Thursday, October 22, 2015

Georgian Dublin

The Ma always said we were Dublin from way back, and on the face of it that seemed reasonable. Her Ma was born in James's St. and her Da in Glasnevin. That covered the Liberties (more or less) and one of the then outer suburbs. However when I started poking around in the family history I found that none of my four maternal great-grandparents were from Dublin. My origins on that side of the family were in Wicklow, Meath, King's County and Galway, this last being just round the corner from Rosmuc and in the heart of the Connemara Gaeltacht.

So my past reflected the nineteenth century migration into the capital from the countryside, but the roots of the general migration into the capital went even further back, into the eighteenth century. And that is one of the key factors in the story told in this book. Georgian for us has all the connotations of the elite and their lifestyle, but the city had a more chaotic underbelly as it tried to cope with the vast influx of people from the countryside. The extent of law and order, for example, fluctuated as the civic institutions came under extreme strain. And it is this side of the picture that forms a major part of the net contribution of this book to the currently available literature.

It was fitting, nevertheless, that we kicked off with a bit of civilisation courtesy of Bach, Handel and others and classily rendered by the lady in the picture.

As first citizen, the Lord Mayor got a preview of the book and I'd swear he's showing her the Martello Tower on page 106.

Frank McDonald was MC for the launch and no better man. He has been writing about Dublin in many of its aspects for a good few years both in the Irish Times and in books, so his compliments for the book, in its depth of research, introduction of hitherto largely unseen illustrations and its fine presentation, were all well taken. For some reason he got a lot of mileage from the fact that there is a whole chapter on prostitution, though he didn't mention the handy guide to the location of all the brothels in the city in one of the annexes.

Next up was the Lord Mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh. I'd say it was a great occasion for her to be involved in the launch of a fine book on the city over which she is presiding. But there were deeper connections. Both her father, Seán Ó Dálaigh and Diarmuid's father, Mathúin Ó Gráda, where highly involved in the Irish language movement and were among the founders of Club an Chonartha, in Uimhir a Sé, Sráid Fhearchair, a building with a long and honourable republican history.

I'm not sure if her references to Georginian Dublin were part of a gender agenda or, like my Sussex (Sioux) Indians, a carry over from a mispronounced youth. In either case, I'm with her all the way.

Needless to say, given her family background, she made some of her contribution in Irish.

The formal task of launching the book fell to James Reilly, current Minister for Children, former Minister for Health and, most importantly, Diarmuid's brother in law. As he mentioned the words "cúpla focal" while extracting a piece of paper from his pocket, I thought we were in for another burst of the first national language.

But it was not to be. He stuck to the second national language and was lavish in his praise of the book, and justifiably so. He was particularly interested in the chapter on public health, from his profession and earlier ministerial responsibilities, and in the Foundling Hospital which related to his current job.

In his response, Diarmuid thanked all those who made the book possible. Well, not all of them, for, as he said, it was a product of his whole career and that involved a whole lot of people. However, Cork University Press came in for a lot of praise for a beautiful production and he did mention a fair few names, some of which I recognised.

I noticed that there was no specific acknowledgements section in the book. Presumably it would have doubled the book's size and there are already 50 pages of bibliography and endnotes for the discerning reader.

Then there was the thankfully inevitable interview with the lady from the Irish Times, which produced a short piece for the moment. No doubt there will be a proper review later which I will link to when it appears.

There was a huge crowd packed into the room in the Royal Irish Academy, including family members and the man from Kiltimagh (above), and a sea of faces of which I recognised only a very few.

Above all else, Dublin is a small town. The man at the centre of the picture above was unknown to me. I just snapped him in passing.

The following day I was out at the Martello Tower in Killiney to meet Bill Hastings who, I was told, had some very interesting material on the early days of the railways there. When Bill, whom I had never met before, turned up, there was something uncannily familiar about him. It turned out to have been that his face was on my computer screen at home at 3am that morning as I processed photos from the book launch. Yes, the man in the photo turned out to be Bill Hastings, or vice versa if you prefer. And yes he did have some fascinating material on the beginnings of the railway in Killiney bay and on some other aspects of the history of the area and beyond.

Finally, Diarmuid was running a serious risk of RSI as he spent much of the rest of the evening signing copies of the book. Further information on the book can be found here.

Update 23/10/2015: Diarmuid had better get down to the gym fast and work out that RSI. More signings are in prospect as I gather the first print run of 1,000 copies has now sold out, within a week of launch, and a second print will be available next week. Well done.

Update 5/12/2015: You can now read Frank McDonald's very favourable review of the book in the Irish Times.

1 comment:

Fionn O'Grada said...

Thanks Pól for such an enjoyable report on the launch of 'Georgian Dublin: The Forces That Shaped The City' by Diarmuid Ó Gráda. You are right the quality of the illustrations are a revelation. Great reference book. Agus thaitin do ghrianghrafanna go mór liom