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Extract: 'The Point', 'What? You mean the 3Arena?' I felt like Rip van Winkle

Dubliner Emily Bell writes about returning to live in the city after 20 years and finding that all the names have changed – and yet stayed the same.

Emily Bell

IT STARTED INNOCENTLY enough, with a trip to see friends in Stoneybatter.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ I said. ‘Traffic was terrible, there was a big concert on at the Point.’

‘The what?’ they said, before falling about laughing. ‘You mean the 3Arena.’

I felt like Rip van Winkle. I knew it was the 3Arena, of course. But it had been changed years ago while I was living in London. I was back now, so surely it was the Point again?

Times are a-changin’

Names are complicated, and nowhere more so than in Dublin, a city that had undergone seismic changes in the 20 years I’d been away, while also serenely standing still. In the months after my return, I kept calling things by their old names, from Lansdowne Road stadium to the IFSC, and every time I felt like more of a foreigner.

My English husband was also politely bewildered, when he was given directions to a work event via a hotel’s former name. (‘Ah, the Burlington,’ I said, reassured that here I was on solid ground.)

As well as learning basic Irish to navigate the Dart and Luas, he had to learn that the Dead Zoo was the Natural History Museum, that the Poolbeg Chimneys were also the Pigeon Towers, and that to catch a train at Westland Row meant using Pearse station.

Baby It's Cold Outside Jacket Source: Emily Bell

For this reason, when writing Baby It’s Cold Outside, in which Londoner Norah visits Dublin, I had her observe that everything in Dublin has two names. The Dubliners she meets tell her this can also be true of the people.

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Dublin hallmarks

‘First rule of hipster club; change your name to the Irish,’ one jokes. Norah is there to find Andrew, an old flame from Bray who once promised to meet her in Bewley’s on Grafton Street. Lucky for her it was Bewley’s; imagine if he had said Clery’s clock?

In the end, I realised that Dublin is a palimpsest; that wonderful word for a manuscript that contains many layers of previous drafts, and names. Partly it’s a legacy of our divided past – both linguistic and political – but it’s also the hallmark of a city that loves wordplay, nick-names and in-jokes.

Like our statues which have nicknames so lewd (and often misogynist) that I decided not to list them in the book. I was reassured by the fact that Dublin has always been a place of many names.

It’s a safe bet that Clery’s clock will continue to be called that no matter what replaces the store. Even if I got names wrong, maybe I wasn’t a foreigner; I was a time traveller from a Dublin that’s still there, under another name.

Emily Bell grew up in Dublin and moved to London after university. She has had
various jobs including tour guide, bookseller and pub singer, and now writes full
time. She lives in north London with her husband and daughter. ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ by Emily Bell is published by Michael Joseph and is available in shops and online now.

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