Sunday 21 October 2018

Mary Kenny: Dublin in the rare auld times

Our capital city six decades ago was a very different place... and yet the same place

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

What would our modern visitors think if they could travel back in time and visit Dublin 60 years ago? Well, I've just happened upon a guide to our capital city published in 1957, by an Anglo-Irish writer called Olivia Robertson. Her Dublin was both different and the same. She gazed at Dalkey and Killiney and compared it to Naples, as we still do, but she called the Sugar Loaf Mountain by its previous name - the Golden Spears Mountain.

For her, Dublin Airport was "Collinstown". She wandered around Ely Place, and reminisced about the Dublin literary salons she remembered, where they were called "Dublin Evenings". On one such occasion she met WB Yeats and found that she shared with the great poet a love of the murder stories of Agatha Christie.

Olivia calls Baggot Street, in 1957, "Dublin's Latin Quarter", where artists and writers could cluster in cheap lodgings. She visits the poor tenements in Mountjoy Square, picturesque O'Casey-esque slums where you could rent a room for half nothing, and where Dubliners express their devotion to Blessed Martin de Porres and Matt Talbot - although, she notes, this "emotional" aspect of Roman Catholicism is rather deprecated by the middle classes. Indeed!

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