The author finds that Dubliners are as warm as Irish coffee.
“We call it the spike with the light,” said the chatty pedestrian as we walked down O’Connell Street in the heart of Dublin, looking up at the impressive 120-ft metallic structure, a steady glow emanating from its tip. The ‘Spire of Light’ was constructed on the spot where Nelson’s Pillar had stood until an IRA bomb destroyed it in 1966.
“And if you walk straight down this road,” continued her enthusiastic companion, “You’ll see the tart with the cart!” She was referring to Molly Malone, the Irish lass — fishmonger by day and prostitute by night. “And down this way you’ll see Floozy in the Jacuzzi!” She’s quite irrepressible, our friend, but true enough, we walk up the road and there is the statue of Anna Livia, who represents the River Liffy that runs through the centre of Dublin city.
Yes, Dublin’s a friendly city. The cheerful flower boxes that mark most pubs and festoon the lampposts along most streets make up for the often-grey sky, and the frequent rainclouds are made up for by the friendliness that marks even the most casual street-side encounter. You ask about a good place to eat and you get stories about the place down the road. The assistant at the sweet shop gives you the lowdown on how he used to bounce off the walls from a sugar high when he first began working at the store (he had unlimited access to the toffee jars). The cab driver talks about how the Irish are the best masons in the world and no one can match their brickwork.
On a Friday evening the friendliness can sometimes turn into raucousness as gaggles of Dubliners spill out of the pubs and restaurants holding drafts of Guinness or generous glasses of Jameson’s whiskey, laughing and singing.
While the centre of Dublin may be aggressively touristy — every other shop sells “genuine Irish gifts” — it is still charmingly so. A little further afield, the countryside offers 300 shades of green and a riot of colour in the gardens.
Just a short walk away from Molly Malone are the sober stone walls of Trinity College, one of the oldest universities in the British Isles whose distinguished alumni includes Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and Edmund Burke. Which brings us to the small but well put-together Writer’s Museum that commemorates the literary greats of Ireland, including Beckett (you can gaze upon his typewriter), Bernard Shaw, Edmund Spenser, W.B. Yeats and, of course, that most famous Dubliner, James Joyce.
Heading back to the Liffy River and the song and laughter of Temple Bar, the summer evening in the Fair City darkens ever so slowly. The strains of Irish music, that combination of strings and deep melodious voices, hang in the air as we find our way to dinner. Like the people, their ballads can be bawdy or mournful, and they make for a strange but oddly logical complement to the almost spiritual strains of old Celtic music. The smiling (and somewhat inebriated) man at the corner lifts his jug in salutation: “Sláinte!”