North Dublin’s Sandy Shore – 3

Cleary’s Pub lies in the shadow of the Loopline where it crosses Talbot Street. It is packed with the glinting brass and gloomy wood of the genuine, olde worlde Irish pub. With genuine passenger and freight trains hurtling overhead. I have stopped there on my way to concerts in Croke Park and in bygone days to slake my thirst after a hard day’s night in the Sheriff Street Sorting Office adjoining Connolly Station. Or even before the working night. The zombie shift could be tedious, but with hazardous interludes, so it was no harm to soften the sharper extremities of perception with a couple of pints before closing time. There were times too, in the wee small hours, when the Sorting Office would ring empty and hollow, the workers having repaired to some early opener to put in a round or two. I’d need to solve whatever task they’d set for me, some devious and booby trapped blockage, before sloping off into the dawn to herd them home from whatever watering hole they were hiding in. Grainger’s and the North Star being most likely.

Sheriff Street itself heads seaward before the Loopline, skirting the back end of the IFSC before crossing the Royal Canal to end off in the distance at East Wall Road. Our path continues northwards. A little further along Amiens Street we cross the line of the North Circular Road. Seville Place is on our right and Portland Row slopes up to our left towards Summerhill from where it continues on as the North Circular Road proper. At the five point intersection stands a notable Dublin landmark: the Five Lamps. This famous monument was erected in 1880 to fulfil the wishes of Lieutenant General Henry Hall who died five years earlier. Hall, from Athenry in County Galway, served with the British Army in Bengal and wanted his memorial to encourage sobriety. The cast iron fountain at its base provided clean drinking water, not available in the surrounding tenements.

The Five Lamps miraculously survived the North Strand Bombing of May 1941. WW2 was phrased the Emergency in neutral Ireland, but bits of war intruded. Three hundred houses were destroyed and twenty eight people died in this rare and brutal assault by German planes. Whether it was a mistake or a warning by the Luftwaffe we don’t know. Dublin had sent firefighters up to Belfast to deal with the aftermath of German bombings there, and Ireland’s neutrality was always slanted toward the Allies. Ireland remains neutral, though not passive, at time of going to press.

Continuing along North Strand Road, we cross the Royal Canal at Newcomen Bridge which is also the site of the first lock of the Royal Canal. The Royal Canal was the northside riposte to the Grand Canal on the southside. In 1790 construction began and soon the canal flowed westwards from Phibsborough to the Shannon River at Longford. The city extension of the Royal, as with the Grand, followed in the nineteenth century to link the Shannon with the Irish Sea. The Dublin Mullingar railway from the mid nineteenth century runs alongside the canal for much of its length.

Looking westward from the bridge, through the chaos of canal, railway and cityscape, Croke Park frames the horizon. The eighty thousand capacity stadium is the third largest in Europe. A feature of a stadium visit is the Skyline Tour. Way up in the eaves, it gives an elevated, dizzying, view over Dublin City. Croke Park has been the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) since its foundation in 1884. The major finals in hurling and football are played there. It is also, betimes, a concert venue. U2, Bruce Springsteen and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are amongst those who have headlined, and whom I’ve seen.

The Strand Cinema on the eastern side of the road was built in the mid thirties, becoming briefly a music venue and a bowling alley, before closing down along with so many suburban cinemas. The art deco facade was preserved and has been tastefully adapted as the frontage of an apartment complex.

Once more beneath the railway, this one also heading west, we continue through the dingy city outskirts to reach the Annesley Bridge crossing the Tolka River. Upstream, the river has enjoyed a pleasant suburban sojourn through The Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin and Drumcondra. But, off to our right, the murky Tolka seeps towards the docklands before taking a sharp left to join with the waters of the bay. East Wall Road continues straight into the docklands and eventually meets the Liffey at the East Link Bridge.

I worked in a factory down on East Wall approaching the Millennium. Planart made components for computers, bound for Finland mostly. It was a small operation, so I could follow through from darkroom to the final, messy business of etching. Urban spacemen in protective gear, the acid got everywhere. Not a place of love stories, so. Still, a young woman working production took a shine to the guy I worked with in the darkroom. I love a man with an accent, she said. Mac was from Arklow. I was appointed matchmaker, but such hints that I dropped, clanging from a height, went unheard by the Adonis of Arklow.

