Dublin in the Rare Aul Times: A look at Dublin’s most iconic band

by Lina Jans

This week, our intern Lina has the great pleasure of diving into one of — if not the most iconic band of Dublin – and learning about the history of the two canals flowing through the city.

Ring a ring a rosie

I decided to take a closer look at the Dubliners — the legends of Dublin. As Bono puts it “next to whom the hardest rock’ n roll bands in the world, ACDC, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Oasis, Nirvana, U2 — are all a bunch of girls”.

When I watched music videos of the Dubliners, what really struck me was Ronnie Drew’s prominent long white beard and his blue eyes.

He was born in Dun Laoghaire and spent some years teaching English in Spain, before returning to Ireland to perform poetry at the Gate Theatre.

At O’Donoghue’s on Baggot St he founded the Dubliners with other musicians who performed at the pub regularly. They became famous with their song “Seven Drunken Nights” — even though radio stations refused to play it — and started touring all around the world, representing Irish music and the lifestyle.

Ronnie Drew had a great gift for storytelling and reflected on changes in Ireland in a very clear and raw way. After being diagnosed with cancer, and shortly before he passed away in August 2008, the Dubliners wrote a song for him, together with U2, Sinéad O’Connor and Christy Moore. It is called “The Ballad of Ronnie Drew”.

I also like Luke’s story; he emigrated to England in 1957 and started performing in clubs. Asked during an interview if he had had any jobs apart from singing, Luke says: “Yeah. I had about 50“.

Luckily, he returned to Dublin — otherwise the band’s path might really have been a different one. What was significant about Luke was his strong voice and how he sang with emotion like no other. It’s no wonder there are two statues to him.

In all their songs, you can see the Dubliners really love their city. Their song “The Old Triangle“ has a line about the Royal Canal, which is actually my next station…

The Royal Canal and Grand Canal

The Royal Canal and Grand Canal were both built in the 18th century. Most remember the Royal Canal for the boats transporting Guinness barrels. Both canals are being pictured in poetry and music and truly were a centrepiece of Dublin. The famous poet Patrick Kavanagh wrote: “O commemorate me where there is water, Canal water, preferably, so stilly, Greeny at the heart of summer.”

Growing up in Munich with the river Isar flowing through it, Dublin reminds me a lot of home in that way — but it’s also different because the Liffey and the Grand Canal are very wide at times, and I love that they flow into the sea at Dublin Port.

I really enjoyed sitting on a bench at the Royal Canal next to the statue of Brendan Behan. The canals also offer sporty activities: You can ride your bike along the Royal Canal Greenway or do water surfing on water ramps in the Grand Canal.

So even though the Dubliners felt rather unsympathetic to the changes of the city, I think the canals are a nice example of how new developments such as the possibility for sport activities on the canal bring new life to the city. I’ve just really enjoyed Dublin both old and new again!

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