Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Dublin reviewed

Dublin is the centrepiece of one of Europe's great success stories: attracting vast amounts of tourists, of whom we were two. We stayed at the Isaacs Hostel which was conveniently very close to the bus link to the airport. There are probably more pleasant places for toilets - if you end up on the floor with no locks on the showers, go hunting for the lockable ones - but the rooms were nice. Dublin is small and easy to get to know quickly, we frequently gravitated to Westmorland Street and enjoyed chinese, fish & chips (Beshoff's, apparently started by a survivor of the Potemkin mutiny) and music with Guinness at O'Sullivans. The chips are more expensive than even London, this is probably a consequence of euro-rounding-up. You can get delicious crepes at the Lemon Jelly cafe in Temple Bar and the Winding Stairway Cafe on the Liffey.

The small Rough Guide was a great way to get around the city, especially as a guide to restaurants and cafes which can get quite expensive. It also has very good profiles of the Irish heroes constantly referred to in statues and streetnames; reminders of British badness are everywhere, although it is by no means an unfriendly place to us ex-rulers. Its descriptions of bars or restaurants as 'packed' were generally wrong.

The Joyce industry is in full swing at the moment with the hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday and there is a very good exhibition at the National Library which we came across only upon discovering that the museum is closed on Mondays. It has all the Ulysses goodies you could hope to see but could never afford to touch - you are sternly warned at the door that no photography or recording will be tolerated. It has a great reconstruction of Joyce's room and the most remarkable draft notebooks, covered in crayon and random scrawls.

Dublin seems to be a city obsessed with history, and it certainly has a fascinating heritage. However, it is a heritage formed relatively recently: consider the contradictions in three of its focal points, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and the Easter Rising of 1916. Joyce's Ulysses was banned for years and he considered himself an exile from Dublin although he continued to write about it, Wilde's father did far more for the city than Oscar, who would have been even more unwelcome in Dublin than he was in London by the end of his life. 1916 was considered an outrage by most Dubliners, twice as many citizens than fighters died in the Easter Rising and the protagonists were jeered as they were taken away from the post office, only being brought back into the public heart after their execution by the British, as ever keen to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (as someone else once said).

But while the cultural domination of nationalist history may seem exclusive to some of the people now trying to assimilate into the growing city (I hope it doesn't, it is a very welcoming place), it is still an outlooking city: EU flags are everywhere. The Irish have managed to intergrate their own distinct identity with involvement in Europe in a way that the British, still insecure and embarrassed by our identity, are failing to do.

How are they getting on with the smoking ban, the curious have asked. Well, for a city even more into its pubs than Britain, very well. The pubs definitely had a more pleasant atmosphere although enclosed beer gardens are a bit, well, smoky and so are the doorways. But I heard very little griping about it, even when it rained, and the example should be enough to convert Britain to the experiment. Sorry Lila.

Finally, a recommendation for the Guinness Storehouse: it's great. You get a free Guinness in the entry price and four floors of unashamed, entertaining propaganda for the black stuff. The site smells of malt too, which is rather lovely.

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