The inundation of tourist’s into Dublin’s city centre hasn’t smothered the soul of the city; it has just pushed it underground. Matthew Freemantle tried (and mostly failed) to find it.
Central Dublin no longer belongs to the Irish. It swarms with (mostly American) tourists, moonbagging around with hand-held video cameras, foraging for their roots. In one “traditional” pub in Temple Bar, the nucleus of the tourist district, I saw one such hobbit filming the barman pour a pint of Guinness. “Real Irish barman,” she said with a broad grin, zooming in on his face. He gave her a bored stare and in a thick Eastern European accent, asked for “tree pounts ent fifty.” She seemed to take it as a dialect of Irish she’d not yet heard. “And a real Irish beer.” It turns out that looking for the pamphlet Ireland in Dublin is a wild goose chase.
Another thing they don’t tell you is that the city is full of computer geeks, who, despite their best efforts to pull off ‘Urban Cool’, just end up looking like History teachers on a school outing. Ireland has boomed since the mid-1990s by promoting itself to high-technology companies seeking a low-tax, English speaking zone in Europe. Prices have risen with the boom and central Dublin now rivals London for (in)affordability.
All of which makes Dublin exponentially more enjoyable the further you wander from the hub. Pubs on the fringe are less inundated and more authentic, restaurants are cheaper and less tacky and with the same money you can stay in a hotel room that is bigger than a fridge freezer. And because Dublin is not very big, you’re never too far from something interesting. There is plenty to do. Dublin has the world’s third oldest Zoo in the world, a James Joyce museum, Europe’s biggest urban park, tons of distilleries and museums, innumerable pubs, a canal, more pubs, and a few more pubs. There are also a number of pubs.
Everyone Irish I know told me to plan a trip to Dublin around a festival, or, if possible, around St. Patrick’s Day (17 March), a date when the capital teems with people wearing leprechaun hats and singing slurring renditions of There’s Whisky in the Bar to the frigid night sky. But even if you’re in Papau New Guinea you can get drunk and sing songs in an “Irish pub”, so I’d ignore that advice and take mine instead: Find in Dublin what you can’t find anywhere else.
Contrary to a far too popular opinion, the Irish are known for things other than drinking beer fast. Nowhere in the world will you find a better choice of stand-up comedy, for starters. There are shows every night in the city’s several comedy clubs and quality live music just as frequently. So while the Microsoft employees try to pick up tourists in the middle, try to move a bit further out. The “real” Dublin is still there; it’s just gone into hiding.
Go to www.visitdublin.com for a comprehensive guide to the city.