Journal (04Aug11)by Tourguide on Thu 04 Aug 2011, 04 PM CEST, Views: 521
This quote from one of Ireland’s most famous musical sons really sums up Dublin for me. Dublin is a vibrant, modern city with a natural swagger about it. Walking the cobblestone streets of Dublin, it is clear that there is a grounded, organic and almost spiritual nature about the people there.
Dublin has artisans, poets, songwriters and its share of soul seekers. But what blends it all together is its musical core. At every turn, in every alley you can hear the heart and soul of Dublin just by listening to the music streaming down through the alleyways and out the pubs. The traditional songs, the rock ‘n roll, and the ballads, those “musical ghosts waiting for a living voice.”
Dublin has an energy in the air, an artistic flair to it, and it’s easy to see why so many creative people are drawn to it. Place reminds me a bit of Seattle in that way, minus the angst. Not to say that the Irish haven’t had a rough go of things over the centuries. Their treatment at the hands of the English (more on that later) and a few potato famines here and there has, at times, killed or forced the relocation of up to 25% of the entire country’s population. That is enough to make anyone look for outlets of desperate expression. And nothing fuels musical inspiration like a little bit of ‘ol fashion melancholy.
Plus the Irish are a naturally creative lot. Music and the ‘arts’ of entertainment is just something people are raised with in Ireland. As I saw in my family reunion last week, it’s just *expected* that everyone can sign, dance, play an instrument or tell stories. It’s how they are brought up. Dublin produces musicians, actors, songwriters, playwrights, and poets at an astonishing rate. Look at what this one street perfromer does without even moving at all, too funny. The fact that just about any person in America or Europe can name an Irish poet or Irish band says something (look up the listing for U2 on this link, hilarious).
This fact is made particularly more impressive when you consider just how small Ireland is. It’s just a 3 hour drive from coast to coast. The whole island (including England occupied Northern Ireland) only has 4.4 million people. The city of New York has over twice as many people as the whole country of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is about the same size as the state of Indiana, or a little bit larger than West Virginia. And 40% of all the people in Ireland live in, or around a single city, …Dublin.
Dublin is the economic and culture epicenter of Ireland. Its Temple Bar district is to Irish rock ‘n roll what Nashville is to country music. Walking the streets, either coming back from, or on our way to bars, I saw some truly amazing musicians. I heard that country music star Tim McGraw got plucked off a street corner in Nashville. Well, I could see any one of these Dubliners on stage in the States in front of thousands. That’s how U2 got started, just playing in the streets of Dublin.
And don’t be surprised to see Bono or the U2’s “The Edge” walking right past you. U2 still calls Dublin home and frequent it’s streets regularly. Crazy thing, though, is that in Dublin nobody bothers them or asks for autographs. They are just local kids who did well for themselves. The Irish don’t get star struck by them. Well, compared to the fame obsessed nature of Americans, I guess any other country would look low key around celebrities. We even walked past U2’s recording studio, a simple, modest looking building sitting on the river.
One of the cooler tours we experienced in Dublin was the Musical Pub Crawl. This tour took us through five or so (I lost count quickly) pubs which had more famous musical backgrounds. In each pub we heard from musicians who talked about what Irish music means to them, where it came from, and where it’s going. We learned the difference between a jig (4 count) and a reel (6 count) melody, and got to hear plenty of great traditional, and modern Irish music.
So what makes the Irish people so popular, and the Irish culture so influential, all over the world? The reason is because outside of Guinness, Ireland’s biggest export has historically been …themselves. The Irish are the world’s great emigrates. As their country has been torn apart by potato famine (killing between 1 and 5 million), English suppression (who tried to outlaw their Catholicism on several occasions), and resulting civil wars, the people of Ireland have moved on. After every great period of strife there has been a powerful exodus of the Irish to places like the United States, and throughout Europe.
Over the centuries, and over the generations, it’s clear that the people of Dublin, and Ireland, have pulled up stakes and resettled just about everywhere. There are almost more people of Irish descent in Boston than in Dublin. The city of Chicago still dyes its Chicago River green for St Patrick’s Day. And the Irish practically created New York City. Who can forget this classic image of Irish immigrants having a casual lunch on these perilous skyscrapers beams?
The Irish History Walking Tour we took was also very rewarding. Understanding Ireland’s turbulent past and its love-hate relationship with England really put a lot into perspective. Ireland’s Protestant-Catholic wars over the years have never ended well for the Irish, and even today the island of Ireland is a severed country. Its upper 6 counties under the control of England and the other 26 counties combined into the “Republic of Ireland.”
Over the decades countless groups, such as the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, have fought guerilla campaigns to oust the English from their land. There was a car bombing just this past April of a Catholic police officer who was considered a Northern Ireland sympathizer. This modern period of violence, which began in the 60’s, is often simply referred to as “The Troubles,” and has resulted in the death over 3,500 people. Driving around, Dublin I saw bumper stickers saying “26+6=1”, …subtly longing for a united country of Ireland.
However, things are never that easy. A majority of Northern Ireland’s counties are predominantly Protestant at this point, and its economy is too intertwined and dependant on England to untangle. “Trying to reunite these counties is like trying to pour raindrops back into a cloud” I was told. Even Bono was quoted as saying “To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater.”
And, sadly, with a divided future and tough economic times ahead of it, the future of Dublin looks a bit cloudy. In light of Ireland’s recent financial crisis, the ten year trend of immigrants outnumbering emigrants in Ireland has been broken. The young Irish are leaving again. Where to now? Our Irish history tour guide told us that the new hotspot is …Montreal. So, perhaps you’ll be seeing some more of Ireland’s sons and daughters in your neighborhoods pretty soon. If you start seeing a run on Guinness in your local stores, perhaps now you’ll know why, :).
And, yes, of course, no tour to Dublin would be complete without a tour of the Guinness factory, and it did not disappoint. Did you know that 5.5 million pints of Guinness are consumer around the world everyday? That’s more glasses of Guinness than people in the whole country.
As beloved Irish poet James Joyce once said, “Ireland sober is Ireland stiff.” Yep, its a well known fact that God invented beer to keep the Irish from taking over the world. Do you know what the difference is between an Irish wedding an Irish funeral? One less drunk, ha ha. I could go all day on these.
So next time you are in a pub lifting your own pint of Guinness, think of the Irish. They’ve had a hard road, but have persevered as people, and have gifted our world with their songs, their culture and, of course, their beer. Their past is an open book available to anyone who will listen. The stories of their lives, their lost loves and their desire to be a united people. To hear it all you need to do is to take a stroll through their land, their music and through the streets of Dublin.