Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Ha'penny bridge

A lot of cities around the world have a "one city, one book" program. Unlike in most cities, however, in Dublin, you see this book everywhere. It is on posters advertising the initiative and in the front of bookstore windows, but most tellingly, it is in the hands of countless people on public transportation. Dubliners like to read, and this year, they're reading James Joyce's Dubliners.

My street in Glasnevin.

"The Dubliners" is also the name of what might be Ireland's most popular traditional music group. Dubliners is a book, a band, and most people walking the streets outside my window. For a few weeks, I'm joining them. I'll be in Dublin for two weeks before heading up to Belfast on April 30th (after that comes Galway).

I've spent the last few days getting acclimated; visiting tourist sites and learning the bus system and all of those other processes and errands that manage to fill my first few days in a new place. Now that I've gotten the lay of the land a bit, I think I'm managing to find my favorite hidden places to return to and have decided to ignore a lot of the tourist sites. This might be because at this point in the year, museums and old churches have lost their appeal a bit, but mostly because of the price tag. Ireland is an expensive place to be (despite its economic woes), and I'm having to make some hard choices. I don't think Iceland will be much better, and it's a bit sad to me that I left my two most expensive countries to this point in the year, when my budget is rapidly diminishing. Things are fine, but I'm having to make some tough choices (Is seeing a page of the Book of Kells really worth 9 euros?)

Trinity College
Christ Church
Ha'penny bridge
Bachelor's Walk
Henry Street
Dublin Castle
St. Stephen's Green
St. Patrick's Cathedral

I'm lucky that nooks and crannies are easy to discover in Dublin, and I'm learning that sometimes the places you would expect to be the least interesting have the best stories. It's a very compact city and I can walk pretty much everywhere I want to go. I'm staying in Glasnevin which is on the outskirts of the city and is home to Dublin's biggest cemetery. I took a tour of the cemetery the other day which gave me a thorough historical perspective on Dublin by an elderly man who said things like, "He was a lad of eighteen summers before he was hanged in the war..."

To get oriented, I also succumbed to doing a walking tour of the city. It ended up being a one-on-one tour in the rain, by a guide who was enthusiastic and undaunted. She asked what I was researching and ended up giving me a pretty comprehensive tour of Dublin names. She epitomized the stereotype of Irish friendliness, and I'm finding that most people here do. Conversations tend to be peppered with "love" and "dearie", with a fair amount of congenial swearing thrown in for balance.

People here like to talk and their city is made up of stories. There's the Irish revolutionary named George King who was captured by the British during the Easter Rising and was told to give them his last name first. He obediently told them he was "King George," a name that didn't make the British particularly happy. I like this story mainly because every Dubliner who has told it to me has laughed hysterically in the telling of it.

I learned the story of the Dolls' Hopsital, which was a Dublin institution for over fifty years and then, due to the poor economy, was going to close last year because it couldn't afford rent. Dubliners who had grown up taking their teddy bears and dollhouses there for repair raised enough money to move it to a new location and keep it open.

There is the story of the Italian immigrant in the George St. Arcaade this morning. I bought a loaf of bread from her and found a new friend. There are stories of Viking histories, and buskers playing fiddles and Davy Byrnes for a gorgonzola sandwich.

For an English Major, my lack of knowledge of Joyce is embarrassing. To remedy this, I have joined the ranks of Dubliners reading Dubliners and am going to Glasnevin cemetery next week for a lecture and reenactment of one of the stories that was based there. Because I'm a dork. And it's free. (You can take the girl out of Swarthmore but you can't take the Swarthmore out of the girl).

I'm waiting to hear back from a few people to set up some interviews and discussions about Irish names, but in the meantime, I'm perfectly content with these nooks and crannies; with being a temporary Dubliner.

*Apologies that most of the photos above aren't terribly pretty. Ireland's gray skies & rainy nature have not been as photogenic as I would have hoped.

1 comment:

  1. I commented on one your posts about your famous relative :) before, and have only just seen your reply! Sorry we didn't get to cross paths in London, the rest of your trip and going on to Zambia has seemed amazing, and I hope you enjoy Ireland and Iceland!
    Shame you happen to be in Ireland in the rainiest month of the year haha, but I'm sure you'll enjoy it anyway. The Catholic/Protestant name differences should be pretty interesting, esp in Belfast!
    Good luck with the rest of your travels!
    Cleo x