(Dublin, Tuesday 22 March 2016) No country has left a larger psychic imprint on the United States than Ireland. It’s one of those few countries to which people clamor to establish a genetic link (and maybe not just white people), and therefore one to which nearly everyone does claim some connection, real or imagined. That cultural bridge makes us somewhat more aware of what’s happening here, magnifying Ireland’s influence on our imagination. And yet, even without involving our own vanity, it’s hard to imagine such a little country having accomplished so much.
|Dublin on the Liffey
It produced two of the 20th century’s greatest writers (Joyce and Beckett), who stand in a crowded hall with other literary giants. It has not only an indigenous musical form, but some of the biggest pop stars of the past 50 years (and Van Morrison’s musical legacy, like Joyce’s literary one, is immense). Then there are druids, celtic knots, and a gorgeous, elvish language to add an otherworldly allure. Oh, and since this is a beer blog, I should at least nod in the direction of the hometown brewery here, which some people have heard of. (And they’ve got some pretty decent whiskey, too.)
All of which is to say that visiting Ireland’s capital is therefore a disorienting experience. Because what we–or I, anyway–somewhat fail to appreciate is just how small this country is. The entire island is the size of South Carolina, and it has barely more people than Oregon. (If you include the population of all Irish people, which includes UK citizens, it’s similar to Washington state. Dublin’s population of 527,000/1.2 million compares quite closely to Portland’s 619,000/1.8 m. Those of us who live in Portland have a hard time calling it a city, but it feels far more urban than Dublin, which is low-slung in the typical European fashion (few buildings top four stories). The lanes and roads are small and winding, and the buildings are old; it reminds me, in fact, of Portland, Maine’s old town.
Being here reminds me that this is no center of European life. It feels like a place on the fringes, far enough out of the way to have stayed small and developed those wonderful quirks and idiosyncrasies that we all relate to. Later this week, I’m going to be spending time at the Guinness brewery (full disclosure: they paid for the trip), and one of the key pieces of context in understanding the brewery will be this remoteness–perhaps not just the brewery, but the brewery’s place in the fabric of local life as well.
Today I’m off to immerse myself in the city as much as one can in a day’s time. I hope to meet up for beers with a local informant tonight, so that will be enlightening as well. More to come–