The Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen’s Green is everything that’s good about Dublin in microcosm. It’s a scene of meticulously organised chaos. Like the city itself, it houses within its confines the relics of bygone eras. And just like Dublin, it oozes a sense of nascent creativity, of something exciting coming into being. The museum has done well since it opened in 2011, but its real success lies in capturing the city’s character; it contains a sense of “Dublinness” and cradles it without crushing it, like holding a butterfly gently in a loose fist.
And so I go to the museum to experience one of its “I Love Dublin” classes. The classes, funded by the Matheson Foundation, are free to school groups and involve a guided tour and a history of Dublin, delivered in an engaging and interactive way.
Although I’m a blow-in, I love Dublin. I’ll never be a Dubliner in the classic sense, but bashing around the city and experiencing its many faces is a perpetual hobby.
The moment I heard about the classes at the museum, I wanted to go, but there remained the impediment of my being a good 15 or so years too old. At a mere 5ft, I’m shorter than many primary school children, but the cynical expression is a giveaway of my true age. Wearing an ill-fitting school uniform seems a distasteful and impractical option, so I contact the museum and they are kind enough to let me be the “Dubliner” who answers the children’s questions about being their age back in days of yore.
No time for nonsense
The children I’ll be meeting are from St Thomas Senior National School in Jobstown. As I walk up the steps of the museum, I can already hear their trilling voices. You know the sound: high-pitched, loud with excitement, tinged with predation.
Children have no time for your nonsense. Not for your social awkwardness nor your lengthy explanations. Not for your quavering voice or your fear of their precocity. No, they will simply cast your voice from their ears and begin studiously examining the golden Monster Munch. Yes, the museum possesses a display of Monster Munch – the savoury snack – plated in gold. It is an artistic representation of the Celtic Tiger in all its fickle extravagance, and it will have you laughing at its acerbic accuracy if you go to see it.
The tour is wonderful. The guide says that children usually mistake the portrait of Éamon de Valera for Hitler, asking what on earth “that fella” had to do with the 1916 Rising, so she tells them who he is before they can make that error.
On learning about the living conditions in 1913, and the likelihood that people would have had just one outfit to wear, one girl says that that “would be like wearing your school tracksuit all the time, which would be terrible. And you’d smell.”
Time for my interview
We go to the Green Room, also called the Treasury Room. Suddenly it is time for my interview. I’m nervous. This is different to any speaking I’ve done before, because these tiny people have neither the socially engendered false manners or the time to pretend to listen if they’re bored. They are very well-mannered and polite, but they are also busy doing children things, and hearing about my dull life isn’t terribly exciting for them.
After mistaking a 1950s television for a microwave, one boy seeks clarification of my statement that I was born in an era without internet. “But didn’t you have wifi?” he asks politely, as though I’m clinically confused and should be escorted out for my own wellbeing. “Well, no,” I reply.
These children are sophisticated. I imagine them in power suits, talking about “actioning” things and competing for internships at Google. They’re 10 and 11. At an age when I was trying to read Jane Austen and falling out of trees at every turn, they are asking how I lived without the internet. It is over as quickly as it began, and they trundle in the direction of the U2 room. “Who’s Boh-noh?” I hear a small voice ask as they retreat up the stairs.
The Yes Woman says yes to . . . loving Dublin . . . and No to . . . golden snacks