In Dublin's fair city, things ain't so pretty

[This dates back to a time, in the late 1990s, when I wrote a monthly column for theNewfoundland Telegram about connections between Ireland and Newfoundland, where I had been brought up for a while and visited a number of times since.]

Why Dublin is such a popular tourist destination baffles me sometimes. Other times it's just downright astonishing.

For starters, it's surely one of the only 'touristy' cities in Europe where you have to get a bus from the airport into the centre, rather than a train of some sort. This might not be so bad, were it not for the filthy state of Dublin buses, and the appalling traffic en route. Be warned: do not, I repeat, do not time your flight to coincide with rush hour. By the time you reach the city centre you'll be worrying about check-in times for your flight home!

The bus drivers of Dublin have a worldwide reputation for rudeness second only to the taxi drivers of Dublin. What kind of introduction to a country is it when you ask the first public servant you meet about the correct line up for the city centre, only to hear some ill-groomed lout mutter a lot of inaudible, patronising gibberish at no one in particular, without even looking your direction, never mind smiling.

Dublin taxi drivers are a law unto themselves. You'll occasionally find a polite one, who might even tell you a tall tale about James Joyce ("He sat in that very seat ..."). But all too many of them - it seems to me - are rude, aggressive money-grabbers, fond of breaking traffic laws.

Then when you reach the city centre you are unceremoniously dumped outside some dirty, grey building, where hordes of unsavoury-looking characters loiter about with intent. You'll find pay phones not working, information desks closed, people smoking in smoke-free zones, more rude public servants. You won't see sign of a taxi, nor even a taxi rank.

It will be raining, of course, unless there's a blue moon out, in which case it won't be sunny, anyway. It will be cold, unless you happen to have timed your visit to coincide with the elusive five-minute period sometime between May and September which locals call summer. By the time you've taken your Gortex off it will be freezing again.

The pavements are black from layer-upon-layer of pollution deposits being left uncleaned. They are also spotted with that menace of all surfaces: chewing gum. And finally they are littered with debris, not just from the drunken debauchery of the night before, but from the day-to-day rubbish that many Dubliners casually toss under the ineffective brushes of Dublin's road-sweeping machines.

The Dublin Tourist Board, in my experience, recruits mostly dimwits who could care less about easing the holiday struggles of our friends from abroad, and whose personal experience of tourism amounts to an open-top bus tour of Liverpool. They are the kind of people who will tell you with absolute confidence that you just can't get from Ballyhere to Ballythere, and then turn to the next customer to spin further webs of geographical fantasy.

The service industry in Dublin has to be experienced to be believed, especially for North Americans who, I think, by-and-large go by the logical principle that if you are paying someone for something, they 'owe' it to you to be polite. In Dublin it's the opposite: if you want to spend money in a certain establishment you have to 'earn' that right by waiting absurd lengths of time to receive short shrift from petty-minded shopkeepers.

And then there's the question of what to do if you manage to put up with local peculiarities. Excuse me for being cynical, but from what I can see, there's as much to see and do in an empty shoebox as there is in the whole of the greater Dublin metropolis. Once you've had your pint of Guinness (which you can have in an Irish bar practically anywhere in the world these days) and been mugged by some street kid half your size, you've just about exhausted the city's potential for new experiences.

My advice? Head straight from the airport to the countryside.

Then again, maybe you'll love it.


Penhire said...

These were some of the responses this piece received:

Hi Paul,
I couldn’t help but respond to your column in Sunday’s Telegram. As a
Newfoundlander who has only spent about a week or so in Dublin I may not give the most valid critique but I will call it as I experienced it.
I took the bus from the airport to Mountjoy Square (or 3 stops past) and walked to my digs. Yes the speed of the buses and the brevity of the stops took some getting used to but I managed in a day or so. I found everyone friendly and helpful - taxi drivers (one of them had to be convinced that I was not an American mimicking his accent), waitresses, pedestrians, shopworkers, etc. I especially enjoyed the pubs ( I was in about 5-6 a day) and the friendliness of the people I met through a nice young Irish woman who let me sleep at her place in Lower Leeson Street. I was invited to dinner by one of the archivists at UCD and attended a barbecue somewhere in the suburbs at the home of a nice young couple and their friends. I never drink Guiness but my son and daughter say it definitely tastes better in Dublin pubs than anywhere on George Street. A walk through Stephen’s Green, a performance at Abbey Theatre and a meander along O’Connell Street were just a few of the thrills for this Irish Newfoundlander whose roots go back to 1752 Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. I also recall plenty of “nods and winks” reminiscent of home and our way of saying hello.

