Lufthansa Highlights Dublin: "P.S. I love Dublin"
Cecelia Ahern leans on the parapet, smiling shyly. “Hey, I’m not a model,” she says, posing for a photo on Ha’penny Bridge in the middle of Dublin. Two hundred years ago, when the cast-iron footbridge over the River Liffey was built, travelers had to pay a halfpenny toll to cross. The bridge, painted white, is one of the city’s most-photographed attractions today.
While Cecelia poses, laughing teenagers, red-haired children gripping their mothers’ hands and businesspeople with cell phones walk across the bridge. Some turn and look back, recognizing the petite Irishwoman who achieved fame a few years back for her debut novel P.S. I Love You. A tragic love story, it stayed in the Irish bestseller charts for months and sold in 46 countries. The twenty-something with the snub nose and freckles is now one of Ireland’s best-known authors.
The people of Dublin also know that Cecelia is the daughter of Ireland’s former prime minister Bertie Ahern, that her elder sister, Georgina, is married to Nicky Byrne of the pop group Westlife and that singer Ronan Keating is one of her best friends. But although the Irish always show an interest, they also maintain a certain reserve. “When’s your new book coming out?” a florist asks her. And that’s it. People don’t crowd round her, no fans scream hysterically when they see her walk through St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin’s city park, where she likes to meet friends. The Irish are far too down to earth for that kind of silliness.
Every morning, hordes of people make their way across Ha’penny Bridge, hurry down the narrow streets of the trendy Temple Bar district and past the boutiques on Grafton Street on their way to their offices. The Irish capital (population: just under a million) may seem very cozy with its small red-brick houses and colorful Georgian wooden doors, but during rush hour, Dublin is a vibrant metropolis. “My generation works very hard,” says Cecelia Ahern.
In the evening, though, suited office workers loosen their ties and head off for a good pint of Guinness at pubs like the dimly lit Whelan’s (25 Wexford St.), one of the locations for the movie P.S. I Love You. Or, like the wine-loving author herself, they frequent restaurants like Fire (The Mansion House, Dawson Street) at the heart of the city. This trendy eatery with its high, vaulted ceiling could almost have been a church. But the décor is modern: rounded seating units, abstract art and an open kitchen that welcomes all comers, romantic couples and businesspeople alike. “I like to bring foreign visitors here because of its signature fresh, Irish-style dishes,” says Cecelia Ahern. Fish cakes served with a sweet chili dip and rocket, for example.
Change of scene: Malahide, an affluent suburb of Dublin with carefully manicured lawns, a yacht marina and tennis club down by the sea. Here, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Dublin, is where Cecelia Ahern lives with her boyfriend, athlete-turned-actor David Keoghan. Cecelia grew up in this small resort town and is now just minutes away from her mother and sister.
She sees her father, the former taoiseach, as the Irish call their prime minister, nearly every Sunday, when they go to Croke Park Stadium (Dublin 3) to join
82 000 other fans of Gaelic football, a mixture of rugby and football, and cheer on the Dublin team. “I’ve been coming here since I was five,” she says. Cecelia Ahern grew up in the public eye. Perhaps that has helped to keep her grounded despite her fame. She doesn’t have a chauffeur or a bodyguard. No, she’s just a perfectly normal young woman who happens to be exceptionally successful.
Her first big success may have been a stroke of luck, but writing has always been her hobby, she says, and she has a degree in journalism, too. Cecilia has worked very hard since her first novel came out in 2004, and has produced a further six.
When she’s not in the middle of writing a book, she keeps a little notebook with her to jot down scenes and sentences she picks up on the street. “I like observing people, but the characters in my books aren’t real.” Cecelia sees herself as a daydreamer and likes to work at night, when she can immerse herself in her fantasy world until the early hours of the morning. Only then does lay aside her pen and go to bed.
In the afternoons, she can often be found at her favorite café in Malahide, Café Provence (1 Church Road, Malahide) with its blue-and-white checkered tablecloths and pale-blue timber walls, where she drinks a coffee and eats shepherd’s pie. Later, she types her hand-written lines into the computer. Then she carries on writing. This can go on for months. “My fans expect me to come out with a new book every year,” she says.
But sometimes Cecilia needs a break. That’s when she gets into her car and drives along the coast – the sea to her left, lush, green meadows to her right – as far as Howth, a little fishing village on a peninsula. “I come here to clear my head when I’ve spent yet another 24 hours at my desk.” She strolls down the East Pier as far as the lighthouse at the harbor mouth and sits down on the rocks there. Low clouds hang in the sky. She shivers, pulls a silver jacket over her striped T-shirt and gazes out to sea, lost in thought.
Her critics call her the princess of kitsch. Her books are all about lost love, about people who never end up with the person they desire. The book covers in Ireland look like those of poetry albums, all pastel shades and wispy flourishes. The author herself describes her stories as hopeful. “It was never my ambition to be famous,” she says with a smile. So why waste another word on the subject?