When a town shuts up shop

Picture: Maura Hickey



Irish Examiner, Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The closure of up to 100 businesses in Dun Laoghaire since 2008 has torn asunder the landscape of my youth, says Dave Kenny

It’s high tide at Sandycove as I start strolling into the past. A small girl is paddling on the tiny beach, despite the raw October weather. She’s wearing a padded anorak.

Two middle-aged women emerge from the waves like a pair of shrivelled, purple Venuses and splatter across the flagstones to their towels. Rainclouds are tumbling in over Dublin Bay and still bathers refuse to accept that summer’s gone. People swim here all year around. Generation passes its towels on to successive generation. Recessions may come and go, but Dun Laoghaire people will always have the sea.

The financial crisis has broken our town. Up to 100 business have closed since the boom-bust. Many were landmarks of my childhood. Today, I’m walking from Sandycove through the town’s main thoroughfare, remembering those businesses and what they meant to my peers and I.

The first casualty appears in Glasthule. The old Forum cinema is now a supermarket. Movie posters have been replaced with posters advertising deals on meat and veg.

The Forum was the epicentre of our youth. Live and Let Die, Star Wars, ET, Superman, Rocky I,II,III… all watched through a haze of smoke, over cardboard tubs of rock-hard ice cream.

The most important night of my life took place in The Forum. My wife and I went on our first date there, 20 years ago next week. The lucky thing. Now the Forum is a bland Centra, topped with apartments – a victim of the build-them-high boom.

Further down the road, I pass the door of what used to be a dress hire shop. I rented my Debs tuxedo there. I nearly had a heart attack when I brought it home just before the dance. It was appalling: all Liberace frills and elephant ear lapels. Not even the most desperate cabaret singer from the Noggin Inn would have been seen dead in it.

I didn’t have time to bring it back and can still the look of horror on my partner’s face when her parents answered the door to me. To this day, I’m convinced I heard someone say “Jesus, it’s Sonny Knowles”.

I move on. Across the road, my old school, Presentation College, stares dully back at me. It closed a few years back, just before the crash. Dun Laoghaire Tiger children, presumably, were above going to a non fee-paying school.

I stroll on through Summerhill Parade, where I kneeled beside a dying friend 20 years ago and past the People’s Park. I try to remember which front belonged to the Pierrot Snooker Club, where we played Asteroids and PacMan. Is it the shop selling Asian food?

I pass McDonald’s. It opened to great fanfare in 1979. I cut out a voucher for a free bag of ‘fries’ from Southside Newspaper and we cycled from school to taste this exotic new piece of oily Americana. Somehow, I managed to annoy a gang of Skins whose leader loafed me and stole my schoolbag. We later found it in the ornamental pond in Moran Park, drenched in wino pee.

The pond is gone now. So is the lawn bowling club it overlooked, with its ancient members playing elderly marbles in their whites. The trees surrounding it, where we swung doing monkey impressions for the bowlers, have been uprooted to make way for a new super-library. All that timber and grass gone to make way for more concrete. Just what the town needs.

The old Bank of Ireland building is still unoccupied. BofI moved across the road years ago and yet the buidling is still empty. I remember opening an account there with my confirmation money. I can still feel the thin blue deposit book in my hand. I ran up my first debts there too.

Between McDonald’s and Dunnes, there is a run of empty shops. I cross over to the shopping centre. A key scene in The Snapper was filmed on its escalators in 1993. The one where Mr Burgess shouts “I love you, Sharon!” You can just make out O’Connor’s Jeans Shop in the background. It’s closed down now.

O’Connor’s was the most important clothes shop of my youth. It had every style of jeans imagineable as it was dedicated solely to denim – a new concept back then. Prior to its arrival, my mother used to take me jeans-shopping to another place down-town which only had stock from the Bay City Rollers era.

I bought a pair of 501s in O’Connor’s and finally became fashionable.

I walk across the cobbles on lower George’s Street, to where Connolly’s shoe shop used to be. Connolly’s was quintessentially Dun Laoghaire. In the ’80s, people would arrive early at The Forum just to laugh at its advert, which was always screened before the main film. The same ad ran for decades, proudly ignoring fickle fashion and proclaiming the beauty of patent leather and buckles.

I got my first pair of Clarke’ Nature Trekkers in Connolly’s. They were brown with piping. They measured my feet in a metal machine that looked like an old credit card imprinter. Nature Trekkers were supposed to last forever. I saw myself splashing through pools and up forest ravines…

“You better keep those clean,” my mother would say, interrupting my day-dream, “or I’ll have your guts for garters.”

