Dubliners 2

What if we cast our thoughts back, beyond the turbulent times of Frank Sherwin?  Even beyond the days of Zozimus and Dr. Borumborad?  If we were a mere visitor to Dublin, back in the 17th century, what characters might we have met? What might they have looked liked and how would they have been dressed?

If shopping on the Dublin Bridge, the tourist to Dublin around the year 1600 would have observed tall, handsome natives, well fed and round of figure, but nonetheless of very pleasing proportions - all perfect attributes for the medieval catwalk.

Clothes and hairstyles were a perfectly reliable method of distinguishing between the classes. Regard the two men leaning over the bridge, pondering the Liffey waters below. Both are long haired, sporting beards and moustaches - the law forbidding the moustache is now openly flouted. He with the distinctive glib or fringe cut over his forehead, dressed in drab coloured tunic tied with the straw belt and wrapped in a coarse, woollen cloak is about to draw water from the river to wash down the deck of the bridge.

And he, gazing from under his tall, broad rimmed, conical hat, is a merchant scanning the bay for sight of his sailing ship, laden with wines from Spain. He hops from one well shod foot onto the other, his trousers cut to show off his well padded limbs to best effect. The evening breeze catches the many folds of his scarlet cloak, beneath which he wears a crisp linen shirt. His hair is glossy and smooth from washing and crisping.

Between women, too, it is easy to distinguish, though all seem strong in body and spirit, fresh faced and nicely rounded in shape. If the hair is scooped up and teased into rolls around the head, then you must treat the lady with the respect due to the married woman. They have not the time for washing and combing long, loose tresses as maidens do.

Like the men, colour and coarseness of clothing reveal their standing in life - the poor exhibiting drabness, the rich boasting the colour of their money in their colour of their cloth. Rich ladies - you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of one - are beautifully adorned with veils, gloves, jewellery and decorated girdles. The peasant girls rely on their fresh faced prettiness to turn the men’s heads as they run across the bridge on errands.

And if you should see a woman wearing but one smock, its many folds cinched at the waist, she is best avoided as one of dubious reputation.

Yes, all human life passed over the Dublin Bridge and that life was not always easy. Each and every person who withstood the famines, plagues, pestilences and wars was a character in the book of Dublin. Just like Doctor Borumborad, Zozimus, Frank Sherwin et al.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 07th September 2013