Dublin: A Cultural History

Dublin: A Cultural History

Dublin: A Cultural History

Dublin: A Cultural History

Synopsis

Europe's most westerly capital city was established by invaders and was for most of its history the locus of colonial administration, the engine room of foreign power, and a major site of indigenous resistance. From The Act of Union through nineteenth-century decline and into the early years of Irish independence it was a city identified with poverty, dirt, and decaying splendor. The Celtic Tiger produced sweeping changes, including massive new building projects, and the surprising revelation that Dublin has become fashionable. Siobh n Kilfeather finds the legacy of the past undergoing a series of transformations in the vibrant atmosphere of contemporary Dublin.

Excerpt

The days when being Irish seemed an affliction second only to being stricken by typhoid are now irrevocably behind us. Given its history of mass emigration, Ireland was once a nation which seemed to exist in order to be abandoned. These days, however, it is a country which is being eagerly joined—literally so, as immigrants arrive in bulk on its shores for the first time, but also spiritually, for those captivated by its culture and life-style. For the first time in its plagued, fractured modern history, this “afterthought of Europe”, as James Joyce brutally dubbed it, is once again a name to be conjured with in cosmopolitan circles—just as it was in the Middle Ages, when it was monks, scholars and missionaries, rather than advertising executives and computer scientists, whom it despatched to the four corners of Europe for the enlightenment of its inhabitants. and most of these come from the oversized village known as Dublin, a city of gossip, drink and story-telling where everyone seems to know everyone else, and which has been said to have marvellous acoustics.

It is not hard to see why the Irish should have regained their popularity in a postmodern age. For one thing, postmodernism is much preoccupied with ethnicity; and ethically speaking the Irish are sufficiently close to the British to be unthreatening, while sufficiently different from them to be charming or intriguing. For another thing, culture lies close to the centre of postmodern thought, and Ireland, most unusually, is a nation which has made an international name for itself through culture rather than through politics or military power. It is Van Morrison, Sineád O'Connor, U2, Riverdance, Christy Moore, the films of Neil Jordan and the drama of Brian Friel that Ireland exports to the rest of the world, not armaments or oil tankers. Modern Ireland has never fought a war, and is not even part of nato. As in the Middle Ages, its global influence today is largely a matter of artefacts and ideas, not high-powered diplomacy or military alliances. Dublin, as Siobhán Kilfeather shows in this brilliantly informative survey, was for centuries a seat of power; but the power in question was never Irish.

All this makes the country an attractive proposition to those jaded cosmopolitans in search of a spot of tradition and locality. Ireland has for . . .

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