We argued regularly over music. There was wall to wall radio on the shop floor, strictly commercial, while one hip hop comrade was confined to the canteen for his aural hit. Rock music prevailed in the darkroom where I worked with Mac. The Cranberries were coming on strong just then. Their song, Zombie, stood out. Dolores Riordan wrote it in response to the death of two English boys in the IRA bombing of Warrington in 1993. Riordan’s enraged yodel fed directly into the zeitgeist. Mac quibbled with its political naivety, as he saw it. But it was a passionate vindication of light, and of leaving behind the dark, the heroic dead, and the persistent undead. No Need to Argue was the album, their second, released in 1994, and a global multi million seller.

It’s the same old theme
Since nineteen-sixteen
In your head, in your head, they’re still fighting
With their tanks, and their bombs
And their bombs, and their guns
In your head, in your head, they are dying
Zombie, zombie, zombie!
What’s in your head?

Dublin’s Circular Roads – 3

From the Five Lamps to Mountjoy   

Amiens St

Crossing Amiens Street

When we’ve finished hanging around the Five Lamps we head north by northwest along Portland Row. The route picks up some of that ol’ Georgian charm, much tarnished now by urban grime and shifts in demographic fortune. At Summerhill, we intersect with the well-worn artery connecting the city centre with Ballybough, further out to the north. This is Poor Town in Irish. Some other names in the vicinity are more optimistic: Mountjoy, Summerhill. But the feeling of Poor Town is all pervasive.

Summerhill

Summerhill

I recall sitting in a car in Ballybough back in the early nineties, waiting for a girl that worked with us. My companion says to me, apropos a dog balanced on three legs by a lamppost: “See that dog? That’s Tony Gregory’s brother’s dog.”

I’m working at Industrial etching on East Wall Road, smoking Players Navy Cut, sweaty and stubbled, jeans and skin stained with acid. Yet, if I were to scratch that mutt behind the ears, that would establish five degrees of separation between me and the apex of power. Me, the dog, Tony Gregory’s Brother, Tony Gregory and Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey. Tony was the eponymous focus of the Gregory deal in 1982, wherein, by guaranteeing support for Haughey’s Fianna Fail government, Ballybough would be guaranteed a tranche of funds. Hey, look at the place now!    

NCR to CrokerThese are the approaches to Croke Park, headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The GAA, founded in 1884, fostered a notion of Gaelic sport as a distinct entity. The codification of team sports was a recent phenomenon. Gaelic Football codified the traditional line of football as played here. Fielding (catching) was a feature, a high degree of physicality was allowed along with limited ball carrying, though kicking remained paramount. There was no offside, resulting in an allover hectic game. 

Hurling is akin to hockey, but more physical and expansive. The ball may be caught and carried and propelled aerially. The Scottish version, Shinty, is more earthbound but offers a slight international angle. Burly Australian Rules gives Gaelic Football an international outlet in Compromise Rules. Its success is debatable, but there are some good punch-ups so we won’t give up on it yet.

On match days approach roads become rivers of humanity in high flood. The huge stadium is masked by red brick houses. It’s an impressive confection when it reveals itself. Madeover at the turn of the century, it holds eighty two thousand and is the third largest sports stadium in Europe. All Ireland finals are hosted in September. The Dubs, at time of writing, have just won their third football title in a row. The Cats of Kilkenny have been lords of hurling for an age, though fading now. Galway are current champs.

There are tours of the stadium, encompassing the history of the GAA and an impressive sky walk where Dublin is spread at your feet. The history is deeply entwined with the Nation’s. During the War of Independence, Croke Park was the setting for Bloody Sunday, November 1920.  Following Michael Collins’s strike against Castle spies, the Cairo Gang, British Auxiliary forces and RIC attacked killing two players and twelve spectators including women and children.  Another massacre almost fifty years later would also claim the title Bloody Sunday. The British Army killing of thirteen civilians in Derry in 1969 informed U2’s song. Bono’s intent is stringently non-violent though.

