Traveling Solo To Dublin As A Black Person Turned Out To Be A Pleasant Surprise
For anyone, getting invited to Dublin by Guinness for the Meatopia BBQ and beer festival would surely be cool. But for me? I was absolutely lit. Guinness has been a heaven-send, as someone who's just graduating from drinking vodka and OJ to developing taste. Watery beers at college parties turned me off so much I figured beer wasn't for me. So when I found the chocolaty stout Guinness has blessed the world with? I became a ride-or-die. More than indulging in food and merriment thanks to my fave beer brand, traveling solo to Dublin as a black person turned out to be a delightful surprise.
Before I made the trek to Ireland, I did some research. A quick internet scan turned up a 1999 piece from The Irish Times on the rise in xenophobic hate crimes against black folks in Dublin. The next was personal essay from photographer and content creator Timi Ogunyemi about being both Nigerian and a Dubliner. The bottom line was: Yes, he'd been verbally and physically harassed for being black, but his Irish identity was still so important to him — possibly, even more so than his Nigerian one. And then there's R&B singer Laura Izibor — the only black person I'd ever heard of from Ireland besides actress Ruth Negga. In her NPR interview, Izibor said seeing another black person as a kid in Dublin was a "novelty."
With black folks making up a mere 1.3% of Ireland's population, according to Ireland's 2016 census data, I wouldn't have been surprised if blackness was swept under the rug — a footnote or even less. But much to my delight, not only is black culture acknowledged in Dublin, it's embraced and celebrated.
Leaving for Ireland on the Fourth of July felt like the bougiest "f*ck you" to America. At 5:30 p.m., I wasn't cooling down from sunburns and day-drinking, or loading lawn chairs into the car for fireworks. I was getting accustomed to the lilting Irish accents of Aer Lingus stewards. I was gearing up for a hell of an adventure. Arriving Friday morning in Dublin felt magical. The car ride from the airport was awash in soft, morning sunlight. I noticed Dublin was strikingly quiet compared to any major U.S. city I'd visited.
After checking in, I wasted no time visiting Trinity College Dublin's iconic Long Room. Soaking in the tranquil greenery of Trinity's campus, I daydreamed about what life could have been like if I'd traded college in central New York for uni in Dublin. I napped, snacked on fish and chips, and met up with the influencers Guinness had flown out for our ride over to Meatopia. One of them was a woman after my own heart named Melis, aka @thegirlwithbeer on Instagram. It was nice seeing a woman in an undoubtedly hyper-masculine space (both Meatopia and the beer-lovers scene as whole).
The festival was split up into two spaces. One was outdoors, where nine chefs had booths set up for food samples, beer samples, and real-time meat roastings. The other was indoors at the Open Gate Brewery, where you could sit and enjoy a pint, some more food, and the mood music spun by the DJ. It's also where Guinness hosted a Roe and Co. Whiskey pop-up.
For starters, I tried chef Kwame Onwuachi's fall-off-the-bone short ribs, doused in fragrant African spices and honey. Onwuachi won a James Beard Foundation Award in May 2019 for his Afro-Caribbean restaurant, Kith/Kin, in Washington D.C. Not only was it dope to run into someone from my hometown, but Onwuachi's presence was my first solid sign that people in Ireland appreciate black culture. I heard nothing but raving about those ribs, which are a hallmark of black cuisine every way you slice it. (Literally.)
When asked about what he wanted Meatopia-goers to get out of his food that day, Onwuachi told me, "I want them to be inspired by the diaspora and all it has to offer. We’re using Ethiopian ingredients [and] Nigerian ingredients. I would say American techniques with Irish beef — so we have a little bit of everything.”
The next day, I took an afternoon tour of the Guinness Storehouse, a museum-restaurant-bar tourist attraction. As Guinness fan, it was cool get a taste of all the culture and science wrapped up in those 16 ounces of dark, frothy goodness. While the tour was super interesting, learning that Guinness was a key part of Dublin's economy or that barley needs to be roasted at precisely 232°C for the proper flavor wasn't shocking to me. What was shocking was Guinness Storehouse's Irish step-dancing show.
It started with a burly, kilted Irishman banging a drum and drawing out dancers to traditional Irish music. But next thing I know, they're doing a routine to “Black Skinhead” by Kanye West. An Irish dance troupe marrying their culture to Kanye — particularly, a song about negative black stereotypes and the distinctly African-American struggle — left me shook. It was the second, unequivocal sign on my Dublin trip that Irish folks really do value black folks' contributions to the world.
Another moment that really left an impression on me was when I learned Africa is the second largest market for Guinness, especially for Guinness' Extra Dark Stout. Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast are among the beer brand's top 10 consumers, a company spokesperson tells Elite Daily. And while Ireland has its Dublin brewery and the United States has its Baltimore one, Guinness is brewed in 24 African countries. While this is the result of colonization (or as Guinness' tour guide gently put it, the size of "Britain's empire"), the strong relationship forged between Guinness and black folks still fascinates me.
The Kanye moment and these tidbits about Africa lingered with me as I headed over to day two of Meatopia that afternoon. I listened to chef David K. Thomas, another African-American chef present at Meatopia, speak about soul food in front of a seemingly very mystified, majority-white European audience. Thomas runs Ida B's Table, a "modern soul food" restaurant in Baltimore. (Fun fact: It's named after black feminist journalism icon Ida B. Wells.) I also got the chance to speak with chef James Cochran, who runs restaurant 12:51 in London.
“The story behind it: I’m half-Vincentian [from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, near Barbados], I’m half-Scottish," Cochran explained. "I think it’s really important to talk about your roots. So every kind of style of food that I do on the menu really extends to my roots." One way Cochran does this is by showcasing goat, a key component of West Indian cuisine. Cochran described a 12:51 flatbread topped with pulled, jerk-spiced goat, coconut-buttermilk-scotch-bonnet jam, coriander, and corn nuts. Nodding to convos about food sourcing and sustainability, Cochran also told me how (British) folks can be wary of goat and will almost always go for beef, pork, and chicken. But, Cochran said, "If you respect any animal and the way it’s been raised — and treat it with respect — it’s just as good as any one of those meats."
I heard nothing but great reviews of Cochran's Meatopia offerings from my group and other festival attendees. (Personally speaking, I got seconds of Cochran's tender, spicy, crunchy morsels of goat.) On day two, Cochran's and Thomas' presence — and people's response to their food — reaffirmed for me how African-American and Caribbean culture are valued in Ireland.
As if black chefs being revered in Dublin wasn't heart-warming enough, the icing on the cake was pub-hopping and ending up at The Globe. For awhile, I didn't recognize any of the songs. But the DJ started spinning Beyoncé's "Mi Gente" with J. Balvin and it was only up from there: Cardi B, Drake, Azealia Banks. It was weirdly comforting to go out in a foreign country, and hearing the same rap and R&B I'd hear at a club or at a house party at home.
Dublin as a city or as a travel experience wasn't what I expected in so many ways. It was the little things, like how quiet it was, or how it could be burning hot one moment but rainy and nippy the next (peep the layer-able travel 'fits).
It was also the big things, like how drinking and eating are inherently social activities, and my trip to Dublin specifically revolved around that. Being invited by Guinness to cover the Meatopia specifically brought me out of my shell more than a press conference, a different kind of festival, or any other solo travel experience would have. And of course, seeing how much Dublin embraced black culture — not just one kind of "black" either, but the entire diaspora — didn't hurt either.