Opinion

Saturday 21 September 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Don't let Official Ireland sterilise Dublin of its madness. It's great'

Last orders: The Bernard Shaw will join the list of 1,500 pubs that have closed in Ireland since 2005. Photo by Gareth Chaney
Last orders: The Bernard Shaw will join the list of 1,500 pubs that have closed in Ireland since 2005. Photo by Gareth Chaney
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

This has been a bad week for Dublin's night owls. The closure of The Bernard Shaw may not have meant much to the people who never drank in the place, but it meant a hell of a lot to those who did.

The hostelry was refused planning permission for its beer garden and that decision, along with the usual pitfalls for anyone trying to run a business in the capital, forced the owners to make the unwelcome decision.

There has been much derision about the sadness which greeted the closure - most of it coming from those who had never darkened its doors and argued that pubs and clubs have always popped up, then disappeared throughout the lifetime of the city.

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Certainly, it's true that I will never again enjoy a night out as much as I did during the heady days of Sides.

That long-gone Dame Street club was a glorious den of iniquity where the music was brilliant, the crowds were friendly and everyone, gay or straight, male or female, was united in the simple pursuit of a good time (I must confess, I once wandered out of Sides at 7am on a Saturday and then got the bus to school for a scheduled detention).

Every generation has their favourite haunts.

So I genuinely feel for those people bemoaning the loss of what was, for many, a cherished place.

As the statement from the owners put it starkly: "It's with heavy hearts that we announce the end of our Bernard Shaw adventure. At the end of October 2019 we will close the Shaw, Eatyard, all organisational, art and performance spaces and everything else in the building and yards - for good."

Now it has joined the 1,500 other establishments that have closed down across the country since 2005 - victims of everything from the ruinous smoking ban to increasing rents and costs, the increasing number of people who do their drinking at home and the small matter of a decade-long recession that changed the traditional landscape of socialising.

So things are bad. Very bad.

Of course, the demise of the Bernard Shaw is merely a refection of a wider trend. But that wider trend seems to signal doom and gloom and an increasingly bleak future. 

In other words, the very things that are the heartbeat of the city - and, of course, this is a nationwide development - are the very things that are being inexorably eroded.

Actually, we've probably moved beyond things just being 'bad' and into the realms of 'bloody awful'.

Yet right in the midst of the justified wailing about the future of our nightlife came a survey which has been largely ignored, even though it offers an interesting counterpoint.

It turns out that Ireland is regarded as the friendliest country in Europe and Dublin one of the best places to enjoy yourself, pipping Spain to the title.

Among the various reasons given by people for our popularity was our open and friendly nature (who knew?), our willingness to give strangers directions and, of course, our nightlife.

It's easy to scoff at idealistic tourists who buy into the whole notion of us being a friendly people.

It's even easier to scoff at those who say they found Dublin to be full of welcoming and helpful locals who are only too happy to go out of their way to steer hapless visitors to the correct destination.

Admittedly, I did a double take when I saw a quote from one person who responded to the survey with a glowing: "Everyone I pass asks 'how are you?' That makes me feel welcome."

Frankly, as far as most Dubs are concerned, if a stranger came up to us like that, we'd just assume we were about to be mugged.

But for all the blood and thunder and angry denunciations of the way Dublin is going, we must be doing something right if a majority of European respondents would prefer to spend a weekend in Dublin than, say, Madrid, or Amsterdam.

Yes, Dublin is loud, messy and frequently chaotic. I was calling a rural friend of mine recently while walking down Dame Street, and between the cop sirens, the shouting and the various alarms that were squawking in the background, she joked that it sounded like I was ringing from New York.

She didn't mean it as a compliment, but I took it as one.

After all, we're a small city with big city pretensions and that's not a bad thing. But even if we're too close to the matter to realise it ourselves, other people seem convinced that there is something almost magical about Dublin.

Where does that mysterious magic come from?

Well, it comes from the people, in all their eccentric and infuriating glory. It comes from the music, the culture of pints, the crack (not 'craic', which is a bogus neologism).

It comes from the raindrops glistening like fool's gold on late-night George's Street. The casual way we carry our literary traditions and the way we insult anyone who gets too big for their boots. The sense that there is always another place for a late drink if you know the right people. The hidden nooks and crannies that we take for granted yet are guaranteed to enchant visitors.

It certainly doesn't come from the cultural and aesthetic vandals of Official Ireland who would sterilise this town of all the madness that occasionally makes it great.  

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