From January 2016 until August 2022 I lived in a flat overlooking the end of the Royal Canal in Dublin . Where it meets the river Liffey. From the balcony in the kitchen I could observe the riverside Convention Centre and a block of gleaming, glass apartments in the IFSC. Living on a corner, the view from my bedroom was different – the Laurence O’Toole church on Seville Place and the statue of Sherriff Street and Dubliners legend Luke Kelly. This was the point where Seville Place turned into Guild Street. If you walked from the river to Guild Street and onwards through Seville Place, underneath the railway bridge, and across Amiens Street, you’d reach Portland Row – from where Olympic gold medallist Kellie Harrington hails. Portland Row turns into the North Circular Road when you cross Summerhill. The North Circular continues in a loop for several miles until it ends at the Phoenix Park. These are roads that I know well, and which I got to know in great detail from March 2020 when the lockdown was declared and we were mandated not to stray further than specific distances from our homes.
In early December a documentary called ‘North Circular’ was released. It tells the story through music, of how the old working class communities of Dublin are adapting to a city being homogenised for tourists and tech workers. This sounded interesting. It’s a road I had walked hundreds of times over the years – even prior to lockdown, it was the street I walked through to reach Dorset street to take my daily work bus to the Wastelands. Press 2 below for next page
As the pandemic (or at least the lockdown) draws to a close, the theatre world is back with a vengeance. It was with great anticipation that I attended Chaplin’s Bar this evening, where in the upstairs space Judder Theatre is staging the one act play ‘The Great War’ by Neil LaBute.
Judder Theatre has been producing plays since 2018. After the two year plague, this is Judder’s first production since the world reopened. Originally its plays were staged in Doyles, before moving to its present home upstairs on Hawkins Street. The upstairs theatre is a comfortable and intimate space – the audience is like an observer in the room immersed in the action, rather than the distanced onlookers in a more traditional. For a play like ‘The Great War’ this is very effective.
The lights come up. A man and a woman emerge onto the stage and sit on the sofa. From the first words it is clear that this is a couple at war. Or to be more accurate, this is a soon to be ex-couple. In the process of obtaining a divorce they decide to bypass the lawyers for an evening, to decide among themselves, how to split the marital estate. There’s one, rather overwhelming problem however – they cannot stand the sight of each other. As they down hard liquor, barbs and insults are traded. They lament the nine years they have wasted on this broken relationship. Nothing is off limits. Bitterly condemning each other for squandering each other’s youth and beauty, neither seems ready to forgive or forget, using this meeting as yet another chance to tear a strip off each other.
It’s hilariously funny. Anyone who has endured a breakup will identify with the frustration and regret that is on display here – although perhaps not to the same vituperative effect.
To complicate matters, they have two children. How will the decisions they make on their future affect the boys? I won’t give any spoilers but what they reveal to each other about their thoughts and feelings isn’t precisely what the marriage guidance counsellor would consider mature or responsible.
The couple is played with relish by Gertrude Montgomery and Vincent Patrick. The onstage chemistry between them is electric – although you’d be in fear for them with the toxic atmosphere and brutal insults. Funny, sharp and with great timing they are a very effective couple in conflict.
Directed by Shaun Elebert this blackly comic play runs until Saturday at 6.30pm in Chaplin’s Bar on Hawkins Street.
When I went to see Bjork in the Point Depot, back in December 2019, little did I realise that it would be almost two years before I would return to a concert hall for a gig. I have seen live music in the meantime – namely at a trad session in Gellions bar in Inverness, Scotland in July – but the queen of Iceland was the last paid concert I attended. That’s not to say I have not bought tickets. I have bought many tickets, only for the pandemic to postpone or cancel the gigs. I will be seeing John Grant in the National Concert Hall this month, two years after the initial purchase. When my friend called last month to ask if I was interested in seeing Camille O’Sullivan, my affirmative reply was instant.
