As the final few minutes of the BBC dramatization of Sally Rooney’s Normal People came to an end I was reminded of the bitter sweet feeling of leaving Dublin behind.
No matter whether it was my own reality of leaving or the end of the amazing Glen Hansard staring film Once, the cliff hanger of each season of Love/Hate or even the end of the Commitments, when you leave Dublin, under almost any circumstance, you leave a bit of you behind to make sure you go back to check in on it.
The end of Normal People made me think again about the wonderful city that Dublin is, how much I missed it and whether these unrequited/unsure love stories set in Dublin could act as a great analogy for how I see Dublin now, from afar, not able to visit and still missing every street and action that the city brings to you as a visitor or a temporary resident; one allowed to interlope for a period of time as I was.
I wondered if I could write my own prayer for Dublin, in the same way that the Beastie Boys created An Open Letter to New York on the album To The 5 Boroughs. I miss the Dublin streets and that way of life and think just maybe it is worth trying to capture the essence of what it means to me. If nothing else maybe it will put to bed the ghosts of the past and set me up for another Dublin adventure one day.
Arriving in Dublin as a new person coming to be part of the city was something I thought I was prepared for! I had done a few visits, you kind of had to with the job I was going to be doing but once there, once really in the city and part of it you realise quickly just how unique a place it is. The people are immediately friendly, secondly suspicious and thirdly tolerating, eventually you may just about win the respect of the Dubliner but only if you are prepared to put the miles in. But, its worth it, put those miles in, because once you are part of the picture in front of you then the acceptance of Dublin will never ever leave your heart.
I knew where not to go, everyone was full of stories of not going to Temple Bar, although in the long run the streets surrounding the tourist hot spot actually proved to be another unique part of the journey. For me the centre of Dublin for my three years there was Dawsons Street, for so many reasons, one of which was number 37, a place that became a bit of a home, a place to hold court, a place to hear others hold court, a place where the darkness, the oddness and the sheer open minded nature to the world made it be my place to be. 37 was my place to check in, in reality not ‘that’ Irish in so many ways and yet the people in there, the way it set about making me love it and the ultimate way it bookended my Ireland story made it the most important landmark in Dublin for me.
The day I got the job and knew I was going to be a resident of the great city I was in 37. After the last interview with a panel of a 100 people (or so it felt), when I was at last let out for good behaviour, I was in 37, after going through the ringer of a process but getting out the other end with the dream job and eating lunch I was in 37…
And then to the other side of the journey, the last night of the last eHealth Innovation week, the last event of seven days of events, of fun, of learning, of making a difference, upstairs in 37 for speed dating with start-ups! You could not write this rite!
But Dublin has so many more streets to explore. For me finding the secrets of Dublin mattered, whether the televisual master piece that is Love/Hate and the streets it portrayed or the hidden(ish) gem that is Fallon and Byrne, a place that would serve you a glass of wine to go with any meal, and one of my best friends tried them, a glass of red to go with breakfast said the Englishman on holiday!
Like London and so many other cities and towns now Dublin loves the secret bar and restaurant, the Italian behind the mirror, the Chinese in a train carriage in a takeaway, the bar behind a bar behind a bar, all were just the essence of life in the city. But there is, I promise more to Dublin than food and drink (but I will come back to those pillars of society!)
The sounds of Dublin still reverberate through my hammer, anvil and stirrup, permanently permeated, another reason to return. Is there any other city in the world where crossing the road safely has been added to by the sound of a speeding up drum beat, you press the button, you wait and then the noise starts, it gets faster and faster to make you move at a road crossing speed, the beat doesn’t allow you to amble across the road in Dublin, it’s a waste of time to be getting from A to B, you need to be there already and be relaxing down on the other side. The Luas is another unique aural pleasure, the near silent noise it makes until it needs to tell you it is there is again uniquely Dublin, full of a secret balance of noise and motion but uniquely a soundtrack to any mobile call on those streets of Dublin.
