Opinion: It's a bit of a cliche for an expat to bemoan how much Dublin has changed since they left it, but sometimes you have to forgive a well-deserved lapse into nostalgia.
Last month, home to see a friend’s show in the Fringe Festival, I indulged myself in a walk around town deliberately weaving in and out of old haunts, apartments, the sacred sites of relationships and friendships and the like.
Turning onto Dawson Street, near where I used to work, I anticipated the coffee shop on the corner. It was nothing special, really, but it was where an ex-boyfriend and I had kindled our romance, meeting in the rain under its awning on my lunch breaks and sitting in there for the hour, shivering up against each other and steaming up the windows. It was a strange and lovely time, now long since passed, and I looked forward to the ambivalent knot of memory when I saw it again. But in its place as I turned the corner I saw that it was gone and in its place was The Ivy.
A group of protestors have gathered outside The Ivy Restaurant in Dublin to protest about how tips are given to their waiters. They are chanting "Cook your steak, sell your chips, give your staff their well earned tips". pic.twitter.com/RVUg83uILZ— Áine McMahon (@AineMcMahon) March 14, 2019
Now I’ve nothing against The Ivy, nor even really anything in favour of the coffee shop it replaced, but it was one of many such moments of my brain not quite catching up with reality, with Dublin reconfiguring so rapidly that I don’t believe my eyes. When I left Dublin in 2015 it didn’t feel to me very different, generally speaking, than it had when I moved to it seven years previously. Rent had stayed more or less the same; in my head, and in reality, I always had it that you could have a pretty decent double room for 500 euro and that seemed to remain true for all the time that I lived there. There did seem to be more and more upper-tier casual dining options, it was true, but half of them were owned by Joe Macken and staffed by people I knew (and me, for a time). Strange then how completely things seem to have shifted in the years since.
The rental crisis, of course, has come to a dreadful head, but there is also now a cultural crisis, which is seeing the city’s spontaneity and soul being excised in exchange for hotels and luxury lifestyle experiences. The illustrator Steve McCarthy recently posted on Instagram a list of places which have disappeared, and I realised that more or less anywhere I spent my time as a young person in Dublin has now vanished.
The pubs are still there, mostly, but spaces like The Joinery, Block T, Tivoli, Film Base, the Flea Market are not. The spirit of experimentation which made my life then feel so exciting and propulsive has been quietly drained away- and for what? More expensive burgers and tacos and martinis? The city centre has been saturated with these things for a long time and does not need more. Of course, the people - and the young people - of Dublin are no less experimental and spontaneous than they ever were, and new spaces and opportunities will emerge from the cracks inevitably. But they are being seriously failed, and it is no wonder that many of them prefer to leave for locations which will not require such constant resistance.