“Are you of Irish descent?” Liddy asks, repeating a question I’ve heard several times since arriving in Dublin. When I explain my Sicilian-Irish heritage he says, “That’s … unique,” then launches into a discussion of how, around 1900, some Sicilian immigrants took over organized-crime networks that had earlier been established in the U.S. by some Irish immigrants. I could ask if this is an implication that I’m a criminal, or I could say nothing. I choose the latter, mostly because I’m not a talker. But Dubliners are. Roddy Doyle, a Dublin author, recently put it this way: “Dublin is not a place. Dublin is a sound … the sound of people who love talking, people who love words, who love taking words and playing with them, twisting and bending them … .”
Whether that chatter is the cause or the effect of the city’s great literary tradition, I don’t know, but Dublin boasts four Nobel Prize winners for literature. James Joyce, author of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, wasn’t among them, but he is celebrated here. So Liddy takes me to Sweny’s, a former apothecary that opened for business in 1847 and that Joyce wrote about in Ulysses. Volunteers now run Sweny’s as a reading room for Joyce devotees.
We walk on to Trinity College Dublin, a school founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I. There, facing the busy traffic on Dame Street, Liddy points out several “must-see” sites in every direction, each of which touches on a different part of a 1,200-year stretch of Dublin’s history, from the Viking settlements in the year 800 to the Irish War of Independence that ended in 1921. “I’ve been spending the better part of the past three decades trying to convince people to spend three or four nights in Dublin so they can see these sites,” Liddy says. “Some of the most significant events in the history of all Ireland happened right here on the streets of Dublin.”