I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.



In 1828 Prince Hermann Ludwig Heinrich Von Puckler began a tour of Ireland. Eoin Bourke, in his recent account of German travel narratives of Ireland (Poor Green Erin), explains that the prince’s chief purpose was to find an Irish heiress whom he could marry in order to relieve his financial embarrassments. To facilitate this, he had divorced his wife before leaving Germany – with her agreement it must be said. If he had a particular interest in wealthy eligible Irish women he also observed and recorded his general experience, providing fascinating vignettes of the Dublin poor:

Today I rode out … to visit the Donnybrook Fair, which is considered to be a kind of folk festival … The wretchedness, the dirt and the tumult was everywhere as intense as the joy and merriment with which the cheapest pleasures were indulged. I saw food and drink being blissfully devoured in a way that forced me to divert my gaze, to keep my feelings of nausea under control. The heat and the dust, the jostling and the stench, it must be said, made a longer sojourn almost unendurable. This however, did not bother the natives in the least. Several hundred tents had been pitched, all of them as tattered as most of the visitors, and instead of with flags, they were decked out with mere coloured rags. Some contented themselves with a bare cross, or a hoop; someone had even hung out a dead and half putrified cat as their insignia! Between the tents the lowest sort of buffoons plied their hard-earned trade, dancing and grimacing in the dreadful heat to the point of exhaustion. A third of the public lay or staggered about drunkenly, the others ate, screamed or fought. The women often rode around two or three on a donkey, made their way with difficulty through the crowd while happily smoking cigars and provoking their lovers.

As he was leaving the fair the prince found he was taking the same path as a highly “inebriated couple” who treated each other

with great tenderness and courtesy, the male partner manifesting quite a degree of chivalry. Nothing could be more gallant … than his repeated attempts to prevent his lady love from falling, although he himself had no little difficulty preserving his own balance … To do justice to truth I have to testify that not a trace of English brutality was to be found in their behaviour. They were more like the French, showed just as much joviality but more humour and good-naturedness, two truly national characteristics of the Irish that were always enhanced by poteen (the best of brandies but illegally produced). Don’t reprimand me for the vulgar images that I have presented to you. They are closer to nature than the gilded wax dolls of our salons.

Though he was not unsympathetic, the ragged poor in party mood were clearly something of a shock to the visiting Prussian. But perhaps Dublin’s “gilded wax dolls” also surprised him. One account from the late eighteenth century reveals that the fashionable element could on occasion let their guard down and adopt something of the spirit of Donnybrook: “The King’s birthday was invariably celebrated with a special ball, on one occasion it being remarked that the attack on the supper room was appalling, the squealing and shrieking women being stripped of their lapels, hustled and squeezed in the struggle. Poor Lady Santry being left more dead than alive.”

Prince Hermann sadly left Ireland without having found a suitable heiress.

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