Tag Archives: pub

My Dublin is dozens of towns

Wooden Bridge at Bull Island

Wooden Bridge at Bull Island

Dublin made me.

There’s no doubt about it. It made wake up and grow up. It made me responsible, angry, happy, disillusioned, excited and proud – sometimes all at once.

I first came to the city at 17, as a student. My first night was spent (where else?) in a bar, Hartigan’s on Leeson Street, where I drank pints of Guinness with fellow first year students at Trinity College.

Back then, in an era before a proliferation of coffee shops, restaurants and gyms, the pub still reigned supreme as Dublin’s social hub. Over the years that would change, and so would I.

As I prepare to leave (not for the first time but likely for the longest) a spate of memories occur to me daily – of events, places and people.

I can’t pass Trinity College without thinking of the May evenings, which seemed endless then, spent outside the Ussher Library on breaks while studying for final exams.

James Street, Dublin

James Street, Dublin

Or the Phoenix Park without recalling the view over Kilmainham and along the Liffey, back to the city, that I’d encounter on mornings and afternoons when I’d jog around the Fifteen Acres and the Magazine Fort.

Or Talbot Street without remembering the 6am winter starts at the Evening Herald, where we worked furiously to get the first edition out by 9am.

Or, more recently, the long promenade running from The Sheds in Clontarf along the seafront to St Anne’s Park, as the sun shone over a high tide, across to Bull Island and the hill of Howth beyond.

More than 20 years after I first landed in Donagh MacDonagh’s “Dublin of old statutes, this arrogant city”, I’m departing. When I come back the city will have changed and I’ll be a stranger.

Or just more of a stranger, because the Dublin that I know is part 2016, part the emerging boomtown of 1995, part the battered crashtown of 2010 – and dozens of other towns in between.

I was never – and am still not –  quite sure which Dublin I lived in, which one lifted me and knocked me and lifted me again. The city has always been an amalgam, of the here-and now and the conversations I had over the years, the work I did, the people I met.

I don’t know Dublin and I don’t know anyone who can claim they do. But I know this town made me.


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Death of a conversationalist

My one and only encounter with a Nobel Prize winner involved a glass of red wine, a newspaper and ten minutes of complete silence.

Non distube. Seamus Heaney. Pic: Simon Garbutt

Non distube. Seamus Heaney.
Pic: Simon Garbutt

What’s more, I doubt my presence even registered with Seamus Heaney.

This brief brush with literary greatness occurred when the poet walked into the Swan Bar on Aungier Street on a summer evening three years ago.

We tell visitors that Dublin is the sort of city where you casually come across giants of world literature sitting in old pubs.

Of course this hasn’t been the case since Brendan Behan keeled over in the Harbour Lights bar half a century ago.

That’s what made this night unique – there I was sitting minding my own business beside Seamus Heaney, sitting minding his own business.

Not a word was exchanged. Perhaps Heaney was deep in thought grappling with issues of metre or rhyme. Or opting for cheese and onion over salt and vinegar.

A cascade of tributes to the poet in the past week mentioned his humility, his approachability and open nature.

I encountered none of this. But I didn’t encounter the opposite.

I didn’t strike up a conversation about the weather or dig out a pen for a hasty autograph.

The Swan Bar, Aungier Street, Dublin. Pic: Google Maps

The Swan Bar, Aungier Street, Dublin.
Pic: Google Maps

He didn’t remark on the front page story or ask about the merlot dwindling in my glass.

I wasn’t really that interested in chitchat and neither was the Nobel Prize winner.

And so Heaney sat quietly, arms folded, heels on the floor, awaiting the arrival of friends, while I perched, shuffling newspaper pages and clockwatching, until the time came to meet a pal.

The nine o’clock news broke the silence, probably.

And that was it. My face-to-face encounter with a giant of modern literature.

And the least enlightening Seamus Heaney anecdote you’ll read this week.

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