The weekend began at 3pm on Friday when I left my office in the wastelands on foot. My destination was a palace of consumerism – the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. Anyone who knows me will be aware of my physical and psychological aversion to shopping. So you’d be forgiven for wondering why I’d choose to visit such a hellish place. Well The Mammy was in town for the day with The Sister, so we’d arranged to meet for coffee. They were only on a stop off at the shopping centre. Their final destination was the 7th Circle of Hell – also known as IKEA. I hadn’t the slightest notion of entering that offensive Swedish maze with them. It is closer to my house however so I thought I’d avail of a lift. Upon arrival I bid farewell to the family and wandered towards the traffic. I spent about quarter of an hour meandering around the car park, before finally exiting the grounds of IKEA. I walked in the direction of town. Upon arrival at a bus stop I saw that the next vehicle was due in nineteen minutes. Even though it was dark and rainy I continued. A night-time stroll in Ballymun was a novelty for me. I had never been in Ballymun before. Once notorious for its crime-ridden tower blocks, it has recently been on a mission to spruce itself up. I was taken by the smell of chip fat in the air.
On Saturday afternoon I paid a visit to Number 14 Henrietta Street. This house has recently been turned into a museum. A grand old Georgian building with four floors and a basement, it used to be the winter residence of Lord Molesworth and his family. They moved into the townhouse in the 1740s and participated in the hectic social scene enjoyed by the eighteenth century nobility. With the Act of Union in 1801, Ireland lost its parliament, and the Anglo-Irish nobility started abandoning Dublin to return to London. The house and the street became a fashionable address for the legal profession – situated as it is beside the law society of the Kings Inn. After the Famine of the 1840s and 1850s the population of Ireland was cut in half from about 8 million to 4.5 million. The population of Dublin expanded rapidly however as people fled the country for opportunities in the city. This led to a housing crisis. In the 1870s, number 14, Henrietta Street was turned from a grand family home into seventeen individual apartments. Fairly soon it was home to one hundred people. It became a tenement house or slum, where people lived in squalid conditions. For over a century it remained thus. Henrietta Street as a whole, comprised of fifteen houses. At the turn of the twentieth century there were one thousand people crammed into that tiny street. The slums were eventually cleared by the 1970s when the former residents moved to the newly built suburbs of Crumlin, Ballymun and Finglas. Number 14 Henrietta Street gives a very interesting overview of life in Dublin for the various social classes over several centuries, through the prism of a single house.
That evening I ventured out to the Pearse Centre to see the No Drama Theatre Group’s short play showcase which is called the Shindig. It involved six short, original plays by members of the group. They varied in length and quality – as such pieces tend to do. The highlight was the final piece about a depressed young man who subsists in a hellish job with a horrendous boss, and slovenly parents. He seeks vengeance. The script was excellent and the performances hilarious.
Sunday saw me inhale a lunch-time seafood pizza with a friend at Pizza Stop, off Grafton Street, before heading to the National Gallery to see an exhibition called ‘Constance Markiewicz: Portraits and Propaganda’. This is about Countess Markiewicz the famed Republican who was second in command at St. Stephen’s Green during the failed 1916 Rising. She was sentenced to death for her part – later commuted to life imprisonment as Britain decided it didn’t want execute a woman. This decision enraged her as she didn’t think she deserved different treatment from the male revolutionaries. Released from prison, she was elected the first ever female MP in the House of Commons in 1918. She refused to take her seat because of her Republican politics. She became the Minister for Labour in the First Dail (before independence) and was elected again in the first Free State parliament. There has been a major revival of interest in her life in the last few years. I suspect she will have a bridge, a train station or a street named after her in due course. Interesting display that runs until November.
I wonder whether there will ever be a museum or an exhibition to commemorate the Wastelands?