Dublin Fair City: A Look at Dublin, Ohio
Cycle along the outer streets of Dublin and farmland and grassy fields are still visible beyond rambling stone walls; drive through the roundabouts into the city and catch a show at the Abbey Theater; end your evening in a snug at the Brazenhead, pint in one hand, and in the other, tickets to the OSU game? Well, you are in Dublin – Ohio, that is.
This is not just a case of an American city with a European moniker. In Dublin, Ohio just outside of Columbus, residents live on Innisfree Lane and Phoenix Park Drive, play links-style golf at the Golf Club of Dublin and root for the Shamrocks, Irish, and Celtics – all local high school teams. They frequent the Shoppes of Athenry and relax in Balgriffin and Trinity parks. The Dublin Community Recreation Center offers classes in Irish Dancing and named its theater after the famed Abbey in Ireland. Fire hydrants are painted green and the shamrock adorns everything from city signs to local business advertisements. The city has embraced the Irish culture for the fun and uniqueness of it … yet the care and attention paid to these Irish touches are indicative of the careful planning and attention to detail that has enabled Dublin to go from a small farming village of just under 700 in 1970 to a city of over 40,000 today without losing its close-knit community feel – or its continuing homage to all things Irish.
THE RARE OULD TIMES
First inhabited by Native Americans, then settled by the Sells family in 1810, the limestone-rich land along the Scioto River began as a strong farming community named for land surveyor John Shields’s hometown in Ireland. The village developed slowly at first, but carefully. Wood and stone collected from cleared forests and fields were used to build homes, bridges, and stone walls that still survive. Some of the names of the original families – Sells, Karrer, Coffman, and Pinney – can still be found in the phone book as well as on streets and schools named in their honor.
In the mid-1970s, life for this small village began to change rapidly after a trinity of events which deputy city planner Dana McDaniel says “set the standards for quality early on.” Construction of Interstate 270, the ‘outer belt’ around Columbus, drew more of the city population to the surrounding suburbs. It also brought the headquarters of Ashland Chemical, which in turn convinced Ohio to add an I-270 Interchange in Dublin. Ashland was the first corporate headquarters to locate in Dublin, followed by Wendy’s, the OCLC (Online Community Library Center), and later, Cardinal Health.
Around this time, world-renowned championship golfer and Columbus native Jack Nicklaus chose Dublin as the future site of a world-class golf course and tournament on par with Augusta National, site of the Masters. Nicklaus named the course Muirfield Village Golf Club, after Muirfield in Scotland, the site of Nicklaus’s first British Open title. The course is home to Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament, which will be played on May 31st – June 6th, 2021. The quality of the course attracted residents to the Muirfield Village subdivision, which broke ground in 1974.
As the town grew, the Irish touches took on a life of their own … the original limestone walls were continued throughout the town. Developers adopted Irish place names for subdivisions like Waterford Village and Donegal Cliffs. The shamrock, the popular symbol of Dublin for years, was officially adopted in 1973. Ten years later, Ha’Penny Bridge Irish Imports opened its doors in Dublin.
While there was no directive from the town to incorporate Irish culture, according to community planner Sandra Puskarcik, “it was easy for Dublin, Ohio, to align with Dublin, Ireland. There is such a richness and diversity in the Irish culture that you can apply it in a respectful way to the fabric of the community. Some of those things were here naturally – like the stone walls – and some we had to learn and continue with.”
TWENTY YEARS A’GROWIN’
With expanding boundaries and population, Dublin, Ohio officially became a city in 1987 and celebrated its first anniversary the same year that Dublin, Ireland was celebrating its millennium. To mark the occasions, the 1/1000 Committee was formed and hosted a year of Irish celebrations including performances by actors from the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland and musical legends the Chieftains, in their first Central Ohio appearance.
The year-long celebration was the impetus for creating the Dublin Irish Celebration, a group of about ten people with strong connections to Ireland. When the Columbus Feis moved to Dublin in 1988, the beginnings of the group put together some entertainment to keep attendees busy between the dancing. That first year “there was a hay wagon, a keg of beer, and an Irish band,” says Tom Murnane, a member of the Dublin Irish Celebration. The next year the founding group worked with the City of Dublin to keep the festival Irish. The Dublin Irish Celebration continues to be a resource for the city. “We rely upon this core group of people to keep us focused on that which is real and cultural. We’ve had some luck along the way, but it’s like this (now) by design,” says Puskarcik.
These days, the Dublin Irish Festival draws over 100,000 visitors to the three-day experience, where every conceivable Irish element can be seen, heard, tasted, and touched. Children flock to the Wee Folk area to play, make crafts, and compete in contests including ‘Reddest Hair’ and ‘Most Freckles.’ Adults can participate in the whisky tasting and enjoy pints of Dublin Irish Festival Stout – a specialty brew created exclusively for the festival. Those who wander the 29 acres are treated to craft workshops, food, shops, and endless entertainment. Music is heard at every turn; Tommy Sands, Moya Brennan, Solas, and Lunasa were highlights this year, as well as returning favorite Gaelic Storm. New to the festival were master fiddler Natalie MacMaster and Girsa, an all-female group combining traditional Irish tunes with modern favorites. The Saw Doctors closed the festival Sunday night – a rousing finish to a long weekend packed with step dancing, hurling matches, bagpipers, Celtic canines, and re-enactors.
