Apr 2006

A month in Dublin

It’s actually more than a month since I arrived here. But “A month and a half in Dublin” doesn’t scan right to my ears for some reason. I feel that, health-wise, things are improving for me (albeit slowly). But the combination of not feeling too great and not knowing anyone has meant that I’ve yet to really get out and explore the city. That said, it does provide an opportunity to record a first impression of the place as viewed through a long-exposure lens.


It’s a small village just outside Dublin City. In Irish the name Rath Cúil means “The Ring Fort of The Secluded Place” which is exactly the sort of location I’d expect to find The Quiet Road. In truth it’s a wonderful place to live, and I hope soon to be taking far more advantage of that fact than I currently am.

Dublin’s public transport is pretty dire (more on which later), but Rathcoole is as well-connected as a small, relatively rural, community could expect to be. It’s at the end of a bus-route from the centre of the city, and is 15 minutes by bus from a stop on the LUAS (the tram system). As well as that, it’s 20 minutes by bus from Tallaght; a major shopping centre with supermarkets, record-shops, cinemas, restaurants… basic Big Mall stuff. In other words, Rathcoole is exactly far enough away from all these things to feel quiet and isolated, without actually being far enough to cause genuine inconvenience.

Sorry if I sound a bit like a brochure for the village, which may well have drawbacks yet to become apparent, but it’s the best part of my move thus far and worthy of remark. A good place to live.

Unless you don’t like the rain

I want to assure you that this is not an exaggeration. I say it to people… people who live here, mind… and they tell me that I’m imagining things, or “that can’t be right” or “don’t be so silly”. But the fact is; it has rained in Rathcoole every day since I have arrived except for the two days on which it snowed. No, I’m deadly serious… every day for the past 50.

This is not to suggest that it has been raining non-stop since I arrived… now that would be rather unsettling. Indeed there have been days when the sun blazed brightly and you could feel the approach of summer on the air. There have been days that were almost cloudless and the evening sky a glorious azure blue. Basically, there’s been plenty of good weather.

But it has rained, even if just a tiny shower mid-afternoon, every single day. I’ve gone whole years in some countries without ever seeing a rainbow. Springtime in Rathcoole and you’re guaranteed at least two a week. It’s a cliché, but there’s no question about why this place is known as ‘The Emerald Isle’. Even when it snows, it doesn’t stick for long because the air warms up almost immediately afterwards. It’s never hot, it’s never really cold, it’s wet and mild pretty much every day from the start of spring until the middle of winter. The prototypical temperate climate… and one guaranteed to make plants thrive.

It’s obviously nothing like the rampant, out of control growth that you see in the rainforest. Nonetheless, you get the distinct impression that were humanity to disappear tomorrow, it wouldn’t be too long before the cities and roads were reclaimed. A narrow strip of grey – the Naas Road – runs past my window a few hundred metres away (thank the stars for effective insulation and sound-proofing). Aside from that, the view is green and blue (or green and grey). Fields, trees and sky. Replace the road with a river and you have perfection… for now I’m happy to do it metaphorically. And thankfully, I don’t mind the rain.

… and then three come at once

Before I start turning into a Bord Fáilte advertisement, let me get the unpleasant stuff out of the way. If I have one serious complaint to make (so far) about Dublin, it’s the diabolical public transport system. I accept that having lived for a long time in London, there could be an element of unreasonable expectation involved (however much Londoners may complain about the transport, it is unquestionably one of the best systems in the world… I’ve lived all over the place and London has the best transport of any city I’ve lived in). Nonetheless, Ireland has been through a decade of unprecedented economic success. The place is – even now – awash with money. That Dublin has succeeded, during all this time, of building nothing better than two tram lines that don’t intersect is something of an embarrassment. Don’t get me wrong; the tram (LUAS) is great. But it’s so limited, and so completely ad hoc.

A journey I have to make with a degree of regularity is from home, in Rathcoole (southwest Dublin), to Stillorgan (to the east of the city). Stillorgan has a tram stop. But to avail of it, I’d have to make my way to my nearest tram stop, get the tram into the city centre and change onto the other line to get the tram out to Stillorgan. Just like the tube in London you’d think? Except here, changing onto the other line involves a quarter hour walk through the centre of the city! In the name of all that’s sacred, who approved that idea?!

It’s not too difficult to see where much of the economic boom has been spent though… there’s new roads all over the place. A government that builds more roads whilst simultaneously underfunding public transport is close to being criminally negligent in my view. It’s a nonsense policy decision that in the longterm benefits construction firms and the auto industry far more than it benefits citizens of the nation. A government that deliberately places the interests of big business before the interests of the people it is elected to serve, is a government that needs removing from office.

The thin grey strip outside my window has traffic jams in one direction for three hours in the morning, and the same in the other direction for three hours each evening. Yet there’s not a single bus amongst that traffic… no routes serve this stretch of road. Hell, why isn’t there a tram line running all the way from here to Naas, winding it’s way through the various villages? And a series of local and frequent bus routes stopping at those stations and serving towns and villages wider afield? You’re right, it probably wouldn’t make a profit. But would it benefit the people?

Yes it bloody well would; so why aren’t the government doing it? If the cash is there to build the roads, then it’s there to build the tram lines and buy the buses. And yeah, we put up petrol tax and levy a congestion charge to pay the operating costs. That way we don’t have to spend nearly as much on the roads. It’s surely an obvious strategy, unless you don’t have the interests of the people as top priority.

Corporate politicians

But I guess, like every other neoliberated democracy, the Irish government is more concerned about being business-friendly than citizen-friendly. Economic issues trump social issues. Economics trumps culture. All hail the almighty economy. I only wish a history book from the far future would slip back to us through a wormhole (Carlyle’s Drift, perhaps, though I guess Chronology Protection Conjecture would kick-in and prevent such an event). I’d love to read the incredulity with which our devotion to economic expansion at the expense of all else will be viewed. Entire new lexicons will have to be coined to adequately express our short-termism.

Anyways, Irish politics is mired in the same fight for the centre ground as everywhere else. A battle between fools and knaves about who best can protect a doomed status quo. The Greens have slightly more influence here than in most places thanks to a fairly representative electoral system, but even they promise a watered-down version of the present as being the happily ever after into which we all may travel. They use the word “sustainability” a lot, but keep very quiet about just how major the perceived drop in living standards would have to be to achieve that. Maybe they don’t wish to “frighten” voters. But in that case they’re just as dishonest as all the politicians who promise the electorate the earth and then deliver it to their friends. Or maybe they really believe that sustainable consumption is something close to what we’ve already got, and that people will merely have to recycle a bit more and use their cars a bit less.

In that case they’re idiots. But they’re more well-meaning than the idiots in other parties, so maybe still worth a vote? I can’t say for sure, but it’s probably safe to say I’ll come back to the subject between now and 2007’s general election.

In my next installment in this occasional series, expect some musing about how Ireland is dealing with the recent influx of immigrants (I’m a returned-émigré, so “I’m all right” apparently), thoughts on the strangely influential role that talk-radio plays in Irish society, more about the public transport system and how peak oil activism is growing in Ireland (even if it’s nowhere near policy-level), and some investigations of the local confectionary… mmmm… caramello… mmmmm

Posted in: Opinion