Time to tell Dublin’s old motto: ‘You’re fired’
An Irishman’s Diary on why the capital needs a new coat of arms too
“The current coat of arms is 400 years old and, as you’ll recall, depicts three castle-like buildings on fire. But nobody – not even City Hall – now knows which castles they’re supposed to be, or indeed whether they’re castles at all. According to the mayor’s website, they may just represent gates in the city wall, or watchtowers outside it. Or they may be all be the same thing – Dublin Castle – but depicted in triplicate, “because of the mystical significance of the number 3”. Given this confusion about the crime scene, there can be little hope now of finding out who started the fires. But based on the city’s history, I suggest several possible scenarios.”
Whatever about Dublin needing a new motto, as Mary Freehill suggests, it could certainly do with an updated coat of arms. The current one is 400 years old and, as you’ll recall, depicts three castle-like buildings on fire. But nobody – not even City Hall – now knows which castles they’re supposed to be, or indeed whether they’re castles at all.
According to the mayor’s website, they may just represent gates in the city wall, or watchtowers outside it. Or they may be all be the same thing – Dublin Castle – but depicted in triplicate, “because of the mystical significance of the number 3”.
Given this confusion about the crime scene, there can be little hope now of finding out who started the fires. But based on the city’s history, I suggest several possible scenarios.
It could be the wild Irish, again, attacking from outside. It could be mindless vandalism, by arsonists within. It could be the inevitable result of shoddy planning. Or it could be an insurance job (involving only one castle, probably, but depicted in triplicate to represent three claims).
If readers have any information that might lead to a breakthrough in the case, they should contact the incident room now. In the meaning, and getting back to the motto, I tend to agree that, even if we can ignore the burning castles in the background, a Latin phrase (“Obedientia civium urbis felicitatis”) making Dublin’s happiness conditional on civic obedience is probably unwise.
No doubt there are more lawless capitals in the world. But staying with fires, and to give just one example of why obedience is not Dubliners’ most obvious virtue, I refer readers to Tommy Tiernan’s famous sketch about the contrast in reactions to a fire alarm in a New York bar (“a strange thing happened – everyone left“) and one in a pub here.
Sure, he was exaggerating, but not much. As he said, the Dublin pub could be made of “Christmas trees and gasoline” and be located “between a fireworks factory and a remand centre for young pyromaniacs”. But if customers couldn’t actually see a fire, they would assume it didn’t exist and carry on drinking. The only urgency, if the alarm persisted, would be in trying to think of jokes.
In fact, it’s hard to escape the subject of incendiaries in Dublin at the moment, because even though the sale of fireworks is as illegal as ever, the city is now once again lit up like 1970s Beirut every night, and will be for the rest of this month.
Then there’ll be the bonfires. The preparations have already started where I live. One evening this week, I saw several tractor tyres being rolled down the middle of a street in a hurry. In one case, the tyre had opened up a clear lead on the children behind, and was still accelerating, so that panicked car drivers had to pull in out of its way.
Not only were the kids planning a fire of toxic materials, clearly, the tyres looked very like the ones a local apartment block has just installed as decorative flower-bed surrounds. And all right, that’s an extreme, seasonal example of civic disobedience. But the level of casual, everyday lawbreaking in Dublin is enough to embarrass the current motto.
Maybe, eventually, Dublin drivers will stop parking in bike lanes, and cyclists will stop using footpaths, and pedestrians will wait for the green man. Even that 30kph city centre speed limit might one day become binding – whereas, at the moment, never mind drivers, it’s not unknown for bicycle couriers and runaway tractor tyres to break it.
So pending Dublin’s transformation into Geneva, a more sustainable motto would be useful. While we’re at it, we might as well dispense with Latin and adopt a breezier, American-style, slogan. “The City that gets to the Point”, for example, might work. It wouldn’t be true, of course, but accompanied by the new coat of arms (a north-bound Luas with “The Point” written on the front), you couldn’t contradict it.
Another coat of arms might depict O’Connell Street and two of its most prominent features. The GPO would represent the 1916 Proclamation, with its high ideals – still a work in progress – while the big, needle-shaped thing in front of it would represent whatever you’re having yourself. These two entities would be united by a punning, single-word motto – “Aspire”. And not even James Joyce could improve on that as a statement of the city’s ambitions – minimalist or maximalist, depending on your politics.