Why do Irish people take so little pride in Dublin?
Our capital city is regarded with detachment by many, and remains not quite Irish, but the city is there for the taking
What does it mean to be Irish? It means to ask what it means to be Irish. St Patrick’s Day is high season for ruminations on the Gaelic soul, and this year even our President, Michael D Higgins, has become involved in the search for meaning, with his nationwide ethical initiative, “Shaping Ireland’s Shared Future.”
The President’s intervention is laudable, not least because anguished queries about what it means to be Irish are seldom followed by sincere answers. The small size of our nation should make it possible to cultivate a common set of values and a shared identity, yet the Republic is arguably more fractured today than at any point in the last 50 years. Among the problems is most of us take no pride in our first city.
In the most literal sense it is true, of course, that Ireland has a capital. But can one really say that Dublin is a capital, with all that term implies? Does the city represent our country? Is it an expression and symbol of the nation-state? Is it ever an unqualified source of pride? Of course slagging is part of what makes us Irish, and there is always tension between a capital and the rest of a country, but most of our citizens can’t stand Dublin, and that includes many Dubliners. Even in basic economic terms this makes no sense.
The greater Dublin region accounts for four out of every 10 jobs in this country. It is responsible for nearly half of all the goods and services produced here, and nearly half of the tax revenue. To put it simply, without a strong capital the rest of the country is banjaxed. Yet Dublin is regarded with detachment by many – including some Dubliners – and there is a very real sense in which it remains not quite Irish.
This suspicion was confirmed in 2010 when a survey commissioned by Dublin City Council revealed that just 26 per cent of Irish people have any emotional connection to the capital. The figure drops to 15 per cent when you exclude Dubliners. So, only one in four Irish people feel any emotional connection to their own capital.
The results of that survey were, of course, ignored by every media outlet in the capital. How does Dublin respond to anti-Dublin bigotry? Not, as the shibboleth has it, by lording it over the natives, but by keeping her head down. Like a long-suffering wife who does most of the work and gets none of the praise, Dublin regards rural Ireland with a deference that borders on fear.
We all know Friday crusaders who colonise defensible pockets of the countryside like Baltimore and Westport. (Roundstone in Connemara is known locally as G4.) The neo-colonial will claim to be welcomed by local communities. It is polite to pretend to believe such claims. If the weekend colonists were ever to listen to community radio outside “The Pale” they would quickly realise how unwelcome they really are. Dublin has LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, but it still can’t connect to Galway.
There are historical explanations for Dublin’s unpopularity. It was the centre of colonial occupation. In many ways – both good and bad – it still resembles a British city. And it’s true that Dublin gets a large slice of the national pie. As it should. Together these gripes speak to the immaturity of a tribe who are no closer to their own capital than they were in 1922.