Category Archives: Ireland

1916 Pub Crawl

There can hardly be a better way to celebrate the centenary of Dublin’s Easter Rising than by going on a pub crawl. Those who know me would say that’s typical of me, but they will have to admit that buildings with a connection to alcohol feature prominently in the story of the 1916 rebellion. From distilleries and breweries to hotels and pubs, Joyce’s puzzle of how to cross Dublin without passing one of these was even more difficult to solve in 1916 than when he wrote it in 1922, when many of these buildings had been destroyed in the fighting and some were never rebuilt.

For those who don’t know: 24th April of this year sees the 100th anniversay of Ireland’s uprising against British rule – but the country has already celebrated/commemorated this over the Easter weekend, since the fact that the Rising took place during Easter takes precedence over the actual calendar date. The good news is that we now get another opportunity to mark the occasion.

The Gravediggers in Glasnevin. Great pub, but not a 1916 qulifier.

The Gravediggers in Glasnevin. Great pub, but sadly not a 1916 qualifier.

Of course the idea of a 1916 pub crawl is probably not very original, but what I’ve found on the Interwebs so far seems to lack a certain level of authenticity. Many of the pubs that are mentioned in the context of the Easter Rising appear to have had very little to do with the events at the time. The fact that they are located near one of the rebellion’s flash points or are named after a 1916 hero hardly makes them qualify to be included in the roll of honour, at least in my opinion. The Gravediggers in Glasnevin for example, is without doubt one of Dublin’s finest pubs, located next door to the final resting place of countless heroes of that fateful Easter week. At the time, however, nothing much happened here at all, from what I have been able to find out.

So what makes a particular watering hole qualify as a genuine 1916 participant? I decided to draw up my own set of criteria:

  1. Pint: The building need not necessarily be a pub, but you must be able to enjoy a pint of Guinness on the premises.
  2. Story: There must be a story associated with the buillding that puts it at the heart of the action at Easter 1916.
  3. Place: The list of premises must be representative of different areas in the city where fighting took place without over representing a particular hotspot.
  4. Walk: Since it’s a pub crawl, it should be possible to complete the task on foot and without completely falling over if a pint is consumed at every stop.

That last point may be tricky for those who decide to follow the trail but are not seasoned pint drinkers — we will allow them to sneak in the odd glass instead. Even trickier is to come up with a list of establishments that match my own stringent criteria — and the result (so far) is a fairly limited number stretched out along a 7km walk. More crawl than pub, in other words. In any case, it is time to get down to business.

The Portobello

Facing the Grand Canal beside Portobello Bridge at the corner of South Richmond Street, the Portobello was known in 1916 as Davy’s Pub. This is where we start our pub crawl, just as some of the first activity on the morning of the Rising occurred in this area, with members of the Irish Volunteers and James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army marching from the city towards Rathmines.

The Portobello alongside La Touche - usually called Portobello - Bridge

The Portobello alongside La Touche – usually called Portobello – Bridge

Among them was James Joyce – no, not the one of the puzzle, but a barman at Davy’s, who took the opportunity to resign from his job while taking over his employer’s pub in the name of the Irish Republic. The building soon came under fire from English troops who emerged from the nearby Portobello Barracks and proceeded to spray the building with machine gun fire. After two hours, the British noticed that nobody was shooting back and they presumed the occupiers had all been killed. However, with intimate knowledge of the building and its surroundings, Joyce had helped his comrades to escape through the cellar of the pub into adjoining laneways, having succeeded in their task to keep the English soldiers from advancing into the city centre – where the GPO and other buildings had now been taken over by the rebels. The photo gallery of the Bureau of Military History tells us:

Davy’s Public House was occupied by a small section of men under the charge of Lieut. Thomas Doyle. Their orders where to delay the British Forces approach to the City for a certain period and to fall back on Harcourt Street Station where the main body of their company were operating.

The nearby barracks where Francis Sheehy Skeffington was executed two days later also still exist, but have been renamed Cathal Brugha Barracks, after the 1916-and-beyond rebel commander.

Delahunt

Delahunt of Lower Camden Street is now a restaurant rather than a pub – but with a full bar licence it still qualifies to be included in the 1916 Pub Crawl. Until recently, this Victorian gem was home to Carville’s off licence, but the new owners have lovingly restored both the premises and its original name. Keep in mind that at the time of writing, the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Delahunt has returned from the past.

Delahunt has recently returned from the past.

As with the Portobello, the 1916 story of Delahunt’s features its own barman – this time a certain George Heuston of “E” Company, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers. According to irishmedals.org:

Born on the 17th of August 1892 died on the 28th of October 1962 aged 23 years old at the time of the Rising. He was employed as a Shop Assistant in Delahunt’s, Camden Street, Dublin. He fought in the Delahunt’s Public House, Camden Street and Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, Bishop Street areas. George Heuston escaped from capture following his participation in the 1916 Easter Rising.

The same source (irishmedals.org) mentions John Brien (23) and Francis Brady (19) as two other young volunteers out of a total of six who occupied Delahunt’s until it was surrounded by British soldiers on 27th April.

The Swan

I have to admit that I’m not entirely convinced of the accuracy of the 1916 story associated with the Swan. There are plenty of websites that all refer to the same anecdote — a witness statement by Michael Molloy, one of the printers of the legendary Proclamation of the Irish Republic:

How did they burrow into the Swan from across the road?

How did they burrow into the Swan from across the road?

At 9 o’clock on Easter Monday night we were withdrawn from outpost duty in the block of houses to Jacob’s biscuit factory. We were posted to different positions all over the factory covering approaches along Bishop Street and the entrance to Bride Street which runs alongside Jacobs and Remond’s Hill. Orders were also given that we were to burrow through from Jacob’s to a public house at the corner facing Aungier Street. We had two masons in our party and the burrowing was made easy. Strict instructions were given that no Volunteer was to take any drink from the public house. And although I am not a drinking man myself I must say that this order was strictly obeyed.

Great story – but the problem is, it doesn’t mention the Swan by name, nor does the Swan’s website mention the story. Also, one would hardly burrow across a street, especially where theSwan faces Whitefriars Church and not the old Jacob’s Factory (now DIT). Still, it’s a classic pub and I haven’t yet found proof that it is not in fact related to Michael Molloy’s statement.

The Tap

Our next stop, at the junction of North King Street and Church Street, was called Reilly’s in 1916. Today, The Tap is unlikely to win the Pub of the Year Award, but at €4 a pint we won’t complain. There isn’t much to remind us about what went on around this area, but rest assured that this is a good place to reflect on the events of a hundred years ago. (Incidentally, there is a plaque beside the entrance commemorating the capture of Kevin Barry in the War of Independence.)

Fighting in the area around this strategically located pub was so intense that it gained the nickname “Reilly’s Fort”. Sean Cody of “G” Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, describes the dramatic events in his witness statement:

It's no beauty, but the history of this place is something else.

It’s no beauty, but the history of this place is something else.

On Thursday the British advanced from Bolton St. up North King St. firing from all directions, and severe fighting was taking place at the barricade near Reilly’s public house which held Lieutenant Shouldice’s men, and immediately north of this post we of “G” Company and others were burrowing our way through party walls of houses to come nearer to the junction of North King St. and Church St. We pushed out windows and under the shining example and command of Paddy Holohan kept up a terrific fire on the barricade through which the British were advancing. On several occasions there was a temporary cease fire shouted by Paddy Holohan to allow the British to remove their dead and wounded.

Later that Friday the British had manned the barricade but were driven off by our concentrated fire, in which the Howth Mauser rifles did great work, and the British suffered many casualties in dead and wounded and left behind a number of rifles which were quickly collected and taken into Reilly’s pub (Fort).

By now we were cut off and after a consultation between ourselves we decided to fight on. At this time the British were in possession of Reilly’s Fort, practically next door to our position. We could hear revolver shots in the Fort and as is now known the British shot a number of people who were found in the Fort, all of whom had no connection with the Volunteers or the fighting.

The events referred to in that last paragraph became know as the North King Street Massacre and is a particularly grim reminder of the horrors of war.