The vast space of Phoenix Park, the secret ways into Iveagh Gardens and the maze that is the footpaths of St. Stevens Green for me are the open spaces of Dublin, but these are just a few, Dublin is an open city, the widest bridge in Europe, the sounds of the sea birds everywhere you look and the ‘masts’ of Varadkar’s Poolbeg chimneys in the distance you are reminded you are not just in a city but out at sea too!
Dublin is a city where old and new are blown together rather than merging, the beautiful traditional Georgian era door ways on one street can merge into very modern adaptions of the same within a few steps along a street. The Dail Eireann the centre of government since 1922, from every direction you come to the building it feels different, from a different age, the new, the old and what that means in Dublin is clear to see hear and feel no matter which direction you come from.
Like so many cities in Europe the centre of Dublin could be argued over. Is it the old General Post Office still pock marked from 1916, the wonderous buildings at the centre of Trinity College; buildings that imbue learnings and Harry Potter at the same time or is it O’Donoghues Bar on a Friday afternoon, a place where the ‘session’ would be on, both the drinking type and the musical type, to be repeated on the Sunday too come rain, snow and even on the odd sunny day.
The thing with Dublin is nothing is too far away from you no matter where you are, and nothing is too much trouble to make happen wherever you are. If New York holds the title of the city that never sleeps then Dublin could be described as the city that always has one eye open, never asleep or awake always watching and waiting to see what it can do for the best for the people it calls its residents.
To stretch out of Dublin is an adventure too, Malahide, Black Rock, Bray, Dalkey, Clontarf, Howth and Skerries all beautiful towns, seafronts that Dublin simply dwindles into, I think that this is another of the charms of Dublin, it’s a small town in its own right but the connections it has to the nearby beauties enhances still further the way we look at the great city itself. By association to these places Dublin becomes a rural city with absolute beauty as well as a city that matches the dreams of so many.
But ultimately what Dublin has the biggest reputation for is the night out, the amazing drinking locations and restaurants, I can only imagine what 2020 has done to these places and I wish every one of them well because that quirkiness and that absolute passion to do something different and new makes every Dublin night something different. I know Dublin well enough though to think that the restaurant behind the secret mirror, the restaurant up the winding stairs and the restaurants down an alley on the outskirts behind a bush of mulberries will all be able to reinvent themselves again and rise once again to be the kings and queens of a great night time.
Dublin is a place that I will hold dear to me forever, a few words will never do it justice, I laughed the loudest I ever have in Dublin, cried the biggest tears I ever will in Dublin, made the biggest wishes become reality and saw some dreams not come true.
When I left Dublin I buried a piece of me in so many parts of the city as a way to guarantee that I have to come back, not as a sequel but as a re-adventure, I believe in the football manager sentiment of never go back, and yet to see Dublin from afar and check in on her through the strangest of times that 2020 has brought has only meant that longing to introduce a new life in me to an old memory of Dublin is even stronger.
So the inspiration for writing this was two things, the ever wonderful Beastie Boys and their ‘prayer to NYC, it sort of finishes with…
Dear Dublin, I hope you are doing well. I know a lot’s happened and you been through hell. Dear Dublin, this is a love letter to you. To you and how you brought us together. We can’t say enough about all that you do!
I may have substituted the NYC for Dublin though!
The second inspiration was Normal People though, and the end of Normal People is an emotional moment in an emotional year and finishes (this chapter) of the story with;
She closes her eyes. He probably won’t come back, she thinks. Or he will, differently. What they have now they can never have back again. But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain she used to feel, of being unworthy. He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another. You should go, she says, I’ll always be here. You know that.
As I left Dublin she promised me she would always be there for me to go back to, as I sit here in England, a new divided England, a new England on the verge of another loneliness instilled on so many I think of my Dublin and hope with all my heart that she is ok, that she has kept the parts of me I left in her safe keeping well and that one day I will be able to be back with a Dublin spark in my eye!