Centuries after Cromwell landed and about a half-century after the Germans bombed it, Mary Kate and I moved to Ringsend in 1991. The area named South Lotts is a small boxed rectangle with only two through roads, highly regarded by interloping commuters. Our street is featured on the scenic introduction to Fair City, even though fictional Carrickstown is supposed to be on Dublin’s northside. The General, In the name of the father and The Mammy were filmed in this small and quiet part of Dublin 4. There are no Dublin Four accents here, but rather Dublin or Ringsend accents.
Local pride is evident in the seasonal displays of flowers hanging from baskets and bursting over small window-sills. Some brick houses, some coloured and some like Vera Duckworth’s pebble-dash provide a variety and originality unequalled in estate housing. A natural social mix of young and old, upwardly mobile, grey-haired pensioners, widows, professionals and tradespeople has evolved over the last decade of the twentieth century—a unique and creative population, still heavily imbued with generation upon generation of Ringsend people. Many households can still trace previous occupants and the bloodlines of Dublin ancestors. There are few country people here.
Shelbourne Park, favourite spot of punters, is the latest representative of the upward, skyward expansion of apartments. At the far end of Ringsend Road, before it becomes Pearse Street, four different sets of apartments have appeared to change the skyline. At the north-east of South Lotts, the Pembroke Building precedes the ESAT Headquarters.
Our pedestrian traffic has increased recently, owing to the new Grand Canal Dart Station between Lansdowne Road and Tara Street. I saw a black column of serious marching-band lookalikes recently, each dressed in black clothes of gender-neutral design. They swarmed across Upper Grand Canal Street one morning in purposeful unison. What looked like disbursement of a regiment turned out to be office computer workers on their way to well-paid jobs in IT.
Lansdowne Park looms over Bath Avenue which divides us from Sandymount. Irish international events require residents’ careful planning if they wish to avail of their own disc-parking facilities. Mary Kate and I quite like the buzz of a soccer international, watching fans of all ages—but overwhelmingly male—pass by in their hats and scarves on their way to see the Boys in Green. Watching the team bus swing round the five-corner intersection with Haddington Road, to the waves and cheers of fans, reminds me of how lucky I am to have found my place in Ringsend.
Before moving here, I used to drive around the area at different times and on different days to see if it really was as sedate as it appeared. Then I found the street I liked best and opted for a bungalow rather than a two-up, two-down houses like those on Coronation Street.
We never met the previous owners, Mrs Kelly and her adult son, a wheelchair-user. Neighbours saw a sweet irony in the buyer having a daughter with a disability, like the previous owner. Mrs Kelly died last year and people said of her that she was a woman who worked hard all her life, having been widowed early. When her funeral passed by the house, I silently thanked this woman I’d never met for selling me this wonderful little home which I truly love. Since leaving my own family home at seventeen for university, I have lived longer here than anywhere since. Nestled as close to Dublin City as I can get, Dublin 2 borders us on the north.
Joan’s Laundrette, a favourite landmark, succumbed to the Celtic Tiger recently. It has been transformed into the ‘Good Food’ takeaway deli, which caters for the extravagant tastes of IT workers—with prawn salad, stuffed grape leaves and spicy homemade soups. The Dublin Ironworks shop didn’t last very long and rumour has it that it may be a café, the fancy coffee type. The video shop has been sold and a new Asian restaurant opened above the pub near the overhead bridge. It is not an uncommon sight to see a po-faced lorry driver halt just before or just after the bridge, realising that he has underestimated the size of his load. My reaction varies from bemused to confused, as I wait or divert with other drivers. How can the driver not know the impending height restriction posted on the bridge at easy lorry eye-level? Does he think his goods will have settled enough to let him pass? Does he think he can let down his tyre pressure to squeeze under the arched brick ceiling? Does he think the posting of 12′ 2″ is an exaggeration by a numerically challenged sign-painter, or that fate will allow him to circumvent spatial laws? Since men are said to have better spatial relationship perception than women, why does this not save the day? To quote two famous Irish philosophers, Zig and Zag, ‘It’s a funny old world!’
In 1998 I took Mary Kate, Tim and Sinéad to Paul McGrath’s testimonial match, on a glorious spring Sunday. Of course we got nowhere near the Black Pearl of Inchicore, looking on with a full house of fans delighted at the opportunity to display their deep affection for the great defender. The Garda band, the bright May sunlight, the perfect green pitch and blue sky created a panoply worthy of this talented and intuitive footballer. A boisterous rendering of ‘Ooh-aah—Paul McGrath’ echoed over him as he walked a lap of honour with his sons and swarming FAI officials. Neither Springsteen at Slane or Dylan at the Point inspired such heartfelt emotion as Paul McGrath at Lansdowne Road—one favourite and cherished day.
Over the ten years, I have managed to take change as it comes, philosophical about its inevitability, but our corner shop is up for sale. It sits across our road on the corner, only a few doors over- The owner, Josie, has worked hard, taking advantage of the passing trade of building-site workers and, eventually, occupants. She makes every combination of sandwich available, provides a counter for customers, and her service is faster than McDonalds (well, the Blackrock franchise, anyway—which must be vying for a mention in the Guinness Book of Records for slowest service!). Josie lives above her shop, like any proper shopkeeper, and opens just after six in the morning, six days a week, with a half-day on Saturdays.
Although broken into after hours and robbed during daytime opening, she continued to serve her ever-increasing customer base, earning her premises the comparison to ‘a little gold mine’. She used to work in a bank, is originally from the Midlands, and has lived in Dublin for years. Whether early morning or closing time, she is always cheerful and chatty, with a word for everyone, and of course the required patience for children selecting their penny candy.
Mary Kate likes buying her sandwich for lunch, knowing it will be made to her specific requirements. She insists on being served by Josie, rather than staff, and will dismiss their offers to fill her order. As it happens, this is the only local shop close enough to satisfy my criteria for Mary Kate’s safety. Twenty years ago, even fifteen perhaps, I would have been prepared for the symbolic umbilical cord to turn corners, where she would be out of sight. Not so, anymore.
But the worst is yet to come. On Saturday mornings, about 7.30, Josie would slip the Irish Times through my letterbox, affording me a morning of reading luxury without leaving my house. By the time I’ve finished it, smudges of sausage, fried egg, toast and tomato decorated the pages, as I devoured it with my weekend fry. Bliss, pure bliss.
Such Saturday mornings are numbered now, because whatever the new owners do with this two-storey property, its days as a corner shop are numbered. I have suffered the shock and denial of such grim news, but I have not yet accepted that such a useful amenity will disappear. The corner shop is a hallmark of Dublin city life. Some suburban-type areas still have them, but they are few and far between in residential areas.
Places change … Times change … People change . Progress … The Celtic Tiger. My little corner of Ringsend will be ‘shopless’. There is no place I would rather be, however, and I will eventually adjust, as always, and continue my love affair with sweet Ringsend.