The Oval

The Oval on the left with the GPO just around the corner

The Oval on the left with the GPO just around the corner

Our visit to the Oval is representative of so many pubs destroyed (along with everything else) in the 1916 Rising. Many were never rebuilt, have since changed names or are no longer pubs. Owned by a JohnJ. Egan at the time of the Rising, the Oval was popular with members of the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers, who would pop in for a pint while waiting for their trams. Its proximity to the GPO meant that its fate was pretty much sealed as the fighting intensified during that Easter week.

Eventually things came to a catastrophic head when the HMS Helga sailed up the Liffey and started shelling the GPO and surrounding buildings — the Oval was completely destroyed. When the dust settled, John Egan rebuilt his pub and the building where we now enjoy our pint opened its doors once again in 1922.

Wynn’s Hotel

There is little doubt as to which side of the conflict the owners of Wynn’s Hotel were on in 1916. The hotel is now famous as the birthplace of the Irish Volunteers, who held their inaugural meeting here in November 1913 (four of those who attended —Padraig Pearse, The O’Rahilly, Sean MacDiarmada and Eamonn Ceannt— lost their lives in 1916), followed by the founding meeting of Cumann na mBan in April 1914. Two brass plaques commemorating these events can be seen in the building’s Saints & Scholars Bar.

Wynn's Hotel before it was destroyed in 1916

Wynn’s Hotel before it was destroyed in 1916. Today’s grand entrance is in the centre of the facade, where the “Hotel & Restaurant” sign was.

When the GPO was taken over by the rebels on Easter Sunday 1916 and fighting got worse during the days that followed, the hotel found itself in a no man’s land of sniper fire and bombardments. The hotel’s website tells this story:

Wynn’s was set on fire by incendiary bullets. A rebel volunteer on the roof of the GPO later recalled how he saw men and women “sitting in the windows of Wynn’s Hotel in Lwr Abbey St, watching the battle as from a theatre seat”. Then, what began as entertainment for the guests turned dangerous. Under bombardment from British artillery, Wynn’s caught fire, the fire spread from the barricade to the timber facings of the hotel and when guest and staff lives were threatened, they left the hotel under the protection of a makeshift white flag. As Dublin was under siege, fire fighters were unable to save the hotel and Wynn’s was burned to the ground. It took 10 years for the gutted Hotel to reopen.

In his witness statement, Monsignor Curran tells us how on the Thursday, the fourth day of the Rising,

Fr. John O’Reilly had a narrow escape attending a Volunteer brought into Wynn’s Hotel.

All that remained of the hotel at the end of Easter week was an empty shell, gutted by the raging fires that destroyed most of Dublin’s city centre.

Shelbourne Hotel

The distinguished Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green ended up taking quite a different side on the day of the Rising, although it wasn’t given much of a choice. As Michael Mallin and his men and women of the Citizen Army occupied St. Stephen’s Green, they proceeded to build barricades and dig trenches, soon joined by Countess Markievicz. They took over the College of Surgeons on the Green’s west side, but left the Shelbourne alone.

This provided the British with a perfect opportunity to take on the rebels, and a certain Captain Andrews was in charge of the 40 soldiers who positioned themselves in the windows of the Shelbourne and started firing on the rebels. Later during the week, they positioned a machine gun on the roof and sprayed the College of Surgeons with bullets.

One of the more endearing stories of Rising relates to the Shelbourne’s “front garden” and can be found in the newsletter of the DSPCA:

Note the "waterfowl" in the pond.

Note the “waterfowl” in the pond.

Nevertheless, things weren’t so bad for the park’s feathered inhabitants. The Times History of the War recorded that St Stephen’s Green “was well stocked with waterfowl, and the keeper, who remained inside all the time, reported that his charges were well looked after and fed by him, and were very little perturbed by the bullets flying over their heads”. The park-keeper’s name was James Kearney – every day he would enter the Green to feed the ducks, and every day the opposing sides would cease firing to allow him to do so.

The Schoolhouse

At the time of the Rising, the Schoolhouse on Northumberland Road was in fact — you’ll never guess — a school. We can enjoy a pint in the last stop on our 1916 pub crawl in this silent witness of the greatest slaughter of British troops during Easter week — at the Battle of Mount Street Bridge.

schoolhouse

In 1916 this was the Church of Ireland St. Stephen’s Parochial School

On Easter Monday the school was taken over by four Volunteers who started barricading windows and doors. On Tuesday, however, it was decided that the building was of little strategic value and its occupiers left to join de Valera in Boland’s Bakery further up the road. A few other buildings around Mount Street Bridge were occupied by only a handful of Volunteers when, on Wednesday, more than 1,000 soldiers of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment came marching parade-style from Kingstown Harbour (Dun Laoghaire), some in the belief that they had landed in France.

When they arrived at Mount Street Bridge they first focused their attention on the empty schoolhouse. In a bizarre display of an antiquated military tactic of repeated frontal assault against the rebels’ guerilla ambush that followed, 30 British soldiers were killed and more than 200 wounded – compared to 4 deaths on the rebels’ side. Volunteer William Christian was in the parochial hall across from the schoolhouse and describes what happened:

…because of our favourable position we could see what was taking place around whilst being safely out of the line of firing. As the British troops drew nearer, the bullets fell on the roof of the school opposite like a shower of hail. Excitement gripped us and we braced ourselves for the encounter. Because of our position we had to wait until the British troops actually passed us before we could fire on them; and then they came — hundreds and hundreds of them — stretching right across the road — and so intent were they in gaining their objective — the capture of Clanwilliam House — they completely overlooked our post. We opened fire and men fell like ninnypins.

And so we’ve reached the finish line of our 1916 Pub Crawl, ending up once again on the banks of the Grand Canal. If anyone has any suggestions for pubs that qualify for inclusion (remember, Pint, Story, Place and Walk), I’m all ears.

Happy birthday, Ireland.

Sources

1916 Easter Rising Coach Tour
The Battle of Mount Street Bridge Project
Bureau of Military History
Come Here to Me
DSPCA
irishmedals.org
The Journal
The Oval Bar
An Phoblacht
Wikipedia
Wynn’s Hotel

Trinity Dreams

Main entrance, Trinity College

With the recession came our demotion from a two-car to a one-car family and my rediscovery of public transport. For more than two years now, Dublin Bus carries me to and from my place of work every weekday. I have become an expert in the ways, wherabouts and whens of bus routes on the city’s southside.

Regular Dublin Bus passengers will know that almost all routes lead to or through the city centre, like the spokes of a wheel. Travelling across these spokes from south to west, as my journey demands, becomes a challenge as a result. The 75 is really my only option, zigzagging its way from Dun Laoghaire to Tallaght.

In the mornings, I’m not always in the mood to walk the fifteen minutes uphill to the nearest 75 bus stop. The 11 runs much closer to my home, travelling into the city centre like so many “spoke” buses, and from there I have a choice of routes to take me back out to my destination on the West side.

Of course it takes longer to travel into town and back out again. The Goatstown Residents’ Association once hailed the 11 as the slowest bus in Dublin, with average rush hour speeds of something like 2 miles per hour. However, if you’re early enough, the longer trek through town adds just under half an hour to a trip that will take more than an hour anyway.

Apart from the fact that the longer bus trip means less walking and more time to read (I’ve read more books in the last two years than in the previous ten years of car-commuting) as well as maintaining this blog (I tap this on my phone) — there is also an intangible, emotional benefit that makes me choose this time consuming route on a regular basis.

Dublin is a city full of history and culture and a major tourist attraction. That’s easy to forget as we run our rat race on the rims. Although we live so close, we can go for weeks without setting foot “in town”, and our relatives from outside the Pale seem to get a more regular opportunity to soak up the delights of the big city, as they call in for a cup of tea on their way home after yet another shopping spree or trip to the theatre.

Getting off the 11 bus in Dawson street, I’ve already had the pleasure of admiring the Victorian redbricks in Ranelagh and the majestic Georgian architecture around Stephen’s Green. I can mourn the loss of Waterstones but at least Hodges Figgis is still there.

