When I think of Dublin, a city I have visited for more than 20 years and have called home for the past three, I don’t think of some of its more obvious landmarks. I don’t think of the town’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, central to the Easter Rising of 1916 for Irish self-rule, nor do I think of St. Stephen’s Green, 22 acres of Victorian gardens that explode with color and humanity on a sunny day. The Temple Bar area, Dublin’s nightlife mecca with its overflowing pubs and clubs, does not spring immediately to my mind.
Instead, I think of a warren of narrow lanes—such as St. Kevin’s Road around Portobello—and of kids playing soccer under the “no ball-playing allowed” sign in Palmerston Park. I think of sleepy Devitts pub, with a few of the local boys playing traditional music in a dark corner. Rather than the much-photographed Ha’penny Bridge over the mighty Liffey, the river that divides this city into very different north and south sides, I think of the pair of swans that make their home near Leeson Street Bridge. My mind doesn’t veer immediately to Dublin’s skyline and its new Monument of Light, a conical spire erected in 2003 as a symbol of the “new” resurgent Dublin. Instead I recall the sudden and full rainbow that rewrote the sky over Belgrave Square one Christmas afternoon.
There’s no denying that Dublin has changed in the past 20 years. The Celtic Tiger has roared, and devoured much in its path, morphing this town from a sleepy backwater that progress had passed by to one of the European Union’s most vibrant, exuberant, and forward-thinking metropolises. Though it has a thriving city center—encompassing Grafton Street’s pedestrian-only shopping strip, swarming with people at all hours, and Trinity College, abuzz with students from around the world—my Dublin isn’t so much a city as a series of small villages that weave together to compose a unique patchwork. It is Ranelagh and Rathmines, Ballsbridge and Ringsend, each with its unique personality. Sure, I can go into “town” and shop at Hodges Figgis bookstore, but I’d just as soon stroll into Rathgar village and patronize the local bookshop there.
In my Dublin, the swallows twitter and call as they circle and swoop from tree to tree around Dartmouth Square at sunset, where a pink sky gives way to a thin blue before yielding to a deep purple, which surrenders finally to a blackness presided over by a canopy of stars, even in the middle of the city. In my Dublin, a sudden downpour chases me into the Abbey Theatre, where I buy a ticket and spend two hours transported back into playwright J.M. Synge’s rural Ireland. And in my Dublin, a silent late-night stroll to the convenience store for a quart of milk takes me past regal Georgian residences veiled in a light mist, which remind me just how far I have traveled from my New Jersey roots to find my real home.
ANDREW McCARTHY keeps a home in Dublin and visits it often. He's an actor who has appeared in television and movies, including Lipstick Jungle, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Joy Luck Club, and St. Elmo's Fire.
2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
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