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Traveling In Style : Portrait of the Dartist : On the DART, Dublin's State-fo-the-Art Rapid-Transit System, a Mystery Novelist Tracks Down Ghosts, Crosses Paths With James Joyce and Discovers a Side of the City That Tourists Rarely See

March 01, 1992|ANDREW GREELEY | Andrew Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest and a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of more than 100 books, most recently a Blackie Ryan mystery, "Happy Are the Merciful," published by Putnam.

You've heard of San Francisco's BART--Bay Area Rapid Transit. But if you're thinking of traveling to Dublin, you should learn about DART--or, as it's known locally, the DART--Dublin Area Rapid Transit. A modern high-speed system built partly along the path of the world's second-oldest railroad, it's one of Europe's great sightseeing bargains.

For three punts, or Irish pounds, per person (about $5), you can buy a day ticket, enabling you to travel from one end of Dublin Bay to the other, getting off and on to wander around the neighborhoods that constitute Molly Malone's home city. You can walk in the footsteps of James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker. Best of all, if the weather permits (which it does on occasion), you can begin to realize that Dublin Bay offers one of the most charming vistas in the world, a part of the beauty of Dublin's fair city that neither the tourist board nor the tourists themselves seem to have discovered.

I was introduced to the DART when a fellow priest suggested we ride it to Howth, at the north end of the line, while we talked about a research project we were working on. During the journey, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the scenery along the bay. I decided that I had to come back when there was no sociology to discuss. Later, when the novel I was writing required my hero to meet someone in an isolated place, I rode to the other end of the line, to the town of Bray, to find an appropriate pub for the encounter. (I chose one called the Harbor Bar.)

The DART cars are state of the art, as modern as those in any city. But much about the system is uniquely Irish. For one thing, they don't come out and tell you that putting your feet on the seat across from you is forbidden. Not at all. Rather, a sign observes, with typical Irish indirection, "Seats are not for feet." And they don't leave unsold advertising spaces empty. Instead, they fill them with poetry and historical observations. Is there a rapid transit system anywhere else in which you can read a Browning sonnet as you go along? Or learn that when the Dublin-Kingstown railway opened in 1832 (only England's Birmingham-Manchester line, finished in 1830, is older), it took 19 minutes to ride from the Westland Road (now Pearse Street) Station to Dun Laoghaire--and that today, after 160 years of progress, you can do it in 17 minutes on a high-speed DART train?

Let's imagine that we're riding north from Lansdowne Road toward downtown Dublin. Maybe the car is crowded with young people carrying notebooks, bound for Trinity College. The scenery along the first part of the route, from Lansdowne to Pearse Street, can be a bit dull, especially on a rainy day--TV antennas, the backs of row houses and church steeples, mostly Church of Ireland (Anglican). One of these steeples houses a bell that tolls all night on the hour--but it always gets the hour wrong.

If we get off at Sandymount Station, we're in Ballsbridge, a neighborhood of elegant homes, the American Embassy, Jurys and the Berkeley Court hotels and the buildings of the Royal Dublin Society--whose annual horse show is a social event of enormous importance. Even the Irish War for Independence and Civil War (1918-1923)--the "Troubles"--didn't stop the show.

On the other side of the DART, just before it crosses the Dodder River, an occasionally rambunctious tributary of the Liffey, are Ringsend and Irishtown--the latter so-called because it was where many of the "mere" Irish lived when the Anglo-Irish dominated Dublin. The streets are narrow and the row houses, built early in the last century, tiny. Many of the residences close to the banks of the Dodder have been gentrified and have BMWs and Mercedes parked out front. But a few streets inland, similar houses belong to the Dublin poor.

If we stop at Pearse Street Station, we can more or less sneak in the back door of Trinity College and watch students playing a weird game with a soccer-ball-like object--Gaelic football. Many more of them, though, may be seen dashing from class to class or off to the library, as if desperately seeking knowledge and wisdom. The Irish are in love with learning. Three out of 10 young people now go on to higher education, and most graduate. Alas, there are not nearly enough jobs for them, and many of these intense young men and women must emigrate.

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