Strolling across Nassau Street, I enter the grounds of Trinity College by the side entrance, next to the Douglas Hyde Gallery. I take the steps down to the café in the Arts building, where I get a coffee to take with me on the next bus — at €1.25, it must be the cheapest coffee in Dublin.

As I walk past the home of the Book of Kells and out onto the cobbles of Parliament Square, I ask myself why I enjoy this little walk in this iconic place so much. Maybe it’s because I was destined to go to university but never did. My secondary school teachers were horrified that I did not pursue one of the six languages I studied for the Leaving (or whatever the equivalent is of the Dutch VWO diploma), but chose to do “something with art” instead.

In any case, I now stroll among the intelligentsia — and the tourists — of Ireland’s oldest university. Had I been born in Ireland instead of Holland as the son of a protestant minister, then Trinity might have been a good choice to further my education. My Catholic friends attended the denominationally more appropriate University College Dublin — I remember going to meet one of them in the engineering department in Merrion Street, in what is now the Taoiseach’s Office, back in ’86.

And so I dream of what might have been but never was. I take a picture of the view across the square towards the Chapel and Regent House, where I’ll be leaving Trinity through the arched doorway and the front gates onto College Green. The 77a awaits.

And then there’s coffee

Drink Coffee

It's True.

Earlier this week, Patina Vaz Dias posted a picture of one of those mock vintage advertising signs on her Facebook page: “Drink Coffee — Do Stupid Things Faster with More Energy.” I was sipping my own early morning coffee when I read that, and said to myself “En dan is er koffie”, which roughly translates into the title of this blog post.

That phrase is an advertising slogan from the 1970s, praising the qualities of Douwe Egberts coffee, which has become ingrained in the Dutch vernacular forever more. The campaign was playing on emotional values and bringing people together, similar to the Irish “Golden Moments” adverts for Barry’s Tea.

Douwe Egberts TV Commercial, August 1982.

The comparison between those two advertising campaigns immediately highlights an important cultural difference between Ireland and Holland: tea versus coffee. When we talk about a “nice cuppa” in Ireland, this will always refer to tea, whereas the Dutch term “lekker bakkie” is reserved exclusively for coffee — and even immortalised in song by Rita Corita.

Of course the Dutch also drink tea, but as far as the Irish (or indeed, the Brits) are concerned — they haven’t a clue. Extremely weak and without milk, often polluted with strange fruit flavours, what passes for tea in Holland is an affront to tastes everywhere to the west of the North Sea. However, when I first set foot on Irish soil in 1984, the Irish interpretation of coffee was probably even worse by comparison.

Upon ordering a cup of coffee in an Irish establishment, you were presented with a mug in which half a teaspoon of that sawdust that comes in a red Maxwell House jar had been dissolved, weak enough to resemble Dutch tea. On that first Irish visit, my friends and I quickly got into the habit of ordering coffee by asking for the jar of instant and making our own, in order to at least obtain some caffein even if flavour remained elusive. Only once did we come across something drinkable — the little restaurant at the Cliffs of Moher served Rombouts Coffee, albeit those little plastic one-cup filters. It was heaven.

All of that has changed since the arrival of the Celtic Tiger, and even though that creature has now been assigned to history, it is no longer possible to order just a cup of coffee — Maxwell House or otherwise. Instead, we must specify a Latte, Cappucino or Macchiato, Espresso or Americano, Tall, Medium or Grande, the list is endless. Chains of specialist coffee shops have spread across the nation and it appears as if Ireland is trying to make up for a centuries old caffein-free tradition.

Before someone comes along to point out that tea actually contains more caffein than coffee, let me make it clear that I’m not interested in that or any other aspect of tea. I never drink the stuff. For as long as I can remember I’ve been drinking coffee, and I only recall drinking tea when I was still living with my mother, always in the afternoon. Coffee was the morning and evening beverage.

Comicbook hero Asterix the Gaul is invited by his British cousin to help fight the Romans. Since tea has not yet been introduced into pre-Christian Britain (until Asterix accidentally creates the first pot of tea at the end of the story), the British tribesmen and -women are depicted drinking cups of hot water at every opportunity. I guess that image stuck in my mind: tea is no more than coloured hot water.

Just a spot of milk, please.

My sister is the complete opposite of me — she only drinks tea. Some time ago I stayed with her and discovered that the only coffee available in her kitchen was of the decaffeinated variety. At least it was proper ground coffee and tasted good enough. After this morning cup of decaf, I went for a walk to try and clear an annoying headache. I came by a little coffee shop, was tempted, and slipped inside for another coffee. This time, it was real coffee — and within seconds, my headache vanished. I must have been suffering caffein withdrawal symptoms. In any case, it is my firm belief that decaf coffee falls into the same category as low fat milk, herbal cigarettes and alcohol free beer: Pointless.

The Maritime Museum in Amsterdam taught me a lesson about drinking too much coffee, back in 1983 when the Dutch State put me to work there as a conscientious objector (I foresee another blog post). On a typical day, we started “work” at 9 in the morning by congregating in the canteen for our second dose of coffee — we would already have had some with our breakfast. At 9:30 my boss and I would brew some more coffee in our office and go through that before 11. At that stage it was time for our coffee break and we’d return to the canteen for a well deserved caffein fix. One day we had a bit of a slack day and upon returning to the office we made another pot of coffee. By lunchtime my hands were shaking uncontrollably and my pupils had swallowed my irises. I was awake. Since that day, I limit my caffein intake somewhat.

Taken from the BBC’s “Walk on the Wild Side” series

For many years, I considered the ultimate breakfast to be a cup of coffee and a cigarette — freshly brewed and hand rolled respectively, of course. It is probably no coincidence that two of the largest purveyors of coffee in Holland — Douwe Egberts and Van Nelle — had an equivalently large share of the tobacco market. Although I became a non-practising smoker more than three years ago, I still miss this perfect way to start the day. At least I still have my coffee, without which life would become truly meaningless.

En dan is er koffie.

Christmas Odyssey

Arctic conditions at Dublin Airport

This time last year, our part of Europe was in the icy grip of winter, and many Irish living abroad were struggling to make it home in time for Christmas. Ironically, I found myself “at home” in Holland for my mother’s birthday, and then tried to get back home to Dublin in time for Christmas. Things did not quite turn out as expected, and it took me more than 3 days of travelling through snow-covered airports and iced-over railway stations to get back in time for Santa’s visit to my real home in Goatstown.

This was the very first time I came to appreciate the power of “social media”, keeping in touch with friends and family throughout my journey via SMS, Email, Twitter and Facebook. This blogpost attempts to put all of the messages that I sent during those 80 hours – and some of the ones I received – in chronological order.

I was lucky enough to make it home in time to help Santa with his deliveries. To all of you who missed out on following me on Facebook and Twitter during those days, and of course to all of you who did, I wish you all a merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Email, November 26, 2010
ITINERARY/RECEIPT – All times are local.
From Eindhoven (EIN) to Dublin (DUB)
Mon, 20Dec10 Flight FR1965 Depart EIN at 18:25 and arrive DUB at 19:05
PASSENGERS
1. MR PIER KUIPERS ADT

The Start

I take the 13:00 train from Amsterdam to Eindhoven to begin my journey back home to Dublin.

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 17:28
Flight delayed. Supposed to leave now but not sure has it even landed here yet…

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 17:30
There’s about an inch of snow here but not snowing now. No plane either, though…

6 hours

SMS, 20 December 18:57
URGENT-Your Ryanair flight has been cancelled – please visit www.ryanair.com for free rebooking/refund

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 19:51
Amsterdam Dublin €300 with Aer Lingus. No Ryanair until friday at the earliest

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 20:15
Aer Lingus Booking Ref:28VPT2
EI0607 21DEC AMS-DUB
dep 15:10 arr 15:50.

SMS, December 20, 2010 at 21:40
Still on train travelling at snail’s pace. Jobien picking me up from station. Still snowing there?

12 hours

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 0:07
OK, so I’m back in Amsterdam, having spent 6 hours in Eindhoven waiting for a Ryanair flight. Dublin Airport closed. Yikes.