I can’t believe the news today

I can’t close my eyes and make it go away

How long, how long must we sing this song?

I’m more inclined to visit Croke Park for the music. I once walked all the way from Crumlin with several hundred to see Thin Lizzy play a free concert, footing the bill for Dickie Rock. I’ve swam the streets with the rivers of thousands to hear U2, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bruce Springsteen pound it out under floodlights and soaring stands.

Chillies Croker 2012

Red Hot Cilli Peppers at Croker

Soft spoken with a broken jaw

step outside but not to brawl

Autumn’s sweet we call it fall

I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl

Crossing Summerhill we step onto the North CIrcular Road proper. Despite the occasional rivers of people this is no paradise for winers and diners. Casting around, I notice the Brendan Behan Pub. Once the Sunset, scene of a notorious gangland murder, local family, the Gannons, have given it a once-over and a new name. No chance that Brendan ever popped into his eponymous pub, but it’s pretty certain he would have had it been there in his day. The Hogan Stand is further on, and the BigTree, at the junction of Dorset Street, is a renowned rumbustious meeting spot for Culchie and Jackeen alike.

NCR Mjoy

Crossing Dorset Street

Mountjoy gives its name to the surrounding area. You can see the edge of Mountjoy Square from the North Circular. Mountjoy is the only Georgian Square that is actually square. The land was developed in the late eighteenth century by Luke Gardiner, Viscount Mountjoy, a banker, developer and MP (all the things we so admire these days). When completed in around 1818, it was considered the acme of the new suburban style. The great and the good could escape the cramped conditions of the teeming medieval city, for life in a Rationalist paradise. Dublin’s urban development was at the cutting edge for the times: long straight boulevards, rectangular sylvan squares.

By the end of the nineteenth century the district had gone downmarket. Sean O’Casey drew heavily on the atmosphere of Mountjoy in his plays Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars.     

M'joy Benedict Gdns

Benedict Gardens

By the twentieth century northside Georgian Dublin was in decline, the fashion for suburban development leeching the life out of the inner city.  Mountjoy Square was half demolished by the nineteen sixties. The situation was halted and reversed as Dubliners acquired more appreciation of their architectural heritage. Thanks to the work of the Georgian Society, founded in 1966, and activists like David Norris, Ireland’s stateliest Homo himself, Georgian Dublin reasserted itself as a defining factor of the city. Although there is a danger this is becoming a little too precious, it is a vast improvement on the near bombsite landscape of Dublin’s sixties and seventies development.

A hungry feeling came o’er me stealing

and the mice were squealing

in my prison cell

Mountjoy

Mountjoy Prison is sandwiched between the North Circular and the Canal. Referred to by residents and potential clients with some irony as ‘The Joy’. Built in 1850, it originally accommodated prisoners bound for Van Dieman’s Land. Such had been the condition of Ireland in the Famine years that they might have been considered the lucky ones. Built in the style of Britain’s Pentonville, it became Ireland’s largest prison, adopting a bleak, isolationist regime. Forty six prisoners were exectued before the abolition of the death penalty. Kevin Barry is perhaps the best known. He was hanged in 1920, aged eighteen, during the Irish War of Independence.

And the Auld Triangle

Goes jingle jangle

All along the banks of the Royal Canal

Famous residents include Brendan Behan, who was born nearby in 1923 and incarcerated during the Troubles as an IRA member. He was released in 1946. His play, The Quare Fellow, from 1954, is  set in the prison, taking place on the day leading up to the execution of an inmate. It evokes a strong stance against capital punishment. The last hanging in Ireland happened the same year. Behan himself was overfond of the Drop and his waxing artistic success was offset by declining health. He died aged only forty one in 1964, the year capital punishment was abolished. Still, his ghost can be heard whistling softly hereabouts.

Scar tissue that I wish you saw

sarcastic Mister know it all

close your eyes and I’ll kiss you cause

With the birds I’ll share this lonely view