Friday, January 23, 2015

Tracking Dublin

Kevin Whelan
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The 2015 Gilbert Lecture, in Dublin City Library and Archive, was given this year by Kevin Whelan. The subject was Dublin as a Global City but this formal title gave little indication of the roller coaster ride that was to follow.

The angle was the waxing and waning of Dublin over time, but from a global perspective. The question asked was, how important was Dublin on the world scene and why.

Roman Times

Kevin started way back before Roman times when we really didn't figure at all. When the Romans finally got as far as Britain, it seems they didn't fancy going any further into what was to them a hostile and cold environment compared with the Mediterranean. And, anyway, if they overshot they might fall off the edge of the flat earth of its day.

It was only with the coming of the Vikings that Dublin assumed a global importance, becoming a hub for their conquests and trade along the west coast of Europe. In recent times there has been a tendency to stress the benefits of the arrival of the Vikings, but Kevin left us under no illusions. These guys were slavers and ruthless. They considered themselves superior, under Thor, to the milksop Christians they encountered along the way. Generally speaking they killed the men and took the women home as slaves. Hence the high proportion of Irish DNA in Iceland, for example.

The Viking empire waned during the 11th century (and, despite the speed and broad scope of his talk, Kevin even managed to mention Diarmat mac Máel na mBó and the Cavanaughs.)

When the Normans came (1169), the focus turned from being outward and coastal to fixating on Britain and to some extent Europe beyond it.

The next point of inflexion was after 1492 when Ireland became a link between Europe and "newly discovered" America.

After 1800 its importance faded as the focus shifted to London as capital of the UK and as trade/transport restrictions were imposed on seagoing traffic.

There was a further recovery after 1900, both in global transport and also in the city's world image through its literary figures who part colonised the English language and turned it into something of their own.

Finally, Dublin opened up again as a Euro/American hub as US giants set up European headquarters here in their commercial/digital assault on Europe. And, Dublin now ranks well in many international league tables even despite the recent crisis/downturn.

Larry O'Toole

I haven't really summarised the presentation but rather given a small flavour.

Kevin was introduced by Deputy Lord Mayor, Larry O'Toole, who (humorously) compared Kevin's many qualifications and achievements to his own "two years in a tech". Larry not only enlivened his own introduction but carried on from the sidelines providing a foil to Kevin's many humorous references to Dublin's distant southside. Larry is from Wicklow and Kevin from Wexford, but no doubt they both consider themselves honorary Dubs at this stage.

Margaret Hayes

In opening the proceedings earlier in the evening, City Librarian Margaret Hayes gave us a rundown on the Library Service's packed programme of events for the year. She then handed over to Larry to launch the book version of last year's Gilbert Lecture.

Larry O'Toole

Larry then did a great promo for the library service and promptly launched the book.

Séamas Ó Maitiú & Larry O'Toole

Last year's lecture was entitled Alleys, annals and anecdotes: a new look at Gilbert's History of Dublin. It was given by Séamas Ó Maitiú, and, if you are interested, you can see it and some previous Gilbert Lectures here.

[Update - 22/4/2015: The audio of Kevin Whelan's presentation is up on the above site].

L-R: Máire Kennedy, Librarian Dublin & Irish Collections;
Kevin Whelan, Michael Smurfitt Director of the Keough Notre
Dame Centre Dublin;
Mary Hanafin, Councillor, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown;
Margaret Hayes, City Librarian;
Larry O'Toole, Deputy Lord Mayor & City Councillor.

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