International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Doyle is a champion of the Dublin that stretches, physically and psychologically, beyond the concerns of the metropolitan elite. He lives near the DART line now, on the way to the busy fishing port of Howth. Along its busy quayside, trawlers unload their catch. Some of these fruits of the Irish coast go straight on ice at Wrights of Howth, a seafood store where smoked salmon is a speciality. Salmon has a special place in the folklore of Ireland. In the Fenian Cycle, a body of mythological poems and stories first written down in the seventh century, it was said that the great warrior hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill tasted the flesh of the Salmon of Knowledge as a boy, and in doing so gained all the wisdom of the world. On this basis, a side of Wrights’ smoked salmon seems a bargain.
Before catching the DART back to Dublin, I make a brief foray up along Howth Head – the ‘Himp of Holth’ in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake – as a pale sun emerges to light the sweep of the bay. East lies the little island of Ireland’s Eye, to the west the Wicklow Mountains. Beneath them in the valley of the Liffey, the great city awaits twilight. Across the bay are the tall chimneys of the power station in Ringsend, home of Paul Durcan, Ireland’s most exquisitely tender, richly comic and ferociously political poet.
I remember the subversive thrill of reading Durcan’s poems for the first time. I was still at school when he wrote of enjoying carnal pleasures outside the presidential residence, Áras an Uachtaráin, in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Durcan’s poem was a challenge to the puritanical spirit of the times as embodied in the austere presence of Éamon DeValera, revolutionary founding father and president for some of the period when Durcan and I were growing up in Dublin.
The park is lovely in all seasons – a 1,740- acre mix of glen and woodland to the north of the Liffey where you can spot fallow deer and swooping sparrowhawks and kestrels, and picnic in the shadow of the giant Papal Cross. This 35-metre-high structure stands where Pope John Paul II addressed more than a million people in September 1979. I chose a spot under one of the park’s numerous trees and while away an hour with a copy of Daddy Daddy, my favourite of Durcan’s collections.
As darkness falls, my thoughts turn from the solitary wanderings of the day towards more convivial preoccupations. Heading out onto Parkgate Street at the southern end of the park, I walk to O’Donoghue’s pub on Merrion Row. With a history that dates back to the 18th century, O’Donoghue’s was the epicentre of Ireland’s folk music revival in the 1960s. There is still good music, flowing drink and an atmosphere of ease. The great folk singer-songwriter Andy Irvine, who arrived in Ireland from London in the Sixties and never left, immortalised the place in his eponymous ballad.
I grew up in Dublin between the mountains and sea. I feel the passion described by the poet Donagh McDonagh, who wrote of ‘this arrogant city that stirs proudly and secretly in my blood’. Pack your bag full of her writers and walk these streets and, I promise, the passion will stir within you too.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Patrick Kavanagh's name. This has been fixed.