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Holding Court With the People of Dublin : From Pub to Port, the Irish Capital's Citizens Can Make Any Encounter Memorable

February 14, 1993|RITA GIORDANO | NEWSDAY, Giordano is a reporter for New York Newsday.

DUBLIN, Ireland — I'll tell you about the pints in smoky pubs and gray-satin skies over Georgian streets. I'll tell you about solitude in St. Stephen's Green, the sound of horse hooves on cobblestone, the smell of coal and turf fires on the outskirts of town hastening you toward the comfort of stew, brown bread and tea.

I will tell you about all those things people imagine when they imagine Dublin. But chances are, you'd find those things anyway. First, a little detour.

There I was last September, wandering around Dublin on my own, feeling conspicuously alone. It was what the Irish call a "soft day." That means carry an umbrella. I had none, and the drops had already started to fall. Where to duck?

Well, I happened to be near the Four Courts, Dublin's grand old halls of justice on the River Liffey. I figured I'd go in for a few minutes, browse. You know, be anonymous. What I was forgetting, as I eased myself into a trial in progress, was that this was Dublin.

"In you go, Love!" said one scruffy-looking character, as he slid aside to make way for me on the spectators' bench. "You're in luck. It's a good one," he said, flashing me a minimally toothy smile, and a wink.

That got the guy in front of us going. "Ah, sure, this judge is a tough one," he said, swiveling around in his seat, obviously not one to stall at a chance for conversation.

"He is that," another chimed in. "Aye, aye," a couple of our neighbors agreed, delighted.

I felt my reserve start to melt. This is a trial? It felt like a pub. And the few minutes turned into over an hour as we leaned forward in our seats and listened to the plight of a ruddy-faced grocer named Gavin, who had purchased tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables at half the normal price from a man who usually delivered his newpapers. The trouble was the goods had been stolen from another grocer. Did Gavin knowingly buy stolen produce?

We listened to Gavin's impassioned denials, and the near amnesia of the guy he bought the vegetables from.

"Oh, go 'way ye!" groaned Mr. Scruffy to my left, getting knowing nods all around.

We watched Gavin's face grow redder as the judge reached new depths of probing jurisprudence.

"Ah, I told you he was a tough one," Mr. In-Front murmured.

And, finally, we listened as the judge delivered his verdict.

"Here you have a van that deals primarily in newspapers, and here He arrives with vegetables one day at the right price," said the judge, fixing a steely gaze on Gavin.

"Mr. Gavin," continued Your Honor, voice mounting, "you bought a considerable amount of vegetables for a considerably reduced price from a man who mainly deals in selling newspapers. If you ask me, it's the classic definition of something falling off the back of a lorry. Guilty!"

The courtroom exploded.

"Way hey!" my fellow court buffs crowed.

"See, I told you it would be a good one!" my scruffy friend said.

To a chorus of "Bye, Love!", I left the court, happy, dry and laughing half the way home. All for a little jump into the human circus that I might have missed if not for the rain.

That circus and all its denizens, happy, sad, mad and in between, are what Dublin is about. It's a chance encounter, a sight you didn't expect to see, a turn of phrase or a conversation you'll replay in your mind for years. Dubliners call it having the craic, the Irish word for a state that has to do with talk and laughter and all manner of good times. For all the times I've been to Dublin, it's people I remember most.

Sure, you'll say, that's what visitors always say about Ireland. The friendliness of the people. Well, that's not what I had in mind.

Dublin, you see, isn't like the rest of Ireland. The Irish would be the first to tell you that. During a recent Gaelic football championship, underdog Donegal enjoyed a wellspring of support. The whole country was rooting against Dublin.

Now, it probably doesn't help that the Dubs consider everybody who's not from Dublin a culchie --a hick. But Dubliners do have an attitude, actually several of them. What it comes down to is a highly cultivated kind of irreverence, a certain delight in flouting the rules. Sure, the pubs officially close at 11:30 p.m., but that doesn't stop anyone from ordering thrEe pints at last call and staying until the barman turns out the lights and Booms, "Ladies and gentlemen, please! We're closed!"

And sure, Dubliners are proud of their history and well versed in it. But that doesn't keep them from having a little fun at its expense. On O'Connell Street, that wide, wide boulevard on the north side of the Liffey, there's a monument to James Joyce's Anna Livia Plurabelle. It's a woman lying in running water. To most Dubliners, it's just "the floozy in the Jacuzzi."

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