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irish inspiration

Hidden adventures and explorations of Dublin

Karl Whitney journeys from Tallaght to the Liberties to look at modern Ireland – and the capital’s past.

Hidden City large 28.06.14

“What I was trying to do was look back while looking forward,
and looking back while trying to the examine present day too.”

WHEN WANDERING AROUND the capital city, you’re sure to find little gems and unusual items that pique your interest.

But there are also parts of the city you might not notice, or elements of Dublin that go not commented on.

Karl Whitney photo Penguin Karl Whitney Karl Whitney Karl Whitney

For Dubliner Karl Whitney, his latest non-fiction book, Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, uncovers some of the different sides to the capital, venturing to places that his contemporaries might not already have gone.

In the book, he takes a trip down to the underground rivers of the Liberties, looks at the derelict sites once earmarked for skyscrapers in Ballsbridge, visits the 20 Dublin homes once inhabited by Joyce, and even watches raw sewage being pumped into the Irish Sea.

Inspiration from an economic crash 

The idea for the book came to Whitney in 2010, after the property collapse and economic crash.

“On a wider level, the book is about the history of Dublin viewed through that period,” explained Whitney.

The “feeling of a city frozen” struck Whitney as he observed how the expansion of the city had stopped.

The Begining of the End for Ghost Esta Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

“To me it was like looking at a frozen city – frozen as if in amber,” remarked Whitney.

As construction ground to a halt, so too did the movement outwards of the city. And that in itself provided an opportunity to see things as they were. And not just see them, but examine them.

Examining them, too, would bring him in touch with the city’s long history.

While acknowledging the difficulties the Celtic Tiger’s last breaths brought with it, this new time let Whitney “look at the strangeness of the city and also to look at the history of the city”.


released An Taisce's Nationa Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

My own experience of the city is, it’s not that different to many of my friends. My parents are not from here. They moved to Tallaght because houses were affordable… all of a sudden you’re from Tallaght, this new suburb that hadn’t existed 10 years before you were born.

He wrote Hidden City over the course of 18 months. His memories of Tallaght, where he grew up, informed a chapter on that suburb.

“It’s at the fringes of the city and at the fringes of the city when people think about Dublin,” said the former resident. “It’s distant, seen as working class; almost beyond what people think about when they talk about Dublin.”

“To a degree I wasn’t looking at my old Dublin and my family’s memories of old Dublin,” said Whitney. His parents grew up in Tullamore and Drogheda, which affords him somewhat of an outsider’s perspective.

DSC06042 Karl Whitney Karl Whitney

Tallaght has its own history, including a castle, but Whitney agreed with the suggestion that classism may contribute to why Tallaght is not seen as an area rich in history.

“To me it does have the element of classism in it – the element of how Tallaght was pictured by the media in the past, and to a degree in the present,” said Whitney. “If you say ‘Tallaght’ there are certain notions when people read the word.”

The Liberties

While writing the book, Whitney got to venture with council staff down to the Poddle River – which runs beneath the city – and write how it, as Dublin’s first water supply, contributed to the development to the Liberties.

In the Liberties I met an archaeologist called Franc Myles who works on many projects. During the boom, he carried out archaeological investigations of sites in the Liberties which were sites for new buildings, and became an expert of rivers beneath the Liberties.

They climbed down into the Poddle, with the help of Dublin City Council staff, at a location near Burdock’s chipper, and walked through the tunnels as far as St Patrick’s Cathedral.

“Even that showed the development of the city,” he recalled.

DSC07248 Franc Myles Karl Whitney Karl Whitney

Priory Hall

Physically there was a stasis in terms of city itself, but what you find is a lot of people living with the consequences of the Celtic Tiger. The extreme of that would be the residents of Priory Hall.

For the book he visited the site of the ill-fated apartments.

“The fate of Priory Hall residents signifies the really dark side of the Celtic Tiger here, and their struggles to escape from the fate they had been dealt is a cautionary tale.”

For Whitney, the legacy of the Celtic Tiger and subsequent collapse includes mass emigration and mass unemployment.

He himself has emigrated to Sunderland, and in the book he wanders beneath Dublin’s flight path with a friend who lives in a nearby apartment and who is struggling with the consequences of that purchase.

Sunrise. pictured the sun begins to r Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

On a return visit to the city, he walked along the Liffey, which again he writes about in his book.

I walk along the river, crossing each bridge. I started at Heuston Station and crossed the next bridge to the northside. I wanted to cross each bridge in turn; I wanted there to be a degree of equality.

He walked the whole length and arrived at the Convention Centre, where at the time the European People’s Party was having an event addressed by German Chancellor Agnela Merkel.

The message from that was Ireland is back. That was an interesting thing to end on. What many people saw over the last four years is quite a traumatic few years.

But at the same time, he found a lot of positives and interesting things about Dublin during his research.

“A lot of people who really love their city, who are really engaged and who tell people about it.”

Exploring the city anew

Dublin Skylines Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

All of these new experiences made Whitney feel like he “was exploring the city for the first time even though I felt I knew it already”.

The past few years have seen somewhat of a resurgence of interest in Ireland’s heritage and history.

“Maybe in some way that’s a reaction to the trauma of the past few years,” mused Whitney.

He sees nostalgia, but also political engagement in sites like Come Here to Me, which makes them relevant to the present day.

The book is an exploration of Dublin, and also a reflection on a huge moment – or more accurately, a collection of huge moments – in the country’s history, which played out mainly in the capital.

In 2010 the arrival of international journalists to cover Ireland, and issues such as ghost estates, transmitted a new vision of Ireland to the rest of the world.

“This image that went around the world about Ireland… my book isn’t completely saying this is rubbish,” said Whitney.

What does it say?

These things happened – let’s look at why they happened, look at them through history of the city, and look at them through history of the city.

Karl Whitney’s Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin is out now from Penguin Ireland

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