From its beginnings as a ninth-century Viking settlement, Dublin has enjoyed a vibrant history as Ireland’s dominant city. Over the centuries, it has served as a nexus of the economic, political, and cultural events of the island, with many of the key developments in Ireland’s past taking place on its streets and inside its walls. In this book, authors Thomas and Valerie Pakenham have assembled a collection of excerpts from memoirs, letters, diaries, and other contemporary sources, usually from a few paragraphs to a couple of pages in length, that are designed to illuminate its history and evolution throughout the ages.
The editors grouped these literary snapshots into seven sections. Most of these are focused around neighborhoods in the city’s historic center and subdivided around landmarks, from the grandest public buildings to the most disreputable quarters. Here the momentous is interwoven with the mundane, as accounts of historic events are leavened with descriptions of social events and everyday life. Other sections focus on the area around Dublin, the city’s rich culture, and the dramatic events of the Easter Rising and the wars that followed. Taken together, they capture the drama of Dublin’s history, as well as provide a sense of how Dubliners lived their everyday lives.
Yet the strength of this anthology is not in its breadth of coverage but in the quality of the selections. Throughout its pages the Pakenhams demonstrate a judicious eye for the engaging story and the insightful anecdote. This is a book that entertains as well as informs, and I often found myself laughing as I read accounts of some of the more colorful figures that the metropolis has known. It is this quality which makes this book such an enjoyable way of discovering Dublin’s colorful legacy and the path it took to becoming the great city it is today.