Dublin. Dubh linn.
Dubh, say it to rhyme with “groove,” means ‘dark’ or ‘black’.
Linn, almost rhymes with “sing” but is really like a slice out of “well in your soul,” means ‘pool’.
Linn, said no differently, also means ‘a span of time’. Also means ‘with us’. And so can mean ‘belonging to us’.
Dublin was founded more than a millennium ago at a dark tidal pool in the river Liffey. The Liffey is the Danube of Dublin, the Seine of the Hibernian metropolis, a vein of the city’s lifeblood splitting it in the middle, north from south. In Irish its name is written Life. That’s said a bit like “leaf ya.” But such is life.
Dublin is the dark pool of Ireland, the centre of gravity set on the periphery, staring across the Irish sea at its English translation, Blackpool. (Actually, Holyhead is closer by distance, but space is secondary to poetry.) If you have seen the rest of Ireland, Dublin is exactly like it and completely different.
See it on foot.
See it on foot because Leo Bloom did. And James Joyce. And Brendan Behan and Oscar Wilde and all those other Irish wordpeople who used the wind from their tongues to blow them forward.
See it on foot because you can’t drive a car into a pub or a shop or another pub and you can’t easily park a car anywhere and you’re a fool if you drive there when you don’t truly need to (do you really think wearing a big metal box around town is the thing to do?) and it’s largely walkable anyway. You can always take the tram or the bus if it comes to that.
Walk along and across the Liffey. Walk it when you’re dry and walk it when you’re squiffy.
Walk the stone streets for a span of time as the dark pools. Find a dark pool in a glass with us.
You’ll find people, lots and lots of people. Tourists go leor. (Cool it: You’re one of them.) But Dubliners too.
Go to the Temple Bar neighbourhood at night so you can see Americans packed shoulder-to-shoulder, drunken street brawls, and guys pissing against walls on busy rain-wet streets. (We saw all three within twenty minutes.) Go by the Molly Malone statue to get a view of passersby grabbing brass breasts for luck and photos. During the day, go to Trinity College Dublin and see the Book of Kells, which means the Backs of People’s Heads, and stay for the library, which is like Hogwarts on tour-bus day.
Then go pool with people in a dim pub and spend a span of time with a pint.
See a stone church inside a glass office building next to a glass office inside a stone church. Wander through a park and another park, where people of all kinds lie on the lawns. Walk a street. Hit some shops. See a museum. It’s a city, for heaven’s sake. Go find the monuments, the memorials, the statues, the sculptures. On O’Connell Street there’s a great big needle pricking the sky (or is the other way around?). Oscar Wilde reclines on a rock at the north corner of Merrion Square.
Stop through Sweny’s, erstwhile druggist figuring notably in Joyce’s Ulysses, now become a shrine that sells lemon-scented soap. I got there just in time to take part in a reading of a few pages in German translation. Then we went for a pint across the street with the Beckett descendant who hosts the joint.
Go to see the Guinness warehouse if you absolutely must, but a little tip in your ear here: It comes out the taps in literally every pub you could ever go into. Which means on every block, nearly. Go to see one of the whiskey distilleries if you want. Consider that they’re all a bit of a walk west of the heart of town, and it’s not all tourist central between the one and the other. You could take the tram, maybe. And take it back. Or walk.
Walk around until the dark pools. Caith linn dubh linn: Spend a dark time with us. Is linn an dubh: The dark belongs to us.
The Irish name for Dublin isn’t Dubh Linn.
That’s where Dublincomes from, yes. The origin and meaning – ‘black pool’ – are accurate. But the modern Irish name for Dublin comes from another fluvial feature. You’ll see it on the highway signs: Áth Cliath, or – like New York City versus New York – Baile Átha Cliath.
Áth means ‘ford’. Say it like “ah.”
Cliath means ‘hurdle’. Say it like an Englishman says “clear.”
Baile means ‘city’, say it like “ball ya,” but say Baile Átha Cliath like “blockly.”
Or just say “Dublin.”
We had a short sojourn there this time. We’ll be back.
Here are some photos.