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‘What Culture Means to Me’ by Victoria Ni Bhraoin

Co Author:
Victoria Ni Bhraoin

Once there was a small blue dragon. In the nature of dragons, she needed to acquire treasure in order to grow. Normally dragons are attracted to sparkling, shiny things; but this particular specimen was a little eccentric. She preferred to take nourishment in a different way. She liked the unusual and the curious and the puzzling. She needed clever, outrageous and fascinating. Eventually, as her treasures outgrew her space, she withdrew into a nearby river, and left her hoard to fend for itself. And it did.

It grew into a city full of beautiful buildings and strange stories; quirky characters and colourful gardens, a feast to sustain any dragon. She is still there in the river; glimpses of scales in the water, or watching from an angel’s bullet holes. Sharing stories with the river gods, perhaps, or simply getting the goss’ from the seagulls.

I know that this is just a silly fairy story, but so what? Myths and storytelling are a huge part of my cultural connection with this city. I love that I share my city with the ghosts of great writers, poets and philosophers. I love that Dracula’s a Dub.

For me, culture is not an abstract idea that I have to connect with; it is a part of who I am.
This dirty, noisy, beautiful city; built with vision and belief. ‘It is in my blood and in my bone.’ It makes my heart sing in ways that surprise me everyday. For me, culture is not an abstract idea that I have to connect with; it is a part of who I am. My earliest memories are of the dealers on Moore Street, taking the dog for a swim in the Gardens of Remembrance (full title always). It was knowing that the gargoyle on the roof was watching out for me. ‘Look up, she’s there.’


Look up. There are scrolls and acanthus leaves. Look down, and there are bronze flowers and footprints. Put away the phone and just look. Polish congregations in medieval churches. Spice markets on Moore Street. The story of soap in glorious colour on grey buildings. We live in a vibrant, expanding, culturally overloaded city, and we take it for granted. We are accustomed to the GPO and the Four Courts. The Phoenix Park is just where the zoo lives. By the way; true Dubs do not say phoenix, we call it the park with a capital P.

Culture is about museums and art galleries and the highbrow, but that doesn’t make it elitist. Most of these attractions are free. I spent a lot of my childhood in the National Museums for that very reason. It was somewhere to take us on rainy weekends. I loved Kildare Street’s Archaeological Museum and was terrified of the Natural History Museum. There is a massive skeleton as you enter the History Museum that gave me nightmares. I wasn’t fond of the floating brains in jars either. My poor father used to have to rescue me and take me next door to the National Gallery. I’m convinced that my visits to the Gold exhibitions in Kildare Street are directly responsible for my jewelry addiction. It’s not my fault; it’s my cultural inheritance.

Culture isn’t just for children or tourists. Ever played spot the tourist? That’s definitely part of my culture. We create culture, it’s in our accents, music and sports. It’s our history and our aspirations. It is a mixture of burden, responsibility, escape and delight. It’s the joy of walking in the park or lifting the trophy. It is standing for AmhrannabhFiann and Ireland’s Call. It’s our senses; sight, sound and touch. It’s paint on clothes, pretty feet and ringlets. It’s caman, sliotar and freezing in Parnell Park so that we can win at Croker. It’s Dublin for the Sam Maguire and Kerry for the holidays. It’s my dance class, where the youngest is seventeen and the oldest is seventy-four (and she wears the highest heels). Its exploration and expression of self. It’s as essential as oxygen and as simple as breathing. Cultural connection is just a grandiose title for the things we do and see and feel everyday. It’s green and gold and blue. It’s our inheritance and our legacy. Protection, connection and growth. That is how we should embrace it all.


Culture isn’t always positive. As children my sister and I were taken to Kilmainham Jail every year. We passed a large park on the way, but were never allowed to go in. My mother was adamant. I felt deprived, even though we were frequent visitors to the Green and the Basin and Mary’s Park-which doesn’t exist anymore-. Years later I discovered the War Memorial Gardens and realized what the problem had been for my mother. The Gardens of Remembrance was our park, not that one for the English.

History guides us, but we are allowed to evolve and change. We are allowed to learn.

It took me a long time to break the negative connections. I felt like it was a betrayal on my family’s history. When I finally did go, it was about forgiveness, acceptance and remembrance. History guides us, but we are allowed to evolve and change. We are allowed to learn. Culture is celebrating the centenary of 1916 while honoring everybody who died, irrespective of sides. It’s the Queen apologizing and Obama ag caint as Ghaeilge. It’s an Ulsterman leading out the national rugby team, beating the All-Blacks and the Aussies. Culture isn’t stagnant it adapts and regenerates and inspires. It is rebellion and desperation alongside inclusion and hope.

Culture is roots in the earth, and wishing upon a star. It is traditions and vision and new ideas.

Culture is roots in the earth, and wishing upon a star. It is traditions and vision and new ideas. It’s respecting our heritage while exploring new possibilities. It’s the oul fellas in corners sipping Guinness and swapping lies. It’s the rapper thumping out his frustrations through his words. Its heart beats and tears and smiling at strangers. Its flowers on graves in Glasnevin and flying the rainbow flag. It’s our identity as a nation and our individuality. It’s the ordinary and the magical.

It’s all those little familiar things that feed our souls and all the creativity that drives us. Its people and passion, and the treasures of a little blue dragon.

By Victoria Ni Bhraoin, a resident of Ballymun



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