On Dublin and the Cold Shoulder

I have entered an alternative Irish universe called Dublin.

Uilleann piper
At breakfast this morning at O’Malley’s guesthouse in Kilkenny, I was musing on the past three weeks of travel in Ireland. On listening to “Trad” music in Dingle with Irish folk on holiday from Cork and Dublin and Belfast, after the tourist buses had left and the real Dingle came out to play. On hill-walking with sheep and cows and magpies for company. On a writer’s retreat that introduced me to nine other people who value words as much as I do, and who, while all very different in personalities, cohered into an intimate, supportive group. On the hosts who have shared their homes with me across this warm and wild country.

Then I drove onto the M9 and shot northeast into Dublin like a clown out of a cannon. I believe I am no longer in Ireland. I may be in Portland. The one in Oregon. With tattoos and hipsters and skinny jeans and craft beer and coffee. There are other similarities. A river cuts both cities in half; The Liffey here in Dublin, the Willamette in Portland. Portland is whiter than Dublin though. Dublin has a far larger immigrant population, which I like.

Both cities have young people. Lots and lots of young people, who are far cooler than I am and so they just ignore me. I’m not even on their radar, because I am older than 50. Probably I would not be on their radar if I were 40, but it might have bothered me back then. It doesn’t now. Now I just observe and report.

I am staying in the flat of a young couple in the Temple Bar area, who seem nice enough, but they’re ignoring me too. I can see they have busy lives. They are planning for a big dinner gathering at this flat on Saturday after I leave, so I am free to just come and go as I wish while they talk excitedly to their friends and each other about who is coming and what they might contribute. I’m thinking they don’t hosts guests like me for the company we provide.

This evening I went out on an organized pub crawl, which I knew might be touristy and hokey but it was centered around the Irish music that I never tire of, and is run by a couple of local musicians. Fergal and Dary did a good job explaining a little about reels and jigs, about instruments like tin whistles and Uilleann pipes, which are a sort of bagpipes that sound softer and less like a animal in distress than the Scottish kind. I learned that the Scottish bagpipes were made for war, to lead men into battle. I’m guessing pipers were often the first killed in battle. And maybe if they were poor at piping, they got shot from behind.

Because I have been traveling solo, I usually try to make conversation when I’m out, especially at the pubs. I like meeting people and learning something I didn’t know before I sat down. I have had a sweet time of that in Ireland over this trip talking and listening to people from the USA, France, England, Australia, Germany and Ireland. That all changed in Dublin too. In a crowd of maybe 30 people on tonight’s pub crawl, I think I was the only person there alone. And no one would talk to me, other than a quick comment in response to mine. Then their faces would shut down and they would turn away. I can see how the phrase “cold shoulder” came about. Not a huge, earth-shattering, ego-bruising problem for me, but interesting.

I’m back at the flat now, trying to work out why that happened here in Dublin. My impression was that as a woman on her own, I was not to be trusted, particularly amidst all of those couples who were part of the pub crawl. Considering that I wear a wedding ring, that I talk easily and happily about my husband, Brian and that I am at the age where I get ignored, that strikes me as crazy. Or insecure maybe. At any rate, what I thought would be a fun evening was somewhat of a letdown.

I walked back to Temple Bar alone, bought a cup of dark-chocolate gelato along the way, tossed a one euro coin into a musician’s guitar case and got a wink and a nod in return. It only cost me one euro to not be ignored.

Barbara Gabriel

Writer. Day Stealer. Chronic Traveler. Raised along Highway 61 in Minnesota, I ran away to sea & messed about in boats. I curse like a sailor and love travel, food, most people, and a well-fitting pair of boots. I try to combine those any chance I can.


  1. Kristin Kissell

    Interesting. Is it that Dublin is much more urban than the other areas you’ve been in? Or could it be the immigrant groups like to stay together and not reach out? I think I might take it more personally, so it’s good you’re not.

    • Dublin is a city, with all that entails. I still love it, and I love that it’s diverse more than it used to be. Most of the folks that ignored me at the pub crawl were from the USA, actually. I chocked it up to me being “single”. Cities in general tend to be places where people don’t make the same personal contact as less urban places, so as a traveler, I’m just going to have to try harder. Then again, I am toward the end of this particular journey and maybe I’m off my game!

      • So maybe it was the Yanks giving out the cold shoulders, rather than the locals? Aside from that possibility, I would agree that the difference is probably attributable to city life. We’re all in more of a rush–and I know that, myself, I get unwanted attention every day in public. I’ve learned to withdraw into myself. Had a long, interesting conversation at the bus stop the other day with a German guy who complained that nobody in the US would speak to him. Every time he approached somebody they seemed to think he was after something. Glad you survived, Barb!

        • I’m inclined to think that it was primarily the American’s who were intent on ignoring me, Daniel. I attributed that in part to them wanting perhaps to be in their Dublin bubble, to believe that they were at the pub crawl alone, apart from other tourists. It could have gone completely different on another evening: with all the Americans bonding over a drunken singalong of “American Pie”, accompanied by the uilleann pipes and fiddle, but it didn’t and that’s life on the road. I saw striking similarities in each of the major cities we visited on this trip: Edinburgh, Oslo and Dublin, to Portland, Seattle and New York in terms of body art, clothing, music and hairstyles. Social media is clearly playing a part in a sort of homogenizing. It left me a little sad for the possible loss of individuality among those places, but time marches on…

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