The Plastic Hippo

May 21, 2015

In Dublin`s fair city

Filed under: Faith,History,Media — theplastichippo @ 3:07 am
Tags: , , , ,
The tart with the cart

The tart with the cart

Any gesture of reconciliation, regardless of how small has to be considered as a very good thing if truth and peace are to be re-established. With the UK mainland media wetting its collective pants over a handshake and obsessing over a dead uncle, the really big story in Ireland has been almost completely overlooked.

Ten days ago, riding on the fast and frequent airport shuttle into Dublin city centre, every lamp post and tree and almost every other building was festooned with posters urging the electorate to vote yes. “Votail Ta” said the Fianna Fail posters; “Sinn Fein says vote Yes for equality”; “Fine Gael supports freedom” and “Labour vote Yes” suggested that all the major political parties were displaying unusual unity. I later read in the Irish Times that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, a practicing Catholic and former critic of equal marriage had changed his mind and was asking the populous to vote yes.

There were also posters encouraging a no vote, usually featuring a cute child and the words “Don`t redefine marriage” or “Two men cannot replace a mother`s love” but there were far fewer of these which, it seems, are endorsed by the Catholic church. Being inquisitive by nature and given Dubliners predisposition to speak their minds, I did not meet a single person who intended to vote no. I did, however, observe an old chap crossing and re-crossing O`Connell Bridge wearing a hand-written sandwich board claiming that a yes vote would result in child abuse, unnatural sin and even cannibalism. I thought it best not to ask him how he intended to vote or how he felt about the previous actions of some Irish priests and the horrors of the Magdalene laundries scandal. Dublin seems a solid yes but only Jesus knows what is going on out in rural Ireland.

I first visited Dublin as a very young man in the mid 70s. There was a possibility of spending some time at Trinity College as an undergraduate. TCD was an absolute delight but I found Dublin at that time a drab, depressed and inward looking place. A passing priest stopped me on Grafton Street and admonished me for having long hair and flared trousers and I think having a young man display a lack of respect by laughing at him was a new and unique experience for him. This wasn`t long after the Birmingham pub bombings and Dublin was suffering sporadic revenge bombings from loyalists across the northern border. I declined Trinity`s offer and took the ferry back to Holyhead.

I have been back on various occasions over the years. I was there about a month after the IRA attempted to slaughter the Conservative Party in the Brighton bombing and again in the late 90`s about six months before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. By 2005, Dublin had changed beyond recognition with the Celtic Tiger economic bubble not yet quite big enough to burst. The old docks area was forested with cranes building flash office blocks and plush hotels and vanity conference venues. The place was awash with money but there was something in the air that suggested that this would not end well.

Ten years on, with the undercarriage down and locked on final approach, I realised that this would be my first visit to Dublin as a tourist rather than being on some business trip. We stayed in a charming hotel on O`Connell Street just a few steps away from the General Post Office. If you look closely at the façade, you can still see the bullet holes made during the five day gun battle that raged as part of the Easter Rising of 1916. The hotel itself was a former Georgian town house but now the ground floor is divided between a global burger franchise and a national convenience store. Dublin has changed again and this time for the better.

The city has embraced the planet`s Diaspora. There are ethnicities and languages on the streets that have been welcomed and assimilated. Setting aside the outrageous price of a pint of Guinness in Temple Bar, we enjoyed a “traditional” Irish stew with Soda Bread in an eatery owned by a Turk, cooked by an Uzbek and served by a Romanian. Outside, a seven piece Reggae band were busking on the pavement and I remain convinced that the elderly Irish caricatures propping up the bar were retired Head Teachers and bank managers bussed in from suburbs under the employ of the tourist office to provide visitors with a bit of local colour and the infamous “Craic”.

The UK mainland media cite a handshake between the heir to the British throne and the leader of Sinn Fein as evidence of “how far” Ireland has come. Ireland has changed but the UK has not. Perhaps the meeting between an alleged former commander of the IRA and the actual commander-in-chief of the parachute regiment means that the murder of Mountbatten and the events that became known as Bloody Sunday can now be forgotten. If the UK media are serious about reporting “how far” Ireland has come, perhaps they should report the Equal Marriage Referendum that takes place this coming Friday. 40, 30, 20 or 10 years ago this vote would have been unthinkable and with conservative republicanism and the iron grip of the Catholic Church in decline, Dublin has become a truly enlightened European city.

I didn`t see a single priest or nun on the streets of Dublin. Perhaps they have woken up and smelled the outrageously expensive Irish coffee.

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