Mansion House Dublin 300
In 2015, to commemorate the 300th Anniversary of the Mansion House as the residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Office of the Lord Mayor & Dublin City Council commissioned Irish poet Dermot Bolger to write a poem which would capture the essence of the house.
Night in the House on Dawson Street
No metropolis ever truly sleeps in the night. But one inconspicuous fleeting moment occurs, One most split of seconds when noise dissipates And every thoroughfare appears to hold its breath To soak in the abundance of the day it just beheld. All the lives played out, chances and second-chances Bestowed on denizens and citizens and fleeting visitors Who traverse these streets in a rich continuum of life That ceases only for this instant when heartbeats slow, When dying patients breathe their last in muted wards And even sparrows hidden in foliage on St Stephen’s Green Forget to fret about predators perpetually stalking them. Dublin’s stonework has breathed life in: now the walls exhale, Perhaps in every building, but nowhere more so than this house That for three hundred years has stood, with arrayed windows Looking out onto the street to allow the street to look back in. Over time other houses change their purpose, their raison d'être – A vanquished parliament chamber demoted to a countinghouse, A Duke’s palace commandeered as an oireachtas for the people. But at its core this house remains unaltered. This is our house: It is us instead who change, generation bequeathing generation: Hems shortening on skirts; drainpipe trousers; winkle-pickers; The miraculous apparitions of shapely ankles at tram stops; Newsboys contracting rickets, racing barefoot through dung; Clamorous cries of street traders; unexpected cries of rebellion; The cry of a mother afflicted by the famishment of her children; The cry of a carriage driver, his whip spurring his master’s horse; Cries from pie-sellers, punk rockers, proselytisers and protesters; From native speakers of Gaelic, Polish, Ilokano, Igbo and Cant. The whisper of a lover who dared risk an intimate endearment Which led on to a fingertip caress and a first tentative kiss On the pavement, outside this house that Joshua Dawson built, When two souls were poised, hesitant about whether to commit To the vast unknowability of the future, the supernova starburst Which led to children and great-grandchildren, all blissfully unaware That their existence emanated from one embrace on Dawson Street. This is the true history of a city, the patchwork of private moments So momentous in consequence as to be embedded in the brickwork Of this building which has been such a constant backdrop in our lives That we rarely recognise how incorporated our lives are in its history too. But now, during this epicentre of the night, step through its door: Thousands have already done so, thousands more will follow us. Access was not always so easily gained. More than ornate woodland Once separated this house from the city’s disenfranchised populace. Oligarchies of Protestant merchants kept these rooms the preserve Of guilds of paint-stainers, cutlers, stationers, hosiers and tanners; Aldermen who profited from pirated editions of London almanacs, Printers of sermons and speeches, importers of patent medicines; Fellowships of felt-makers and brewers; smiths of hallmarked silver; Mounted yeomen honoured for having hunted down barefoot rebels; Prohibitors of Catholic tradesmen whose loyalty might be suspect; Cautioners against excessive usage of spirituous liquors by commoners. Haberdashers who conjured the finest silken and worsted stockings Gathered here to feast on turtle and toast their citadel within a city That roused its strength to knock at this door to the beat of reform: Mass rallies demanding repeal, emancipation and a new franchise Based not on one creed but a flawed plutocracy of property rights. This remained a house for the rich, but cracks appeared in windows When the disenfranchised became a battering ram whose blows echoed Through the Oak Room and Round Room and up the ornate staircase. Leopold Bloom was right in this city that mocked him. In this house At least the revolution truly came on the due instalments plan. Rateable valuations set high at ten pounds to exclude the poor, But valuations are like mercury and the mercury will always fall When windows are burst open to let a changing wind blow asunder The crystal prisms of chandeliers as if they were dandelion spores. Here Comes Everybody: from Alfie Byrne to Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker; From clandestine cabinet meetings to céilí-goers enjoying snowball fights. Pause on the bend of these stairs and you will hear the whispers Of discordant voices raised to dissect a treaty, clause by clause. A red-robed liberator still strides through rooms where previously The only Catholics allowed where servants with bowed heads. A rebel’s widow sits on the steps, the first lady Lord Mayor Refusing to enter until a foreign queen’s portrait is ousted. Listen to the sound of sofas being dragged from the drawing room To let a rebellious City Council assemble on makeshift seating In the Round Room where a rebel Dáil has declared independence With most members detained at the pleasure of His nonplussed Majesty. Ghost footsteps of children flit across floorboards on the landing, Unmindful of adult arguments tersely debated in rooms below, Or else they peer through spiral-turned balusters on the stairs As ladies arrive in herringbone corsets concealed under ball gowns Or multitudinous deputations throng the entrance hall with petitions: Seeking to solicit funds, signatories, reprieves or Mayoral intervention. The Tolka is in flood: an elderly man like a ghost from another era Leaves his sick bed to travel by open-decked bus and don his chain To orchestrate the collection of blankets, clothes, foodstuffs, half-crowns. Dispensing sweets to children, he coughs his last into a handkerchief. The North Strand is in flames; tenements collapsing in Church Street. This doorbell is a conduit for discontent, for entreaties to chair crisis talks, Or it is rung by a Mayor’s teenage daughter, late home from a dance, Her boyfriend kissing her on the steps and quickly releasing her hand, Perturbed by the duality of this public residence being a private home. These rooms once lit by tallow dips; by candles coaxed from beeswax Or crystallised whale oil; by self-trimming braided cotton wicks That flickered when ghosts passed; by paraffin lamps and gaslight; By electricity and by daylight when cleaners will soon raise the blinds To let its unheralded staff sweep and tend and prepare to usher in The one hundred and nine thousandth, five hundred and first morning When this house will be a public and private space, when multitudes Will pass with hardly a glance at this abode which learnt to become Whatever the city needed it to be: debating chamber, makeshift Dail, Dance hall where girls whirled in chiffon, cauldron where a Lord Mayor Tried to intercede between inflexible employers and locked out workers. But leave this house now: slip back onto thoroughfares that begin to stir, Unaware of their momentary torpor; sparrows in St Stephen’s Green Shaking their beaks, aware again of predatory dangers; taxi drivers Stepping from cars at silent ranks to stretch their limbs and greet The hint of dawn above streets that are truly our streets, owned By us – the Freeman and Freewoman of this municipality of Dublin That keeps expanding with new suburbs and accents, but is colonised By new guilds under glass domes more magnificent than cathedrals, Whose concourses can never replace the public spaces where citizens Can exercise their right to linger and not be labelled as consumers. Let no one ever restrict these streets, spider-webbed by alleyways That all weave routes back to this house which Joshua Dawson built. May we exercise our right to congregate here, to protest or converse In the shadow of the mansion on the street that belongs to all of us.
Dermot Bolger April 2015 Dublin