Thursday, September 19, 2013

De Dubbalin Man - a Natural History

First published in the Western People on Monday.

For all the diversity of its population, the true citizen of Dublin is convinced to his or her marrow of one fact that supersedes all others – Dublin is the greatest city in the world, and no-where else comes close. If you ask a Dubliner for a list of the greatest cities in the world, he or she will not hesitate to name his or her home town with New York, London, Paris, Rome and the rest.

Dublin is the standard against which all other things are measured. If you tell a Dubliner about the miracles of civil engineering that are the Brooklyn or Golden Gate bridges, or the rich history associated with the Pont Neuf in Paris or the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, he will concede your point out of politeness, but go on to remind you the O’Connell Bridge is actually wider than it is broad, and consider the matter settled.

Very few Dubliners have read Ulysses, but there isn’t a taxi driver in the city who will not give his oath that it’s the greatest novel ever written. The gods of Ancient Greece would have chucked their ambrosia out to the dog if only someone in Olympus could make coddle. And while Aoibheann Ní Shúilleabháin is certainly easy on the eye, for true female beauty the connoisseur should look no further than Mrs Agnes Browne. She’s a whole lotta woman, Mrs B.

Having the last word is very important to the Dublin man. It’s essential to his own self-respect that the Dublin man knows something you don’t and that he then deigns to share that something, out of the goodness of his heart.

For instance, Frank Sinatra died of a Tuesday fifteen years ago – at the time, your correspondent was desperately trying to reinvent himself by doing a FÁS course and catch up with the technological revolution. As I reached the office where the class was being held, I met a classmate, a native son of Anna Livia, outside the door, having a smoke. I told him the news, that Sinatra had been called home during the night. “Ah yeah,” said the Dub, taking a drag. “Frank Sinatra. A great man for singing.” Pause to exhale. “And dancing.”

And dancing. He couldn’t let it lie. It wasn’t in him. He was from Dublin, and I was not. He had to know something that I didn’t, and to make clear he knew. Strangely enough, he failed the course in the end – he mustn’t have known quite everything after all.

But with that sort of swagger in the city, that sort of bravado, you can imagine the regard with which the football team is held. Seán Ó Síocháin, former Árd-Stiúrthóir of the GAA, once told Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh that, before the modern information age, the worst fans in Ireland for buying programs were the Dubs. They already knew who was on their own team and they really didn’t care who was on the other team. The entire attitude of the city is summed up in that one observation.

Of course, once removed from the city, the Dubliner is a little less at his ease. He is puzzled when his culchie friends announce they want to move home, “for the sake of the kids.” He can’t understand how life can truly be lived in the absence of Clery’s, Croke Park and coddle. But he realises that his friends are culchies, after all, and feels more pity than anything.

The Dub’s own forays beyond the M50 are undertaken with same level of planning and grim-set determination as Stanley’s trip to Africa in search of Doctor Livingstone in the 19th Century. Sandwiches are packed, in case there is no food in the country. A medical bag is packed, in case there are no doctors. And most importantly of all, the driver is told to only stick to main roads insofar as that’s possible. So, if a party of Dubs are going to Westport for a big Saturday night, they will first go to Galway and hang a right. No point taking chances and breaking an axle in the tracks left by the cartwheels.

Some journalists in the national media are inclined to write how the city gets behind its boys in blue when those boys in blue are playing well, but that’s not really true. It’s been said that one of the reasons that the GAA has been so strong over the years is because of how deeply its embedded in local communities, but that is not true of Dublin.

The size of the city and the density of its population means that parish boundaries did not mean as much in the city as they did in the country. The city has always been culturally diverse – “Augustan Capital / Of a Gaelic nation,” as Louis MacNeice so eloquently put it – and the changing demographics of Ireland in the 21st Century have made it even more so.

Mayo people who have travelled long distances in the hope of a ticket but who strike out on the day should brace themselves for further disappointment when they have to repair to the pub to watch the game instead. You go in expecting a cathedral-like quiet as the congregation prepares for the greatest sporting and cultural event of the Irish year. What you get instead is Manchester City versus Manchester United, live from Eastlands on the big screen. And if you get Crystal Palace v Swansea as well, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Dublin GAA people find this every bit as unbearable as anyone else. The true Dublin GAA people will live and die with every kick of the game on Sunday and will be well able to analyse it afterwards – one of the treats of 2006 semi-final was how well the Dublin fans handled their disappointment, and what good company they were afterwards. If this Dublin generation do win another All-Ireland, it won’t be begrudged to them by the County Mayo. Just so long as they do it next year. Any damned year, but this one. We’ve waited long enough.