04 Mar 2002 // places

A few weeks ago, I visited Dublin. Land of the Gaelic tongue, rolling hills, spires of rocks and spectacular coastlines. Or so I thought. Dublin is almost completely anti-thecal to how I had imagined it. The economic prosperity that has swept Ireland has remolded the face of Dublin. About ten years ago, Dublin was a very poor, very run-down kind of place. That is almost un-imaginable walking down current day Dublin. It's full of big department stores, cafes on every corner, trendite restaurants with exotic food from every corner of the globe and sophisticated electronic stores. It's the European silicon valley with cyber-cafes everywhere, and a high-density of dot-com startups. A far cry from the cobble-stone poverty of Joyce. The few indications of the grinding oppresion of the former English over-lords is a series of paintings in the stately post office in the centre of the city. The paintings illustrate the Rebellion, which in a manner of the Irish, failed.

So how did Ireland, only Dublin really, manage to bootstrap its way out of its Eastern European style of life? It did the savvy thing and joined the EU really early on. For the last ten years, money has been flowing into Ireland via Brussels to kick-start the Irish economy. And then the Irish Government made decided to aggressively court the i.t. sector. We're talking ten year tax free, or nearly tax free, status to i.t. corporations. My good friend, Ned, was working at Media-Lab Europe - in Dublin. Yes, that's the same MediaLab as the one at M.I.T., which has Chomsky as a director (MediaLab Europe has Bono as one of the Directors). The Irish Government GAVE AWAY a whole building AND LOTS OF MONEY, to entice MediaLab to to set up camp in Dublin. But we're not talking any old building. We're talking the OLD GUINESS HOP-STORE. What had happened was that about 40 years ago, Guiness worked out a new way of brewing their beer which took up 70% less space. As a result, they just vacated these massive Guiness factories in the middle of Dublin. The Dublin government has since been trying to work out what to do with them do. Give them away, yay.

The Irish (in Dublin) are not quite as friendly as I imagined them. But the astonishing thing about Dublin is the intensity of their pub-life (in comparison to the placid feel of Belgian pubs). Every Friday, Saturday night, every, and I do mean every, pub is filled to the rafters. Punters just enjoying the tactile presence of bodies jammed up against their drinking hole. According to Ned, the truly authentic Irish pub must have disgusting non-descript carpets, ornate decorations along the walls, and mis-matched antique lights swinging from the ceiling. And yes, Guiness is better in Ireland than out.

Ireland is a literate country. Maybe I'm biased. I was starved of affordable books in Brussels, and bought 10 books in Ireland, which were on discount. Being literate also means giving a tax break to artists. No artist in Ireland has to pay tax! As for literacy, the most famous exhibit in Dublin - the Book of Kells. It is great, but it's not that interesting as you only get to see eight pages of the book under glass. However, I maintain that the best thing I saw in Dublin, was the Long Room at Trinity College. It was an adjunct exhibit to the book of Kells exhibit. The Long Room is a stunning antique library in Trinity College. Dark and sombre, there are two split levels of floor-to-ceiling cup-boards all filled with beautiful, hard-cover, hand-made books. The room is massive and the wood-panelling is finished with a sophisticated sheen. A heavy air hangs over the room.

Nevertheless, once you stray out of the global zone, the old Dublin exerts itself. Rows upon rows of incredibly monotonic Victorian builidings fill the suburbs. Actually, calling them buildings would be a compliment. Brick boxes with windows would much more accurate. It would seem that the English didn't desire to build very well in Dublin. I wonder why. As an example of the Cathololcism that grips Ireland, while I was there, there was a roaring debate over a proposed new bill. This bill wanted to legalise abortion - for women who were clinically depressed and had said that they wanted to kill themselves. Now, the interesting things is, both for and against were pro-lifers. It would be unthinkable to position yourself any other way. A final point, I have never ever seen so many mothers with prams taking their kids onto public transport in my life. Dublin is a perpetual Young Mothers Associaton Conference.