The Irish Times view on the Dublin Portal: mirror on a city’s soul

There is a long history of Dubliners engaging more vigorously with public art than might have been hoped

‘Obedientia civium urbis felicitas” translates as “the obedience of the citizens produces a happy city”. These words on the scroll below Dublin’s coat of arms were devised, one suspects, more in hope than expectation. The sentiment is somewhat subverted by the coat of arms itself, with its image of three castles ablaze.

That gap between pious aspiration and unruly reality has been highlighted yet again by a controversy over the city’s latest work of public art. The portal on North Earl Street allows Dubliners to peer through a screen at their counterparts on 23rd Street and Broadway in Manhattan, and for New Yorkers to peer back at them. It’s an ingenious idea that plays with many of the questions posed by our modern, hyper-connected world.

In the days since its launch, the portal has become a magnet not just for passersby but for exhibitionists. Flesh has been bared. Drugs have been performatively consumed. Provocative images have been held up for display. As a result, the portal has now been temporarily closed.

There is a long history of Dubliners engaging more vigorously with public art than might have been hoped. More than 70 years ago, a crowd of students on their way home from “a particularly good party” consigned the unloved Bowl of Light monument on O’Connell Bridge to a watery grave in the Liffey. The life-sized cow sculptures which still adorn cities across the world scarcely lasted more than a few days in Dublin.


The city has suffered terribly over the years from vandalism, while the glaring problems of illegal and anti-social behaviour are among the issues which the new taskforce for Dublin announced last week is supposed to address. There is widespread and justified unease at the squalor and decay that disfigure much of the capital’s urban realm, the blame for which lies largely with local and central government. It would, however, be deeply regrettable if the portal were to be permanently disabled due to the actions of a small minority. It should not be beyond the wit of Dublin City Council to find a solution.