Books

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Lenin's Rathmines accent... and other quirky Dublin facts

John Meagher

Published 01/01/2013 | 05:00

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How well do you know our capital city? Would you be able to name Dublin's shortest street? How about the city centre's longest-established restaurant? Where and when did its first stand-up comedy club open? And on what street would you find more sex shops than any other?

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The answers to all these questions are to be found in one of the most intriguing books written about Dublin's social history. Come Here to Me! – Dublinese for "listen to this" – takes a sideways look at the capital. Written by keen history buffs and bloggers Donal Fallon, Sam McGrath and Ciarán Murray – and launched by historian Diarmaid Ferriter – it hop-scotches from topic to topic: everything from old street names to longest-surviving graffiti.

Even those who pride themselves on their knowledge of the city might be surprised to learn of the following. . .

Vladimir Lenin spoke English with a "Rathmines accent" thanks to having used the services of an Irish teacher while living in London. This affluent forerunner to the DART accent first came to public attention in the early 20th Century and was characterised by a genteel, slightly affected manner of speaking. George Bernard Shaw was said to have such an accent.

One of the longest strikes the world has known took place outside Downey's pub, formerly of Upper George's Street, Dún Laoghaire, between 1939 and 1953.

The picket was run by the Irish National Union of Vintners and started when a staff member was let go and replaced by a non-unionised barmaid.

Downey's featured in media reports around the world, including Time magazine who urged tourists to see for themselves if the "everlasting strike" was still ongoing.

It's sometimes said that the Irish are behind the times when it comes to our neighbour, and up to 1916 that was literally the case. Dublin Mean Time was 25 minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time. And Cork was a further 11 minutes behind Dublin.

Prior to 1916 there had been hostility to the idea of synchronising our watches with Britain. A letter writer to this newspaper argued against giving up "this mark of our national identity to suit the convenience of shipping companies and a few travellers".

Dublin residents of a certain age will have been familiar with the sight of swastikas adorning little red vans. They were run by the venerable Ballsbridge-based Swastika Laundry which operated on Shelbourne Road – a short walk from what's now the Aviva Stadium. There were absolutely no Nazi connections to a company that named itself after the ancient Sanskrit symbol several years before Hitler got the idea. The vans, incidentally, had electric motors – making them far ahead of their time.

Irish Arsenal fans may be oblivious to the fact that a pivotal part of that London club's heritage has become a northside Dublin landmark. The floodlights that adorn Bohemians' home ground, Dalymount Park, once stood at Arsenal's old stadium, Highbury. They were shipped to Dublin in 1962. The inaugural floodlight game saw Arsenal take on Bohemians and the visitors won 8-3.

Oh, and the answers to the questions posed in the opening paragraph are: Palace Street, off Dame Street (although Canon Street, demolished in the late 1960s, was even shorter); The Unicorn, Merrion Court (opened in 1939 at the adjacent Merrion Row); the now-defunct Holyrood Hotel, Harcourt Street, mid-1970s; and, Capel Street (its first adult store, Utopia – or Utophia, as it was misspelt by the sign writer – opened its doors there in 1993).

Come Here to Me! Dublin's Other History (€19.99) is out now. The writers' blog is comeheretome.com

Irish Independent

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