The Irish Cycle: Baile Atha Cliath
Jack B. Yeats "The Liffey Swim"
O, Dublin, sweet and slow,
I come and go
up and down your cobbled streets,
as the rain, insistent,
dampens down the lights,
and throws an orange fuzzy sheen
over half-seen sights,
over places I have been,
some near and some not far:
Grafton Street, Stephen’s Green,
The Coombe and Temple Bar,
The Traitors’ Gate.
Crowds of loud young English
shout and laugh, then urinate,
lavishly, groaning, here on the street,
beside the peagreen Liffey
(sweet Anna Livia Plurabelle);
well, at least they’re not in uniform,
and sure, dammit, what the hell,
it's a far sight worse we’ve seen before,
insurrection, hatred, famine, war:
and such a fine collection of bullet holes
in our central city monuments.
So let the hen parties heave their guts out
on the raincold cobbles:
let them stagger home and say,
what a wild time we had in Dublin!
Let them come back in ten years or so,
with their fourth or fifth bloke,
with all their kids in tow,
and have another drink, a smoke,
perhaps then they'll have some peace
(for peace comes dropping slow)
and echo these words of Louis MacNeice:
This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades -
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.
Sweeney’s the chemist,
where Bloom forgot Molly’s lotion,
is still in Lincoln Place;
and so is the old post office
down on Westland Row:
O you naughty naughty boy!
I do not like that other world.
And please will you tell me
what perfume does your wife wear?
Bloom smell-sipped his glass of burgundy
at Davy Byrne’s, on Duke Street,
a disappointing place these days,
so gentrified. I well remember
how one of the old barmen
was kill’t telling me how Joyce, yer man,
would be writing away at the back table,
dat filthy buik, Allergies, or wha’ever.
Ah, would you fuck off, says I.
Yeh bleedin bowzy, says he,
I took yeh for a fuckin Yank.
Come to Amazing Tourist Dublin!
Stay at our three-and-a-half star hotels;
eat like a pig, drink like a fish,
then lumber,lumber along
our lazy languorous streets.
Pretend the locals are nice to you.
Pretend you are John Wayne,
all quiet and dangerous;
pretend you are Scarlett O'Hara
home at last in Tara
On your ambling aisy rambles
you can squint up the arses,
the cool marble behinds,
of female statues
at our staid and steady National Museum.
Bloom did, our wandering Jew,
so too can you.
No money, honey;
but even stone hearts slowly melt,
so smile, unbuckle your belt,
make a voluntary contribution!
Oops, sorry, Yanks,
no dollars, thanks,
there’s an exchange-rate
revolution: the … the ingratitude!
(but we were neutral in the Second War).
Hang on to your cash, you’ll need it!
Are ye jokin’ or wha’? indeed it
does seem strange, no proper answer,
like a dropkick in the balls
from a reedy ballet dancer.
We still stack up the dead
next to my grandfathers,
maiden aunts, cousins and uncles,
in the wild sprawl of Glasnevin.
Poor poor Paddy Dignam!
(“No home is complete
without Plumtree’s Potted Meat”).
Poor dear betrayed Parnell.
Ah, Michael …
Macushla! … cut down at thirty-one,
our greatest chieftain since O’Neill!
Cut down, I might add,
by one of our own.
Why do we do this?
Ask Jonathan (Gulliver) Swift
who suggested, politely,
that the English should eat Irish babies,
help with the balance of payments.
England thought he was serious,
and so did some of the Irish.
“Where can I sell me baby, sorr?”
Well, without you, Michael,
we’d still be prancing around the world
on British passports.
Tabhair dom do lamh.*
Give us an oul’ song!
Up on the flinty North Side,
Drumcondra, Marino, Whitehall,
sits my old local, The Goose,
just there by Sion Hill;
I’d be away three years, maybe more,
then I'd stroll into the gaff,
and the lads’d say, where ya been?
Japan. O yeah? Me, I went to Benidorm,
two weeks with the new girlfriend,
fuckin magic! Right, it's my round,
then we’d talk and sing and laugh.
Sometimes An Taoiseach lounges in,
good old Bertie himself, backed up
by hard-looking thugs. “Yo!” says I,
“is it the Prime Minister or his bleedin twin?”
“Ah, Malachy!” says he, priding himself
on his memory for names, a head like tin.
“No,” says I, “isn’t it me myself?”
“O, Jayz, the astronomer … the geographer,
or was it the stamp collector?”
“B-b-b-bertie! You got it in one!”
After that, a pint, a good long chat,
here at “home” in Dublin North:
he may be the grand prime minister,
but he knows where that home is at.
On Bridge Street, down by the City Walls,
sits an ancient pub, the “Brazen Head”,
and many a time and oft have I lingered,
langered, within its stout-built chambers:
this is the oldest pub in Dublin, 1198.
About fifty yards away is the bridge,
the – ‘Atha Cliath’ – the Ford of the Hurdles
from which the city takes its name,
a river crossing on the ‘Sli Cualann’,
one of the five ancient roads of Ireland,
the path from Tara to Glendalough.
That helps explain the licence plates:
we’re the citizens of “Baile Atha Cliath”,
and “Dubh-Linn”, which is also Irish,
is not where we live at all.
In the mean little streets near Christchurch,
winding and awkward to this day,
a proto-Nazi called Major Sirr
cornered the rebel Lord Fitzgerald,
then got himself stabbed for his pains.
Thirty-odd thousand died that year, 1798;
thousands more were transported
in creaking hulks to Australia,
a new setting for Irish prisoners,
a new continent to slowly transform:
America was to come along later.
Not many long years before that,
The Mad Dean of Saint Patrick’s,
that entrepreneur, that pamphleteer,
(the cathedral looms just down the road)
that purveyor of roasted Irish babies,
was laid to rest, now his epitaph
fairly bounces off the wall:
Hic depositum est corpus
JONATHAN SWIFT S.T.D.
Huyus Ecclesiae Cathedralis
Ubi saeva indignatio
Cor lacerare nequit
Et imitare, si poteris
Strenuum pro virili
Libertatis Vindicatorem **
God, it’s an old country,
but the weight comes down like a feather.
Nothing seems heavy, all drops down so lightly.
Freedom. Freedom, more than any other thing,
is central. You can go back through
all the old stories, the legends, the epics,
the Annals of the Four Masters, local histories,
you can listen to the voices of the rebels,
all those who fought and died,
four hundred, two hundred, one hundred years ago,
right on down to recent times,
and you sense this will never change,
you know this will never change.
All the tubby little accountants,
the cross-looking women in large automobiles,
the fierce young sporting men,
the giggling schoolgirls,
the languid poets and philosophers,
the businessmen in suits,
the regulars in the pubs,
the girl secretaries,
the skangers and headbangers,
the bus drivers,
the radio and TV executives,
the Nigerians, the Chinese,
the actors, the musicians,
the polite young Poles,
the flower sellers,
the asylum seekers,
the Spanish students
can gather in the streets, burn down embassies.
Ancient city of an ancient country,
ringed right round by the ocean sea;
great powers that rise and fall around us,
can do as they will, just leave us be.
- “Dublin” by Louis MacNeice
-- Turlough O’Carolan, blind harper (1670-1738). The title of this composition is “Give Me Your Hand” in English.
-- Bertie Ahern, Irish PM (An Taoiseach – The Leader)
-- The Brazen Head Pub homepage
-- “Dubh-Linn” translates as Black-Pool, the remains of which (now drained) can be seen behind Dublin Castle.
-- Swift’s epitaph, translated from the Latin by W.B. Yeats:
Swift has sailed into his rest.
Savage indignation there
cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
He served human liberty.
-- Annals of the Four Masters Irish chronicles, ca. 2000 BC - 1616 AD