A few days ago I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a post from Vanessa with Tunipseed Travel. She had posted a photo of Dublin and commented that it’s not a place that she loves. She likes Dublin, feels comfortable when she’s there, but she doesn’t love the city. I posted a comment agreeing because here’s the truth; despite living for a year and a bit in Dublin, working there, (and visiting many times after I moved to Donabate for a few months), I never fell in love with Dublin.
I’ve debated writing about this before, but I always had a hard time gathering my thoughts about it. Part of me felt guilty that I never “fell in love with Dublin” as I thought I would before moving there. I didn’t hate Dublin; I’ve never hated any place I’ve visited. There are some places when I got there I just fell in love with it right away. However, there are a lot more places I’ve visited that I’ve found to be just okay. With those places, there isn’t any, “this place is so amazing” feeling that comes over me when I’m there. And feeling just okay about a place is actually okay. Whether someone loves, just likes, or even hates a place is pretty subjective. Not every place is going to be the greatest place on earth for every person.
Part of me wonders if I didn’t love Dublin as much as I wanted was because of the circumstances that I was there. My experience may have been a little bit different than someone who goes to Dublin for a vacation. I moved to Dublin on a temporary working holiday visa, without having ever visited the city (or Ireland) before. Upon arrival, I was already anxiously trying to find a place to live, getting a job, and doing all the other little things you need to do (like paperwork) when moving to another country. None of this went as smoothly as I anticipated, and this probably coloured my Dublin experience in a more negative light than if I was travelling there for fun. I didn’t know anyone before moving there, and getting comfortable in Dublin (feeling that I knew what I was doing and where I was going) took time. If I could equate my feelings about my time in Dublin with a Facebook relationship status update it would be “it’s complicated.”
When I first got to Dublin I imagined some moment where I’d be hit with this feeling of “this feels like home” but that never happened. There were things I liked about Dublin (visiting the free museums, grabbing a pint at a pub, walking in the parks, being close to the sea, the people I met, not having a -30C winter). There were also things I didn’t like about Dublin (stupid high rent prices, how long it took me to find steady employment, the narrow sidewalks in some areas, the train schedule where I lived). I didn’t hate Dublin, and nothing horrible happened while I was there, aside from some job and apartment hunting stresses, one mouse incident, and going blind on the train (that was probably the worst thing).
Eventually, I felt comfortable in Dublin. I figured out how to get around town, and always felt a little proud when I could point lost tourists the right way when they asked for directions. I began to understand the North Dublin accent where I lived and worked. I got to know what some of the Irish slang I heard meant. I’d go grocery shopping at Lidl or the big Tesco in Clarehall. I’d pick up a spicy chicken fillet roll from the deli at the Supervalu. I felt comfortable going into a pub and getting a drink. Maybe I wasn’t a local, but I was local-adjacent. Yet part of me knew while I was in Dublin that this wasn’t my home. That I was an observer, just there for a short period of my life.
Thinking about it I’m glad I didn’t fall in love with Dublin. The places I have fallen in love with instantaneously (like Montreal, London, New York, New Orleans, Madrid, Hong Kong) are ones I visited, not lived in. Those were places I visited on short vacations (usually a week or less). If I lived in any of those cities it would be a very different experience than being there on a holiday. Moving to and living in Dublin made me realize how different that experience is from just travelling somewhere. It’s fun to wander a city to find a nice spot to grab lunch or a museum to visit. It’s a lot less fun rushing around a city handing out resumes and looking for a place to live. Plus, if I had fallen instantly in love with Dublin it would have made it much harder to leave. Even though I may have not fallen in love with Dublin when it came time for me to leave it was still hard to go home to Canada.
This post isn’t meant to discourage you from travelling to Dublin or Ireland in general. Dublin has a lot of things to see and do, and for anyone going to Ireland, it’s worth stopping in the capital for a few days. There are many day trips close to Dublin to places like the Wicklow Mountains, Dún Laoghaire, Howth, Malahide, even Donabate (where I lived for a bit). You could easily stay in Dublin for a week or longer and find lots to do.
I don’t regret moving to Dublin, even when it was hard. I knew living abroad was an experience I wanted to have at least once in my life. As Dot sings in the musical Sunday in the Park with George, “the choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not. ” I don’t know if moving to Dublin was a mistake or not, but it taught me many things I didn’t know, including things about myself. In spite of the hard times of maybe because of them, I’m glad I lived in Dublin and got that experience.
Now I get this weird nostalgia for my time in Dublin because it was hard, beautiful, fun, overwhelming and sometimes it was just okay. But I’m certainly not done with Dublin, and when it’s possible to travel safely again I’d like to go back for a holiday. I’ll walk into a pub and order a pint, grab a spice bag from a takeaway, hop on the DART and see some of the sites I didn’t get to when I was there. Perhaps Dublin won’t feel quite like home. I might not fall in love with Dublin the way I have with a few other cities. Yet I know because of my time living there, for me Dublin won’t feel like anywhere else in the world.