For most, the idea of getting pissed on holiday conjures up Balearic destinations like Majorca and Ibiza, or Eastern European cities like Prague and Riga. Drinks there are cheap and you’re virtually guaranteed to lose your mind, your dignity and, depending on your age, your virginity while getting a nice tan or sunstroke. But believe it not, these places have bad reputations – not everyone wants to go to Ibiza and wrestle for space at urinals with lads in Liverpool jerseys or bears in Prague.
Which is where Ireland comes in.
Ireland’s reputation abroad is cartoonish to say the least; It’s one of leprechauns, Aran jumpers and council estate-kept horses galloping through the streets. But it’s fun, apparently, because Irish people are all crazy. All they do is laugh, drink and write lyrical odes about their escapades the morning after. Which is why Ireland, and particulalrly Dublin, is a place where getting fucked up comes with a note of romance and dignity.
Obviously, most of the stereotypes aren’t true – trust me, I live there. Following the economic boom of the noughties, Dublin morphed into a semi-major European city like all others; teeming with endless branches of Starbucks, dodgy banks, IT behemoths, high-street brands, nightclubs and kids who are culturally and politically engaged, university educated and work in new media.
Of course, it also offers same strain of dickhead you get everywhere, but in my experience, that phenomenon is better constrained here than elsewhere in Europe. Yes, us Irish like getting shitfaced, but I've seen more carnage I’ve seen in Hamburg, Amsterdam and Northampton.
Except, maybe, for one place: Temple Bar.
Temple Bar is situated in the middle of Dublin city, which is an enclave of sorts – a village within a city – and an area more or less avoided by locals who aren't dicks. Instead, it’s frequented en masse by tourists; most buildings are either pubs decorated with flags, shields and other Irish paraphernalia, or shops selling this same tat to tourists. Tourism accounts for 4 percent of the GNP. It’s Ireland’s largest indigenous industry and one that relies almost exclusively on our country's natural beauty or on exploiting the stereotypes you see in Temple Bar. As an Irish person, it’s hard not to be cynical about Temple Bar. Yes, we understand the need to make money here, especially during a recession, but one can help resenting the stereotypes the area pushes. Also, when it comes to drinking, we’re territorial – though we, too, use alcohol for release, it occupies a more important place in our culture. Essentially, we’re proud of the fact that we drink so much and don’t want people from other countries trying to emulate us. In Ireland, we see tourists mostly as attempting to piggyback on our culture.
But am I being too cynical? After passing through the area for years, I wondered if I should find out in more detail what it is about the place that attracts so many people from all over the world.
I arrive at 4PM on a Saturday. There's thousands stalking the narrow streets and taking photos of things that just scream “Irish” – a blacked-up man, for example.
Most of the theme pubs are situated around the area’s centre, with, to be fair, some better ones off to the outskirts. People stand outside getting drunk, the smell predominately one of piss and chips. The accents I hear vary but, for the time being, they are overwhelmingly British: Glaswegian, Essex, Geordie. These lads stagger back and forth, some sunburnt and shirtless, shrieking at each other like plucked chickens flailing in cages of their own stupidity. To them, I realise, the relationship between booze and culture is probably overrated – Dublin is just a handy place to get pissed when you don’t wanna go to the town of a rival football team.
I duck into a pub for my first pint. Live music blares from the stage – though everywhere in Temple Bar advertises “traditional music”, the majority is simply popular music done in a traditional style: in this instance, "Ring of Fire" with a flute solo. Spanish guys neck vodka and Red Bulls beside me as the sun is streaming in through the windows, highlighting the smudges on their barely-cleaned glasses. Middle-aged women pose for photos, dressed in the usual neon-pink cougar on a hen-night clobber. I take my pint outside. Three lads from Leeds try cracking on to American girls by saying hello over and over but the girls, for some reason, aren’t interested. I ask the lads if they’re on the pull and they say yes. They’ve been to Temple Bar many times before, they assure me. Then they stagger off – one of them returning a minute later to grab his unfinished bottle of Corona before downing it as he walks away. My second pint comes in the pub across the road. I order a Heineken before staring at the receipt in bewilderment – €6.85. At the same time, I’m kind of proud that somewhere in my country has the balls to fleece people as brazenly as Las Ramblas, Saint-Michel and Dam Square.
Back outside, another group of lads belt out what I think is a West Brom chant. Perhaps noticing the discomfort of the other nationalities around them, a bouncer asks three or four of them to leave, which he does which such politeness, so expertly, that they agree without protest. One thing I notice throughout the night is how nice the bouncers in the area are. Despite the wreckage they’ve seen, or perhaps because of it – knowing no amount of vein-popping pomp can prevent it from coming – they converse with customers more like counsellors and tour guides, entertaining the same drunk questions with all the interest and enthusiasm they can muster.
