Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It Should Have Been Obvious

Our first impression of Dublin was that it wasn't as Irish as the places we had previously visited. After visiting the national treasure (Guinness Brewery) and some national history (Kilmainham Gaol) we spent our second day in Dublin in and around Grafton Street. We had a late start but I was desperate to see the bog bodies at the National Museum of Archaeology and Grafton Street was not only nearby, but came on high recommendation from a taxi driver - the best kind of recommendation.

We loved Grafton Street, 100%, but it came across very much as a tourist trap and not somewhere the locals go to wile away a Sunday afternoon. Every few metres were street performers of every skill set (and skill level), from musicians to magicians. Our favourite was one of the three living statues scattered down the street, this one painted to look like the blackened statues of the city rather than someone with a bucket of metallic face paint poured over them. He held a pipe which we later figured out was filled with bird seed, and pigeons took turns perching on him to add to the display.

After successfully navigating the museum and finally seeing the bog bodies (just as morbid, creepy and cool as I hoped they would be) we still felt Dublin was more of a city of the world than of Ireland. Making our way back to the hostel to pack, we were drawn to a pub only a few hundred metres from home, but on the main stretch of O'Connell Street. Loud and more importantly live Irish music blasted out the door and Courts looked longingly at the blackboard as our last few coins burned a whole in our pockets. It would be wrong not to spend our last few dollars on a pint wouldn't it?

As we sat in the garden bar out the back, I suddenly found myself in the middle of Ireland. While Courtney watched a game of Hurling on the big screen (his new favourite pastime) I watched the people. I kept thinking about something we learnt in Athlone - that no one in Ireland really has house parties. At home it's normal for a night out to begin at one persons house and to possibly end at anothers. It's just as normal for a night out to be at a persons house, rather than a club or pub. As much as we love the pub atmosphere, it didn't entirely make sense to us why the Irish would entirely exclude house parties from their social agenda.

At this pub we were at, a few people sat to one side in pairs, most of us looking as un-Irish as the next. It was very obviously the tourist side of the bar, people who wanted to be outside but were weary of being in the thick of it. The 'thick of it' was centred around a couple of snooker tables and the tables surrounding them. After one of a group of men turned the heater off, a comment passed between their group and one of women at the next table. Next minute, one member of the boys is sitting with the girls and they've discovered they grew up in the same town and know the same people. Half an hour of comments between the groups later and a comment goes across the girls to a third group on the far side. Now all three groups are involved in varying degrees of conversation, all within half an hour.

The garden bar we were at backed onto the garden bars of two other bars, all sharing a communal middle section. If in half an hour, 3 groups of 3 or 4 people can begin melting into one, all at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, imagine Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights. As each bar slowly melds into one group of friends, the three bars can collectively do the same. Soon, everyone knows everyone - it's no wonder that in big-small towns like Athlone with several thousand residents, everyone still knows everyone.

Why would you need a house party? Everyone at the bar is going to be your friend soon anyway. So, with only an hour or so until we left Dublin, we finally found Ireland in the city. Behind a pub, surrounded by the disregarded and neglected rear-ends of several buildings, walls crumbling, windows cracked. Faces aged, teeth chipped, old and young, men and women. United by the mere fact they're Irish. Which isn't a 'mere' fact at all. Irish people conquered the world, without losing their culture or letting it fade into anyone elses. Even when you think it's dissolved and faded, you find it in the least likely of places. Ireland's just chilling out behind the pub.

Thanks Ireland, it's been grand.

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