If Ever You Go...to Louis MacNeice's Dublin

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Book cover: Collected Poems by Louis MacNeiceI was delighted to discover that this year's One City, One Book, If Ever You Go, A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song, includes one of my favourite poems, entitled Dublin by Louis MacNeice. This poem may seem like an odd choice, as MacNeice paints a picture of a city in decline, however, Dublin at this time, with 'her seedy elegance', (p. 8) holds a great fascination for me.

Anyone with an interest in genealogy, who has used census returns or street directories such as Thoms, will immediately recognise MacNeice’s Dublin. His description of a Dublin tenement with its,

…bare bones of a fanlight,
over a hungry door
. (p. 7)

highlights the poverty and depravation of many city dwellers at this time.  MacNeice was not a native of Dublin (he was born in Belfast) but he shows a great fondness for the city, and like Patrick Kavanagh (Collected Poems p.150) he romanticises the Liffey when speaks about,

…the brewery tugs and the swan
On the balustrade stream (p. 7)

Nelson's HeadWhen MacNeice wrote this poem in the 1930s Nelson’s Pillar was a famous landmark, not only with Dubliners but also  with country people who used it as a meeting place. Many a first date started out there under the gaze of Admiral Nelson. At the time of writing, MacNeice could not have foreseen that O’Connell Street with,

…Nelson on his pillar
watching his world collapse (p. 7)

Dublin: One City, One Book logowould change so dramatically.  An explosion in 1966, fifty years after the Easter Rising, (Irish Independent 08/03/1966) destroyed the Pillar and Nelson lost his head, however, visitors to the Reading Room of the Dublin City Library and Archive will find that Admiral Nelson is still keeping a watchful eye on proceedings and who knows maybe romance can still blossom under his gaze.

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