Dublin has a dysfunctional relationship with itself
What’s so special about Dublin? At the beginning of the 21st century that was an easy question to answer. With all the flatulence of the new rich, the capital saw itself as one of the great cities of Europe. It was in this climate of clownish self-belief that our Civic Museum quietly closed down in 2003. It seemed that we had no need for such a place. Few of us mourned its passing.
A city decides to turn its back on history at the height of a boom. But is our position so different today? And how should we present our capital to the world? These are important questions. The Dublin region accounts for four of every 10 jobs in this country. It is responsible for nearly half of all goods and services produced, and nearly half of the total tax revenue.
To put it simply: without a strong, dynamic capital, you can forget about the rest of the country. For the benefit of Ireland, Dublin needs to shine.
Sometimes it is easier to love Dublin than to make peace with it. We all have our private battles. “I climb over the wall and I get out of here sometimes,” Bono once said, “because the place would make you tear your hair out. But I always want to come home to Dublin.” The rock star’s lament is typical. Indeed friction may be part of who we are. But there are also many positive aspects to being a Dubliner. I see them every day in my work at City of a Thousand Welcomes, a civic initiative to promote tourism and civic pride, and at the Little Museum of Dublin.
In trying to promote Dublin past and present I am alive to “the daily spite of this unmannerly town”, as WB Yeats called it, and what Louis MacNeice called “the catcalls and the pain, the glamour of her squalor, the bravado of her talk”. I love the place, and I want it to succeed. But making peace does not mean shirking from the truth.
Dublin has a dysfunctional relationship with the rest of the country. For so long the seat of occupation, the city acquired an English character, and even now, 90 years after independence, some people find it hard to move on. A 2010 survey revealed that only 24 per cent of Irish people feel any emotional connection to the capital. The figure goes down to 15 per cent when you exclude Dubliners.
The capital also has a dysfunctional relationship with itself. Even the proudest Dubliners think of the city as two towns separated by the Liffey. Yet the northside/southside divide is a shibboleth, encouraged in large part by the delightful satire of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. The east/west divide is ignored for the greater amusement of people who can’t get over a river.