I fantasise about Dublin at least once per day. The streets there had opened wide before me, offering turns that would lead to new sounds and histories. Each coloured door, too, beckoned me along, begging me to stay.
Having spent just three weeks in Dublin last June, I knew I had to return. In a short time, I had made friends with an archivist at the National Library, a barista at Fixx, and a skinny bartender at the Norseman. I had traversed the Liffey, sat in on Bloomsday readings, saw Salman Rushdie interviewed in Dalkey. It all seemed so perfect — my usual setbacks and fears simply did not exist.
I left in July thinking I belonged there, thinking it was the only place I’d ever want to belong. Conveniently, while exiting the Nassau Street cave-gate at Trinity, I noticed a flyer advertising its graduate programme in Irish writing, and that was that.
Were those three weeks really enough to know a city that was basically the antithesis to my Ohio hometown?
Now it’s nine months later and I’m readying to move to Dublin in September, with the programme beginning soon thereafter. As I consider it now, were those three weeks really enough to know a city that was basically the antithesis to my Ohio hometown?
No. The answer is simply, no. My day-to-day “adventures” barely spanned the few branches that stretched from the trunk of College Green. I strayed only twice to the northern suburbs. I saw Dublin as any adjunct would in a short timeframe: on the best-known, most congested streets and inside the most tourist-heavy pubs.
And though I hate to admit all of that – that I may not have seen the city or country as they deserve or intend – I still think of Dublin as a dreamland. Something during my short trip hooked me like a flounder. It didn’t matter if I was riding atop a red double-decker tour bus or trying Irish breakfast for the first time; every small thing added to my fascination, and it hasn’t weaned.
How could I keep experiencing Dublin without actually being there? In search of new intimacy with the city and its culture, I immersed myself in the local literature.
I digress. I work for the joint University of Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s College student newspaper here in Indiana, and I attend the latter institution, which is ND’s sister school and an all-women’s college. When it came to my joining the paper, I hoped to write a few solid news reports and commit no further.
I continued to discover Ireland through contemporary eyes like Deidre Madden’s, Anne Enright’s, Eimear McBride’s. I’m even taking a poetry class at Notre Dame on the works of Eavan Boland, Paula Meehan, Martina Evans.
But in the process, I found that the news stories, art features, sports reports, and editorial debates were the best windows into my campus culture – better, surely, because they constructed my world into the one I wanted to engage in discussion. And in that way, I got to know the place. The constant needing-to-know something about everything became the way I learned to love my community. In some twisted way, prodding and prying can translate into unimagined passion.
Thinking now of Dublin, I wonder if I could ever know the city so intimately – for its joys and its flaws, accepting both all the same. When I returned home in July, I began reading any Irish writer I could get my hands on. In addition to Yeats, Wilde and the usual Irish canon-ites, I continued to discover Ireland through contemporary eyes like Deidre Madden’s, Anne Enright’s, Eimear McBride’s. I’m even taking a poetry class at Notre Dame on the works of Eavan Boland, Paula Meehan, Martina Evans.
Only recently did I realise that I was filtering my “keeping in touch” with Ireland through the voices of mostly female writers. Yet, as Boland claims, the Irish canon has excluded and silenced the “voice and vision of women” throughout history with texts dominated by the idea of a woman as an objectified, mythical symbol. In some ways, I feel almost dignified in my reading with hopes to diffuse the male-dominated milieu and support the feminine identity that’s being developed.
This technique of accessing literature has yet to fail me in my desire to better know a place. Maybe I can’t feel the moody summer sun nor the energy on Cavendish Row when a performance frees its watchers into the night. And maybe I can’t ride in taxis, chatting about Maureen O’Hara with the driver, nor ride on the DART to Malahide, alone, watching seagulls besiege the tracks.
I’ve dreamed about the place nearly every day since I left, picturing myself dragging my fingers slowly across Trinity’s domineering gates in a rainstorm.
But I can still sense these things in the pages of writers who have more authority on the matter than I, and that is the best I can do until September nods. For now, the depths lie within the truths, and the confines, of literature.
Soon I’ll be coming to a place that’s yours. I’ll always appreciate America as my home, and I realise I’ll never know Ireland the way that I deeply desire. I’ve dreamed about the place nearly every day since I left, picturing myself dragging my fingers slowly across Trinity’s domineering gates in a rainstorm. In a roundabout way, I guess I am hoping to deliver this Tolstoy quote so it makes perfect sense: “Stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
If you’re actually there, and these realities that I can only access through literature are the realities of your life, I hope you embrace it. I face nostalgia, sure, but it’s a longing for something I have just barely encountered. What’s it like to be in Dublin right now? I ask you this, expecting no answer, turning instead to literature, if only for now.