The Minister for Housing is Darragh O’Brien. He is a member of the Fianna Fail party. Its coalition partner Fine Gael previously held this ministry. Since 2011 Fine Gael has been in power. The two parties formed a coalition after last year’s election (although a de-facto coalition existed from 2016 to 2020). The housing crisis has exploded over the past decade since Fine Gael took office. O’Brien’s predecessor was named Eoghan Murphy – a man whose picture appears next to the word ‘failure’ in my personal dictionary (https://midnightmurphy.com/2019/07/03/eoghan-murphy-a-chocolate-fireguard ) . He was an elected representative for the Dublin Bay South constituency, which is the wealthiest in the land. Fine Gael clearly has its finger on the pulse of the nation when it appointed a rich boy whose granddad Russell Murphy was a swindler accountant who fleeced his clients for hundreds of thousands, to solve the housing emergency. After the 2020 election Eoghan Murphy was relieved of ministerial duties. Some months later he decided that politics was not for him. He resigned his seat. Prompting a by-election for a parliamentary seat in the leafiest of suburbs.
Some important facts about housing in Ireland are relevant here. The cost of purchasing a house in Ireland is out of reach of people on an average wage. In Dublin, the situation is even worse. Unless you are earning a minimum of 70,000eur a year as a single person you can forget about owning your own home. This is deliberate government policy – supply has been reduced to a trickle, while prices soar to help banks and institutional investors. Meanwhile vulture funds buy up entire housing estates and apartment blocks to rent at extortionate rates to tenants. Tenants who because they are spending 50% of their available income on rent are unable to save to try to buy a property. These renters aren’t burdened with tenancy rights of any substance. Every now and then a scandal erupts, and the government pretends to act. The housing crisis continues and purchasing or renting a property in Ireland remains a national disgrace.
As the housing crisis will be front and centre of the coming by-election to replace Eoghan Murphy, I thought I’d look at some the candidates for this seat.
Each year over the Christmas and New Year period, the Abbey (Ireland’s national theatre) stages a show with an extended run. These productions tend to be crowd-pleasers which suits the time of year, and also act as slightly more adult counterparts to the insanity of the panto season. For the past three years I have attended – ‘Drama at Inish’ last year; ‘Come from away’ in 2018; and ‘Let the right one in’ in 2017. All were wonderful.
It appears that life is returning to a version of normal. For this I am profoundly grateful. The drudgery of the past eleven weeks in lockdown, in a flat on my own, hasn’t been too oppressive however. I have been diligent about going for a brisk walk around my neighbourhood almost every day – within the approved travel zones of 2 kilometres, and later 5 kilometres from my gracious abode.
Since day one I have bent the rules slightly, by meeting friends whose 2 kilometre zone intersects my zone. We have taken socially responsible walks, maintaining a physical distance of two metres from each other. This was disallowed, but maintaining the spirit of the restrictions seemed sufficient to me. People living alone were being asked to sacrifice more than people in shared accommodation – whether that be with partner, family, friends or flatmates. Human contact – however frustrating it can be – is preferable to none. Being a person who was recommended to self-isolate because of the diabetes played on my mind. The idea of staying indoors for three months never seemed a viable option. Seeing nobody face to face wasn’t a consideration. As a high risk person, my decision to venture out, while adhering strictly to the lockdown rules for outdoors was at my own risk. It was a calculated gamble, but I was careful. Without a garden or any secluded outdoor space to myself I would have been driven demented had I locked myself indoors for the duration.
With a devil-may-care-Texas-playboy attitude, mixed with a hyper-paranoia about physical distancing, I set sail and explored my wonderful neighbourhood. Dublin as a city – and particularly the Northside – is now a much more connected place for me. I know which streets intersect with others; where neighbourhoods overlap; short cuts to various destinations. And I have taken pictures.
As we head to a further easing of restrictions in the next week or so, you can already see the city activity resuming. There are more people on the streets. Traffic – although still sparse compared to normal times – is increasing. More cafes, and restaurants are opening – takeaway only of course. This is splendid – although my affection for the Cloud Café on North Strand Road and Il Fornaio Italian in the IFSC restaurant is now unassailable – the two venues that hardily remained open throughout the lockdown, providing my weekly posh coffee and takeaway pizza respectively.
