An Irishman's Diary
Michael Murray (Letters) effectively accuses me of cultural imperialism for an alleged neglect of the Northside in the list of things I love and hate about Dublin, published this week.
Before I respond to his slander with a charge of counter-imperialism, I must first defend myself against the claim that “95 per cent” of the list was from the Southside. On the contrary, I find in reviewing it that I mentioned the Liffey boardwalk, Chinatown, Parnell’s statue, Phoenix Park, Farmleigh, and the suburb of Ongar: all located north of the river.
Furthermore, I included mention of several Liffey bridges, and the view of sunset from same. By any logic, half of Liffey bridges and half of the sunsets – on an annualised average – are also on the northside. Many other list entries, including the bike scheme, the politeness of Dublin gurriers, and the ubiquity of clampers were also neutral vis-a-vis the river.
But that’s all beside the point. Because as long-time readers may know, I reject the fundamental premise of Mr Murray’s letter. And for the benefit of late-comers, I will here quote from a previous column I wrote on the subject: “As with many popular myths, the notion that the River Liffey is Dublin’s main social divider is not without a grain of truth. You can make a persuasive case for it, just as you can for the existence of leprechauns. But any fool knows that the real divide on Dublin’s map is perpendicular rather than horizontal.
“In one half of the city, you have the eastsiders, with their beach-front properties and fancy restaurants and lives of untrammelled privilege. In the other, you have the westsiders: poor, downtrodden, and deprived even – thanks to the existing consensus – of understanding the role of geography in their misfortune.
“The durability of the northside-southside myth is partly due to its being almost equally popular with both supposed communities. Southsiders enjoy the snobbish jokes about Northsiders, but not quite as much as northsiders do. After all, the northside’s reputation gives people there a ready-made excuse for failures in life, while making achievements seem all the more remarkable.
“Westsiders lack this comforting sense of identity. Worse still, they may be conned by the north-south myth into thinking themselves more fortunate than they are. If – like some of us – you live in the gritty south-west suburb of Kilmainham, for example, you may comfort yourself occasionally that at least you’re on the right side of the river.” That, readers, was written in 2007. And five years on, I still live in Kilmainham, which is no less gritty now. Thus the real prejudice of my list: a forensic reading of which would reveal that it was heavily based in Dublin 8, and on the west-side in general.
You may notice, for example, that it mentioned the Luas Red Line, not the aptly named Green one. Apart from referring to a Dublin tram-route, the term “green line” often describes political or post-war boundaries, especially in the Middle East.
And the tram route does arguably separate what people think of as the Southside – actually the Southeast – from the city’s sprawling West Bank. This begins around Harold’s Cross and from there extends as far as the sunset. Yes, there are a few Israeli-style settlements, like Rathgar and Terenure, that somehow ended up on the wrong side of the Luas line. But those are exceptions.
I note that Mr Murray lives in Celbridge, in Co Kildare. I’m guessing, however, that he resides on the north side of Celbridge. Hence his sense of grievance at that bank of the Liffey’s under-representation in my Dublin list.
Well, I did consider including in my “loves” Griffith Avenue, the leafy boulevard that runs across the northside from Marino (and, typically, becomes less leafy as it heads west). Bull Island – the Martha’s Vineyard of affluent Clontarf – nearly made it in too. As did the charming port village of Howth. Were I a golfing man (which I’m still not, thank God, although at my age I have to have check-ups regularly), I might also have chosen Portmarnock.
But while ostensibly on the Northside, all those places are on Dublin’s Eastside, really. Which, rich as it is in natural and man-made amenities, could easily have been over-represented. I make no apology if my list went too far in the opposite direction. It’s a reflection of the pride that, despite everything, Westsiders feel. We may not have much else, but at least we have that.