Starting my third pint, I begin to appreciate what a people-magnet Temple Bar is – not just for tourists but, because of their pissed-up willingness to part with cash, eccentric locals willing to take it. These range from buskers to junkies to eccentrics. There’s nothing threatening about them. They just seem lonely – in need of the company the constant stream of new visitors gives them. These two guys, especially the older one – looking like Larry David after a stint in ZZ Top – attract my attention the most.
As it begins to get dark, I take root outside another pub and notice an increase in Irish people: mostly girls in tasteless dresses, guys with dreams of getting under those dresses. The tourists regard these people with a certain degree of shock.
A man rolls out a length of carpet. He has a bike – gimmicked, a left turn of the handlebars turning it right – on which he’s challenging people to go from one end of the carpet to the other. To demonstrate, he does it himself several times with apparent ease. The reward, he announces, is €30. People line up and pay their €2 admission. Maybe thirty try it in the time I’m there, all failing miserably, the bike barely making it a yard across the carpet. As people attempt it, I notice that the man doesn’t even look – he knows, and I know, their failure is assured.
I begin to wonder if the pointlessness of this money wasting sums up the spirit of Temple Bar. The bigger the rip off, the bigger the fuck you to the boring conditions in which we earn that money. Despite the tackiness of my surrounds, despite the age of some of the people surrounding me, each waste of money begins to seem weirdly freeing. But maybe that's because the booze is taking hold.
Then I spot a guy from earlier, his gravelly voice roaring down the cobbles like an unmanned freight train. His performance is wondrous, delivered with gusto. And so what if it’s another version of Ring of Fire? I give him a couple of quid to show my appreciation. It’s dark now – past 11. I go to another pub, order a pint and get talking to a couple, a Brazilian woman and an Irish guy with a tattooed face. He asks me where I’m from and I tell him the town I was born in, not Dublin. As if instructing me, he tells me that Temple Bar is definitely a shithole but that it appeals to him, anyway. It’s the novelty factor, he suggests. Leaving them alone, I think about this. For an Irish person, Temple Bar is definitely a novelty – not just because the stereotypes it pushes aren’t true but also because it’s a cultural melting pot. Being surrounded by so many different nationalities is pretty uncommon for us. Even in Dublin but especially in smaller cities and towns, we and foreigners mostly don’t mix. Inevitably then, for those of us wanting to seek out other nationalities, Temple Bar is probably the best place to go.
I ask an American girl what she thinks. She corrects me: she’s actually Canadian. “We don’t like being called American,” she says, and though I apologise, she doesn’t seem very interested in continuing our conversation. I should mention at this point that I’m pretty drunk.
I drink a couple of more pints and notice that it’s late. It would be remiss of me, I think, not to explore the area again, now that people have gotten a bit messier. I head off, the cobbles seeming more uneven than they did a couple of hours ago.
Now, I know this is gonna get me hate, but what I find once I leave that pub isn’t exactly pretty. Despite being in a good mood, not to mention pretty drunk, walking those streets for 45 minutes probably sours me more on Temple Bar than anything I’ve seen in the previous ten hours. As the tourists continue taking pictures, as they attempt to drink with dignity and enjoy late-night horse and cart rides, the Irish and British take over and go berserk.
It’s inevitable, I suppose, that in a melting pot of international drinkers, the two nations with the biggest love for getting shitfaced will rise to the top. Hen and stag parties spill out everywhere, wobbly cellulite and aggressive sweat stains running in chaotic formations down the cobbles. People jump out in front of strangers, startling them, whooping. Others fall down and puke.
A distaste rises in my stomach – I know, soon, I’ll have to leave. Needing photos, however, I persist – the camera needs only be held up for someone to dive in front of it, sticking out their tongue, their arse, and contorting their face into an expression that says, “I am a dickhead."
I find myself wishing that more tourists were here to force these people out, but in the long term, the opposite will surely happen. What right-minded person will come here, see this and return? How long until Temple Bar becomes – instead of a tourist attraction – something repulsive?
That said long as drinking is considered our main means of coping with the frustrations of modern life, huge amounts of our populations will continue flocking to places like Temple Bar because, here, forgetting isn’t just tolerated, it’s encouraged.
Now I really need to leave, and the way I’m feeling, I kind of don’t want to come back. On my way to get a cab, however, I realise I need a piss – I’ve been walking for almost an hour with the dregs of eight or nine pints in me. In a 24-hour Starbucks I came to a conclusion. I’d gone out to discover something new and had ended up basically where I started. I didn’t want to admit it and be too cynical like people said, but late at night, Temple Bar up close looked like the same shithole it did from a distance.
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