To Your Health: Slainte!
Traditional or newly cosmopolitan, Dublin’s greatest asset has always been its people, and their gifts of music and gab. The most entertaining ticket in town is a visit to any of the city’s 1,000-some pubs, where the thick oil-black “Dublin gargle” (Guinness) continues to be the national drink and music is almost always a by-product. Dubbed “poetry in a glass” and brewed in Dublin since 1769, the brew was once accompanied by advertising slogans such as “Guinness is good for you!” and still inspires a kind of reverence that has little to do with the bottled stuff found around the globe. To get the head just right, a good bartender will pull it from the tap a little at a time, over two or three minutes.
By the middle of the prosperous 18th century, Dublin could count 2,000 alehouses, 300 taverns, and 1,200 brandy stores. Who serves the best stout in today’s Dublin, where Guinness accounts for seven out of every ten pints of beer consumed? Start with a creamy pint of what James Joyce called “the wine of Ireland” at the lantern-lit Brazen Head, known as the oldest pub in town. Born as a coaching inn in 1198 and licensed as a pub in 1661, it has added a few new rooms that might have less character than the original ones, but offer live music as compensation.
Doheny & Nesbitt, a mere 130 years old, is a handsome Victorian specimen of carved wood, etched glass, spit-and-polish pride, and “snugs”—small semi-partitioned nooks where women could be served in the old days. Few wind up their pub crawl with the same impression as the acerbic Yeats, taken by a friend against his will to a local bar: “I’ve seen a pub. Now would you kindly take me home.” Poor Yeats would not have fared well during the annual March fanfare that fills the pubs and streets of Dublin in celebration of the world’s most famous Irish icon.
No other figure, sacred or profane, living or dead, is associated as closely with Ireland as its venerated patron St. Patrick. Born in Scotland and brought to Ireland as a slave in A.D. 432 (and never proved to have actually rid Ireland of serpents, as folklore goes), he is beloved among both the Irish diaspora and the Irish of the Emerald Isle itself.
March 17 is dear to every heart in every town, but the home of the largest annual celebration is Dublin and its pubs. While a number of U.S. cities hold large parades that are treasured by the Irish-American (and Irish-for-the-day) community, foreign celebrations pale in comparison to Dublin’s: it’s a four-day festival that has experienced the same zeal of renewal that much of the city’s arts and cultural scene has enjoyed within the last few years. The parade that proudly marches down O’Connell Street is still the holiday’s grand centerpiece, with drill teams, floats, and delegations from around the world.