The Canal

If the Grand Canal in Dublin could speak (and I’m not convinced that it can’t), then it would
have some stories to tell. I don’t know the sad ones. It’s a canal steeped in history, and a
history we can only dream of.
It’s been splicing Dublin since the 1790s. Ladies in Lyonnais silk, bought from the big shops
on Dame Streets, in twos and threes, tapping along by the canal. Maybe looking at the men
on the boats and giggling; a world away from their husbands at home. Maybe courting
couples in the early 19th century, if they could steal away together. Nurses pushing
misbehaving babies in their new-fangled prams, in their matching uniforms. Boys on their
cumbersome bicycles as the years bled on. Soldiers, both sides, marching, socialising,
feeling the temperature in the city rising, brave and stupid citizens wondering if they’d get a
glance of the Helga – on the canal, they’d been told. Not quite.
The problem is that it can’t speak in words we can understand. But if you go there, in times
of normalcy, any fine evening from May to October, you’ll find them there. It’s where Dublin’s
youngsters go, tepid cans in hand from Lidl in Rathmines, or pints snuck out of the pub on
the corner where the security guard loathes every single patron and there is no angel in
heaven or hell who could persuade him to let you nip in for a whizz.
Settle your bones on the grass in front of the Georgian building which has been repurposed
into an English language school. Lay down your carrier bag, and watch the sunset linger on
the water. Spy on the other friend groups. Share a glance at your mates, because yes –
some wannabe John Mayer did bring a guitar to even this sacred space. Tell stories about
the water in front of you that all start the same way – ok, if it was a hundred years ago, and
you were here – and go from there.
Plenty of people have jumped in, you’re sure, but you wouldn’t fancy it. Who knows what
adorns that shallow bottom?
Once you saw a couple start out on the canoe. They were absolutely serene, not caring for
the raucous cheers of the crowd that was whipping itself into a fever of excitement watching
them struggle through the awkward beginning, loading themselves in. The man gave one
grave wave as they set off in earnest, to smatterings of actual applause and hoarse yell from
the lads – that group that seems always to be sitting opposite you on the other side of the
canal, in mix-and-match t-shirts and tight-legged shorts, recreating Vine compilations.
When the sunlight doesn’t glint on the water anymore, it’s time to go. One last sniff – spilled
beer, smoke, grass, and the dark smell of the water that you’ll think about until you pass
another night here, as so many others have done before you.