Amid the small crowd of tourists gathering outside Dublin’s General Post Office, an elderly man approaches a small group of pro-choice protesters and makes a remark about how the Church is too powerful, telling them that they’ll never win on abortion. Unhesitatingly, the young protester to which he addressed his attack responds, telling him that the people of Ireland hate the Church, who she said were “killing our women and raping our children”. Further along, a group of young Muslims hand out flyers, inviting passers-by to learn more about their faith. Between the two stand the columns of the General Post Office, peppered with bullet holes, a reminder of the 1916 Easter Rising, when Irish Republicans fought with the aim of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing an independent Irish Republic. Later, a protest against austerity would move noisily down the street, their message broadcast through banners and loudspeakers. I had been in Dublin for just under an hour, and the city had already captured my attention, and has since refused to let go.
Not only can Dublin boast a rich variety of people and ideas, it also has a strong claim to literature, producing some truly great writers. It was only when visiting Dublin’s Writers Museum that I learnt that Oscar Wilde and W. B. Yeats (who wrote one of the first poems that I ever truly felt strongly about) were both from Dublin. Having already been familiar with Wilde, it was fascinating to learn how both he and Yeats had contributed to Dublin’s artistic scene. (Though I now worry that I’ll adopt an Irish accent when reading the epigrams and witty sayings which Wilde is famous for.)
Outside the General Post Office stands a statue of Jim Larkin, another prominent figure I would grow to admire. Larkin was a famous socialist and trade union leader, and had played a key part in the 1913 Dublin lockout. In one of his most famous speeches, he is remembered for saying that “the great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.” Through learning about these writers and rebels, I could feel a growing admiration for Dublin’s literary and political history.
Many of Dublin’s great writers were products of Trinity University, Ireland’s oldest university, a campus reminiscent of Oxford and Cambridge. The first part of the University we visited was the oldest, which contained the Chapel and Examination Hall. Further into our tour, we were taken through the Campanile, a bell tower which is adorned with four figures representing Divinity, Science, Medicine and Law, subjects which the University was initially renowned for teaching. From there, we were shown the more modern science buildings of the university. Our tour guide informed us that this mix of old and new tells the story of how the campus evolved to suit the changing needs of the university.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Trinity was its library, which is the largest research library in Ireland. As the library is a legal deposit library, it is legally entitled to one copy of every book published in Great Britain and Ireland. I was most impressed by the Old Library. Consisting of a long hall, with two floors and an innumerable amount of books, each bookcase is flanked by busts of famous thinkers such as Shakespeare, Plato and Milton. The entire hall is illuminated through Gothic windows, which block out any distractions from the outside world. I quickly became envious, imagining myself one day being the owner of a library which rivalled that at Trinity. One can but dream.
From admiring Trinity University to standing within Kilmainham Gaol, I felt as though I had passed from a great centre of free thought and enquiry to a building which had been specifically designed to suppress and intimidate. The Gaol had been built with an open design in accordance with the idea of the “all-seeing eye”, in which prisoners could be observed at any moment and any time, which lead to an extremely unsettling feeling. The Gaol is most famous for being the site at which 14 leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were executed by firing squad. Outside the Gaol stand 14 figures, representing each leader of the Easter Rising, each with small holes indicating where the place in which they received the lethal shots of their execution.
From the time I had spent in Dublin, I felt I had gained an intriguing insight into Irish literature, politics and history. Not only that, I was to fall in love with an Irish tradition which I believe Britain, and the rest of the world, should adopt immediately. Sat in a small bar and, having ordered an Irish whiskey, I was immensely impressed with how my drink was delivered. Not only was I given a glass in which the warm, golden liquid resided, but I was given a jug of tap water and another glass filled with ice cubes. Only fellow whiskey drinkers may fully appreciate the “eureka!” moment that this brought forth, as whiskey is often enhanced by the smallest drop of water, and can be extremely refreshing when served ‘on the rocks’.
My feelings about Dublin were perfectly encapsulated on one of the last nights I would spend in the great city. While sat in a bar near Temple Bar (which we didn’t visit, hoping to avoid tourists), a small band took up seats and began playing in the corner of the bar. The sound of their jolly music attracted many who were drinking outside the pub, and soon the whole floor was full of drinkers who seemed to know the words – and corresponding dance moves – to each and every Irish folksong. Despite the high energy of the bar, I felt completely at ease with my surroundings. When a group of football fans entered and ordered several rounds of drinks – a situation which would make me slightly apprehensive in Britain – I felt no worry over how rowdythey would get. Despite boisterously singing along and throwing the Republican salute to every lyric that even hinted at resistance, republicanism or rebellion, it seemed that the group was there for the sole reason of enjoyment and reflection, and had no desire to antagonize anyone else. This further reinforced to me just how proud the Irish are of their history, with everyone in the pub singing along to each and every song and replying to each other with Republican salutes, a glimmer of mutual respect, comradeship and shared history in their eyes.
Unfortunately, my time in Dublin came to what I felt was a premature end, as I travelled from the impressively metropolitan and proudly republican city of Dublin to the beautiful and serene North of Ireland. I reflected on just how proud the Irish were of their republican history, recollecting the image of a man stood facing me, a drunken smile on his face and his fist held proudly in the air. I was even more amazed to discover the North covered with Union Flag bunting, its kerb stones also coloured red, white and blue, and even it’s sheep sprayed with the colours of the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland!