Sunday, 29 April 2012

Looking back from 1916

Question-If one of the participants in the 1916 GPO rising stood outside the GPO today looking at Anne Summers and Dublin city as it is today, how would they react. (This is not exactly the question asked in the writers centre yesterday, 28/04/2012, as part of the Inkslingers writing workshop.)

There is often a presumption in questions like these that our Hero’s from the past would be unhappy when they see how our city has evolved today. There are of course aspects of city life, life in Dublin, life in general that they would fail to appreciate or to understand. There would be aspects of life that would shock, amaze, surprise and gladden them.

Another presumption in the question is that life was good then, if so, why 1916, the GPO, tenements collapsing on Church street in 1913, the civil war?

I suspect they would have been happy with the relevant wealth and health possessed by all citizens even those unemployed and down on their luck. A stark difference to the Dublin written about by James Stephens in ‘The Charwoman’s Daughter’ circs 1912, if you didn’t work, you starved.

There would be something starkly wrong with a city that was. Is perfect and Dublin certainly isn’t.

Standing between the pillars of the GPO, they might ask, are they looking at a city in just name or is this how a city works in 2012. Do citizens feel ownership or are they just monetary tourists satisfying the needs of those who make money.

Dublin as a city grows and develops more at the behest of finance than the needs and wishes of its citizens. Though at times, they are the same.

Some research process I have been involved in, indicate that Dublin is made up of disjointed communities, North/south, The Liffey, Saint Stephens Green, suburbs, Business groupings, Flat complexes, family units, those that pass through. There are suppliers of services, not necessarily those that are high on citizen lists of wants and needs. We have disjointed public transport, roads by DCC, buses by Dublin bus, Luas by Veloia and the NRA, none of who seem to talk and agree. We have utilities who dig up our roads as if they queue for access, the same spots dug by NTL, DCC, Telecom Eireann, An Bord Gais etc., one after the other within a couple of weeks. Statutory obligations bypassed by declaring all digs to be emergency’s. Why don’t they talk to each other, the citizens and street users of this great City?

Are cities defined by not talking, poor communication, lack of interaction or as Jean Jacobs tells us in her book ‘The Fall and rise of the great American cities’, that people move to the city to feel anonymous but safe in the crowd, (Not an exact quote). If all this is true, we have the perfect city, exciting, entertaining, aggressive, frustrating, disappointing and unable to live up to the expectations of all.

Yet people smile on sunny days, through the challenges presented daily, through the troika, unemployment, the political system, the lies and half-truths of our leaders, the challenges presented by life itself.

Irish people, Dublin people, are generally very positive, behind the language that would suggest otherwise, “Shure what can you do”, “It’s out of our hands” etc.

The speed of the city and our interaction with it often blinds us to its beauty within, the river Liffey, Grafton Street, ‘The Basin’ off Berkeley road, Merrion Park as well as the many beautiful historic buildings.

Could the lack of interaction and buy in, sense of ownership be related to the lack of a specific Dublin identity? Where is our Dublin Architecture of the modern era rather than the cheap imitations from other cities, why are our modern writers not writing about this great city, why do we watch soccer rather than hurling and Gaelic football, our most popular newspapers are foreign as are our magazines, why do we look out rather than inward, a bit of both is healthy. We seem to need to write about international themes, news, sports, events rather than focus on what’s within and precious. Are our dreams, emotions, ambitions, focused on success in a global sense rather than on our small local economy and creativity? A lot of our artists/writers/performers achieved international success by focusing on what we now hide, our hidden gems, beauty, innovation and different way of looking at the world.

Cities are complex, Dublin is complex and standing outside the GPO, looking at this city, his/her city, our city, is a complex challenge for anyone, especially if you have been observing since 1916.

I suspect that anyone from that the early 1900s would be more than happy with what we have today, even if they would be puzzled with most it, particularly if they were offered a 'Tablet' for Christmas.

 Dublin-a City defined by its searching?