Monday, 30 March 2015

A North Sider At Heart

Until I was old enough to know better, I thought that the boundaries of Dublin City Centre were the Phoenix Park, the Mater Hospital, Croke Park and O'Connell Bridge.  This has largely to do with the fact that I grew up in North Meath and the main thoroughfare to Dublin was via the Navan Road.   My many teenage trips to Croke Park to see Meath play.  Winning All Irelands.  The exhilaration.  

The legendary Sillan Tours, AKA, 'Roe Bus', was the only decent public transport from Kingscourt, depositing people at the church on the Navan Road, the Mater and Parnell Street.   A huge amount of shoppers and commuters from the Shercock/Kingscourt/Navan have availed of the bus into the city.  I knew that the bus had one further stop, but I didn't know then that the bus continued to a place called the 'South Side'.  I didn't know what or where the South Side was.   I had everything I needed within walking distance of Parnell Street.

The first time I remember having an awareness of the South Side was when I went to an AC/DC concert when I was fifteen.  Myself and my friend Allen Gogarty headed up on the bus.  Somewhere along the way, we met his older sister Adeline, who seemed terribly grown up and sophisticated.  I seem to remember a bus to UCD.  I was a newbie vegetarian.  In 80's Ireland, that pretty much meant spuds and vegetables, with no meat on the plate.  Adeline, was the hostess with the mostess.  'I heard you are vegetarian ?', she said warmly.  'I know just where to bring you for food.  Somewhere that makes a lovely strudel.  Do you like strudel?', she said.  I nodded, pretending I knew what I had a clue about what she was talking about.  The strudel arrived.  Filo pastry, what must have been pine nuts, cheese and spinach.  I thought that I had died and gone to heaven.  'This South Side isn't so bad', I thought.  But after we got to see AC/DC that night, in
The Point,  I forgot that this place existed and  I retreated to familiar territory.  

When I was looking for a flat in Dublin, I naturally headed for familiar climes, that were convenient for my my new job in Finglas.  My little third floor flat, on the North Circular  Road with its yellow woodchip wall paper and brown threadbare carpet.  I loved it there.   I knew every crack on the footpath between there and Phibsboro.  It was a great location for visitors, if you could really call them visitors.  Relations en route to hospital appointments in the Mater, my brother, home from England, friends availing of the convenience location to crash on the floor, after attending gigs, neighbours from home looking for somewhere to stay for a week or two until they got set up in Dublin.  It was often as busy as a train station and I loved it.  I could write a whole series of blogs about the people who lived in the the apartments, but that's for another day.

I loved the smell and the sounds of the fruit markets in Smithfield, before the area was refurbished, getting my grocery shopping on a Satuday and going for a pint in the Sackville, hidden behind Clery's.  Mooching around the fabulously tailored Karen Millen clothes in Clery's and keeping an eye out for a Sale Rail.  Arnott's.  The Italian shoes.  The handbags ! Everyone there always seemed to be thirty years older than me, but I didn't care.   Quality stuff that was not the run of the mill.  The Bargain Basement.   Jervis Street Shopping Centre.  Top Shop.  The Point Depot.  There really was no need to go any further.   My universe was complete.  

'I usually don't set foot over the North Side of the Liffey', a friend said to me one evening.   I didn't really understand what he meant a first.  It was then that I copped that he meant that South Siders were DIFFERENT and not in a good sense.  Really ? Feck.  How had that passed me by ?  I was so caught up in my little life that I couldn't see beyond it.  I felt a bit like the last person in the classroom to find out what a virgin was.  But, in my defense, this was pre Ross O'Carroll Kelly, so I didn't have him to tip me off.  

I later got a teaching job in the secondary school in Stanhope Street in Stoneybatter, or 'No Hope Streeeeee' as the students called it.  I loved working with the students, although I wasn't too keen on the politics of the staff room.  Iy was a miracle that many of the girls made it to school at all, given the chaos in their lives.  I liked that the girls who had been labelled as 'non-academic', or worse, could flourish in my art classes.  

When I started my new job in a local authority in Kildare, my mother lamented that my stories about Council officials weren't a patch on what my students would get up to.  I left Dublin with a heavy heart, the place of my formative years, my first job, my first love, life long friendships.  I am up and down to Dublin fairly regularly now, but it's mostly work related.  It's often a matter of getting in and out of there as fast as I can.  

Last Saturday,  I attended some Dublin Film Festival events for awardees of the Cine Talent Awards for All About Eva(shameless plug).    It started with a Brunch networking event in the Merrion Hotel.  All very lovely and grown up.  I found myself with a few hours to kill before the next event.  I made my way down Grafton Street, which was jammers with shoppers and buskers.  A sunny afternoon and everyone was in good spirits.  I milled around there, soaking in the atmosphere.  

But I could hear it calling me.  

The North Side.  

As I headed up Liffey Street, past the shop with the white sateen and lace puff ball communion dresses, I felt a new sense of ease.  Arnott's was calling me.   I could feel a warmth in my throat as I walked through the doors.

Mango clothes.  How could I have forgotten how fabulous you are ?

And there they are.  The Italian shoes.  Feel that leather ! Smell.  Divine.

Back on the street, a young woman is shouting 'Straaawwwbrieees, two for three euroooooo'.  I looked at her, to see if she was one of my past pupils.  She wasn't.  

Pity I hadn't time for a pint in The Sackville.  Next time.  


  1. Brilliant ! Aaron told me your stories were great ! I feel like I have found a new author I love to read ! The boom awaits

    1. Thanks for reading Sinead ! 'Author' is a big word, especially given the company I keep !!

  2. Thanks for reading Sinead ! 'Author' is a big word, especially given the company I keep !!