I was in the North Strand in Dublin. I wanted to get to North Brunswick Street. I checked with Google and saw that taking public transport would save me less than 10 minutes, so I walked. And I rediscovered a part of the city I hadn’t been through in years.
I walked down the North Strand towards the Five Lamps, a Dublin landmark that serves as a directional beacon for many a northsider. The lamp post, with its five lamps, stands in the middle of the junction of five streets: Portland Row, North Strand Road, Seville Place, Amiens Street, and Killarney Street. Erected in the late 1800s in memory of a Galwegian general who served in the British Army, a certain Henry Hall, the original water fountain with its four basins has long gone but the lamps remain. Whether the name comes from the five streets or from the five major battles fought in India back in the days of the old BE, few know and fewer still care. But the lamps are resilient. Back in WWII, three German bombs dropped in 37 minutes killed 28 people and destroyed 300 houses – and yet the lamps got through unscathed. Róisín Ingle wrote a lovely piece on it back in 2014 for the Irish Times – Lovin’ the Five Lamps.
From there I wandered off the North Strand up Killarney Street, just because I have fond memories of the Kerry town. Killarney Street home to the Irish Refugee Council, which, given the current climes, I thought might show some life but looked decidedly deserted. I turned up Buckingham Street Upper, a street (I was surprised to read later) that was once one of the poshest in the city.
Laid out as an ambitious speculative development in 1788, the wide new thoroughfare of Buckingham Street was intended to be ‘as elegant a street as any in London’.
It has it all. Georgian, Victorian, and twentieth-century bland. But it’s a far cry from what was originally envisioned. There’s a fascinating account of the street’s history on OpenLearn.
From there I hung a left on to Summerhill and stepped into another world. A bunch of people of all ages were hanging out outside a health centre, chatting away. A young lad who could have been anything from 16 to 36, depending on the light and the time of day, crossed the street and joined them.
Nuttin’. Jus’ lookin’ for some smack. Ya gahr any?
No lowered voices. No whispers. No worries about being overheard. I was invisible. I didn’t feature. I didn’t matter. At the mention of drugs, I had to stop myself from clutching my bag tighter or speeding up my walk. I’ve lived a sheltered life. I was immediately transported to the set of Love Hate and all sorts of horrible scenarios flashed through my mind. I wondered how much of a struggle I’d put up for my bag, if Beanie decided to use me as an ATM. I ran a mental check of the contents and decided what I could live without. All this in a matter of seconds. I nodded to them as I passed, smiling vaguely, and kept going, sauntering just as I had been before I’d heard the word smack. It took me a while to settle down, to get back into the rhythm of things and if anything, I was now paying even more attention to what was going on around me.
I was relieved when I saw Charles Stuart Parnell in the distance. I was in more familiar territory now. The 1911 monument by Irish-American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens stands some 57 ft high and is made of solid Galway granite. I was happy to see him. The eastern end of Parnell Street is now home to Dublin’s Chinatown with a host of Chinese and Korean restaurants and takeaways running along either side. I stopped for a minute and listened to passing conversation, not understanding a word of it. The smells were different, too. There was plenty of peanut and soy in the air.
I spotted the old St Peter’s Bakery across the road. This historic site is due to be knocked and replaced by 8-storey student accommodation.
St Peter’s Bakery, named after the patron saint of bakers, was built as part of an enlargement of the Kennedy Bakery complex on Parnell Street. Peter Kennedy was listed as a “fancy baker” as early as the mid-1850s on what was then Great Britain Street and later became Parnell Street.
Student accommodation is sorely needed but I hate to see the old buildings go. I was highly amused to see a casino named Fitzpatrick’s. Not Las Vegas or The Palace or whatever, but simply Fitzpatrick’s. Had I had more time, I might have stopped in and spun a wheel.
Crossing over O’Connell Street heading towards Ryder’s Row and Capel Street, the demographics changed again. Chinese and Korean faces were replaced by young, well-coifed Indian men in smart suits with electronic cards hanging on lanyards around their necks. It was approaching lunchtime and the IT sector was taking a break. This was all so different from the predominately white Irish Catholic Dublin I once lived in. It was a different sort of buzz. I couldn’t help but think that the Irish I’d passed on my travels were the ones faring the worst.
I walked up Capel Street, turned onto Bolton Street and moved into King Street before turning on Church Street and then hooking a left onto North Brunswick Street where one of my favourite buildings in Dublin still sits – the old Richmond Hospital. That’s on my list of places I’d like to live in, if my Euromillions ticket ever comes in. My head was turning this way and that to see the old facades, the graffiti, the history behind the broken windows and iron railings. I was heading to No. 32, the Elbowroom (billed as Dublin’s favourite well-being hub) to meet a friend for coffee. Young mothers milled around, nursing their babies and their lattes, chatting, waiting perhaps for a yoga class to start. More were meeting their own mothers and friends for a chat. And again, the changing face of Ireland hit me. The sheer diversity is mind-blowingly different from when I was running around the streets of the city, back in the day. [BTW, the bakery chef in there makes a fab cinnamon and berry muffin that’s worth going out of your way for.]
But it wasn’t until later, when I got lost trying to find my way around Smithfield Market, that I really got something to think about. I spotted this in a window.
I’d never really thought in terms of Ireland having veterans. America yes. Britain yes. But Ireland? Sure what wars did we ever fight in, post-WWII? Then I mentally kicked myself – it’s not about war, it’s about protecting and serving.
As of May 2016, approximately 7,300 men and women serve in the Irish Army on a permanent basis and 1,600 active Reservists.
So, yes, of course there’d be veterans. I’d just never stopped to think about it. ONE, the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women (Irish: Óglaigh Náisiúnta Na hÉireann) recently launched an awareness campaign which sees homeless veterans using tricolour sleeping bags on the streets of the nation’s cities. It’s a powerful image. CEO Ollie O’Connor, in an interview with thejournal.ie, explained:
The men and women we’re helping have a special affinity with the Tricolour. These are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and our next door neighbours who joined the Irish Defence Forces to serve their country.. […] When they joined up, they were young fit men and women. They didn’t put up their hands to become homeless veterans.
I wondered at the extent of the problems and then read that ONE provides16,000 bed nights every year between its services in Dublin, Letterkenny, and Athlone with almost all veterans moving on then to permanent housing.
There is hope. Public transport is a great way to get around; walking is ten times better.