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 8:48
Got stuck in Holland due to weather, trying to get home on 3pm flight.

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 9:41
Looks like dublin is in chaos. Praying that airport stays open

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 12:37
On my way to airport, but just heard that “We have had to suspend operations until 17.00 due to a recent heavy snowfall.” fucking great.

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 13:17
On my way to Schiphol, second attempt at going home. Wish me luck.

24 hours

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 13:36
Just in from Dublin Airport: “We have had to suspend operations until 17.00 due to a recent heavy snowfall.”
Great.

Andrew Watchorn
Does that mean that you’re just in from Dublin Airport or just in from Dublin airport – as in news. Former = Congratulations. Later = Commiserations!

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 16:39
Hell on earth. Queue at rebooking desk 3 miles long.

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 16:45
If you’re online, would you mind checking if ferries from holyhead are sailing?

Caoilte Guiry
Holyhead to Dublin:0040-0630, 0130-0630 or 1310-1810 (at £41) on 22nd according to national express. I’ll check bus routes too as its quite busy apparently

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 17:25
Stena offices closed, am on the train. Packed to capacity, people standing. What a madhouse

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 17:27
Everything booked out until Friday, including Cork. Thousands stranded. Trains chaos. Making my way to ferry to England, is only hope to get home before Christmas. Not joking.

30 hours

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 18:48
Flight cancelled, nothing available until Friday. Making my way to Hook of Holland to try and catch a ferry to England.

England here I come

Facebook, December 21, 2010 at 20:30
Fuck Dublin Airport

SMS, December 21, 2010 at 21:55
Status update: Just pulled away from the quay, ferry from Hook of Holland – Harwich. Arriving tomorrow 7am, then train to London, onward to Holyhead. Across the Irish Sea, and home for Christmas:-)

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 22:40
And the band played “Dreaming of a White Christmas” When the ship pulled away from the quay…

Henk Kuipers 
It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you
etc. etc.

Twitter, December 21, 2010 at 22:47
OK guys, this is it. On the North Sea en route to Dublin, with just that pesky bit of land inbetween. Wondering when I’ll lose my network.

42 hours

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 7:43
Harwich International Station
So far, so good

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 8:56
Home sounds like a good place to be! Just arrived in London, gonna check flights. Will keep u posted

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 10:07
Liverpool Street Platform 6
Getting tube to Euston station…

Mark Palmer 
You seem to be running to your new schedule OK. Good luck with the rest of your journey.

Chaos at Euston Station

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 10:21
In London Euston waiting for delayed train to Chester. No flights available until Saturday. Not sure if I’ll make Holyhead in time for tonight’s ferry…

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 10:41
London Euston Station (EUS)
See if Virgin can get me a ticket all the way to Dublin

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 11:14
Train to Chester delayed. Massive crowd here, but maybe it’s always like this :-/

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 11:28
Chester train cancelled. Fuck.

Sinead Lawlor
Don’t lose hope!!

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 11:41
Train to Chester cancelled. Now on the train to Crewe.

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 11:42
It’s unlikely that I’ll make the 5:15 ferry. There is one at midnight, it appears. Still need to get from Crewe to Chester to Holyhead first, though…

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 12:07
OK, on train to Crewe, it’s a start. Seat with table, power supply and free wifi – no excuse, better do some work :-(

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 12:15
Right, so the wifi is useless. View from window nothing but SNOW. Read my book?

48 hours

Snowy landscapes near Birmingham

Twitter, December 22, 2010 at 13:07
Picture postcards views of snowy English lanscapes near Birmingham somewhere

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 13:54
Crewe Railway Station (CRE)
On to Chester

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 15:03
Given up on ferry, Fully booked so no guarantee of getting across. Eoin got on alright, the bastard. Booked flight from BMX at 20:15

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 15:57
Leaving Chester, heading back to Crewe. Stena not accepting any more passengers until Friday, so not heading to Holyhead but to Birmingham to catch a flight – hopefully…

Gerry McLoughlin
Jesus Pier, I hope you get sorted.

Tom Wiebe
I sense a book in the making…

Willie Van Velzen
ya poor git!

Email, December 22, 2010 at 14:30
Passenger(s): MR PIER KUIPERS
Flight: EI0277 – Wed 22 Dec 2010
Departs: Birmingham-Terminal 1 (BHX) 20:15
Arrives: Dublin-Terminal 1 (DUB) 21:15
Status: Y/Economy Class CONFIRMED
Airline: Aer Lingus

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 17:14
Made it to Birmingham Airport, flights looking good. fingers crossed.

Foursquare, December 22, 2010 at 17:44
Wetherspoon, Departure Lounge (BHX Airport)
FECK! DRINK!

53 hours

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 17:53
Having travelled all this way over land, getting on a flight at this stage feels like cheating. But let’s not speak too soon – it may yet be cancelled…

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 20:49
OK, flight’s delayed until 2300. Things are looking up for the anti-cheating squad.

Facebook, December 22, 2010 at 20:56
In Birmingham Airport sipping pint of ale. Flight delayed until 23:00. Aer Lingus gave me a €5 voucher – yay. I lost it – sigh.
Recent experience has taught me that delay is the first step to cancellation…

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 21:39
I am so goddamn bored and homesick. Entering day 4 of my attempts to get back. I’ll get the Aircoach to Stillorgan and a taxi from there no matter what the time, they go all night.

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 21:56
Latest news: flight delayed until midnight. I think I’ll have a pint, so.

SMS, December 22, 2010 at 22:16
Delayed, estimated 0001, gate opens 1 hr 5 mins. Believe it when i see it.

Now boarding...

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 0:35
“passengers please proseed [sic] to departure lounge by 2355.” Woah. I’d better drink up.

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 1:26
NOW BOARDING AT GATE 48. Oh yeah, baby.

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 00:27
I can SEE the plane, and people getting off it. They’re very slow, though…

61 hours

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 2:56
Guess what? My flight has been CANCELLED.
Aer Lingo are putting us all in the Hilton tonight, along with the crew who need their 12 hour beauty sleep now, rather than flying us back to Dublin first.
OK so. Whatever.

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 2:56
Latest travel news: flight from Birmingham CANCELLED at the last minute. Staff need their 12 hour beauty sleep. We’re told we’re flying tomorrow at 14:45. Yah right. All of us being transported to the Hilton now (at 2:45am)

Foursquare, December 23, 2010 at 3:56
Hilton International Birmingham
Ireland? Huh? Where’s that?

Dave Slater
Well, at least you’ll get to see what the outside of the National Exhibition Centre looks like – which I am sure has always been one of those boxes in life you wanted to tick.

Pier Kuipers
Heh. I ticked that box a few months ago when I was here for a meeting. Any other suggestions as to why being here might be a good thing?

Dave Slater
Pier, I was just trying to give you some encouragement.

69 hours

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 10:12
From Dublin Airport via Twitter: “We are temporarily suspending flight operations for about 30 minutes to allow the runway to be sprayed with de-icer.”

Ronan Doyle
i think dublin is closed until 1.30 :-0

Willie Van Velzen
snowing heavily in Leixlip at the moment

Ronan Doyle
Ever feel like that steve martin from Planes, Trains & Automobiles??

Mr Flight Delayed

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 10:55
Dublin Airport closed until 13:30 to clear snow

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 11:13
Latest News > 09.30: Flight Operations Suspended At Dublin Airport
Think Happy Thoughts.

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 12:43
The name is Delayed. Flight Delayed. And that’s Mr Delayed to you.

Andrew Watchorn – Classic!

Johan Sölve – Bummer.

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 13:45
Look! I got another boarding pass for my collection.

73 hours

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 14:09
Yesterday Dublin Airport was open, but we had no plane.
Today we have a plane and a crew, but no Airport. Two out of three ain’t bad?

Facebook, December 23, 2010 at 14:11
Dublin Airport Flight operations resumed at 13.00. Woot!

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 16:21
“ladies and gentlemen, can you please take your seats to enable a speedy departure so we won’t miss our slot”.
HURRY UP YOU MUPPETS!