Dublin gets a jump on the festivities Thursday evening with a 5K run and Pub Crawl in the city’s Historic District, with extended shop hours and live music. Classes in Irish language and instruction in bodhran, fiddle, flute, and uillean pipes are offered at area hotels for locals and visitors alike.
“We start planning the festival in February and are constantly scrutinizing the entertainment, vendors, etc. Other festivals have come to us to find out how we do things,” says Murnane. The festival has consistently been named a top 100 event in North America by the American Bus Association and last year alone received ten awards from the International Festival and Events Association.
Building on the popularity of the Irish culture with residents as well as visitors, the city continues to embrace its Irish connections. The two newest high schools kept alive the tradition set by the Dublin Coffman High School ‘Shamrocks’ by naming themselves the ‘Irish’ and the ‘Celtics.’ Outside the entrance to Dublin’s links course is a replica of an Irish stone cottage ruin. Historic Dublin establishments like the Dublin Village Tavern have included Irish fare on their menus, while the Brazenhead, also the name of the oldest pub in Dublin, Ireland, took it several steps further. Opened in 1997, this authentic Irish pub was designed by an Irish architect and built by Irish carpenters. They included ‘snugs’ – cozy private rooms with fireplaces, decorated with accessories from Ireland. The bar itself was brought in pieces from Ireland and assembled by an Irish crew.
St. Brigid of Kildare, the Catholic parish in Dublin, was founded in 1987. St. Brigid, or ‘Mary of the Gael’ as she was known to the Irish, was a fitting choice considering Dublin’s city traditions. The church was completed in 1991 and modeled after the 13th-century Church of Ireland Cathedral in Kildare, Ireland. The Altar of Sacrifice contains stone from St. Brigid of Kildare Cathedral in Ireland, and the reliquary contains relics of St. Brigid. The pulpit is an Irish lawyer’s desk from the 1800s, with four Book of Kells-inspired painted panels on the front depicting the four Gospel writers. Students at the Catholic school learn the story of St. Brigid and how to make St. Brigid crosses, and are welcomed by a bagpiper on the first day of school.
IRISH IS AN ATTITUDE
A few years ago, Dublin went through a branding process to figure out what the perceptions of Dublin were outside the city. Whether it was new residents or visitors, the common first thought of what to expect was ‘Irish stuff.’ According to Scott Dring, Executive Director of the Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), “The whole city has gravitated to this Irish theme. It distinguishes us from other communities in the area.”
Hotels in the city have given Irish names to their restaurants and conference rooms and changed their décor and logos to include shamrocks and plenty of green. The Holiday Express even offers wake-up calls with a brogue. “Because it’s been so successful,” says Dring, “people continue to embrace and build upon it.” For example, Slainte Thursdays invites residents to stroll through Historic Dublin to enjoy the special offers at shops, outdoor dining, and live music. In their efforts to give visitors a unique Irish experience, the Dublin CVB offers 20 ‘Irish Experiences’ including an afternoon with a seanchai, Gaelic language lessons, Irish dance demonstrations, and fiddle music at an Irish pub.
At its core, Dublin is still a close-knit community with their home-town pride and hospitality easy to see and feel. As Tom Murnane, a resident since 1980, says, “This community really really cares – about everything. There’s a lot of pride here. Halloween, Fourth of July, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day – it’s all a big deal. The perception of Dublin is that everything they do, they do right.”
One of Dublin’s most forward-thinking achievements has been its city-wide wi-fi network. Not only does it enhance public safety and city operations, it provides mobile internet access to the entire city, whether you’re in a public park or your own backyard. “It’s the next generation infrastructure that is necessary to support our residents and our businesses,” says deputy city planner McDaniel. “This kind of infrastructure supports the knowledge-based job, and it has certainly got us international recognition.” In 2009, Dublin was one of only two U.S. cities to be named one of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities around the world. In the year since its creation, the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center is now home to forty new businesses. “People are just amazed at how quickly that’s taken off,” says McDaniel. “It’s a reflection of our community and our entrepreneurial spirit.” Perhaps it’s this spirit that in 2009 prompted Business Week to name Dublin the Top Small City in Ohio to start a business, and Fox Business News to name Dublin the Top Small City in the U.S. to start a business.
IF YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE IRISH…
The residents of Dublin definitely feel they are lucky. Out of hundreds of cities across the country participating in a National Citizen Survey, Dublin had by far the highest rankings the National Research Center (NRC) had ever recorded. Dublin received the highest ranking in the nation as a place to live, in economic development, emergency preparedness, city services, and quality of new development, to name just a few, and ranked second highest as a place to raise children, in public schools, services for youth, and recreation centers or facilities. “We knew we had satisfied citizens, but this blew us away a bit,” says McDaniel. Forbes.com agreed and in 2009 named Dublin one of America’s 25 Best Places to Move.
The end of 2010 marks the completion of Dublin’s bicentennial year. The past two hundred years of forward thinking, careful planning, and commitment to Irish culture have made Dublin a remarkable place. The Irish attributes that Dublin embraces – gregariousness, hospitality, ingenuity, gratitude – enable the city to stand out and ensure its success for the next two hundred years.
The spirit of Ireland is alive and well in Dublin.♦
This article originally appeared in the December/January 2011 issue of Irish America and was updated in 2021.