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The Prussians are impressed

Friedrich von Raumer, a visiting Prussian historian, gave an interesting account of Dublin in 1835. It is to be found in Eoin Bourke’s excellent compilation Poor Green Erin, an anthology of German travellers’ accounts of Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century. Here are his early impressions of the city:

In Dublin, a large city with streets like in the West End of London and well-designed public buildings, everything is apparently composed and all in one piece. Apparently, for here the English, Scottish and Irish live in enmity with each other rather than merging into one society. As well as that, one’s feeling of uneasiness is compounded by figures the likes of which I had never seen before. On Sundays, while crowds of well-dressed people cheerfully stroll through the streets, just as many hordes of beggars swarm about – and what beggars! Spectres of this kind usually stay in their dens until the light of day has faded and the dark of night has fallen; here the sun has to give witness that Europe, too, has its pariahs. No, not Europe, but Ireland alone. For in contrast to these images of misery and horror, every form of mendicancy that I had encountered in Switzerland, the Papal States or even in Southern Italy paled into insignificance.

Some aspects of local culture amazed the visitor:

On my way to Mr.W. I saw a gathering of people in the distance and thought that I had once more found a street preacher. But it turned out to be no Scottish sermoniser but rather, as someone called it, “an Irish amusement.” Two lads, naked to the waist, were involved in a fight, neither like noble Greek wrestlers in Olympia nor even like skilful boxers in a match, but rather in a monstrous punch-up. After they had beaten one another black and blue and almost to a bloody pulp, one of them collapsed unconscious into the filth of the gutter. Within no time he was grabbed by the arms and legs, his mouth prised open and half a quart of whiskey poured in and a bucket of water dashed over his whole body. Then the two crazed fighters were set upon one another anew like mad dogs. Meanwhile the two Masters of Ceremonies were engaged in an astonishing and uninterrupted action. To make room, they hit out at the spectators with big whips in such a way that no-one in the first three rows escaped the worst imaginable lashes, a single one of which I would not have recovered from in four weeks. There it seemed to make no more impression than if one of us were to say: “Please be so kind as to step a little to one side.”