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Stateside In Dublin: The Pub That Roared

Stateside With Rosalea: Irish Edition

Dublin: The Pub That Roared

Last Sunday, 16 June, was something of a novelty date in Dublin. As happens every year on the day the events in James Joyce's 'Ulysses' took place, Bloomsday celebrations were in full swing. People dressed as characters from the famous once-banned novel call in at all the places mentioned in it, and partake of the relevant food, beverages and activities. Strolling players read from the novel, prefaced by comments such as this one I heard out at Sandycove: "I think this is sad, but it's so beautifully sad, it's lovely." - a comment fit to describe the entire Irish national psyche, if you ask me.

You know you're coming to a place where bards were ranked 5th in priority beneath kings the moment you step on the Aer Lingus flight from Chicago - the emerald green seat covers are decorated with handwriting. Writers Week was in full swing the week I was there, but the only event I went to was a poetry slam being recorded for radio. Only in Ireland! Back in the Bay Area the poetry slams I've been to are as much about the poet's performance as their reading of it, so TV is the more appropriate medium.

Another big event was Ireland's World Cup game against Spain on Sunday, 16 June, and it was as I was reading the quotation on Charles Stewart Parnell's monument at the top of O'Connell Street that a roar went up from the pub across the road. Ireland had evened the score - but later lost in a penalty shoot-out. It was a strange mix of Bloomsday costumes and Gloomsday flaggish regalia walking the streets that evening - with a colourful group of Romany gypsies thrown in for good measure.

The tall and the short of it. Looking down O'Connell St on a Saturday night at 5pm

The streets of Dublin are crowded at all hours of day and night - seemingly with a good proportion of the 60 percent of Ireland's population that is under the age of 27. Perhaps it's because the sun doesn't set till 11 and is up again at 4; perhaps it's because Dublin seems to have re-invented itself in the late '80s as a major tourist destination for people from Europe and the US. There's plenty of hostel-type accommodation in the city centre, as well as more expensive hotels.

I stayed in a student hostel at Trinity College, where I discovered that one of the downsides to dossing down in a place built in 1592 is that the plumbing has seen better centuries. But hey, it cost only 39 Euro a night and maybe Swift slept there or Oscar Wilde. For sure I know where Oscar learned to swim because I took an 'Over the Top' tour to Glendalough, and on the way there we stopped at several glacial lakes, one of which is on the property that used to belong to friends of Oscar's family. That's "glacial" in temperature as well as geological origin, by the way, just in case you thought the guy was some kind of fairy.

The icy lake where Oscar Wilde reputedly learned to swim

St Kevin's monastic city at Glendalough was a luverly expedition point, and our tour guide gave a very entertaining account of the cross poor old Kev had to bear. Apparently the saint was a bit of an irresistible hunk who had to resort to whipping himself (and overly amorous ladies) with nettles in order to keep to his chastely vows. Nowadays, Kevin's Cones sells freshly whipped ice cream outside the entrance, and the Happy Monk sells hot-dogs and burgers. I fair had to hit myself with a celery stick to resist those modern-day sins of the flesh.

Outside the entrance to St. Kevin's monastic city at Glendalough

Tour guides take it as a mark of honour to be very funny - such as the hop-on/hop-off Dublin Tour guide who pointed out "the social centre of the city where there's a knees-up every ten minutes" as we passed the maternity home. My favourite comment was one about big, powerful SUV's - "they can pass everything but a gas station". After the US, the sight of so many tiny European-marqued cars on the road makes you think the land must be inhabited by little people. Other things that contrast with the US are the lack of access for disabled people to public buildings, and the pre-eminence of smoking over non-smoking.

But when travelling, it's good to keep in mind the advice (applicable to any country) of a comedian who was on the radio the day before the cup match: "Always remember when you're in Spain, THEY'RE the foreigners, not you!" The station then played a Chieftan's song about the Irish who died in the Spanish Civil War, freeing from oppression the people of a country which had once helped the Irish get rid of the English.

The inscription on Parnell's monument reads: "No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country thus far shalt thou go and no further. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland's nationhood and we never shall."

There were dozens of cabbage trees in full bloom in Dublin, all of them

PS - my abject apologies to Nevada, which I know very well is next door to California, but kept calling Nebraska in last week's missive.

Lea Barker
Bayswater, London
Sunday, 23 June 2002

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