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The Nose

Irish Eyes

Posted 6/30/2004

The Nose made a fast-break tour of Dublin in mid-June, and our Aer Lingus flight out of BWI also carried Irish President Mary McAleese, who was returning home after attending Ronald Reagan’s funeral. Once the plane was safely aloft, the pilot announced her presence as “an honor,” and then the flight continued uneventfully, with McAleese and her coterie presumably reclining in first-class seats, only a curtain away from those of us in the cheap seats.

In this era of active anti-Western terrorism, we weren’t sure whether to feel safer or shakier with a European head of state on our commercial flight across the Atlantic, but McAleese’s traveling habits were quite modest compared to George W. Bush’s. The American president touched down in Ireland on June 25 for the European Union-United States summit at Dromoland Castle in Air Force One.

We were already back in Baltimore by the time Bush arrived in Ireland, but on our returning flight a few days earlier, we learned that many Irish people were perturbed by his pending visit. An Irish grandmother sitting next to us wryly commented that Bush’s policies and politics weren’t the main reason many of her fellow citizens were planning to greet him with a chilly reception. Rather, she explained, his visit would likely disrupt an otherwise normal weekend, what with 6,000 Irish police and tens of thousands of protesters.

“Such expense and hassle puts a damper on the spring,” she chuckled, pointing out that the season customarily brings sports and festivals, not demonstrations and demagogues.

The Nose partook of both festive and functionary events during our visit. The Euro 2004 soccer tournament was underway in Portugal, so virtually every television in every pub in Dublin was tuned in to the games. We also stumbled onto the massive centennial celebration of Bloomsday, Ireland’s annual toast to Ulysses, that impenetrable tome by James Joyce. Around the corner from our hotel on the sunny Sunday morning of June 13, about 10,000 people filled a closed-off boulevard to eat breakfast, many of them dressed in period garb from a century ago.

Jet-lagged, we were up and about by dawn that day, so we’d already scoped out the festival’s oyster-monger when the celebration began at 9. We were a half-dozen bivalves into a prolonged feast when three vintage-clad folks joined the small party at our picnic table. As we slurped the salty shellfish and munched on Gorgonzola cheese and soda bread, we talked about oysters.

The ones we ate came from County Clare, on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, and were introduced from Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, according to the purveyor of the morning’s catch. But our discussion mostly centered on the Chesapeake Bay’s oysters, and the Nose was peppered with dismayed questions after we described the bay’s decline and its oysters’ tenuous future, including a proposal tointroduce an Asian species to the bay. And while Ireland’s transplanted population of Asian oysters apparently has not wrought havoc on the country’s ecosystem, the Nose’s fellow festivalgoers questioned the wisdom of having done it at all.

“We’ve no way of knowing whether our native oysters would have survived and rebounded, since the introduced species took over entirely,” the oyster-man declared.

We parted eventually, making our way around the alleys and avenues of Dublin’s historic quarters, sampling ales and enjoying our cigarettes outdoors, per Ireland’s new anti-smoking laws. There, while milling about the now ubiquitous wall-mounted ash cans, we learned that Dubliners believe themselves to live in a treacherously dangerous city.

“We had 24 murders in Dublin last year,” asserted one wizened drinker who called himself Fagin. He was convinced this fact would elicit shock and terror in visiting tourists. Instead, it was he who went wide-eyed when we told him that Baltimore—a city about a third the size of Dublin—is home to about 275 homicides a year.

“Isn’t there an Irish mayor there?” Fagin asked, his face scrunched up as he tried to recall Martin O’Malley’s name—which he did, amazingly, without any help. “I thought he’d been busy licking crime, but that’s hardly something to brag about, now is it?”

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