when Julian Green speaks about wasting time in a city he is talking about a different way of viewing the world. My two Dublins were vessels that carried me along, I no more than a passenger drinking in whatever happened to come my way. But during my time in this second Dublin, that of my college years, I took a mid-summer trip to Paris. Spending one’s whole life marching to the beat of someone else’s drum is not something you break away from easily but I had been starting to hear a different rhythm in my own mind before I went to Paris. It seemed to strike like a breeze rather than a thunderbolt when I stood atop the Eiffel Tower, where presumably every non-Parisian to walk the city streets had stood before and, surrounded by champagne flute-wielding tourists and looking out over a cityscape for which the most iconic image couldn’t even be seen, I knew for certain that I did not want to live my entire life as a tourist in this world.

So I wandered Paris, and later I wandered Chicago and Seville. I wandered San Francisco and didn’t make any effort to include a cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge or a trip to Alcatraz, nor did I go out of my way to exclude these things. The city I found was one of cinemas and shopping malls, the restaurants and markets of Chinatown, the relaxed parks where a cautious man with a small freezer bag looked at you from under thick eyebrows and said “beer?”, the streets in which drug addicts lay sprawled out unashamedly and that seemed to go on forever, the bookshops and museums dedicated to the Beats and to Comic Art, Golden Gate Park in which an elderly Japanese man cheerfully greeted every person who walked by him as he did his morning lunges along the path, the timeless fantasy of Haight Street and the policewoman who dutifully put on rubber gloves to guide a rambling topless man out of the middle of the street, and walking shoes in hands into the Pacific Ocean for the first time. That is my San Francisco and it’s one nobody can go and see, like Jack Kerouac’s San Francisco, as soon as everybody knows about it and decides to go and see it it’s already gone.

This is one thing for a city in which you are just passing through, but the idea of treating the city of your birth as a place to explore, outside the confines of what you have known to this point. To not treat it as a tourist where every mundane statue is a thing to be marvelled at, nor as battered down resident where everything is always stagnant and ugly. It is the idea that if you can learn to live in the city of your birth, and live well, you can live anywhere, or perhaps more accurately, that if you spend enough time in your home city to know what you like about it and what you don’t, then if you leave in the future you will know what to look for abroad.

Too often leaving Dublin is looked at as an escape, which I believe is the wrong reason to leave. Like relationships with people, the attraction of living in a certain city can run its course, but if you haven’t taken the time to see what the city has to offer, to know what you need, what you like and dislike about the city, then what good will going away somewhere else do, when you won’t be able to tell if you really like this new city you go to or whether it’s the adrenaline of a change of scenery.

I feel like I am now living in my third Dublin. The things I like about the city are the things I know I would like about any city I live in. One thing that feels essential is that Dublin has a cultural life, where music and poetry and art galleries and cinemas are given a prominent position in society and the city has enough people living here that are passionate about these things. Almost any week in the year you could arrive in Dublin and find a gig worth going to, owing to the great variety of venues from larger ones like the Olympia and Vicar Street to wonderful atmospheric places like Whelan’s on Wexford Street. I could of course visit a city without this – like I did in Seville last year, a city with a beautiful night life but musically very traditional – but I could never live there.

This blog is the document of my life in this Dublin.