Recently, I did a brief post concerning John Harvey’s great 1940s book on the city of Dublin, which was halfway between a guide book and social commentary on the city. I thought G.Ivan Morris’ excellent ‘In Dublin’s Fair City’ (London, 1947) was equally deserving of a feature on the site.
The author was a Dublin publisher, who we’re told “in the midst of an unprecedented pressure of business, has taken the time to write this book for the guidance of visitors to Ireland.” We’re told at the outset that the book is “intended to represent an imaginary Dubliner who, in the casual way so typically Irish, is showing his English friends around the city and neighbourhood of Dublin, and who, without any set order, is commenting on people, places and things as he meets them.”
On arrival in Ireland many of one’s pre-conceived ideas will be shattered. The stage Irishman, who for years was Ireland’s only advertisement abroad, will appear as he really is – a complete figment of the imagination of ignorant theatrical people.
G.Ivan Morris’ book is clearly written by a man with a great love for the city, but also in places his frustrations with the Irish system and culture of the day are evident. He informs visitors that it is true “books by nearly every one of Ireland’s leading writers are banned” and that “if there is no free expression in a country, the cream of the writers usually leave it.” Religion and politics he notes “are curiously blended in Ireland” and “the English are masters of tact and diplomacy, and, when they come to Ireland, they studiously avoid arguments about religion and politics, realising the Irish have deep feelings about these two subjects.”
He notes that “another subject not too safe for discussion is Communism, which is most unpopular in Ireland, as the church is strongly opposed to it. Despite this, there is a bookshop in Dublin specialising almost exclusively in Russian and Communistic literature.”
Morris writes at length on the pubs of Dublin, and the pub culture and the changing role of the pub in Dublin life:
Since women have broken loose and invaded the bars and lounges, it is growing increasingly difficult to find a man’s pub in Dublin where one may stand up to one’s pint and tell stories without having to glance nervously around every few minutes to make sure that there are no ladies within earshot.
He singles out Davy Byrnes’, The Palace and the Metropole on O’Connell Street, and notes that “drink in Dublin is quite plentiful, and is only half the price it is in England.” The above quote dealing with women in pubs is interesting, but so is his remark that “only in the poorer-class districts have the women been kept in the background” with regards pub culture. The pub, he writes, is where “the gravest political questions are thrashed out and settled.”
Unsurprisingly, Nelson’s Pillar features in the study, and Morris writes that:
Many people wonder why he is allowed to remain there, now that Ireland is free, but the general feeling is that the cost of taking down the Pillar would be out of all proportion to the kick the Dubliners would get out of it, and so it remains.
Interestingly, with the Second World War just over, Morris talks about how the city was bombed by fascists, and notes that “Eire, despite her neutrality, did not get off scot-free in the life and death struggles between the great nations of the earth”, and he tells us that hundreds of German children from the Ruhr Valley were taken into Irish homes “in which there is no room for the doctrines of Nazism.”
Morris gives an impression of a city in which cycling was a much more common place practice than today, noting that “the cyclists of Dublin are a sight to behold, especially during lunch hour and between five and six o’clock in the evening, when they appear in thousands amidst the traffic of O’Connell Street, and the numbers of them rival Holland and Denmark.” Little has changed in ways though, and he notes that a wave of cycle thefts has swept Dublin in recent times.
Should Ireland become “money-minded”, Morris writes, “she will be ruined.” Were such a situation to occur, we’re told that “she will slip down to the bottom of the scale and take her place as just another money-grubbing holiday resort.” Dublin is a city which is old, but in which its inhabitants are “young in spirit and outlook, rather like children living in a stately house, filling its rooms with gaiety and the vigour of youth.”
Morris’ brief book on Dublin, at 118 pages, is interesting in many ways just as the John Harvey book we featured recently from the same period is. We’re told that to be fully enjoyed, the book must be regarded not as a book but rather a person, “one who knows his Dublin and his fellow countrymen intimately, and is not afraid to throw a brick at them when a bouquet is not deserved.”
G Ivan Morris
‘In Dublin’s Fair City’