Yes, Dublin’s on the edge… but embers of energy are burning, and you should see it

I had a pint in Dublin on a Tuesday night.

t was the day indoor dining was put on pause and I’d expected tumbleweed, a scattering of tables, too much edge. But I found just the right amount of edge.

At 9pm on Capel Street, Pantibar’s neon sign was starting to shimmer in the dusk. Outside, a crowd was crackling to life. Pedestrianisation trials meant tables were temporarily set where cars used to park, and I saw people eating sushi on the street.

Slattery’s had TVs pointed outwards in its windows, and punters were supping pints with an eye on the Euros.

Barmen went back and forth to tables outside O’Neill’s and The Black Sheep. Two girls passed, juggling phones, bags and portions of chips. One flicked the other’s food and the chips went flying like confetti. Both burst out laughing.

I walked through Temple Bar, stopping to take a photo of an iconic pub, empty inside but lit up like Christmas. An old man shouted, “Here, I thought all the tourists were gone!”

Outside Ukiyo, on Dame Court, one couple had the aura of a first date; another of girlfriends catching up, stems of wine glasses between their fingers.

South William Street was not a zoo. There were lived-in faces outside Grogan’s, necking Guinness. Near them, younger groups sat on steps and streetsides, eating, drinking, smoking and talking loud, meaningless, restorative shite. One had a wireless speaker, thumping out tunes.

A guy cycled by with a dog clinging to his backpack. My eye was caught by countless haircuts and piercings and tattoos. I saw more diverse faces than I had in months.

A young guy actually made a cerulean blue, double-breasted suit jacket look good. People had looks. They weren’t like me, knocking out the same four comfy outfits for 15 months.

Yes, it was a Tuesday. Tony Holohan may not have been moved to tweet. And we all know what happens when things tip over: the fights, the litter, the puke and human waste and public health scares.

But sitting out in our gardens and ’burbs, scrolling the social media fishbowl, we don’t see when things don’t tip over. That’s not news.

But it felt like news to me. I’d forgotten this energy, this injection of oomph a city can give. Dublin faces the fight of its life without overseas visitors, big matches, meetings and events. We don’t know how many office workers will return, or businesses remain shut. But the sparks of the city have not been extinguished.

Galleries and shops are open. Parks are bustling. Walking through it that Tuesday night, outdoor tables felt like glowing embers in a fire I thought had gone out. Immersed in its random sights, smells and sounds, surrounded by people who weren’t my family, in places that weren’t my 2k, made me feel like anything could happen.

And I’ve missed that feeling. It was not Groundhog Day. It gave me a fresh sense of how institutionalised the pandemic has made me. It had enough edge to show me how my own edges have been dulled.

Yes, Dublin’s in trouble. But embers of energy are burning. There is life and affirmation in our beautiful mess of a capital city. And you should go see it.

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