This is the latest dispatch from our columnist Darach Ó Séaghdha, author of the award-winning and bestselling Motherfoclóir. Every Sunday morning, Darach will be regaling (re-Gaeling?) us with insights on what the Irish language says about Ireland, our society, our past and our present. Enjoy.
THE IRISH FOR rent is cíos, which sounds a bit like the English word kiss. Sadly for prospective tenants in Dublin at the moment, it’s a goodbye cíos as the city becomes more and more expensive to live in.
While in self-imposed exile in assorted, beautiful European cities, James Joyce remained haunted and enchanted by his hometown, a place that was hard to live in but distractingly beautiful in a rear-view mirror.
His musical ear noticed a small blur in the way his Parisian companions referred to his home – Dyoublong, sounding all too tellingly like the question ‘do you belong?’
When asked about the novel he was working on, he boasted that it would describe Dublin so thoroughly that if the city were completely destroyed, they could use Ulysses to rebuild it, brick by gritty brick.
He made these comments in the inter-war years and sure enough, many European cities would shortly require such extensive rebuilding.
Sometimes, dramatic moments of urban destruction can lead to a city reinventing itself or taking the opportunity to fix a problem that was insurmountable before. The Great Fire of Chicago in 1871 led to the invention of the skyscraper; the 1906 San Francisco earthquake led to America’s first Chinatown.
Many European cities added higher density housing and mass transit systems during their post-war reconstruction.
Dublin emerged from the Second World War mostly (but not entirely) unscathed, but seems grimly eager to destroy itself ever since.
While a certain amount of demolition and construction is both necessary and welcome, hardly a week goes by without news of rent increases that vastly exceed increases in income, or of another Dublin landmark being closed or destroyed to make room for another hotel. Meanwhile other parts of the island, such as the Gaeltacht areas, are crying out for services to stay viable.
So who, or what, is Dublin for? Who belongs?
While most countries harbour a resentment towards their capital cities, the rest of Ireland’s relationship with Dublin must be an extreme example, from its days as the seat of colonial administration through to it currently receiving the lion’s share of public and private investment.
This resentment expressed itself in thinking that jackeens were less Irish than their neighbours in the rest of the Republic.
Incorporating this viewpoint into Irish language policy, specifically, the designation of certain areas far away from Dublin as Gaeltachtaí, and then denying them investment so they’d stay that way, was a dreadful mistake, one which is getting harder and harder to fix as time rolls on.
For thousands of children growing up on the east coast, the Irish language was something that belonged to someone else. For thousands of children growing up in the Gaeltachtaí, getting to stay there as adults would never be an option.
Before Dublin and the Gaeltacht areas can be fixed, they must first be reimagined – as places that are nice to visit but primarily places to live and to stay, where people can belong.