November 29, 2006
Where is the last place in Ireland where all the classes mix? With the increasing hierarchies in the education system, the health system and sports facilities, where can you see the full social mix?
In education, the obsession with school league tables suggests that parents will pay any price to get their children into the ‘better’ schools. With the increasing split between public and private hospitals, the classes don’t mix in the health service. Sport, although less than it was, is also segregated along old tribal links.
What about the fabled Irish pubs? Surely these are places where doctor and docker, the oligarch and artisan rub shoulders? Well, yes and no. In our invented Ireland, the one we market abroad, the pub is the great leveller. On closer examination, the reality is different. In fact, pubs are becoming one of the most socially divisive meeting places in our New Ireland. Certain types of people go to certain types of pubs. Even among people of the same income, this division pertains.
Take Dublin city for example. Just look at the difference between the type of twentysomething who drinks in Dawson Street as opposed to the type who drinks in nearby Georges Street or Camden Street.
Simply because the nation has become more middle class on an income basis doesn’t mean that we all mix in the same places. The opposite is the case. The more similar people are in terms of income, the more likely they are to break into social hierarchies based on behaviour/image/music or whatever.
So for every Ross O’Carroll Kelly, there will be an indie band member from exactly the same social class. This is where brands come in, recognising the need of people to feel different.
But one place breaks all the rules. Dublin Airport, in all its dilapidated splendour, is the last great democratic stage in the whole country. All human life is there. According to the airport authorities, 21m people will shove and push through its doors this year. CSO estimates indicate that over 600,000 of us will travel – most by plane – this Christmas. This is an extraordinary figure for a workforce of just 2m.
What makes the airport so special is that we all end up there. Only the enormously wealthy can avoid queueing up in the endless, frustrating lines that snake through the place. My favourite is the early-morning human cobra that bends around the chaotic Ryanair check-in and then funnels us all into the hell that is other people’s socks at security. (Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, has done much more damage to the olfactory systems of the western world than he could have ever achieved as an Al Qa’ida operative).
Here is where we all meet, rich and poor, young and old, local and immigrant, urban and rural. The 97 WW Renault Clio vies with the 06 D Merc Kompressor for space in the crowded C car park (A and B are always full). Once in the terminal, it is customary to be jabbed in the heel by the over-zealous brat in the Chelsea strip who thinks it is great fun to hurtle around with the overflowing trolley while his orange-hued mother checks her mascara. “Airport heel” will soon be up there with other ailments of modern Irish life, such as “army deafness”.
Finally, you push your way through the still-drunk hen night to the check-in. You’re stuck behind the self-important salary-man with his Aer Lingus premier class tag dangling prominently for all to see from his Mulberry suit-carrier. Behind you the bottle blonde “nail technician” texts her mates frantically, while the hungover, balding fortysomething English lads on the “second-time-around stag” rummage around in their combats for their Ryanair booking reference.
Glued together like bewildered victims of some crass schoolboy joke, we fall over GAA bags and golf clubs, while taking dogs’ abuse from the scowling Spanish check-in girl on the minimum wage.
The Nigerian yellow-pack security men from the outsourced security firm look tired as they try to move the human cobra through the makeshift chicane of plastic barriers that pass for state-of-the-art crowd control at Dublin Airport. The captain of industry sighs, while the four lost Irish-Americans with day-glo name badges on their Aran sweaters become detached from the main group of “Ohio Hibernians” and panic in the obvious chaos and foreignness of it all.
The twin-setted and pearled Sloaney fund manager, all expensive blonde highlights and pencil skirt, rabbits into her top-of-the-range Motorola camera phone, while two identically turned-out Japanese businessmen in neat-fitting navy suits and twin-like side partings, get their shoes shined by the Maori at “buff-stop shoeshine”. Even the new Irish property oligarchs on their way out this morning to buy half the City of London haven’t the chutzpah to get their brogues polished in public.
For just a few hours, we all mix here. The classes collide, shrug their shoulders and flick back to their Heat magazines or Vanity Fair. Men of all ages – with the exception of gap-year Guatemala-bound Crusties – devour the Monday morning sports pages. The incongruous Italian tourist in his “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” Temple Bar stetson looks aghast at the huge watery coffee served up for â‚¬3 by Magda the Pole, who left the plum hair dye in too long last night. The two developers’ wives from Dungarvan, head to toe in Ib Jorgensen, complain about the delay to New York. They can’t wait for Thursday afternoon at the Woodbury Common outlet store; they’re tooled up with maps of the shops and strategic meeting points. They have seven empty bags packed with return tickets to Woodbury Common from Port Authority. After that, cocktails in the Waldorf Astoria beckon with the girls from Nenagh.
DUBLIN Airport has it all. Its infrastructural chaos serves as a metaphor for the rest of our clogged up, anti-freeflow country, yet the very chaos, the very social anarchy evident every morning under the giant departure timetable captures some of the essence of the New Ireland.
Here we all mix, rub shoulders, elbow each other out of the way and yet, miraculously, the place works. Despite the fact that, thanks to the new prefabricated terminal, most of us actually take off from Meath, Dublin Airport functions. Like modern Ireland, it somehow muddles through. It is a microcosm of the country, and its social mix makes it a rare sight in Ireland.