After visiting Ireland for a week this past June I feel I can confidently say that Dublin and most of its citizens are enjoying one big celebration of life. Spend a Saturday afternoon walking from O‘Connell Street to Grafton Street and all the way up to a bench on St. Stephen’s Green, and if at the end you don’t experience the joy and superheated heartbeat of one of the world’s happiest cities, I’d be very surprised.
Thick crowds bustle their way on busy streets, with old and young alike walking briskly to wherever they need to go while others saunter along and take pleasure in each other and in the electric atmosphere that seems to be everywhere. To this unpracticed observer, most of the walkers were natives, with just a few tourists mixed in.
The stores were all open, and the sales help inside were unusually happy and helpful. The crowds were so thick that in one 15-foot wide store – Boots Pharmacy on Grafton Street – there were eight cash registers, all staffed and busy. Ireland still has the youngest population in Europe and its seemed that many of them were in Boots the day I passed by.
Full shopping bags were the order of the day. Brown and Thomas, House of Ireland, JD, Carrolls, Green Notes, Grahams, and Simply Ireland were just a few of the signatures to be seen.
And music was everywhere, with Dublin’s favorite buskers playing different instruments loudly in trying to gain the most contributions to the hats lying on the pavement in front of them. I’m told that up to 100 euros an hour go into those hats on a good day. One busker playing the flute told me that she makes a lot more per hour than if she worked in a shop somewhere.
There were at least five full flower stands, bringing color and vibrancy to their street corners. It is rare for tourists to purchase flowers to bring back to their hotel rooms. The helpful attendants tell me that it’s “the locals” that keep them in business for the many years they have been there in these same locations.
As you rest on your bench on St. Stephen’s Green, notice the crowds that walk through the colorful gardens. Fathers and mothers, some with baby carriages, some holding their children tightly while taking their families out for a stroll. Teenagers, with their war- paint bright red, purple or yellow hair, laughing and joking as they parade by.
In case you think this is Dubliners’ only chance to experience their city, wait till 4:30 – 5 p.m. when the bars and restaurants open for business. The celebration is on! On a sunny evening in June the city turns into a giant street party. And as we know, daylight in Ireland, especially in late June, lasts well into the night. Much later than in Boston.
Perhaps not every day of the week but on the Thursday evening that I was in the city, I went for a walk and saw the bars the streets and the sidewalks packed and alive with laughing happy people of all ages sitting and talking and drinking their favorite beverage. It was so crowded that you could not tell where one bar ended and another began.
Take Williams street just west of Grafton Street, for example. Nearly every building had a restaurant, all of them brimming full with customers. Tables and chairs had been moved onto the sidewalk (some into the streets) and not a seat was to be had. Many folks simply were standing next to their friend’s table or chair with a drink in their hands. There was hardly any room for the cars and bicycles that tried to get by. But no one complained. There must have been close to 20 bars that I walked by during my brief tour, all packed with relaxed crowds. To see that many people having such a good time was an uplifting experience.
According to the Irish Central Statistics Office, almost 700,000 North Americans visited Ireland during the first six months this year, a 15 percent increase over last year. Many of them will visit Dublin to experience the charm and good will and ambience of this wonderful city.
The Dublin City Council is making it far easier for visitors and Dubliners to move around the city with the building of an extended public transportation system called the Luas Cross City. Several worldwide credit rating agencies have applauded the government’s management of its economy by repeatedly increasing their confidence in Irish political leadership.
When you put all this together and then recognize that Dublin has just received an award from Conde Nast Traveler magazine as the second friendliest city in the world, you come to appreciate why Ireland and its major city should be on everyone’s list to visit.