Friday, 16 August 2013

Dublin Revisited

It's a long time since I was last in Dublin - 15 years to be precise. As a consequence I missed the Celtic tiger thing completely although the difference in the price of everything since I was last here was pretty shocking. Nevertheless, Dublin is still an absolutely great city and I think its recent financial shenanigans have given it a renewed edge that suggests a resurgence of self reliance and a customarily ironic take on the recent past.

It's still doing very nicely out of the tourists and given the amount of bars featuring live traditional music there can't be a musician in the Dublin vicinity who is ever out of work. This is great although I personally don't want to spend every night in a bar listening to music. It's partly age but I have spent a lot of time over the years with assorted folkies and musicians so I can get my fix of Irish musical tradition from my MP3 player any time I like. I am also unlikely to go to the Leprechaun Museum and while I am happy to sample the products I don't need to go on the distillery and brewery tours either.

Perhaps the assumption that tourists know little, or are expecting a very particular experience, means there is a general confinement of national promotion to very predictable areas. Coming from the land of fish and chips-the queen-London bus I get easily frustrated with this kind of thing and am on the lookout everywhere for a more contemporary and innovative take on things.

Howth Beach County Dublin 

The universals of the natural environment and beauty of a landscape that doesn't really require much human intervention to sell is fine. It's all that other human stuff. So I was delighted to find a crossroads of back streets covered in murals celebrating the whole spectrum of Irish cultural icons. This means literary giants, musicians, political and popular personalities who have had an impact on Irish society, sporting heroes, thespians and a whole lot more. Sitting at the centre of the crossroads was the organisation responsible for this magnificent display - The Icon Factory

Like Francis Bacon (see below) this artist collective manages to cram a massive amount of stuff into a small space including T-shirts, coasters, mugs, magnets, jigsaws and prints featuring a huge variety of images by Irish artists each celebrating their heritage in their own unique way.

This project highlights a lot more than the enormous scale and quality of Irish cultural output. It provides a valuable service to its own residents by attempting to beautify these otherwise unremarkable streets in which someone noted there was 'a defecation problem'. The first time I perused the murals there was the vague smell of the alley urinal but nothing out of the urban ordinary. The next time I went earlier in the day and got a sense of the parameters of the 'problem'. This really begs the question of where the public toilets are or are they only for the tourists on the main drag?

Up on Parnell Square is the Dublin City Gallery. Unusually for a gallery of this size the emphasis is on quality rather than quantity although the amount of stuff Francis Bacon crammed into his relocated studio covers both of these categories. The Bacon studio project was another real highlight. Rather than just recreate his working space there were screens with photographs and commentary on the contents of the studio. This was very well documented and put together and provided a fascinating and easy accessible insight into the man. The only problem was that only two of about eight possible screens seemed to be working.

The night before we left we went to the Abbey Theatre to see George Bernard Shaw's 1904 play Major Barbara. Still very relevant to the present in terms of the ethics of the arms trade and the compromises of both politics and faith, it featured a great set and several storming performances especially Paul McGann as Andrew Undershaft. The audience were unfortunately not as appreciative as they should have been but I think the problem was the conclusion of the play itself rather than the performances. Had  Major Barbara decided to maintain her idealism and deny pragmatism, status and acceptance of the inevitability of war I am sure the audience would have been on its feet....