By the way, I am an older than average student completing my M.A. thesis on St. Patrick’s Day traditions on this side of the Atlantic. I will be returning to Ireland in August, 2000 and possibly January 2000. I want to experience more of your Dublin. Regards from our sunny island!
Clara Burke Byrne

Penhire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Penhire said...

Dear Paul,

I read your article in the Telegram regarding “Dublin’s fair city...not!”
I have to say that i was disapointed. I am travelling to Dublin on the 28th of Spetember, and after reading your article it made me rethink of what to expect in Dublin. I am a 23 year old female from Newfoundland going alone practically blindfolded for 6 weeks. Now you have me scared of being mugged, getting lost becuase nobody is willing to help you, and afraid.

I just want to say thanks for bursting my bubble, and will write you again if you don’t mind once my Dublin excursion is over and compare notes.

It’s a big step from little old Newfoundland to the big mean streets of Europe. However, during my travels in the USA, surely the people are not as mean and threating. So far, yours was the only negative comment I have heard about Ireland as a whole.
Glenda O’Keefe

Penhire said...

I am located in St.John’s, Nfld. I had the occassion to be in Dublin
for two weeks last june. I enjoyed it very much. I will agree that it is a dirty city and people litter every where. I didn’t find the people rude at all. In fact quite the opposite. I used all forms of transport while there including bus, train and taxi. I found everyone to be quite accomodating and helpful. As for the weather...yes indeed it does rain and rain alot, but you know you’re in for that before you get there so it should be of no surprise.
The only problem I ran in to was with the healthcare system. My
mother ended up in hospital while there and it was appauling the way the system is run. There seems to be better for the rich. With that I mean accomodations and location in the hospital. We came accross alot of rude and unhelpful people. Needless to say it was a poor experience. We all work in the health profession and I have to say I don’t know if I could be a part of the healthcare team over there.
In closing I just want to say I enjoyed Dublin greatly and am
looking forward to returning next year.
Alice Bonia

Penhire said...

Paul; I am an avid reader of your collumn in our Sunday’s Telegram.

In early May of 97 a group of us Newfoundlanders took a tour to Bristol to see the Matthew depart for St. John’s and then on for a 12 day tour of Ireland. I have to say it was a truly memorable trip as we started in Wexford and went all around the circle ending in Dublin. We enjoyed so much visiting all the castles, the beautiful thatched roof cottages
at Adare sailing the Lakes if Killarney and seeing beautiful Galway Bay. However when we got to Dublin things began to change. We were warned to watch our handbags etc which is not really an unusual warning about large city. My first bad taste was on Graffton Street when Upon purchasing a pair of sunglasses they were immediately snatched from my hands by a garde who accused me of buying stolen goods, so much for that. Our last evening in Dublin we decided to go out for dinner and sample some of you lamb which was’nt on our hotel menu. On strolling back to our Jurys Hotel I was rolled by a young lad who forced me to the ground and dragged me several yards breaking the strap on my purse and
running of with my passport credit cards etc. Luckily i did not suffer any serious problems just minor cuts and bruises but since we were leaving the next day my passport was my most serious loss. I never take my passport from the hotel safe when I am travelling however I did that evening. We reported the loss to the garde and after several hours my
purse and contents were found in a stolen car and returned to me.
Inspite of these incidents my love for Ireland and its people have not
dampenned, I just love the place and hope to return next spring.

Keep writing I really enjoy your collumn and by the way I also visited Trinity College it is so beautiful.
Marlene Hickey