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The Dublin I've discovered: violence, drink and disastrous transport

IT WAS two years ago when I started my monthly flights to Ireland to visit friends I'd made in Australia.

Despite the incredibly long queues at Dublin Airport, I always came back and it wasn't long before I settled here.

I'd always wanted to become a journalist and I'd saved enough money to do a Masters in Ireland so my move a year ago came at a propitious time.

I should mention that the prospect of living close to a Wicklow native I'd met in Australia also had its appeal -- like many foreign girls, I'm a sucker for Irish accents.

Before my move, I had little knowledge of Ireland. But what I heard was all very positive.

I believed everyone was musically talented, as every Irish person I'd met in Australia yearned to be in a band, was already in a band or wanted to know someone in a band. Looking back, I wasn't too far off the mark.

No wonder the Irish are known around the world for throwing good parties. There is nothing more welcoming or uplifting than live music, and there is certainly plenty of that.

Another one of my expectations related to alcohol.

I knew there was a strong drinking culture because there are so many Irish pubs abroad. But I'd seriously underestimated how obsessed people are with alcohol over here.

You see, I can't drink. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a tipple or two, with or without my meal, and it doesn't have to be wine either, but I'm practically a teetotaller by Irish standards.

Every time I try to keep up with my Irish counterparts (five-foot-nothing, 20-something females), I end up sprawled across the bathroom floor and avoid all sorts of social interaction for three days.

A couple of friends would ring me to find out if I'm 'in the horrors', if I'll make it to next week's session -- which will be 'deadly for sure' -- and whether we should go for a full breakfast before they start serving Sunday roast?

They may as well be speaking to a wall, such is my response.

Now, you're probably thinking 'if you can't cut it, don't partake in it'. But here lies the problem.

Pregnancy

If I dare mention that I won't be drinking, I'm suddenly hounded by well-wishing friends who congratulate me on the imminent birth of my first child.

The notion that I may be avoiding alcohol for any reason other than a medical one, and in particular pregnancy, is immediately dismissed.

Having the craic and having a drink (or more likely drinks) go hand in hand in Dublin. So I got the booze thing wrong.

But another aspect of the city I had completely misjudged is crime. My apologies for the cliche, but overall the Irish are seen as merry leprechauns.

Yes, most people are aware of Ireland's difficult history and the Troubles. But the Celtic Tiger did a good job of selling the world a picture of a liberal, successful state.

However, after spending 11 months in Ireland, I am no longer surprised that Dublin now has one of the highest murder rates in Europe.

Of course I wouldn't compare Dublin to Rio de Janeiro or Johannesburg, two of the world's most dangerous cities where I have lived.

But the level of gang violence is astonishing for a western European country.

The very raison d'etre of TV programmes such as Lawless Ireland is the abundance of violent incidents fuelled by booze and drugs -- some that I have witnessed -- despite the size of the country.

It's hard to avoid the impact of crime. Looking for flats around the city was a real eye-opener as friends identified the many areas that I should avoid if I planned to live on my own.

They quickly eliminated any place close to pubs, clubs, head shops, and I was restricted to a select few locations about which my friends had heard no stories about dealing.

Let's just say the process which seemed so commonplace to them, left me with very few areas to choose from, especially with a limited budget.

Another concern they had was the incomplete public transport coverage which would see me walking back home quite late on my own, instead of waiting for a Nitelink that might fail to turn up or take two hours to finally reach its destination.

I was certainly spoilt for choice in Paris and London where transport is actually punctual and connects to other services. I struggle to understand why the Green and Red Luas were not built so they would link from the outset.

The DART takes much longer than one would expect to make its short journeys.

Gorgeous

As much as I love admiring the gorgeous view of Killiney Bay with its Wicklow Mountains backdrop, when it's past 6.30pm and you have to add another 20 minutes of waiting time to your journey, somehow the scenic route is far less appealing.

This is perhaps one of the aspects of Ireland that I have failed to adapt to -- that and the food. My French and Italian mother passed on to me her passion for just about any type of cuisine and so I was delighted at first to discover that all sorts of ethnic provisions can be found in central Dublin.

I thought that the Irish were enlightened to the pleasures of exotic fare, but, after a while, I realised that a significant amount of people here still believe that a foreign meal consists of the Chinese dishes they order at the weekend.

When I say Chinese, I don't mean chow mein noodles, chicken cashew nuts or crispy duck pancakes that are so popular around the world.

I'm talking about the usual order of chicken balls, curry sauce and chips, a meal that could not be any further from its ethnic origins.

Just how appetising can chicken covered in batter with a suspiciously yellow-greenish looking sauce and potatoes be?

At least, you can always count on sipping good tea here, and the devil drink of course.


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