The highlight of my lockdown in terms of places, has to be the Blessington Street Basin. It’s an old reservoir that has been transformed into a nature reserve. It is an absolute diamond of a space, hidden away from too many eyes. I stumbled across it about two months ago. Since then I have been back about ten times – such is the peace and beauty of the place.
An interesting discovery is the realisation that those metal electricity boxes throughout the city have been enhanced by artists, with some lovely paintings adorning them.
These streets that almost felt like they were mine alone, are being crowded again. This is a good thing.
I have had a fairly limited but consistent coterie of companions on my walks – particularly for my Sunday strolls. Sometimes circumstance (and travel restrictions) throws people together. And it can be a wonderful thing.
It is apparent that over the last week an adjusted version of normal life is resuming. It may be linked to the glorious weather I guess. Physical distancing may continue (maybe not judging by the gangs of teenagers on the banks of the Royal Canal each evening). Covid is still lurking like an unflushable turd in the toilet bowl of course. So long as people exercise a degree of common sense, caution and human decency and hygiene, then we’ll all be grand.
Dublin – as Soul II Soul might say – is back to life, back to reality, back to the here and now again. For that I am thankful.
In a different world, a long, long time ago I used to go to the theatre on a regular basis. I had a highly developed skill for sniffing out early bird tickets, deep discounts and freebies for shows. I look back on that distant time with nostalgia and vague melancholy. I am being sarcastic of course. That was only three weeks ago. However it’s like another time zone from a planet far, far away. Continue reading Day 19: Theatrical reminiscences – ‘Dirtbirds’→
Judder Theatre’s latest production is Harold Pinter’s one act play ‘The Dumb Waiter’. It premiered in Chaplin’s Pub on Hawkins Street last night. I was in attendance.
Pub theatre – long a means of staging theatre in the UK – seems to be expanding in Ireland. It makes sense considering how prohibitively expensive theatre rental has become, coupled with the fact that most bars have an empty upstairs room that can house productions, and allows the audience to enjoy a few sociables after the show. Judder began life upstairs from Doyles on College Green. The new location in Chaplins is a more comfortable space and a pleasant place to catch a show. Continue reading Theatrical: ‘The Dumb Waiter’ by Harold Pinter→
‘The Fall of the Second Republic’ by the Corn Exchange officially opens on the main stage of the Abbey Theatre this Thursday. I have already seen it twice.
Late last year I purchased an ‘early bird’ preview ticket for a tenner for the Tuesday performance. On Monday however, as I was walking past the Abbey on my way home I noticed a queue winding its way down the street beside the theatre. That meant one thing only – the ‘first free preview’. The time was 6.15pm. Like a hot snot I darted across the road to inquire whether there were still free tickets available when they would be distributed shortly. The news was good. I had no plans that evening and watching the Monday performance would enable me to attend the ‘intimidating and bullying’ public meeting by Sinn Fein in Liberty Hall around the corner the following night. (This bizarre description of the Sinn Fein meeting was given by acting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who apparently believes that politicians and their parties must only engage with the public at very specific times before elections – maybe that’s why Fine Gael lost a quarter of its seats two weeks ago). Continue reading Theatrical: ‘The Fall of the Second Republic’ at the Abbey Theatre→
Some months ago I was invited on a guided tour of Dublin being organised by a group called ‘Dublin Decoded’. I didn’t investigate the event too much. As the people who invited me have impeccable taste, and I’m weak for guided tours, I suspected I would be in safe hands. Well yesterday was the date of the event. I glanced at the ticket. It was called ‘Dublin’s Great Lovers and Romantics: A walking tour of art and of history’, which seemed appropriate given that Valentine’s Day had occurred a couple of days earlier. Despite my devil-may-care-Texas-playboy demeanour, I would be able to enjoy such an excursion. Further details revealed that the two hour walking tour would be split into halves. The first hour would be inside the National Gallery of Ireland (the congregation point). The second hour would be in the streets outside. Continue reading Dublin decoded – a guided tour about love→