A Summer Day In Dublin
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Our passage across from the Head [Holyhead] was made in a rain so pouring and steady, that sea and coast were entirely hidden from us, and one could see very little beyond the glowing tip of the cigar which remained alight nobly in spite of the weather. When the gallant exertions of that fiery spirit were over for ever, and, burning bravely to the end, it had breathed its last in doing its master service, all became black and cheerless around; the passengers had dropt off one by one, preferring to be dry and ill below rather than wet and squeamish above; even the mate, with his gold-laced cap (who is so astonishingly like Mr. Charles Dickens, that he might pass for that gentleman)—even the mate said he would go to his cabin and turn in. So there remained nothing for it but to do as all the world had done.
A long pier, with a steamer or two at hand, and a few small vessels lying on either side of the jetty; a town irregularly built, with showy-looking hotels; a few people straggling on the beach; two or three cars at the railroad station, which runs along the shore as far as Dublin; the sea stretching interminably eastward; to the north the Hill of Howth, lying gray behind the mist; and, directly under his feet, upon the wet, black, shining, slippery deck, an agreeable reflection of his own legs, disappearing seemingly in the direction of the cabin from which he issues; are the sights which a traveler may remark on coming on deck at Kingstown pier on a wet morning—let us say on an average morning; for according to the statement of well-informed natives, the Irish day is more often rainy than otherwise. A hideous obelisk, stuck upon four fat balls, and surmounted with a crown on a cushion (the latter were no bad emblems perhaps of the monarch in whose honor they were raised), commemorates the sacred spot at which George IV. quitted Ireland: you are landed here from the steamer; and a carman, who is dawdling in the neighborhood, with a straw in his mouth, comes leisurely up to ask whether you'll go to Dublin?
Is it natural indolence, or the effect of despair because of the neighboring railroad, which renders him so indifferent? He does not even take the straw out of his mouth as he proposes the question, and seems quite careless as to the answer. He said he would take me to Dublin "in three quarthers," as soon as we began a parley; as to the fare, he would not hear of it—he said he would leave it to my honor; he would take me for nothing. Was it possible to refuse such a genteel offer?
Before that day, so memorable for joy and sorrow, for rapture at receiving its monarch and tearful grief at losing him, when George IV. came and left the maritime resort of the citizens of Dublin, it bore a less genteel name than that which it owns at present, and was called Dunleary. After that glorious event Dunleary disdained to be Dunleary any longer, and became Kingstown henceforward and forever. Numerous terraces and pleasure-houses have been built in the place —they stretch row after row along the banks of the sea, and rise one above another on the hill. The rents of these houses are said to be very high; the Dublin citizens crowd into them in summer; and a great source of pleasure and comfort must it be to them to have the fresh sea-breezes and prospects so near to the metropolis.
The better sort of houses are handsome and spacious; but the fashionable quarter is yet in an unfinished state, for enterprising architects are always beginning new roads, rows and terraces; nor are those already built by any means complete. Besides the aristocratic part of the town is a commercial one, and nearer to Dublin stretch lines of low cottages which have not a Kingstown look at all, but are evidently of the Dunleary period. The capabilities of the country, how-ever, are very, very great, and in many instances have been taken advantage of; for you see, be-sides the misery, numerous handsome houses and parks along the road, having fine lawns and woods, and the sea in our view, at a quarter of an hour's ride from Dublin. It is the continual appearance of this sort of wealth which makes the poverty more striking; and thus between the two (for there is no vacant space of fields between Kingstown and Dublin) the car reaches the city.
The entrance to the capital is very handsome. There is no bustle and throng of carriages, as in London; but you pass by numerous rows of neat houses, fronted with gardens, and adorned with all sorts of gay-looking creepers. Pretty market-gardens, with trim beds of plants and shining glass-houses, give the suburbs a riante and cheerful look; and, passing under the arch of the rail-way, we are in the city itself. Hence you come upon several old-fashioned, well-built, airy, stately streets, and through Fitzwilliam Square, a noble place, the garden of which is full of flowers and foliage. The leaves are green, and not black as in similar places in London; the red-brick houses tall and handsome. Presently the car stops before an extremely big red house, in that extremely large square, Stephen's Green, where Mr. O'Connell says there is one day or other to be a Parliament. There is room enough for that, or for any other edifice which fancy or patriotism may have a mind to erect, for part of one of the sides of the square is not yet built, and you see the fields and the country beyond.
The hotel to which I had been directed is a respectable old edifice, much frequented by families from the country, and where the solitary traveler may likewise find society. For he may either use the Shelburne as a hotel or a boarding-house, in which latter case he is comfortably accommodated at the very moderate daily charge. For this charge a copious break-fast is provided for him in the coffee-room, a perpetual luncheon is likewise there spread, a plentiful dinner is ready at six o'clock; after which, there is a drawing-room and a rubber of whist, with tay and coffee and cakes in plenty to satisfy the largest appetite. The hotel is majestically conducted by clerks and other officers; the landlord himself does not appear, after the honest comfortable English fashion, but lives in a private mansion hard by, where his name may be read inscribed on a brass-plate, like that of any other private gentleman.
