hometown pride

Dublin Is a City So Bad It Makes You Feel Good

In defence – kind of – of my hometown, which was recently voted one of the worst cities in the world to move to.
The Temple Bar, Dublin. Photo: mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Last week, the Expat City Ranking System voted Dublin the second worst European city to emigrate to. Globally, the Irish capital ranked just slightly better than Lagos, the sixth worst city for crime throughout Africa, and Riyadh, where women can now drive but still can't play sports.

I'm not going to suggest that the quality in life in Dublin is good. It's not. But I do think the survey got it wrong by asking in the first place. As everyone and anyone who's ever spent any amount of time in the city knows, moving to Dublin for quality is like moving to the Outback for the vibrant cafe culture.


The failings in the city's housing market mean that, as an expat, you will probably not sleep easy. The market for rentals in Dublin is so desperate and lucrative that landlords can charge about €1,000 a month for converted closet space or rooms so tiny you can cook from your bed.


The city, by European capital standards – and considering it was more or less spared from bombing during WWII – is no great beauty either. It has its moments, like we all do on certain days in certain lights, but if you want to wake up next to Dublin for any period of time, you'll need a great capacity for loving what's on the inside. The city-planning can sometimes feel like jobs are won by the project involving most disruption, longest turnaround and the greatest number of overground cable boxes left behind in the city centre.

People in Dublin walk at pace. One reason is the cold and the wind. The other is that, often, what's out there isn't nice to see.

Or hear. Walking through the city, you're bombarded by a trifecta of national embarrassments: our problem with alcohol, our problem with homelessness and our problem with dealing fairly with our own past. Viking tours float through the city on motorised long-boats, encouraging the tourists on board to roar at the locals, reminding anyone who might have forgotten that the Vikings actually raped their way onto this island.

Temple Bar, Dublin. Photo: Richard Wayman / Alamy Stock Photo

This country has never been a sanctuary for women. Irish writer Iris Murdoch once said, "I think being a woman is like being Irish… Everyone says you're important and nice, but you take second place all the time." Any female expat to move to Dublin will have to live with some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.


The majority of expats move here for two reasons: a job at one of the tech giants to bolster their CV, or a chance at EU citizenship followed by a move to somewhere sunnier in Europe.

Few stay long enough to get more than an anecdotal sense of the place. Yes, they learn to hate it like a local – the last survey done on Dubliners and their city revealed that only one in every four people feel any sort of emotional connection to the town – but they rarely learn to hate it to the point where all that negativity gives birth to something constructive, or to quote Yeats wildly out of context, "a terrible beauty is born".


When I was a student I lived in a shared house for a time on Thomas Street. We were six altogether, living in a home on three levels, connected by a staircase that was only safe to use one person at a time. Going up had right of way.

One housemate was a musician. He spent the entire day at home going over bass scales. He stank. He stole our food, then insulted our intelligence by suggesting that mice had done it. Common frustrations with this housemate brought the remaining five of us closer together. We'd gather in the pub next door and complain about him, but as he was the landlord's nephew we ultimately understood that we could never kick him out. All five of us were bound by a kind of collective trauma. We developed a telepathy. Like dogs who know when their owners are on the way home, we could sense when this horrible housemate was outside the door. Our friendship continued long after we left the house. Two of the housemates even got together, married and had a kid. We still meet at that pub. We still talk about that housemate and shudder into pints. We reminisce like war veterans, and when we look into the distance we stare.


Dublin, similarly – and this goes for the expat as much as the locals – has a way of bringing people together in shared misery. It makes you feel alive. Each price hike or loose flagstone sets your pulse racing. This city needs another yardstick: not the quality of life, but lack of it. Give us abstract points for that! We're onlookers to a slowly unfolding disaster; we watch as the city booms, dives and refashions itself anew. We huddle in the shelter of a vandalised bus stop on a street where the wind blows in all directions, and feel the warm, unmistakable glow of Guinness farts – but, more importantly, rare human connection.


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