By Stephen McKinley
DUBLIN — The Englishman in Dublin’s Quayside Bar turned to the man on his left and asked, “So, where are you from?”
The response was, “Northern Ireland.”
“Oh,” said the Englishman, beaming, “you’re one of us.” Then, remembering
Northern Ireland’s recent history, his face fell. Recovering himself, he quickly added, “or perhaps not.” There, the conversation ended.
But the Englishman’s presence in the bar underlined a salient fact about Dublin today: the British are back. And from walking around central Dublin, it seems that some of their attitudes toward the Irish have not changed much in recent years.
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One of the most common accents to hear in Temple Bar is an English one. They flock increasingly across the Irish Sea for short vacations, attracted by Dublin’s nightlife and what is currently a favorable exchange rate between sterling and the euro.
Any tourist is welcome in Dublin, of course, especially after the precarious last 12 months, since foot-and-mouth disease hurt the tourism industry severely in early 2001. But just how welcome are the English?
Said one off-duty Dublin barman, Pat McCrory, “the last time they were here in such numbers, they thought they owned the place,” he said, referring to 1922 and Ireland’s independence. “Now,” he continued, “they think they still do.”
The past in Dublin is not easily forgotten, especially as far as the English are concerned. It is, it seems, an uneasy relationship.
In a tourist information office near O’Connell Street, an assistant who gave her name only as Cara, said that it seemed like English visitors always asked the most inane questions.
As if on cue, an English woman came in shortly after. She walked briskly to Cara at the counter.
“Now, my dear,” she said, “we parked our car this morning in this bloody great shopping center with a multi-story car park. And now we can’t find it anymore. Where might that be?”
“Well, there are about four of them fairly close by,” Cara said. She managed to point the woman in the direction of the nearest shopping center.
Later on in the same day, a taxi driver, Phil Kelly, described his most recent encounter with an English visitor.
“I picked this guy up at the airport,” and I took him as far as O’Connell Street,” he said. “He was very chatty, and he saw all the green, white and orange bunting for the World Cup, and he says, ‘Is all this for the queen’s jubilee?’ I thought he was joking, but he was serious.”
Dublin’s Temple Bar area is a haven for visitors from the UK, with one barman reckoning that 75 percent of his customers coming from England or Scotland.
According to the Irish government’s Central Statistics Office, between 1995 and 2000, visitors from the UK rose from 2.3 million to 3.6 million. The spending power of these numbers is significant, but how welcome the money is can be questioned.
In the early evenings, the streets and bars ring with accents from across the Irish Sea. For a time, said one Irish woman, Susan Roper, Temple Bar was where English parties came for stag evenings: loud, raucous parties thrown to celebrate the impending marriage of one of the group.
“Temple Bar bars encouraged them for a while,” Roper said. “But they got way out of hand. Eventually, the bars banned the stag parties, because they were bad for business.” In fact, the stag parties were not banned, but have been severely discouraged by many of the bars.
They were bad enough for business, according to some newspaper accounts, that they cost the area as much as euro 6 million in revenue, from damage to property and from money lost from tourists who avoided the Temple Bar area because English visitors were perceived to be violent and hostile.
At the Quayside Bar on Monday evening, a friendly crowd applauded the seisiun players who were ending their set about 8 p.m. The majority of the drinkers were English and Scottish, with a few German tourists as well, two of whom tried to pay for their pints of Guinness and take them away before they had been settled and topped up.
“What’s this, was it half pints you wanted?” the barman said, joking with them. He went on to chat up two English women at the bar. A group of 10 Englishmen came in, singing and talking loudly. From their conversation, it was clear they were on a pub crawl.
Quickly after they had ordered a round of drinks, an argument broke out with the barman.
“Now, I ordered two pints of Guinness and he ordered three pints of Smithwicks, and you’ve given us one pint of Guinness and two pints of Smithwicks,” one of them said to the barman.
The argument was settled deftly by the barman, who put his sense of humor to good use, but as he walked away, there came a stage whisper insult from the English group.
“Stupid Paddies,” someone said.
Afterward, the group finished their beers.
“Move one, move on, move on,” they chanted as they left the bar. And on they went, like a conquering horde.
“Sometimes they’re worse, sometimes they’re better,” the barman said, laughing.