Last weekend the Gaiety Theatre placed a very pointed post on social media, addressing the 50 strong audience for their Saturday matinee. It read ‘to the 50 people attending today’s matinee at the Gaiety, please allow extra time to travel as there are 24,000 people travelling to Croke Park for the hurling’. It spoke quite directly to the abandonment of the theatre and live music industry in comparison to the sports industry, by the state in the time of Covid. The Gaiety is one of Dublin’s oldest theatres, with a capacity of 1145 people. Permitting only 4% of a venue’s capacity to attend a show, when over 70% of the adult population is fully vaccinated seems excessively punitive. It could irreparable damage to live entertainment in this country.
Nevertheless I am making herculean efforts to attend whatever is on offer. To date this year I have attended ‘Cruise’ at the Duchess Theatre in London in May; ‘One Good Turn’ by Una McKevitt in the Abbey Theatre in June and ‘Rogue’ by Lee Coffey in Smock Alley Theatre. The London show was almost at capacity. The Irish shows operated at 10% capacity. Hardly ideal but it was still magical to be back in the audience in the dark, watching the shenanigans onstage.
In some welcome news I have acquired tickets to see another show in Smock Alley Theatre. I will be going to the Firedoor Theatre production of ‘God of carnage’ by Yasmina Reza in Smock Alley Theatre which is running from August 23rd to 28th.
Leaving the Viking Sheds Theatre in Clontarf on March 11th last year, having seen ‘Dirtbirds’ little did I realise that it would be fifteen months before I’d enter an Irish theatre again. The dry spell was broken yesterday evening when I attended ‘Rogue’ by Lee Coffey on the main stage of Smock Alley theatre. Performed by the graduating class of the Gaiety School of Acting, I was very curious. Having seen Coffey’s plays ‘In our veins’ and ‘Murder of crows’ in recent years, I know that he’s a talented playwright. The director for this show was Tracy Ryan (whose direction of ‘Iphegenia in Splott’ in Smock Alley some years ago was a powerhouse of piece.) Click button below for next page
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.
On the second Saturday of every month I volunteer with a group that cleans up the Royal Canal. We pick up rubbish on the banks, and in the water of the canal. Dublin City Council has no responsibility for the hygiene or maintenance of either of Dublin’s canals – the northside Royal Canal or the southside Grand Canal. Both these waterways fall under the remit of Waterways Ireland, which relies almost entirely on the efforts of volunteers for rubbish collection. There is not a single dustbin kept in the sections controlled by Waterways Ireland. As I am a frequent walker along the banks, I decided that it was my duty as a civic minded person to throw on a stylish pair of overalls and a hi-viz jacket once a month and contribute to the upkeep of these lungs of Dublin.
Today marked my fifth consecutive month volunteering. In pre-pandemic times it was quite a social activity with many people participating. Since lockdown this has changed and it has become a more solitary endeavour. I possess my own litter picker; refuse sacks and gloves however, so company – while nice – is not essential to complete the task at hand.
Yesterday evening I was sent an invitation to join a private Facebook group for members of my secondary school graduation class. This June will be the 30 year anniversary since I did my Leaving Certificate and the organiser wants the class of 1991 to reconnect. The invitation to join is valid for one month. I have not accepted it and I doubt I will be doing so. Until I decline the invitation I can see all activity but they cannot see me. Out of curiosity I clicked on the link to the group – which now has thirty-three members (from a graduating class of 175 people). There was a number of faces I recognised; a smaller number I am already connected to via social media; a surprisingly large number of people whose names I knew, but who for the life of me I couldn’t remember anything about. Other names drew a complete blank.
As would be expected, most of the posts from members were announcements about where their lives travelled – from Limerick to Dublin; from Boston to Brisbane. It was quite a shock to see all these middle aged faces –looking well, but a lot more seasoned than the teenagers I remember. They were a fertile lot, my old school year – pictures of offspring abounded.
In the final weeks of January semi-live theatre is making a comeback in Ireland.
‘The Approach’ by Mark O’Rowe is being performed live at the Project Arts Centre from the 21st to the 24th January. ‘Happy Days’ by Samuel Beckett is being staged on January 30th at the Olympia. The shows will be streamed around the world. The seats in the theatres will remain empty.
I am currently engaged in an internal debate whether or not to get a ticket for either or both shows. I know that the Mark O’Rowe play would be worth seeing – having attended‘Howie the Rookie’ in the Civic Theatre in Tallaght before lockdown last year I was blown away by the performance of Stephen Jones in the title role of an incredible play. It may be blasphemous to say it, but I’d be more reluctant to see the Beckett play. Perhaps I lack the intellectual ability to understand his work? Having seen ‘Waiting for Godot’ in Smock Alley Theatre, I was slightly bewildered at the hype. Samuel Beckett is like the sacred cow of Irish theatre – a lack of appreciation of his work reveals you to be a philistine. I remain ambivalent about him. However ‘Happy Days’ is being performed by Siobhan McSweeney, who plays Sister Michael to perfection in ‘Derry Girls’ so she’d be the main attraction for this show for me.
As this strangest of years draws to a close, I am putting finger to keypad one more time to describe my travels in the time of pandemic. My final jaunt of the year taken before the second lockdown was imposed was to Venice as September turned to October. I will preface this post with my usual disclaimer. While traveling to, and while in Venice, I observed all physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing guidelines. I observed the fourteen-day quarantine period upon my return to Ireland – which as I have previously mentioned is not that difficult when you live alone. I kept this excursion entirely to myself again, not wanting to hear people’s criticism or judgement of my decision to travel. The only person I was placing at risk by my choice was myself, and for the sake of my sanity, I thought my decision was sound.
My phone beeped to notify me that a new pair of jeans were ready collect in Dunnes’ Stores on Henry Street. I had ordered them online four days previously to prepare myself for winter. The time was 2pm. Having spent the morning drinking tea, and exchanging scurrilous and libellous gossip with a friend in London I needed to take an excursion to get some exercise. I decided to walk through Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city on my way to the shop. I wanted to see the Mother and Baby Home on that street.
Sometime on Tuesday night, I woke up coughing. I was not initially worried. Even though it has been three years since I quit smoking, each year since – as the winter draws in – I get a brief case of the remnants of a smoker’s cough. Nothing like the hollow, hacking sound that cough mixture couldn’t reach, back in the smoky days – but a faint, irritating condition nonetheless. When after two hours of coughing it hadn’t ceased, I started to worry.