The City was Us

The City was Us: 1000 Years of Dubliners at Smock Alley Theatre last Wednesday wasn’t so much a reading as an event.

Author David Dickson, Professor of History at Trinity College, introduced the audience to this extraordinary portrait of the city as told by its citizens. These were, for the most part, ordinary men and women who lived in Dublin at various times over the past millennium. There were business men and convicts; politicians and satirists. We heard twenty-two excerpts from speeches, letters, articles, and diaries. The tales they told were, by turn, hilarious, terrifying, and sad. One wonders how the author narrowed his selection from the vast store that fills his book.

Professor Dickson related the background of each of these people and put their stories into context, while the excerpts were brought to life by Melissa Nolan and Cathal Quinn. It would be unfair to call Ms Nolan and Mr Quinn mere readers. They gave us performances full of verve and wit. Through them, the voices of these individuals came fully alive and left me longing for a fuller account of these feckless and fervent Dubliners of the past. Isn’t that exactly what you want from a book reading?

Cathal began by speaking as Richard Stanihurst whose contributions to Holinshed’s Chronicles dated to 1577. Cathal’s delivery reminded me of a young Donal McCann. I can give no higher praise.

His other characters included Sir Edward Newenham, John Beresford, poet Maurice Craig and many more.

I was pleased to see women had a fair representation too and these voices fell to the very talented Melissa Nolan. She was, by turn, Anne Pepper, a woman about to be executed (by strangling and being burned at the stake, no less); satirist May Laffan; and ‘Patsy’, a young mother whose joy at being offered a flat in Ballymun during the 1970s withered in the reality of high-rise living.

The event was pretty well attended for a lunchtime offering. I was intrigued enough by the work to add The City was Us not only to my reading list, but also to my Christmas list for several friends and a couple of sisters. Now if I could only find a way of getting Cathal and Melissa to read it to us too…

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