The Sound of Dublin
The sound of Dublin is seagulls calling over the streets in the evenings as the crowds walk along Grafton Street, unexpected summer sunshine leaving the buildings like a slowly cooling oven. The colour of Dublin is green, green everywhere, above head, trees nodding wisely along the boulevards and grass underfoot softer than spongecake. The smell of Dublin is fresh air, tinged with salt from the sea and coolth from the mountains. And the taste of Dublin is sweetened cream, light as clouds, and clotted cream, thick as secrets, and pints of Guinness that taste like cream when it runs from the taps in the brewery.
But Dublin is confusion, with its language that doesn't sound anything like it's written, and people who when they talk you can't tell if they're singing or speaking. There should be mermaids everywhere, singing of the past but there aren't; there are children instead, skin soft as pudding and round blue eyes taking in the world, big heads covered in fine blonde and red hair and strong legs carrying them along the duck ponds and laughing laughing laughing because the ducks are so funny, Mammy, and look at the swans!
Yet the feeling of Dublin is time in all its ages because like Picasso said, youth has no age, and Dublin feels old and young at the same time, containing all its people in all their multitudes. And Dublin is a beautiful thing in all its ages.
There’s no place sadder in Dublin than Kilmainham Gaol, where children and adults alike were jailed during the Famine for stealing a crust of bread. Thousands were transported to Australia or Van Diemen’s Land, where penal servitude and hard labor waited for them on the other side of a grueling three month journey by ship.
In the museum you learn that people would often steal on purpose because they were assured of three meals a day; each meal weighed four ounces more than what they’d get in the poorhouse. You walk around the museum, the Irish breakfast you had that morning sloshing around in your stomach: eggs cooked four different ways, soda bread, almond croissants, baked beans, muesli with yogurt, orange juice, tea and honey.
No talk of ghosts in Kilmainham Gaol but you could swear they’re there, running around the corners, staring at you with wide, starving eyes, hands outstretched for a few coins or a crust of bread. You can hear their footsteps echoing off the stone walls if you listen with the ears God gave you.
This is the cell where Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford are allowed to spend ten minutes together after their chapel wedding and before his execution. They thought they’d be alone, get to exchange a kiss and a few caresses, but instead they’re surrounded by soldiers watching their every move. So they sit on the bed and look at each other, unspeaking. Tell me you love me, implores Grace with her tearful eyes. Leave the talking, Joseph doesn’t say. We’ve no need for words. And now here’s Grace’s own cell, where she was jailed for three months during the Civil War. If you peer in through the peep hole, you can see the Madonna and Child painted on the back wall, and the sight of it makes all the words fly out of your head like seagulls in the Dublin sky.
You’re in the front seat of a Dublin taxi, sitting next to a Nigerian cab driver who’s got the stereo on so loud the car windows vibrate as you drive on the long road hemming the River Liffey. Children are diving into it on the corners of the bridges, screaming and splashing in a ritual they’ve been warned not to do but they do it any way because this is summertime in Dublin and they’re the kings of Dublin in the summertime.
If you talk to any of those kids they’ll tell you We hate the English because they know their history. And because you don’t want to hear the history of hate, you turn to the cab driver and ask him, What are you listening to?
He responds, Fela! Do you know him?
And you say, Do I know him? Turn it up. Let’s listen to it loud.