Dear Dublin, Sometimes I like to let my mind wander the way that it did back when I was a little kid. When I had seen little, tried little, tasted little. Everything was new. I think back on those days especially when I’m traveling. This was my first time visiting Ireland, and it’s hard not to go in with a few preconceived notions. Stories about four-leaf clovers and leprechauns come to mind, making me half wonder, if there’s any fact behind the fiction. Of course, the richness in the history of anyplace starts with the folklore, but it ends on the streets and with the people. It didn’t take long for me to realize that you are much more than the “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirts and shamrock shakes that abound on St.Patrick’s Day in the U.S. You’re a city entrenched in the dreams of your forebears, proof positive that lightness triumphs over darkness with time and hard work. Somehow, despite a history of conflict, you have emerged beautiful and bright, full of art, full of music, full of pride.
Walking the streets at night, the whole city seems aglow. The streetlamps wash golden light on cobblestone paths, and a cacophony of sounds fill the night air. I walked around Temple Bar one evening and felt pulled like a sailor to a siren song of a lone performer on his tin whistle. Irish music was a theory to me before then, it was obscured by clichés. In a short time, I was drawn in by it, foregoing sleep so that I could fall head over heels into hours of traditional sessions at the local pub. It would be easy to take this Dublin and see it as the only Dublin, the past forgotten and sights firmly set on now and next. But what’s past is prologue, and do not remember is to be willfully ignorant.
The whole of my perspective shifted when I visited Kilmainham Gaol. Parts of this facility seem eerily familiar: the aging wrought-iron fixtures, the panoptic on prison space. As horrible as the idea of imprisonment is, there’s something desensitizing about the bare and empty halls, the withering structures hinting at the fact that this is history rather than the present. The jail has a long and complicated past, holding not just men and women, but at times children, with incarcerations for acts of thievery all the way to mental illness. In 1847 the Vagrancy Act was passed, the encouraging the arrest of beggars despite a mass epidemic of starvation that was happening concurrently, the Irish Famine. A few decades later, Kilmainham would host political prisoners from another significant period in Irish history, the Easter Rising.
In 1916, political rebels planned an armed uprising around Dublin, declaring the Irish Republic from the United Kingdom. Evidence of this is really all over Dublin, with the Proclamation of the Republic appearing in museums and even on the side of a pub. Many perished at Kilmainham in the name of what they believed was right, their names are printed throughout the space in remembrance. They fought for (and I quote) “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland” despite years of control by “a foreign people and government”. In search of protection of their rights, they sought a better future for all. The spirit of revolution seems to be in your blood, Dublin. From real-life rebels to subversive thinkers and artists, there’s something inseparable about your culture and you’re past. Perhaps what I loved the most about you wasn’t your music or your history, but your people. There’s dryness to Irish humor, a sardonic self-awareness. It’s like the trials of your past seep into everything, but instead of just recounting those trials, you twist them into something hilarious, something clever and thoughtful. There’s really nothing like it and I guess there’s really nothing like you. So I’m glad to know that now.