Reflections on Dublin

I step out of Connolly Station into the grey streets of Dublin, the same streets immortalised by James Joyce almost one hundred years ago. Every time I visit the city I am struck by its intense openness. There are no masks, no touristy façades here (well, perhaps one or two); instead, the city chooses to reveal itself as it is – grey and green, damp yet cheery – to everyone who asks for it, tourists and residents alike.

Today, we are going to the National Gallery. It’s not yet half past ten in the morning and the gallery – just a stone’s throw away from busy Grafton Street – is quiet, populated only by a few keen art fans. We pause to pick up a map as we enter, only to be told by the woman at the desk that there’s no need for one. Instead, she directs us to the exhibition of Irish artists and the Turner watercolours displayed on the top floor, and wishes us a pleasant day.

We start our journey on the first floor, which takes us through the bloody history of Ireland painting by painting. We see a little boy surrounded by fierce armed men; we see landlords evicting their tenants and stark portrayals of the potato famine. I recognise the General Post office in a painting of the Easter Rising and marvel that O’Connell Street has changed so little since then. We see the foundations being laid for Daniel O’Connell’s statue on O'Connell Street, and the colourful, blurred innards of a railway station alongside an IRA flying column, rudely rendered in thick daubs of oil paint.

A little later, we visit the gallery of European artists. It is small, but filled with tiny treasures: an early Van Gogh, a brightly coloured Picasso, a bronze Renoir sculpture. These are complimented by beautiful paintings I’ve never heard of before, depicting exotic scenes of India and an English walk in bluebell woods.

The Turner exhibition is busy. It’s almost twelve o’clock and the gallery has begun to take on a more vibrant air. We step into the gallery and stop to allow our eyes to adjust to the dim light. Watercolours and half-completed sketches line the walls: paintings of candyfloss skies curling around the thick pillars of Venetian palaces; rugged Alpine gorges tumbling with water, and then at the end, a tree. It is so different to the other paintings that I wonder if it has been painted by the same artist or if it is just in here by mistake. We end up buying a print of this very painting later on.

When I leave the gallery, I find my parents waiting for me outside. We exchange a tired look, making the unanimous decision to stop in the café on our way out, weary from seeing, looking and absorbing.

As we tuck into crumbly, moist slabs of carrot cake and cups of hot coffee, I look up into the airy atrium surrounding us. It is an open space; a space which acknowledges the value of the past, yet refuses to dwell on it, looking ahead to the great things of the future. Just like Dublin itself, really.