Six degrees Celsius on a February night in Dublin is colder than minus six degrees on a bright morning in the Austrian Alps, perhaps it is something to do with the dampness of the Irish air, moisture which is said to be good for the complexion, but which brings a chill to the bones. Maybe the feeling of coldness is determined as much by the feeling within as much as by weather around. Being solitary does not necessarily mean being lonely, but walking through the streets there was a sense of desolation.
Unhappy memories crowd in when there is no-one to chase them way, no-one to say the times are done and dusted, are past, cannot be undone, so should be consigned to the realm of the forgotten. Scenes and conversations are rerun, pointlessly and destructively.
The wind in James’s Street is biting. The brewery buildings are in darkness. Premises of long closed businesses stand empty. The old post office looks forlorn, an estate agent’s board declares the large building to be for sale. Once there was a community in these streets that came here for stamps and pensions and benefits and all the other services provided by the staff at the counters, now it is not just that the services are otherwise provided, there are few people left in the neighbourhood.
The mess of architectural styles that is Thomas Street did not improve even in the boom years, fine buildings stand among ones my grandmother would have described as “ticky tacky”. Would it have been beyond the wit of the government a decade ago to have provided financial incentives for the visual improvement of the city? would it be beyond the wit of the government now to require that vacant sites and derelict premises be either developed or be subject to compulsory purchase orders and be used for social provision by the city? The amount of building land lying unused and buildings lying empty should surely ensure that there is no shortage of housing in the city, no re-emergence of a property price bubble.
Through Cornmarket and turning south into Patrick Street, it still seems odd that anyone would have put a dual carriageway through one of the oldest parts of the city, four lanes of traffic passing within yards of the west door of one of the city’s medieval cathedrals. Would such things have happened elsewhere in Europe?
A supermarket is still open, although it is Sunday night. The young man at the checkout looks tired, as he scans the items he looks anxiously at the monitor of the shop’s close circuit television system. A confrontation with a man stooped low over a shelf on the other side of the shop seems a possibility.
Gathering up the handful of purchases and heading around the corner of the street, there is no other person in sight. Fumbling with the keys to open the door to the flat, there is a sense of complete isolation. No loneliness can compete with the loneliness of a city.