A city of breweries and distilleries. And a rich literary history. Featuring writers, many of whom liked to drink back in the day.
Before water was safe to drink, Dublin women brewed beer in their homes. The better brews could be sold and so their houses became pubs. This meant several pubs were established on every street and over a thousand remain today.
The Guinness brewery is a dominant landmark to the west of the city. Within a ten minute walk of those famous black gates is a hospital entirely for the treatment of alcoholism. But how good is that Guinness?!
And so it was when my grandmother lived in the Coombe area of the Liberties. This is the ‘true’ Dublin. The heart of the city, south west of the city centre. Not the most salubrious area but the focus of this trip, to find the house where she was born.
Searching for her street, I passed Coombe Hospital for Women – a Liberties landmark. Women living south of the river Liffey – which cuts the city in two – were often unable to get north of the river to reach the only available natal care. After the hospital opened in the 1800s, high mortality rates in maternity reduced dramatically.
Despite Coombe ‘Lying-In Hospital’ being long established, my grandmother was born across the street from where she lived in two rooms for seven people.
Angling my umbrella at a tilt against rain, a map in my other hand, the street name suddenly jumped into view – white lettering on a green metal sign against a dirty, cream-coloured wall, in Gaelic and in English as are all street signs.
Turning into the narrow lane with its walled off dead end, ten tiny one storey houses lined either side. Debris swept up by the wind, brushed against vehicles parked tight against the linked Lilliputian bungalows. Each dwelling identical with a front door and, to the left of it, a slit of a window. Latterly, most had been extended into the rooves to accommodate their twenty-first century tenants.
Grey and unremarkable, number twenty had me holding my breath knowing my grandmother drew her first in this house. I knew her well but only from stories and photographs and, touching the rough, dull wall, it was as if my fingers were reaching to her childhood hand where it might once have rested.
I had bought a 48 hour bus tour ticket at the airport but the route did not pass anywhere near here so I began the hike back to the city centre. Following Cork Street took me past one of Dublin’s cathedrals of the Church of Ireland on the site of an ancient well, twelfth century St. Patrick’s. The tallest and largest in Ireland.
In his teens, Irish pirates captured St. Patrick and took him to Ireland where he was enslaved. He escaped years later and, ordained a Bishop, returned to Ireland bringing the Gospel, using shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity. Irish paganism eventually capitulated to Christianity.
Near the ninth century site of the first Viking settlement is the heart of medieval Dublin. Adjacent to the city’s other medieval cathedral, Christ Church (ten minutes north of St. Patrick’s) is nineteenth century Dublinia. This now houses one of Dublin’s top tourist attractions focusing on Viking and medieval history.
Heading west into the city and south side of the river Liffey is Temple Bar – an area regenerated in the eighties and now a bohemian blend of bars, restaurants and galleries, promoted as Dublin’s cultural quarter.
Creating an intricate weaving of styles, the city centre is a lattice work of ornamental architecture from different periods in its history. Akin to the imposing architecture of England’s northern towns, the grandeur is predominantly Georgian with the embellishment of wrought iron work from a later period.
Irish melodies emanate from pubs and bars across the city, day and night, adding a tunefulness through which experience of the city seems filtered. Perhaps this is the reason Dublin seems surprisingly harmonious for a city. Particularly for anyone used to loud, twenty-first century London and its cacophony of clashing cultures. Even children (there were few) seem to show none of the usual European tension their cousins exhibit across the Celtic sea.
Iconography from Dublin’s literary past is commonplace – the city is dependent for its tourist income by selling its artistic heritage to the hoards of predominantly American and Canadian visitors continually passing through. Many looking for their Irish ancestors in between tours of the breweries and distilleries or taking in literary talks and slower paced pub crawls.
And in the many historic references and associations on the tourist trail – in the poetry and plays, in the paintings or musical performances – sparkling stories pour out from Dublin’s liquid history.
Lyn Shear works in the creative sector; drawing, writing, thinking. Helps others to draw better, write better, think better. And to create more of what they want in life.
St. Martin’s graduate with a Master’s from Winchester. Client list has included Deluxe Media, IOD, BBC, Meridian Broadcasting, Central Television, innumerable print and publishing companies, private commissions and consultations.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for upcoming talks, workshops and projects.