77 hours

Arctic conditions at Dublin Airport

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:06
LANDED IN DUBLIN

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 18:07
Just landed after circling for 30 minutes. Nowhere for the plane to park, pilot describing “chaos & confusion”.

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:22
Chaos at Dublin Airport with planes fighting over spaces as if they’re in the car park at Tesco’s

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:45
Our plane’s captain needs a martialler to guide him to our parking spot. Can anyone help?

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 18:48
That should be “marshaller” of course. Anyone with a couple of torches and big earphones will do.

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 19:09
OK, plane’s parked. But now the air bridge is stuck, so we can’t get off. Oh, and it’s snowing again.

Twitter, December 23, 2010 at 19:42
And bingo: Dublin Airport closed.

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 18:53
Getting next available aircoach out of here

SMS, December 23, 2010 at 19:56
Sitting on bus but not going anywhere fast. It’s supposed to go to stillorgan shopping centre, trying to find out. Chaos here.

The Finish – 80 hours

I finally arrived home at sometime after 21:00 on the 23rd December. I shared a taxi with a fellow Christmas 2010 Veteran from the Burlington to somewhere in Goatstown where the taxi driver told us to get out, because he wasn’t driving any further through the snow drifts.

Twitter, December 25, 2010 at 1:25
Merry Christmas to all, and especially all of you who kept me company on Facebook and Twitter during my recent odyssey – thank you!


View Christmas Odyssey 2010 in a larger map

Pinpointing Ireland

Templemore or Thurles

Templemore or Thurles?

One of my clients asked me to put together a location map for a chain of hardware stores in county Tipperary, to appear on a new website. I was given a bunch of business cards with the relevant contact details. When I finally got around to do some work on the map, I discovered that these details consisted of nothing more than phone numbers and email addresses alongside the name of the town in which each store is located.

Thinking that visitors of the new website might want a slightly more accurate location than Google’s perceived town centre of “Thurles” or “Roscrea”, I asked my client to come back with an actual address for each store. This time, I was given a list with addresses such as “Cahir Road, Cashel” and “Templemore Road, Thurles”.

Looking at Google’s map of Cashel, I see that the Cahir Road stretches for 1.5 kilometres from the centre of town to the M8 motorway on the outskirts, hardly a pinpoint location. Asking Google to find the Templemore Road in Thurles proves even more elusive, when one of those red markers is firmly planted in the centre of the Thurles Road in Templemore (spot the difference of around 14 kilometers).

OK, so I deploy some common sense and trace this road in the direction of Thurles, hoping that we will see the expected exchange between the name of the town and that of the road. No such luck. According to Google, when the N62 coming from Templemore reaches Thurles, it is called the Brittas Road — the Templemore Road simply does not exist, other than in local folklore, maybe. Or maybe Google’s got it wrong, horribile dictu.

Eventually I had no other choice than to take a virtual trip on Google Streetview down the various Main and other Streets of county Tipperary — ultimately pinpointing all of the listed hardware stores. Happy days.

This is not the first time I’ve struggled trying to find a precise location on Irish soil. Every other week or so, I may receive a text message from my daughter’s coach telling us that the next match is against Such-and-Such in Somebody’s Park. Invariably I have no clue as to how I might get to the relevant grounds, and rely once again on Google to help me out.

A match in Hermitage Park landed a Google Maps marker in the middle of a housing estate in Rathfarnham. Alongside the “Park”, there’s a Drive, Court, Grove and a host of other examples of how to avoid using the word Street — but no sign of a sports field. Of course Google is blissfully unaware that locals (and GAA veterans) refer to the sports grounds in nearby St. Enda’s Park as, you’ve guessed it: Hermitage Park.

None of this would be a problem if Ireland had post codes like the rest of Europe, or maybe even the Rest Of The World. Combined with a house number, the average post code will translate into a GPS-friendly point on the map that leaves little room for confusion — or maybe that’s just my utopian view. As it stands, Dublin is the only city in Ireland to use primitive postal districts, carving the city up in 22 chunks, with odd numbers for the northside, even for the south, and a lone alphanumeric 6W for the posh.

On his website, a South Dublin solicitor states his address as “DX 225 002 Clonskeagh”. It’s a mystery where this cryptic pseudo-postcode comes from, but its progressiveness has to be admired. There are currently several unofficial postcode systems deployed in Ireland, such as GeoDirectory, GoCode and Loc8 Code — but these would be largely unfamiliar to the average punter, and the codes they produce don’t look anything like the one displayed by our solicitor. In fact, their codes appear to be shortcuts to geographic coordinates supplied by Google, and so my front garden would have a different code than my back garden.

Playing with their iPhone apps, I discover that my office is in Dublin L67 CRJ6 (GoCode) — or maybe that should be Dublin NR4-77-B13 (Loc8 Code). Either way, these codes point to my office in Tallaght, and then tell us that it’s the Blessington Road (correct) in Lucan (huh?) — compliments of Google.

Over the past decade, there has been plenty of talk by various ministers about plans to introduce post codes in Ireland. It seems that this project has so far been assigned to the category of perpetual procrastination, along with electronic voting and the rail link to the airport. I’d hate to guess how many millions have already been spent on coming up with suggestions that the post code format should be “memorable” and “alpha-numeric”.

Confusion in Clonskeagh

For now, it seems that we will have to make do without postcodes for the forseeable future. Finding addresses such as St. James’s Terrace in Clonskeagh will therefore remain a challenge when relying on Google, ending up in Dolphin’s Barn instead. Of course we can’t really blame Google when no. 2 St. James’s Terrace, Clonskeagh, is the exact same building as no. 4 Clonskeagh Road. So that’s St. James’s Terrace, Dublin 8. No wait, 6. It’s in Dublin, somewhere.

Heart Is Where The Home Is – Part 2

When I moved to Dublin in 1986, I had managed to quickly arrange a place to stay with the help of Lorraine, the receptionist with my new employer Irish International. I was soon to become the nightmare of my friends’ address books.

Merrion Road, Ballsbridge

The garden shed at the rear of 69 Merrion Road, Ballsbridge

The address of Merrion Road in Ballsbridge, across the road from the Royal Dublin Society and the heavily fortified British embassy, invokes visions of luxury and grandeur. The reality was somewhat different, however.

The redbricked residence was very impressive indeed. Upon my arrival, I was ushered through the front door and straight out the back where the garden shed was assigned as my first home in the Irish capital. It did have a toilet and a shower, I have to say that for it. I suppose I couldn’t expect much more for £15 a week — I spent the grand total of £30 living in the embassy belt.

My flat was in the basement of the house on the corner, beside the steps.

Upper Rathmines Road

I quickly discovered that Ranelagh and Rathmines were known as “flat land”, and like so many others I roamed the streets of Dublin 6 armed with the Evening Press and enough small change to make the necessary calls from the nearest phone box.

And so I found my first proper Dublin flat in the basement of a four-story redbrick on the Upper Rathmines Road. It had a separate twin bedroom and bathroom, a kitchenette and my own front door. It served me well for several months as I got to know the city and made new friends.

Our flat is on the first floor of the house with the red door.

Lower Rathmines Road

I had become friends with a bunch of engineering students from UCD, at a time when their department was located on Merrion Street, in what is now Government Buildings and the Taoiseach’s Office. When they graduated and looked for jobs, flat hunting also became part of their new life — and I joined them in their quest.

Paddy Ryan, Dave Slater and myself moved into a three bedroomed flat on the Lower Rathmines Road in the spring of 1987. There was lots of drink involved.

Mackies Place

Mackies Place in 1987

Brian Murray, yet another engineering graduate, wished to join our ranks and so a larger flat was needed. We found a small artisan house tucked away in a tiny laneway near Fitzwilliam Square, called Mackies Place — and so the four of us became known as Mackies Boys.

My new location allowed me to travel between work on the Square, home and my local pub (Toner’s of Baggot Street), all without even having to cross a street.

