They say this is the heart of the city. “They” being those people, those migrants, those immigrants, those wanderers, who are not from this city. A woman approaches, her frumpy coat hanging from her slim frame. She stares straight ahead while fat squirrels scamper along the path, hoping she’ll glance their way.
A gang of four boys comes running from the path to her right and she hollers and gathers her coat into herself as a football sails past her waist.
“My apologies Miss!” a freckled boy shouts as he nearly slams into her.
Her nose turned to the sky, she trots off as the boys laugh and shout to each other for a chance to kick the ball.
“What ya got a puss on fer?” Freckles asks a dark haired boy scuffing his runners in the rocks. “Yer woman, again?”
“She’s a ***** D4!” A sandy haired boy shouts as he kicks the ball as hard as he can into the air.
“A Sheila!” Freckles agrees. “I’m sure she’s got another feller.”
“He’s probably a better kicker than you!” Sandy-hair taunts before taking off down the path towards the fountain in the center of the park.
A chubby toddler wearing overalls and his father’s hat runs in a circle along the edge of the fountain, shrieking at the water.
A scruffy man with a worn guitar plays the “classics:” “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Danny Boy,” “The Fields of Athenry,” and, of course his own sickly tragic version of “With or Without You.”
Shoppers bustle by, unaware of the acoustic rhythms, flowing into the Green from Grafton Street, their arms weighted down with packages of Bewley’s Tea, new leather boots, rain jackets and hats, jewelry featuring Claddagh images and Celtic crosses and harps, and American Apparel clothing. Everyone is wearing a scarf.
The toddler jumps off of the fountain and begins to chase a group of pigeons along the path and to the edge of the Green where they walk like pedestrians along the crosswalk onto the next street. A male starts his ritualistic dance, a mixture of a bobbing of the head and a twirl, showing all of his angles to the fine feathered missus he has chosen. She is not impressed. He follows her as she totters away, twirling and bobbing more quickly now.
She spreads her wings and flutters away, landing in the garden in the northwest corner. A man reaches down and caresses each plant for a full minute before moving on to the next. Breathe in. Close to a hundred scents exist tucked away in this small corner.
He reads, his fingers caressing. His eyes stare a foot above the placard.
Santolina. Santolina Chm.
He unknowingly steps in swan poop.
The swans circle the pond. They show off their whiteness, gleaming next to the brown and grey ducks clustered and quacking. At night they magically appear in the Grand Canal. No one knows how they get there.
The Three Fates gaze at the pond from their bronze spot next to the garden. With unblinking eyes they stare at each passerby, the string of life hanging limply in their hands. Even cast in bronze, it seems fragile.
And here is the corner with the statue of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the leader of the 1798 rebellion. Flanked by monoliths, it is known as “Tonehenge.” There is no mystery here. This is where the boys will pee tonight, hiding in the dark spot behind Wolfe tone’s back, covering the names of those who died in the famine with a fine sheen of wasted pints.
Piss is the nighttime smell of the cobblestone streets and alleyways of Dublin. In the morning the street cleaners will wash it away and the city will regain a distinct smell of Irishness: a mixture of the warmth of Guinness, the sting of Jameson, wet clothes hung out on lines in backyards and across buildings, lilacs and daises wrapped in plastic and ready to be sold for five euro a bundle, stale tea, beef stew simmering in giant pots, fish clinging to the wetness in the air, and rain. Always the smell of rain.
It is misting now. The kind of mist that clings to the hair on your body and rests there. You don’t notice it becoming a constant shiver that you hold close for the remainder of the day.
James Joyce stares at my spot in the grass along the banks of the pond. His bust is critical, mocking. “Crossing Stephen’s. that is, my green…” He reminds me.
A yell resonates from Stephen’s Green South. Another Viking tour roaming the streets, telling tales of the days of pillaging and scraping and surviving. This is the bedtime story told to children and the legends told to tourists while they wear their “Pog Mo Thoin” shirts and chuckle to themselves because they love the idea of telling someone to kiss their ass in a different language.
“Cead Mile Failte,” the sign on the corner and in every pub reads. The thousand welcomes come from the thousands of empty pint glasses sitting on the wooden ledges behind colored glass. The wanderers are drawn in by an intense loyalty to something it seems they don’t necessarily understand, but something they can feel. It’s the rising exhalation of breath that one releases when they step outside in the morning chill. It rises out of the cavities in the chest to mix in the air, to mix with the mist that blankets them all.
It is why they drink and why the Irishness in the air will always have the blackness of Guinness and the caramel of Jameson. It is why they will always have to clean behind Wolfe Tone. And it is why pigeons at Stephen’s Green will never be impressed.
There will always be versions of “With or Without You.”
“What’s the craic?” A man greets another as he bums a *** and they light up together, the grey stubble on their chins crinkling when they smile and embrace.
The guitarist strikes a chord and the story of Molly Malone, the endearing and loveable ***** of the city, embraces the four corners of St. Stephen’s. It seems all of Dublin is smiling a crooked smile, as a crowd gathers and sings: “Frying cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh!”