A little break from the houses.
I have now been back in Ireland for three months. We’re settling in, I suppose.
Dublin is a funny place. I left it before I had children and it is very different to live somewhere with children. I have found that Dublin is not the big city I thought it was when I lived here last. It is dozens of small communities sitting, somewhat reluctantly, under the umbrella title of city. Dubliners like to live near where they grew up. Very near. As in around the corner. This makes it surprisingly intimate for a city with a population of over a million.
I have been shocked by the very visible poverty I have witnessed on the streets of Dublin. It’s rough despite a sustained economic boom in Ireland over the last ten years. There are drug addicts roaming the streets high as kites during the day. There are many people who seem to have fallen through the net. At the tram stop there are young fit men regularly aggressively begging from unfortunate tourists. There are mad people everywhere, stomping, screaming, gesturing. In Temple Bar the other day, I saw a teenager stamp on a pigeon with a damaged wing.
Then there is a lot of money. I have been amazed by the number of behemoth SUVs which now block the (small) streets of Dublin. House prices may be falling but small suburban homes are still selling for over a million euros. I was in the IFSC recently and I was astounded by the offices I visited. They were far more impressive than any I have visited in Brussels (though the place did seem to be run by 22 year old accountants, much in the way that the European Parliament on Fridays appears to be run exclusively by young women wearing crop tops). From the top floor, as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Dublin mountains, there were cranes, building, building, building. It was hard to believe that this recession thing will ever really take off.
Yet surrounding the IFSC is one of the very poorest parts of Dublin, the North inner city. This rising tide does not appear to have lifted all boats. The surrounding squalor, poverty and deprivation present a very stark contrast to the sleek premises in the IFSC. Someone told me that Belgium has one of the smallest poverty gaps in the EU and Ireland one of the widest. This definitely feels true but I just looked it up on the internet and it isn’t. Nevertheless, there is a very visible gap in Dublin; perhaps it is just perception. Or perhaps, Dublin does not reflect the national trend (certainly, I do not feel that there is the same visible deprivation in Cork).
For a little balance, I thought that you might like to know some of the good things about my adopted town as well. After all, I have chosen to live the rest of my life here, so I must believe it has some merit.
Dublin enjoys a beautiful situation. From all sorts of unlikely places in the city (including our back garden) you can get views of the Dublin mountains. It is on the sea, unlike Cork which, alas, is on an estuary which is really not the same thing at all.
It is composed of several charming little towns, swallowed up by Dublin but still enjoying much of their own character. The centre of the city is compact and, in places, remarkably handsome. My father always said that Dublin is like any city in the North of England. There is some truth in that but, as a capital, it enjoys many more splendid buildings than, say, Manchester.
Irish people are friendly. It is still true and they tend to be indulgent to children and happy to talk to strangers. Initially, when people addressed me I would often think (rather frantically) “do I know you?” but I’m used to it again now and I love it.
Dublin is very buzzy. Recession or no recession, the streets are full of people talking and laughing well into the night. During the day time, the place is heaving. And demographics are in Ireland’s favour, still. There are lots of young people and they add a certain rakish excitement to the mix. And there are whole new immigrant communities – this is a much more heterogeneous Dublin than the one I left. This is a very different Ireland; when I was in school there was a girl in our class whose mother was from Dublin, this was so exotic that it got an article in the Evening Echo entitled, if memory serves me “Cork girl moves to Dublin”. Well, we’ve moved on a lot from then, even Cork people are less insular.
Also on the pluses, it’s very easy to reach Cork by train from Dublin.