I just spent a week in Dublin. It was our annual family vacation. Anne and Jackie flew in from Seattle. Andy wrapped up his 70 days in Europe here. And I took a break from researching. I had a hunch Dublin would be great for a week of family fun…and it was brilliant.
The city is safe, thriving, easy, and extremely accessible. Each night we enjoyed fun and affordable entertainment. Andy drank enough beer to tarnish its allure. Both kids connected with their Irish heritage. (In a week Andy will be back as school–Notre Dame…trying out for the “Irish Guard”–the big intimidating guys who precede the marching band at fighting Irish football events.) We were all pretty wide eyed at the thriving late night scene in Temple Bar. In Dublin the girls are wrapped up like party favors. The guys look like they’re on the way home from a hurling match.
And Ireland’s becoming a melting pot. It seemed everywhere we went young Polish people were serving us: bringing breakfast, cleaning our hotel rooms, taking our tickets. Ireland’s a land long famous for exporting its labor, but today the economy is booming and they’re experiencing a population boom–of immigrants. Of the 10% of Ireland’s population that is not Irish, most are Polish (Catholic, kept down by a bully neighbor…they can relate).
Poles are famously hard working here. My friend who runs a youth hostel employs a Pole who unnerves him by almost shouting “I can do dat” every time he’s given a task. It’s disorienting to hear rough Irish types (historically the under-class at home as well as abroad) talking about their Polish housecleaners like a great latest accessory. “I’ve got a wonderful new Pole…very low maintenance…don’t know how I managed without.”
Except for the beans at breakfast…forget “eating Irish” in Dublin. Going local here is going ethnic. I was at a multi-national food court and it was confusing: Chinese were cooking Mexican, Poles were running the Old Time American diner, a Spaniard was serving sushi, and Irish were running the Thai. Save your craving for pub grub for the small towns.
Yesterday, I was at Croke Park with 50,000 Irish football fans (like soccer but you can run with the ball as long as you bounce or kick it every three steps). Each fan paid €30 ($40) for a ticket. I get talking to my friend, telling him I went to the Abbey Theater the night before to see a play by Oscar Wilde. He asked me the cost. I said €30. He said to his wife, “imagine paying €30 to see a play?” I reminded him that, to a playgoer, spending €30 to see the game we were at would be just as strange.
Ireland’s charming rough edge is surviving its new affluence…but it’s becoming a little less rough. We spent €30 outside the stadium so everyone in my family would have a scarf or hat or flag with the correct colors (gold and green–we were rooting for Donegal). I remember twenty years ago–when the “colors” were cheap dye on crepe paper hats for a buck. I was in the humble stadium on this same spot (where Europe’s thunderous third biggest stadium stands today). The rain was causing my colors to run from my hat down my face–gold and green…still for Donegal even back then. I put the hat atop the umbrella next to me…not thinking it would run in eight small rivlets…coloring those around me. Luckily, they were Donegal fans too. Colors hold fast today. With affluence, the Irish no longer bleed on each other.
During that game twenty years ago I’ll never forget the creative cursing. My vocabulary grew like never before. The Irish–even in polite company–have always been loose with the “F word.” The Irish rock star Bono got in trouble on American TV for saying it, but the station avoided the FCC fine–apparently on a technicality: because, in common Irish usage, it’s considered an adjective rather than a verb.
On this current trip I’ve noticed the Irish don’t say the F-word so much. A decade ago it was f-in’ this and f-in’ that. And the air’s cleaner of smoke too. There’s no smoke indoors anywhere. Pubs come with fresh air and a few blokes smoking outside the front door.
Today, I had breakfast with Noel Dempsey, the Irish minister of communication–who, cabbies I interviewed in the last few days figure, is in line to be Ireland’s next prime minister.
(I made friends with Noel in Seattle when I was the Grand Marshal for St. Patrick’s Day and he was the visiting dignitary. Noel explained that each St. Patrick’s day the demand for Irish dignitaries empties their country of politicians as they fan out to St. Paddy’s Day festivals around the world. They post a listing of all the requests each winter and if you don’t choose one, you’ll get assigned a destination. He liked Seattle.)
Noel said Ireland is very pleased with the performance of their economy. In 1987 their per capita income was 65 percent of the European average. Today it’s 130 percent.