Postal order

An Irishman’s Diary about Dublin’s real cultural quarter

As a proud resident of that postal district, I echo the general sentiment of a statement yesterday by the National College of Art & Design, calling on the Government “to acknowledge Dublin 8 as a leading cultural and creative quarter”. But even allowing that the word “acknowledge” there may be code for “give us money”, I would question the NCAD’s wisdom in drawing the Government’s attention to the intellectual and artistic ferment that passes for daily life in our area.

That, after all, is where Dublin’s official “Latin Quarter” went wrong. If memory serves, Temple Bar began to blossom, decades ago, when it was wilfully neglected. Intended as a bus depot in the long-term, it was left fallow in the short. Then, offbeat shops and cafes started to sprout among its old streets, until Charlie Haughey noticed it was turning into a cultural quarter and promoted the trend.

Three decades later, it has become a sort-of Dublin theme park: fiercely popular with tourists, but avoided by most actual Dubliners. As for Bohemians, I know several who suffer nose-bleeds if they have to go anywhere near Temple Bar now. Dublin 8 is where the action is these days. Among other things, as this paper reported a while back, CSO figures suggest it has the city’s biggest concentration of gay people, a sure-fire indicator of any area’s artistic credentials.

Apparently it’s the “edgy cosmopolitan vibe” (our reporter’s term, not the CSO’s) that attracts so many creative types. And around where I live, the vibe is, if anything, a little too edgy. You could nearly cut yourself on it sometimes.


But I’m not complaining. The gritty authenticity of life here is essential to us artists and intellectuals, and it makes for a lively atmosphere in the pubs, cafes, and literary bordellos. I’m sure the 5th Arrondissement had a similar ambience once, before Hemingway brought the tourists in and ruined it.

I’ll come back to D8 in a moment. But first, on the subject of Temple Bar, and following a column I wrote earlier this week about a pub there – the Palace – a reader has sent me an extract from a 1942 essay by the English writer Cyril Connolly, which touches on the same subject.

Connolly was in general charmed by wartime Dublin. But he was especially struck by the continuance of an “18th-century value”: that of all-male assemblies dedicated to “wine, conversation, and sport”. The Palace, he suggested, was a prime example.

“The Palace Bar is a small back room in a pleasant tavern which is frequented entirely by writers and journalists; it is as warm and friendly as an alligator tank, its inhabitants, from a long process of mutual mastication, have a leathery look, and are as witty, hospitable and kindly a group as can be found anywhere.

"The Palace Bar is perhaps the last place of its kind in Europe, a Café Littéraire, where one can walk in to have an intelligent discussion with a stranger, listen to Seumas O'Sullivan on the early days of Joyce, or discuss the national problem with the giant Hemingwayesque editor of The Irish Times.

“Here one may also gather varieties of anti-British opinion, and see the war as a bored spectator, as a pro-Pétain intellectual Catholic, as a pro-German anti-semitic Kerryman, as an Anglo-Irish Protestant disillusioned with England since the ‘Great Betrayal’, as an ardent de Valera supporter anxious to preserve the young nation from the great epidemic, yet determined to resist any invader, as a realist who doesn’t want Éire to ‘blot her copy book’ . . . as a sour man who says ‘To think I have lived to see the liquidation of the British ruling class’, as a superior Trotskyite ‘Flyboy’ (as the English expatriots of military age are called), or simply as a fuddled philosopher with a glass in front of him.”

The reader who sent the piece suggests it would make an entertaining exercise to identify the individual literary figures described there. And so it might, especially since they’re all safely dead and can’t sue. Anyone with information is asked to contact the incident room. But another reader, meanwhile, has e-mailed me a picture of a minor curiosity – interesting in its own way – just down the road from the Palace. An official place-name sign, it claims that Fleet Street is in Dublin 8. Whereas, of course, it (and Temple Bar generally), is in Dublin 2.

So maybe the sign is just a simple mistake. Or could it be that this famous thoroughfare, once synonymous with Bohemianism but now overrun by tourists, is formally applying for asylum to the city’s real Latin Quarter?