View of Edenvale Road in Ranelagh

Edenvale Road, Ranelagh

After a silly falling out with my flatmates, I moved to a crappy bedsit in Ranelagh — around the time that my new job with Bell Advertising brought me to the same part of town. The music of Christopher Cross will forever remind me of that place, since my upstairs neighbour felt the need to play it at full volume — every evening when he came in from work.

My colleague and friend Tim Mudie lived in an equally crappy flat on Moyne Road — we used to visit each other to share our meagre supply of drink and tobacco, taking the shortcut across the disused railway tracks between our streets, where the Luas now runs.

At this stage, the traditional music scene had introduced me to fiddle player Brian McCarthy who became a very good friend. He was determined to get me out of my cramped living quarters — and that required a move south, to Dun Laoghaire.

Must get a better pic of Ashdoonan...

Silchester Road, Glenageary

Brian’s parents owned two massive redbrick homes in Glenageary — one was the family home and the other was rented out in flats. I was very lucky to be offered the Rear Garden Flat at Ashdoonan, Silchester Road, Glenageary, Co. Dublin. Back in Holland, my friend René was fascinated by an address that didn’t contain a single number.

My new flat was enormous, with two bedrooms and a big open-plan kitchen cum living room, and access to the huge garden which stretched some 200 feet. Both houses, as well as my own flat, were a paradise for artists, musicians, creatives and other lunatics.

Unfortunately the McCarthy’s decided to sell one of their houses and after two years of luxury my time was up.

Beautiful terrace on Crosthwaite Park South, Dun Laoghaire

Crosthwaite Park, Dun Laoghaire

Ross Cahill-O’Brien, a friend of Brian’s, is an architect who had recently returned from the UK after winning a cash prize in a competition. He put this money towards the purchase of a majestic 19th century home at Crosthwaite Park South, just down the road.

Ross was delighted to share his new home with me, his fashion designer cousin and a mad artist whose name escapes me. Eternally covered in plaster dust and paint splatters, Ross’s mission was to turn his house into an architectural Wonder of the World, and I must say that he came close.

Living in an eternal building site was far from ideal, however, and once again Brian came to the rescue.

My Renault 9 in front of my cottage

Pembroke Cottages, Ringsend

Brian’s brother Francis had bought a small terraced cottage in Ringsend, and was looking for a tenant after spending a mint refurbishing the place. Although the rent was steep, I immediately fell in love with the place and moved in before the paint had dried.

With a bedroom to spare, I was able to provide initial accommodation to Maarten and Gabrielle when they, too, came over from Holland to work and study in Dublin.

Merrion House

Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin 2

When the rent in Ringsend proved too much of a strain on the budget, I teamed up with Brian “Smiley” Norton, taking over the top floor flat in Merrion House on Fitzwilliam Street, recently vacated by my friends Deirdre, Jean and Shirley.

Merrion House appears to be a strange amalgamation of two or three Georgian buildings into one block, divided into flats. Fitzwilliam Street’s claim to fame was that of being the longest Georgian street in the British Isles — until the ESB knocked down an entire section and build their monstrosity headquarters across the road from our flat.

Colourful characters occupied Merrion House; not least the caretakers Rose and Vincent who could usually be found in Larry Murphys on the corner of Baggot Street. Private detective Liam Brady had set up shop in the building too — I believe he’s still in business, albeit in a different location.

Kenilworth Square - the window to the right of the front door was our flat.

Kenilworth Square, Rathgar

After I got married, my wife and I moved into the last flat of my career, based in a large detached period house on Kenilworth Square in Rathgar. Small but sufficient, it served us mainly as a base during our house-hunting days.

If I thought my Christopher Cross neighbour in Ranelagh was annoying, I hadn’t heard anything yet. Our downstairs neighbour in Kenilworth made the windows rattle and rooftiles bounce with noise that had little to do with music and went on till all hours of the morning. The guards advised us to put a brick through his window, since there was little they could do if he started again after they left. Thankfully our landlord kicked him out fairly quicksmart, which was probably a better solution.

Oasis by the Dodder

Orwell Gardens

To blend in more with my adopted society, I joined in with the Irish obsession of owning your own home. We purchased 37 Orwell Gardens in 1995, a small, terraced house nestled in a cute former council development on the banks of the river Dodder.

We were lucky we didn’t drown when we lived there. In 1986, Hurricane Charlie had caused the Dodder to explode and most of Orwell Gardens was immersed in a foot of floodwaters. During another storm that raged just a few months after we had moved out, I watched from the balcony of The Dropping Well as the Dodder overflowed into the carpark and started carrying empty beer kegs downstream. Orwell Gardens, sandbagged this time, was safe from the floods — but I still felt more comfortable having moved uphill.

The start of the property boom had already seen house prices increasing rapidly, and when we decided to trade up in 1999, we got twice of what we originally paid for our wee home. That trend continued, but even after the crash, the current average price appears to be 3 times as much as what we forked out — I’d hate to think what they were worth at the height of the boom.

Somewhere in Goatstown

Baile na nGabhar

So that brings us to the end of my quest. I have finally settled in a three bedroom semi-de, not far from the homes of my very first Irish friends. My own kids are growing up here now, and I hope that to them it will be their Groenezoom.


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The Urge For Going

In fourth year of secondary school in Rotterdam, we were asked to write a French essay on the subject “voudriez-vous vous habiter à l’étranger?” — “would you live abroad?” I remember it well, rambling on about how I wouldn’t mind spending some time travelling the world, but concluding that I would never wish to move away from Holland permanently.

Famous last words.

It’s now almost 25 years since I came to live and work in Dublin — and so I have spent more than half my life away from the home of my French essay. Of course I’m still a blow-in, although it appears that being Dutch is not half as incriminating as being from, God forbid, Cork or some other culchie place.

Ireland has been good to me, even if the romantic idea of playing the pipes by the turf fire in a cottage somewhere in county Clare is not something that has become a regular part of my life here. I’ve always played it safe, and moving to Ireland was something I did only after I secured a job so I would not have to depend on busking for a living.

Europe was in a recession back in 1986, although I don’t remember anyone calling it that. I had finished a two year course in Finished Art at the Amsterdamse Grafische School and decided to enroll for another course to turn me into a proper designer. I didn’t get very far. Having spent the summer doing freelance work, a return to the school benches felt like a step backwards.

There were other factors that contributed to my sudden decision to pack up and go — although I suppose a 23 year old does not need much of an excuse to develop itchy feet. My friend and oboe teacher Joost Flach had set an example of how you can take control of your life, when jobs for oboists were at a premium after he graduated from the Amsterdam Conservatory. In 1984 he took a job with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and has been living in South East Asia ever since. It was Joost’s radical move that planted the idea in my head that you can always try your luck abroad.

I had been on holidays in Ireland just once before, in the summer of 1984. While the rest of the world was watching Live Aid, I took uilleann pipes lessons at the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay, co. Clare. After a week I was joined by my friends Bill and Jochum and together we hiked across the Burren and Connemara.

Plans to return to Ireland for another holiday were thwarted through lack of funds. The closest I got to anything Irish were frequent music sessions in The String, just off Dam Square. And then I suffered a broken heart (but that’s another story) and one night I announced to my brother’s understandable bewilderment that I’d had enough and was going to move to Dublin. My brother and I shared an apartment with two other guys at the time. Their joined efforts at making me rethink such a drastic decision did little to divert me from the road ahead.

I have been asked that question many, many times: why Dublin? The connection with Irish music was one reason, the fact that they speak English another. I had wanted to go back anyway, so why not try and live and work there for a few months?

As it turns out, there was in fact a good reason not to move to Ireland: the Irish themselves were leaving en masse. “Will the last one to leave please turn off the light” is said to have been painted on the outside of my namesake in Dun Laoghaire, at a time when more than 40,000 people a year were leaving Ireland for good. Jobs in 1980s Ireland were a rare commodity, but I was determined to find one.

Armed with photocopies of the advertising and printing sections from Dublin’s Golden Pages, kindly sent to me by the Irish embassy in The Hague, I set out to write 200 cold call applications. Only 17 companies bothered to respond with the familiar “we’ll keep your CV on file” — and then there was the single phone call that changed my life.

