‘I don’t go to mass, have never voted Fianna Fáil and have never been to a GAA match,’ a journalist from the south of the city proudly remarked to me
The bric-a-brac Dublin skyline holds no place in Ed Power’s heart
After attending the Cork-Waterford All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Croke Park recently, my son and I went for pizza. We found a restaurant just off O’Connell Street and sat munching on high stools by the open door as outside the world ambled past. The proprietor was a wrinkled little man toiling beneath an outsize baseball hat; the clientele a mix of tourists and match-goers. The late summer air was untroubled by the whinny of Dublin accents.
If only it could be like this all the time, I thought – Dublin minus the Dubliners. Among non-Irish Dubliners, this is not a controversial opinion. Of my circle of acquaintances who relocated to the capital (and now mostly live in the endless purgatorial exurbia of Kildare/Meath/Louth), few have time for the Dear Dirty Dublin routine the city presses in your face, like a movie henchman trying to overpower you with a chloroform-soaked rag.
The veneration accorded to Guinness and Bewley’s baffles us. We are flummoxed by Dublin GAA fans’s karaoke appropriation of English soccer supporter culture, stumped as to why the bric-a-brac skyline has not been consigned to history and modern skyscrapers allowed take its place.
This isn’t entirely Dublin’s fault. All capitals are a world apart. And Dublin has impressively transformed across the past quarter century, from monochrome backwater to the second tier of European cities. Even with the absurd height restrictions, the docklands has one gleaming foot in the future. With a throng streaming in each direction, on a good day the city centre exudes an electric hum. There is a Starbucks on every corner, a burrito joint always at your elbow.
These are the big city signifiers the rest of us genuinely pine for when required to slope back to our poke-holes of origin. Still, though we may live among Dubliners we don’t want to be like them. One of the most insightful observations in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, Stefanie Preissner’s tragicomic account of two Cork 20-somethings in the capital, was that internal emigres can happily embrace Dublin while holding actual Dubliners at arm’s length. Certainly all the friends I have made in Dublin have been from outside the city. When we interact with natives we find them not quite like the rest of us – Irish but with an asterisk.
“Cultural cringe” was something I had read about but never understood until moving to Dublin. A colleague once proudly boasted that “Dubs” were more sophisticated because they’d had BBC and ITV when the rest of the country suffered the stony-grey monotony of RTÉ One and Two. Evidently childhood exposure to Tiswas and George and Zippy from Rainbow is what had elevated Dubliners above the rest of us. Experience has taught me his was not an isolated opinion.
Related to this is the Dubliner tendency to conflate the GAA with hardline Catholicism and rural gombeenism. “I don’t go to mass, have never voted Fianna Fáil and have never been to a GAA match,” a journalist from the south of the city proudly remarked to me once. She read The Guardian (or at least carried it around under the arm), could quote Charlie Brooker by heart and spoke with one of those American twangs it was fashionable to lampoon in the late Nineties but which we now have to a accept as a functioning part of our reality.
That it was possible to take an active interest in hurling and football – “soccer” being the correct name for the 11-man game in an Irish context – without having first attended a novena and/or stuffed a brown envelope through a county councillor’s letterbox was a possibility she was unwilling to contemplate. Disdain for the GAA was a badge of sophistication.
Such mild scoffing is usually just the start. Anyone from outside Dublin will have had that conversation with a local where you casually mention a big GAA game only to be slapped down. ”Stick fighting – no thanks,” another former colleague once winced, as I brought up the upcoming All-Ireland final. This was over lunch and he said it with more of an edge than was appropriate. All joking aside – he wasn’t joking.
Even when Dubliners get behind the GAA they invariably make a mess of it. With its chants and its boos, Hill 16 is a bad cover version of Merseyside’s The Kop or Manchester United’s Stretford End. And though it’s heartening to know grown men can retain their ability to play make-believe into adulthood, going to a game against the Dubs is always mildly discombobulating – as if one set of fans has by accident turned up at the wrong sport and in the wrong country.
Then there’s the bizarre superiority radiated by graduates of Trinity and UCD, two thumpingly average universities by international standards. In the case of Trinity, especially, the delusion has somehow been perpetuated that there is an Irish Oxbridge/Ivy League – and that Trinity is it.
“Going to UCC you wouldn’t have had graduation ceremonies in Latin,” a Trinity-goer remarked to me once. When I insisted that UCC indeed held graduations in the language, he glared as though I was making it up. It was important for him to believe that outside of Dublin, university graduates receive their parchments wearing farm overalls.
When you first move to Dublin, it’s easy to brush off these parochial quirks. They are as easily side-stepped as Bewley’s, Moore Street or those dreadful pubs where they always have 10 pints of the local swill pre-poured. But as you settle down and have children the outlook becomes more complicated. To live among Dubliners is one thing. But to bring up your own mini Dubs? That is a leap many of us are reluctant to make.
“My kids will be from Dublin and I just have to accept that,” a friend from Limerick once told me, shaking his head ruefully. “There’s nothing I can do about it. They’ll be Dubs and it won’t change.”
The happy ending for me at least is that soaring house prices left me with no choice but to eventually leave. For the past 15 years I’ve lived in the commuting nether regions of north Kildare. When my wife and I made the move, I feared I was settling for a discount Dublin (the accents seemed close enough).
Thankfully not – Kildare has the qualities of Irishness (chiefly an unselfconsciousness about being Irish) that I missed in Dublin and it’s where I’m happy to raise my kids. Following our pizza, my son and I took the train to Maynooth. As the tumbledown skyline sank into the horizon, I was glad to call somewhere else home.