(CNN) — With St. Patrick’s Day a global phenomenon and Irish pubs found everywhere from Peru to Lanzarote, it can be easy to think you’ve gotten a feel for Ireland without visiting, especially if you’re one of the world’s 70 million people. who can claim Irish heritage. .
However, to get a real sense of this small island nation’s modern energy you have to visit, and most people start their journey on the streets of Dublin.
It’s a compact, walkable capital, with its low skyline and human-scale granite Georgian monuments.
You can follow the River Liffey through the city center from Phoenix Park and Kilmainham Gaol in the west, past the Guinness Storehouse, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle in the east to the recently rejuvenated Docklands .
Standing on Butt Bridge you can see old and new: traditional Dublin represented by the neo-classical Custom House, and beyond, the new finance towers and sweeping cranes, showing it even taller.
The River Liffey runs through the center of Dublin.
Courtesy of Gareth McCormack
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Designed by the same award-winning team as the Titanic Museum in Belfast, it tells the stories of around 10 million people who left Ireland over the centuries, for reasons ranging from starvation to economic necessity to conflict and religious persecution.
They went to Britain, the United States, Australia and beyond, building railways and cultivating frontier territories.
They brought their culture with them, ambassadors of storytelling to their new nations and created a new Irish mythology abroad. They and their descendants are the diaspora that museums like EPIC wish to attract, and in 2013 an Irish tourism initiative, The Gathering, was dedicated to this audience.
Tearful goodbyes and long-awaited returns have become part of the national identity, the arrivals area of its airports filled with billboards aimed at nostalgic expats hungry for Brennan bread and Tayto crisps.
Music and dance
The Cobblestone in Smithfield is the city’s best venue for live traditional music.
The best known of Ireland’s cultural exports is, of course, the pub, but in pandemic-hit Ireland many have been forced to close permanently.
“Believe it or not, being the nation’s capital, there aren’t many places where you can actually engage with this aspect of our culture here on a daily basis,” said Tomás Mulligan, whose father, Tom, took over the Smithfield pub for 30 years. there and turned it into the live music center it is today.
The revival of traditional Irish music became widespread in the 1960s, emblematic of a new national pride in this still young nation, which celebrates its 100 years of independence this year.
From ‘Danny Boy’ (written by an Englishman) to ‘The Fields of Athenry’, Ireland’s most famous folk songs have been tales of exile and longing, while the now popular standard ‘She Moved Through the Fair” was a lost classic that only regained popularity in Ireland after being rediscovered in America.
Likewise, country music is so popular in Ireland that it has its own subgenre: Country ‘n’ Irish. Riverdance was also an Irish-American global phenomenon born in Chicago.
The literary tradition
Modernity and transformation have changed a lot here, but it has not changed the parts of Dublin life that make this city what it is, and the institutions on which it grew and still rests.
Trinity College, founded in 1592, is Ireland’s oldest university. The Brian Boru harp, Ireland’s oldest and the model for the country’s regalia, is housed in Trinity College’s spectacular Long Room library, which also houses the 9th-century Gospel manuscript ‘The Book of Kells’.
Richard Quest meets James Joyce impersonator John Shevlin (left) at the Bewley Cafe.
Ireland is proud of its storytelling traditions: it has produced four Nobel Prize winners in literature – WB Yeats, GB Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney – although all but one have reached the end of their lives in Ireland. ‘foreign.
Two of Ireland’s most famous writers, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, were outcasts and exiles in their time, excoriated for outrages on what was then considered public decency.
Anglo-Irish artist Francis Bacon, giant precursor of contemporary art, left Ireland for England as a teenager: An openly gay man at a time when it was illegal on both islands, he never would not have been easily accepted into the society of his homeland for much of his life.
But as with Wilde and Joyce, he was adopted posthumously. The entire contents of his artist’s studio have been acquired by the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, where they have been reassembled as they were when Bacon created his legendary works. It’s one of the city’s best-kept secrets, and best of all, admission is free.
Swimming in the sea
Although Joyce spent much of his life in continental Europe, his greatest work, the modernist classic “Ulysses” – which also celebrates its 100th anniversary this year – is a love letter to his hometown, an odyssey to the suite of a man, Leopold Bloom, on a day’s journey around Dublin.
The novel’s opening scenes are set in a Martello Tower on the shoreline of the southern suburb of Sandycove, now a James Joyce museum and a shrine for fans who celebrate Bloomsday on June 16 each year.
The area is a popular site for bathers, with sea bathing becoming increasingly popular since Covid hit.
Celebrities even get involved. Harry Styles was spotted bathing in the nearby Vico Baths this week, following in the footsteps of Matt Damon who appeared there in 2020 after he and his family were stranded by Covid in the area.
CNN joined local band The Ripple Effect for a morning swim on the 40ft headland.
“During lockdown a lot of people couldn’t meet indoors, so a lot of people started connecting outdoors,” says member Katie Clark. “It was just a nice place to come and rediscover the sea.”
As for the name of the group, his colleague Mandy Lacey says: “Irish people love helping people! It’s in our nature. I think The Ripple Effect is an Irish thing. It’s part of our history. That we go through times hard times, good times, everyone is there to really, really support each other.”
Sea swimming is becoming more and more popular.
Those who stayed, those who left
Earlier this year, British filmmaker Kenneth Branagh won an Oscar for ‘Belfast’, a semi-autobiographical film about his Northern Irish childhood before the 30-year conflict known as The Troubles forced his family to flee to England. It ends with the dedication: “For those who stayed. For those who left. And for all those who got lost.”
But whereas in past centuries departures often meant permanent exile, now it is a door that opens in both directions.
Many Irish expats, reassessing their priorities in the wake of the pandemic, have returned home to a new life with their young families. And as has always been the case, returnees bring the expertise and knowledge they have acquired abroad, which can help their home countries prosper.
In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, and it is now far from the homogeneous Catholic country of the popular imagination. This nation of emigrants has also been enriched in recent decades by immigration. There is a new confidence in this modern and increasingly multicultural Ireland.
Ireland has changed a lot since it was hailed at the start of this century as the “Celtic Tiger”. What followed was a decade or more of tremendous economic growth and great optimism. Now, like the rest of the world, Ireland is in search of its post-pandemic goal.
But, as history has shown, this small, young nation can do this by looking first at each other and then at the world.