Irish International was one of the bigger advertising agencies that were dotted around Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Square area. They happened to be on the lookout for a competent finished artist when my letter arrived. As it turns out, formal training in finished art did not exist in Ireland, and the job was usually given to design graduates with higher aspirations.

I was asked to come over for an interview, and on the 10th September I was in Dublin for the second time in my life, scanning the impressive Georgian doors I had photographed two years previous. When the formalities were over and done with, I was told that I got the job and brought to Sachs Hotel for a liquid lunch, in good old Dublin advertising tradition. All I had to do now, was go home to pack for a one-way trip.

Schiphol, 22nd September 1986

Schiphol, 22nd September 1986

Two days after my 23rd birthday, friends and family flocked to Schiphol Airport to bid me farewell in a bizarre reversal of Irish fortune. As always, my wonderful mother fully supported my decision, my brother reckoned that moving from one big city to another is probably less traumatic than moving between rural and urban habitats, and my sister would be the first to visit me in my newfound home.

Joost and I now share the common bond of being expats. What did not strike me as relevant at the time, is that we both hail from Friesland — and like the Irish, the Friesians have a tendency towards emigration; much more so than people from other parts of the Netherlands. America and Canada were popular destinations with tens of thousands of my fellow tribesmen and -women over the years, and the parallel with the Irish diaspora is remarkable.

In keeping with this Friesian characteristic, my mother’s family has seen its fair share of emigration, my uncle Meinte moving to the States in the early 50s. The other two uncles passed the buck to my generation, with cousins from both families settling in America and Spain respectively. And so it appears that the urge for going is part of my genetic makeup.

By moving to Ireland from Holland in pursuit of a career in advertising, I unwittingly became part of yet another tradition. Nick van Vliet, Gerry Huisman and Willie van Velzen are just some of the names associated with a wave of Dutch graphic artists who invaded Ireland in the latter part of the 20th century to exploit a gap in the market. Having a Dutchman on the studio’s payroll appears to have become the holy grail for Irish ad agencies in those days. This might be the reason why MD Finbar Costello invited me to join him and his team at a client briefing in my first week in the job — his agency could now boast two Dutch graphic artists, since Willie van Velzen Jr. had joined their ranks earlier.

On holidays in the sun a year or two ago, my sister-in-law was discussing the merits of moving to Spain to live and work there. In all innocence she asked me if I would ever consider such a move. The truth is, I wouldn’t mind spending some time travelling the world, but I would never wish to move away from home permanently.

Been there, done that.

Tonge & Taggart and the World Beneath Our Feet

Tonge & Taggart

Tonge & Taggart "Béal Tuile"

When friends of ours decided to get married sometime in the mid 90s, they asked me to look after the layout and printing of the missalettes. Of course I was happy to oblige, and the booklet went through a few versions before everyone was happy. At one stage the groom asked me to make sure the priest was mentioned in the line-up. His name was father Tonge — “as in Tonge & Taggart, you know, from the manhole covers”.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Tonge & Taggart, not having spent much time reading manhole covers. Since that day however, I notice the name every time I look down while walking Dublin’s streets — strange how a sewage drain can remind you of a friend’s wedding.

Tonge & Taggart Limited was a Dublin foundry which has since been swallowed up by the Smurfit group. If you’re in Dublin, you don’t have to travel far to stumble across, or even over, an example of their ironmongery. Chances are there’s a Béal Tuile cover right outside your front door, adorned with the three castles of the Dublin crest and the historic company’s name, of course.

Invariably, these iron Flood Mouths are complemented nearby by a small, usually round cover which hides a mains water stop valve. The majority of these little covers are Irish speaking, but more recent versions appear square and English speaking. There is even a bilingual version for those who are unsure about the difference between uisce and water. It is unclear which company provides these water valve covers — and there are far more players than Tonge & Taggart.

Once you start looking under your feet while crossing streets and pavements, you come across names such as Dudley & Dowell, Cavanagh, Conway & Sons, William Lacy and so on. Some are kind enough to put the year of manufacture on their creations; Conway Foundries appear to have been busy in the 1960s. Cavanagh have been providing manhole covers and other castings for 200 years and are still very much in business.

And it’s not just sewage pipes and water drains that are covered by these iron lids. The city has a vast array of tunnelled utilities buried underneath its streets, and the number of hatches, covers and lids that provide access increases dramatically as you get closer to the city centre. Water, gas, electricity, telephone, cable TV — they all fight for space in what must be a veritable spaghetti soup of pipes, wires and cables. Bus shelters and traffic lights have their own hatches and business premises have cellars and basements with iron trapdoors and grilles to add to the streetscape.

Bomb-proof manhole cover

Bomb-proof manhole cover

When the Queen came to visit Dublin recently, followed closely by the US President, all these metal covers on the street surface became potential hiding places for bombs and assassins. As part of a massive security operation, gardaí roamed the streets armed with spanners, yellow spraypaint and filler guns. Every single manhole cover, lid, hatch and trapdoor was inspected, sealed and marked with the yellow paint, using the spanner as a stencil.

Dublin’s manhole covers provide an insight into the history not only of its foundries and ironworks, but also of the companies that used their products. As a result we can now witness the scattered chronology of P&T, Telecom Eireann, Eircom and even Esat Telecom throughout the city. Apart from being a purely functional piece of street furniture, some are actually quite attractive — such as the rare Uisce covers with intricate celtic lace patterns and the cryptic acronym WSC-R. An example can be found on Mellifont Avenue in Dun Laoghaire.

WSC-R Uisce Cover

Pretty Uisce cover in Dun Laoghaire

However fascinating these unassuming objects that we walk on every day may be, I don’t think I’m ready to join the Flickr Manhole Cover Pool as yet. Surprisingly, that group has more than 1,000 members and almost 13,000 pictures — and you thought trainspotting was weird.

The Fast Lane

Upon my arrival in Dublin in 1986, one of the first things I bought was a bicycle. Being from Holland, I could not imagine how else you’re supposed to make your way around the city. Sadly, cyclists were and still are very much a minority group in this country.

Of course cycling in Dublin is quite a different experience than it is in Amsterdam, not least because of this minority issue. Cycle lanes were not introduced until the mid 90s and usually consist of nothing more than a strip on the side of the road where the tarmac is painted red. Irish cyclists wear those funny helmets that you would rarely see in Holland. And the bikes themselves are different too, of course — I quickly discovered that you really do need gears in a city that’s not conveniently flat like Amsterdam, where the highest points are the bridges across the canals and the bike of choice is a “High Nellie”.

However, the biggest difference between Ireland and Holland are the motorists. It did not take me long to discover that, as far as Irish motorists are concerned, cyclists simply do not exist. If a car is turning left or right, he will just cut across the path of any cyclists that may be around — this is especially true when turning left and the car cuts across bicycles travelling straight on on the same road. It appears that Irish motorists are blissfully unaware that the bicycle actually has the right of way in this case.

Rush Hour Ireland

Alas, not anymore

My bike was stolen sometime in ’88, and I bought my first car when I moved to Dun Laoghaire. Some of my friends fondly remember the light blue Renault 5, registration 103PIK — it served us well for a few years. This was in an era in Ireland when the closest thing resembling a motorway was a couple of stretches of dual carriageway on the N11 and the Naas road. “Ireland — where motoring is still a pleasure” and “Rush hour in Ireland” was printed on postcards with pictures involving Morris Minors and cattle or flocks of sheep.

A lot has changed since then. We now have more than 1,000 kilometers of motorway, and it is finally possible to drive from Dublin to Galway without getting stuck for half an hour on the Main Street in Moate. This journey used to take over four hours and now only takes around two. It has to be said though, that in those pre-motorway days there was never a problem finding a place to stop for a coffee, something to eat, a toilet break or petrol. That too has all changed — they somehow forgot to build a few service stations alongside the motorways. Or maybe it’s because some local politicians objected when the businesses of their constituents came under threat now that their towns were bypassed. In any case, it seems that service stations have now started to appear on some motorways so that we may eventually catch up with the rest of Europe, instead of having to look for Digan’s Garage in Tullaghnageeragh somewhere off the M6.

