Ireland arguably bears the brunt of the most stereotypes cast on any nation. At least it would seem that way in the United States. Say "Ireland" and Americans are inclined to think of the Land of Perpetual Fiddle Sessions as having Rustic Pubs with Dark Wood Bars on every single street and country byway, because the beleaguered, whiskey-fueled writers need a place to toil away and the fishermen need a place to feast on bangers and mash and flirt with red haired lassies. Oh, and lest we forget the scampering leprechauns. But a few days in Dublin erases those stereotypes faster than Whitey Bulger eliminates any trace of his existence.
To be sure, the city reverberates with the hum of history, what with a brewery cranking out an beer-cum-icon for 250 years, the grandiose St. Patrick's Cathedral looking as awe- (and guilt-) inducing as the day it was built 840 years ago, the four centuries-old Trinity College appearing as if it was constructed as a palace for a Roman emperor, no shortage of other buildings that have seen everything from the institution of Protestant English rule in the 1690s to the Easter Rising in 1916. And then there's the original Jameson distillery that's been stationed in the middle of town for almost as long as America has been a nation.
And against this antiquated backdrop, the city's cosmopolitan heart races amid Michelin starred restaurants, trendy hotels, chic cocktail bars and record stores that look straight out of Greenwich Village. Yes, the country is falling apart at the seams: In 2006, when the Celtic Tiger was roaring, Ireland was among the richest countries in the world, but the banking crisis sent the Tiger loping away. Now Emerald Isle's banking system is out about 106 billion euros, unemployment is at 14 percent, and the budget deficit is 32 percent of its G.D.P. And the threat gets worse: the Northern Ireland government is taking steps to be the first European nation to introduce minimum pricing laws on alcohol to "tackle binge drinking and anti-social behavior," according to a Financial Times report in early March. Could its neighbor be next?
For now, though, a night in Dublin shows little evidence of doom. The conversation is lively, the rugby fans' cheers are thunderous and yes, spirited fiddle sessions do happen in Rustic Pubs with Dark Wood Bars. Perhaps the wisdom of countryman, Oscar Wilde, is kept in the collective mind: "What seem to us bitter trials are often blessings in disguise."
(photos by Liza Weisstuch)