Thursday, 24 April 2008

1989 April - Dublin, The First Time

I'd wanted to visit Dublin for a while, long before I was a U2 fan. But getting into U2 spurred me into action and I booked a weekend there in late April. No one I knew fancied going with me, so I went on my own, being by myself wasn't going to make any difference, I have quite an independent spirit anyway and something like that would never stop me.

I was so excited as the plane from Manchester descended into Dublin. It was a bright, sunny day and as I got off the plane the first thing I saw was the Seven Towers of Ballymun, made famous in Running to Stand Still. I took in everything as I headed into the city by taxi. I'd treated myself to a stay at the Gresham Hotel, which at that time was one of the best hotels in the city.

I left my belongings in my room and was quickly out into the city again determined to make the most of every minute in Dublin. I walked down O'Connell Street, which was lively and unfortunately rather spoiled by fast food places. I turned left into Abbey Street and bought a ticket for a play called "Una Pooka" at the Abbey Theatre the following night.

I crossed O'Connell Bridge and went on past Trinity College to Grafton Street which was obviously an upmarket street. Went on past McGonagles where U2 performed many early gigs, it wasn't flashy at all. Then I decided to head for Windmill Lane, it seemed a long way and the area was getting more and more derelict. I passed Docker's pub, well known in U2 circles and a regular watering hole for the band as it was just around the corner from Windmill Lane Studios.

The weather had closed in and a howling wind was blowing up the quays as I turned into Windmill Lane. Colourful and creative U2 graffiti covered the walls, I stopped and read some of the messages there. They were written in all languages and showed just how internationally popular U2 were that fans from all over the world had come to this place and left a message. The band still recorded at the studio then and it was a special place for fans. It was a thrill to see all these places linked to U2. they were all very ordinary, not grand, sometimes a bit down-at-heel like parts of the city itself. This was years before the Celtic Tiger raised it's head and Dublin and Ireland were struggling and young people were emigrating in droves.

I went back down the quays heading towards the East Link Bridge and passed Principle Management, U2's office, without knowing it as there was no sign saying what it was. I could see the Point Depot further down the Liffey on the opposite side of the river. I then decided to head back to the city centre to escape the cold wind roaring up the river from the Irish Sea.

Despite the icy wind I liked Dublin, in many ways it was much as I expected and I felt very at home there. It had it's grand Georgian buildings, posh streets, derelict docklands, history and U2 places. The people were warm and friendly, they smiled a lot, they were polite, I loved their openness. The city felt smaller than it actually was, it felt like a small town city, the pace wasn't frenetic. My love affair with Dublin started that day and, though the city has changed a lot, I continue to love the place as much now as then.

The next day I did history and culture! I went to Trinity College, where I saw the amazing Book of Kells in the equally fantastic old library. In the National Museum on Kildare Street I saw countless Irish treasures, including the beautiful Tara Brooch and Ardagh Chalice. I have always loved the Celtic style and it was such a treat to see these ancient examples with my own eyes. I spent over an hour and a half in the Museum and I still didn't see all it has on show and I vowed to go back one day.

I also visited Christchurch Cathedral, made out of the grey local stone with it's picturesque "bridge" across the road. On the way back I walked through Temple Bar, which was not as it is now. It was quite derelict and rundown with just a few shops, mainly of the new age type, and a few pubs, certainly not the centre of Dublin night life! The Temple Bar we see today is a relatively recent creation.

That evening I headed out to the Abbey Theatre which was just down the road from my hotel. The play I was seeing was called "Una Pooka" a new Irish play by Michael Harding. I really enjoyed it, set around the Pope's visit to Ireland in 1979 and one woman's repressed life. It was funny, sad, moving, thought -provoking and full of twists. Since then I have seen many Irish plays in Dublin and so many have that bitter-sweetness, humour-pathos that seems so much a part of Irish creativity.

After the play I went back to my hotel, picked up an evening paper in the lobby and then went to my room and lay on my bed resting my very sore feet! I read the paper and my eye caught something - Bono was appearing at the Abbey Theatre the following night at a benefit for the theatre which was in need of renovations. I could hardly believe it, Bono was in Dublin and would be appearing somewhere the next evening that was a short distance from my hotel! I decided then and there that I would go to the Abbey the next night.

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