Driving on motorways and other dual carriageways is still a relatively new experience for Irish motorists, it seems. There appears to be no general consensus on which of the two available lanes constitutes the fast lane. Maybe the choice of lane is influenced more by the fact that the driver may wish to turn left or right at any time in the near or distant future, than by the speed they are travelling at. This lane dilemma has become even more interesting now that some stretches of motorway have three lanes, such as the M50 which circles Dublin. In this case, the preferred lane for motorists who like driving slower than the speed limit, is the middle lane. In both scenarios, the result is that overtaking on the incorrect side is commonplace on these types of roads.

The lack of driver education must surely lie at the root of this behaviour. How does one learn how to drive on a motorway if there’s none around? There’s an entire generation of Irish drivers on the road today who obtained their driving licenses long before the first motorway was built — or the first roundabout, judging by the current ad campaign on Irish television, attempting to teach viewers how to approach, indicate and exit these things. About time, since indicators are no indication — pardon the pun — as to the direction a car on an Irish roundabout might take.

That brings me to the most baffling of all motoring related things I have ever come across — the Provisional License. Now, I know that this idea was copied from the U.K., but that’s no excuse. How on earth can the people who run this country think that it’s a good idea to let someone do a simple theory test, hand over some money and let them drive off into the sunset? And do they really think that everyone bides by those rules of having a fully qualified driver sitting beside them and not driving on motorways? Thankfully there’s a good incentive for drivers to get their full licence, since without it the cost of their car insurance is astronomical. Before they pass their test however, they can happily drive around with their L-sticker as the only qualification. Even more bizarre, they can go to the test centre to do their driving test, fail — and drive off again. Not to mention the amnesty of the 1970s in which around 45,000 drivers got their license with no test whatsoever.

Irish roads are certainly safer now than they were 20 years ago, and the new drink-driving laws appear to be having a positive effect. If only they would get rid of the provisional license and make every motorist take proper driving lessons instead of circling around the local parking lot a few times – but hey, I’m sure people are glad I don’t make the rules.

Culture Shock

Culture ShockHaving spent more than half of my life living in a foreign country, I have almost forgotten which of the differences between my native Holland and my adoptive Ireland struck me most when I first arrived on these shores. Of course we can’t really speak of “Culture Shock” when moving between two Western European countries (so much for the title). On the other hand, sometimes it’s the subtle distinctions between largely similar cultures that can cause more frustration and misunderstanding than one would expect. Most of the time however, we just feel that the other nationality displays some odd but harmless behaviour.

I’ll forget about the obvious oddities of driving on the wrong side of the road and speaking an inferior language — and I’m not telling which nationality’s hat I’m wearing when I say that. I’m also ignoring the fact that some of the anomalies I have come across over the years are not necessarily typically Irish – they may just as well apply to nationalities closely affiliated with the Irish (you know who you are).

In Ireland, you may see women walking down the road with their arms folded across their chest. I had never seen anyone walk like that in Holland. You swing your arms by your side, or you carry a bag, or whatever – but folding your arms is something you do when you’re standing still, not when you’re walking. Even stranger is that the behaviour is displayed only by women.

In Holland, many homes have toilets where the bowl is of a design that will freak out Irish people. Instead of being funnel shaped with a puddle of water at the bottom, they have a flat surface some distance below the rim with a drain to the front – so whatever is deposited here will stare back at you until you flush the toilet when the water pushes the lot off the surface and into the drain from back to front. As one of my Irish friends puts it, the Dutch “shit on a plate”.

In Ireland, another toilet experience may freak out Dutch men – but this time it concerns urinals in public toilets. The nice semi-private Dutch variety has little partitions between separate wall mounted bowls. The Irish style may involve just a wall. OK, it has a sprinkler tube running across the top and a shore at the bottom, but on a busy night you’re guaranteed an intimately shared experience when splashing your boots.

In Holland, if you have a mug of tea or coffee and stir it with a teaspoon, you leave the spoon in it, since taking it out will leave you with nowhere to put it without dripping some of the liquid onto the table. An Irishman will take the spoon out because you could stab yourself in the eye with it.

In Ireland, people go to someone’s birthday party and then hand that person a birthday card. “What’s the point?” asks the Dutchman, “Can’t you just wish them a happy birthday since you’re there?” – Dutch people will only send birthday cards if they can’t be there in person.

In Holland, you start a tab when you’re having a few drinks in the pub. At the end of the night you then split the bill between the members of the party. In Ireland, no self-respecting barman will trust you to actually pay the bill at the end of the night, and no self-respecting punter will trust himself to remember to pay it – so they work a rounds system. This gets interesting when there’s a mixed company of Dutch and Irish having a few drinks together. Regardless of who bought the first round, an Irishman is likely to say “I’ll get this”. A Dutchman’s reaction to this is invariably “OK” – but that’s like failing to haggle in an Arab market. The correct response to the Irish statement is “No, I’ll get this”. This should then be returned with “No, no, you got the last one”, followed by “No it’s OK I have it here” and so on, until the end result is that everyone pays at least one round. “Going Dutch” is obviously not an option here.

In Ireland, you have to strain to hear the music in a pub (if there is any to begin with) because there is so much talking going on. In a Dutch pub you have to shout to make yourself heard over the blaring music.

In Holland, many people don’t know the difference between the North and the South of Ireland and may assume it’s only a geographical denominator. In the days of the Troubles, the Dutch knew to avoid Ireland because of bombs (ignoring the fact that this applied mainly to the North), nowadays they know its economy is in shreds. In Ireland, people know about the Zuiderzee and the IJsselmeer, the dykes and the Randstad, the industry and agriculture and enough other things to put the Dutch knowledge of Ireland to shame.

In Ireland, they are very fond of salt in their diet. So much so, that I often see people grab the salt shaker and liberally apply the stuff to their dinner before they have even tasted it. Interestingly enough, Irish salt shakers have a single hole in the top, and the shaker with multiple holes is reserved for pepper. In Holland – you’ve guessed it – it’s the other way around.

In Holland and most of the rest of the world, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. In Ireland it’s on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and you’ll need a degree in astronomy to work out which date that will be in any given year. A mother however, will just know. You have been warned.

In Ireland, you may still experience an outburst of patriotic fervour at the end of a night out. As the bar closes, the band will play the national anthem and everybody will stand up and sing along. Many will have parents or grandparents with a living memory of gaining independence. It’s easy to forget that the Republic of Ireland is still only a young nation.

In Holland, whipped cream is sweet because they add lots of sugar by default. In Ireland, the idea of putting sugar in cream is revolting.

In Ireland, the first time I went to get a bag of chips, I was surprised by the now familiar question, “salt ‘n’ vinegar?”. Even after 20-odd years, I will not accept that chips could or should be served with something that belongs in a salad. In Holland, chips (patat, not to be confused with the Dutch chips, which are crisps, and in Ireland come in the horrid salt ‘n’ vinegar flavour also) are either served plain or “met” (with) — which is short for “met mayonnaise”. Proper order.

In Holland, when arranging to meet someone for the first time, this is likely to take place in the home. Only when you get to know someone better might you venture out and go for a drink. In Ireland, first (and subsequent) meetings are on neutral ground and involve going out somewhere, usually a pub — visiting someone at home is usually reserved for family.

In Ireland, people use clocks to find out what time it is, which is then rounded to the nearest half hour. “I wonder what time the train is due?” In Holland, people use clocks to find out what they or someone else are or should be doing and how long it is overdue or will take — rounded to the nearest minute. “The train is 3 minutes late”.

In Holland, when they invite someone to drop by sometime, they are surprised when that person never shows up. In Ireland, they are when he does.

In Ireland, when people become more familiar or at ease with the company they’re in (usually after about 20 minutes), they may engage in some good-natured teasing, making fun of a person’s background, beliefs, or anything associated with that person. The practise is known as “slagging” and the Dutch don’t really get it at all.

In Ireland, the hot tap is indicated by the colour red. In Holland, the cold tap is identified by the colour blue.