A woman melodiously crying "Dublin Bay her-rings" passed just as we came up to the door, and as that fish is famous throughout Europe, I seized the earliest opportunity and ordered a broiled one for breakfast. It merits all its reputation: and in this respect I should think the Bay of Dublin is far superior to its rival of Naples. Are there any herrings in Naples Bay? Dolphins there may be; and Mount Vesuvius, to be sure, is bigger than even the Hill of Howth : but a dolphin is better in a sonnet than at a breakfast, and what poet is there that, at certain periods of the day, would hesitate in his choice between the two?
With this famous broiled herring the morning papers are served up; and a great part of these, too, gives opportunity of reflection to the new-comer, and shows him how different this country is from his own. Some hundred years hence, when students want to inform themselves of the history of the present day, and refer to files of "Times" and "Chronicle" for the purpose, I think it is possible that they will consult, not so much those luminous and philosophical leading articles which call our attention at present both by the majesty of their eloquence and the largeness of their type, but that they will turn to those parts of the journals into which information is squeezed into the smallest possible print, to the advertisements, namely, the law and police reports, and to the instructive narratives supplied by that ill-used body of men who transcribe knowledge at the rate of a penny a line.
The papers being read, it became my duty to discover the town; and a handsomer town, with fewer people in it, it is impossible to see on a summer's day. In the whole wide square of Stephen's Green, I think there were not more than two nursery-maids, to keep company with the statue of George I., who rides on horseback in the middle of the garden, the horse having his foot up to trot, as if he wanted to go out of town too. Small troops of dirty children (too poor and dirty to have lodgings at Kingstown) were squatting here and there upon the sunshiny steps, the only clients at the thresholds of the professional gentlemen whose names figure on brass-plates on the doors. A stand of lazy carmen, a policeman or two with clinking boot-heels, a couple of moaning beggars leaning against the rails and calling upon the Lord, and a fellow with a toy and book stall, where the lives of St. Patrick, Robert Emmet, and Lord Edward Fitzgerald may be bought for double their value, were all the population of the Green. . In the courts of the College, scarce the ghost of a gyp or the shadow of a bed-maker. In spite of the solitude, the square of the College is a fine sight—a large ground, surrounded by buildings of various ages and styles, but comfortable, handsome, and in good repair; a modern row of rooms; a row that has been Elizabethan once; a hall and senate house, facing each other, of the style of George I.; and a noble library, with a range of many windows, and a fine manly simple facade of cut stone.
The bank and other public buildings of Dublin are justly famous. In the former may still be seen the room which was the House of Lords formerly, and where the bank directors now sit, under a clean marble image of George III. The House of Commons has disappeared, for the accommodation of clerks and cashiers. The interior is light, splendid, airy, well furnished, and the out-side of the buildings not less so. The Exchange, hard by, is an equally magnificent structure; but the genius of commerce has deserted it, for all its architectural beauty. There was nobody inside when I entered, but a pert statue of George III. in a Roman toga, simpering and turning out his toes ; and two dirty children playing, whose hoop-sticks caused great clattering echoes under the vacant sounding dome.
Walking toward the river, you have on either side of you, at Carlisle Bridge, a very brilliant and beautiful prospect. The four courts and their dome to the left, the custom-house and its dome to the right; and in this direction sea-ward, a considerable number of vessels are moored, and the quays are black and busy with the cargoes discharged from ships. Seamen cheering, herring-women bawling, coal-carts loading—the scene is animated and lively. Yon-der is the famous Corn Exchange; but the Lord Mayor is attending to his duties in Parliament, and little of note is going on. I had just passed his lordship's mansion in Dawson Street—a queer old dirty brick house, with dumpy urns at each extremity, and looking as if a story of it had been cut off—a rage house. Close at hand, and peering over a paling, is a statue of our blest sovereign George II. How absurd these pompous images look, of defunct majesties, for whom no breathing soul cares a halfpenny ! It is not so with the effigy of William III., who has done something to merit a statue. At this minute the Lord Mayor has William's effigy under a canvas, and is painting him of a bright green picked out with yellow—his lordship's own livery.
The view along the quays to the four courts has no small resemblance to a view along the quays at Paris, tho not so lively as are even those quiet walks. The vessels do not come above-bridge, and the marine population remains constant about them, and about numerous dirty liquor-shops, eating-houses, and marine-store establishments, which are kept for their accommodation along the quay. As far as you can see, the shining Liffey flows away eastward, hastening (like the rest of the inhabitants of Dublin) to the sea.
In front of Carlisle Bridge, and not in the least crowded, tho in the midst of Sackville Street, stands Nelson upon -a stone pillar. The postoffice is on his right hand (only it is cut off) ; and on his left, Greshanl's and the Imperial Hotel. Of the latter let me say (from subsequent experience) that it is ornamented by a cook who could dress a dinner by the side of M. Borel or M. Soye. Would there were more such artists in this ill-fated country! The street is exceedingly broad and handsome; the shops at the commencement, rich and spacious; but in Upper Sackville Street, which closes with the pretty building and gardens of the Rotunda, the appearance of wealth begins to fade somewhat, and the houses look as if they had seen better days. Even in this, the great street of the town, there is scarcely any one, and it is as vacant and listless as Pall Mall in October.