Yards away, on the corner, there’s a new toy shop. It used to be Knowles Electrical, which closed in 2011 after 47 years in business. Knowles was an institution. If it had a plug, it sold it (except for baths, naturally).

My mother recently gave me her old Knowles’ electric whisk. I can still taste the cream it whipped to fill sponge cakes for Sunday teas in front of Glenroe.

Finally, I come to the crossroads at Cumberland Street. There are more dead-eyed buildings here. The Cumberland Inn, once a landmark pub, is derelict. Across the road is the Dole Office. I remember the traffic between the pub and ‘the labour’ in the 1980s. I signed on there myself in 1995, when the Press shut.

It’s a fitting place to end this journey.

Dun Laoghaire is struggling. Towns across Ireland are suffering the same fate. The recession isn’t just ruining ‘businesses’, it’s demolishing landmarks and lives. Shops are not just places where you buy things. Alongside the shoes, jeans, books or veg, there are rows and rows of memories.

If a town has a heart, then its shopfronts are its eyes. Bright and inviting when open, dark and depressing when closed. Look into a blacked-out window and all you see is your reflection looking back at you.

It’s not all bleak, however. Recessions may come and go, but Dun Laoghaire will always have the sea to enjoy. And the ferry to Britain, for those who are young enough to take it.

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29 thoughts on “When a town shuts up shop

  1. Lovely piece, fills me with nostalgia……especially for your pricey shoes from Connolly’s. But why do you still wear your Bay City Roller jeans walking the sea front?? We do need to defend our town from the bankers, politicians and speculators. Well done David keep it up….we need a voice.. Grainne

  2. Really enjoyed that walk through the old town from a few years ago. I see every shop you mention as clear as if it was yesterday. Have been there a few times recently and indeed it is sad to see the derelict stores. Still a few remain including the Miami Chipper, Teddies Ice Cream still provides childhood memories of the Old Baths that have been lost in the mists of posterity. The same childhood logic that had you freeze on the outside in the outdoor Baths and then, with dripping wet hair, race out the door across the road to freeze yourself on the inside at Teddies window with a 99 cone.

  3. Thanks for a nostalgic trip through an Irish town David. Imagery spells “home” as I read it. You might as well have been describing any Scottish town after you took the ferry to Britain but it had the desired effect. Nostalgia often surpasses truth? Good Luck with your return journey in another twenty years.

  4. great read but i would like to let you know the maritime museum that was closed for seven years is now open again i can gladly say and well worth a visit

  5. beautiful piece..a great trip down memory line….sadly the ferry is even gone for 6 months of the year..and the badly needed jobs that go with it!

  6. So sad to read about the demise of my home-town. The Miami sold the best fish and chips and next to best was the Ritz. Before McDonalds don’t forget we had the Wimpey burger bar with Archie and his Italian brood running it. My brother ran the snooker hall for many years. My wife worked at Easons for some years too. The Adelphi,the Pav,the memories. And,as you said,there was always the ferry to a (so-called)golden lifestyle across the sea. Let’s hope this is just a blip.

      • No,sorry Dave, Nino’s took out a restraining order against me re the doll’s dresses!!!! Joking. Seriously though,I travelled all over the world in the good old days(the 60’s) but the best part for me was crossing to Dun Laoghaire on the mail-boat and seeing the Royal Marine sign coming out of the mist and the rain(it always rained). Meeting up with my mates’, all old school friends from St. John the Baptist in Blackrock,and spending a mad two weeks,hitting the Top Hat and the International(in Bray). Oh how I wish…….

  7. Really enjoyed the piece. The Pierrot club was where the now empty high end kids / baby shop is. Happy memories of the place. Indiana Jones game machine, dark and exciting place.

    Some of the places are not victims of recession as far as I know though? The dress hire guy retired? Cumberland Inn was gone long before Celtic Tiger arrived I think? So too the Forum (again great memories). And finally BOI moved *ages* ago and are across the road?

    Anyway other places I remember the massive jean store down near opposite Connollys? It was all decked out like a western and as kid I remember it had a go kart in it I was mad about.

    Glasthule wise as a former Pres student I remember Moore’s (where Citroen is now) sweet shop and Cleary’s across the road (staffed by two sisters and their old Mum) I remember Londis (now 64 wine shop). A butchers closed in Glasthule last weekend after 34 years (retiring)

  8. I think it has a lot to do with the upward only rents .its destroying the towns and leaving us with empty premises and phone shops…depressing(ps another government let down and empty promise)

  9. I enjoyed your walk dowm memory lane.I left Dun Laoghaire in ’79 at the ripe old age of 16 1/2, moved from Kingstown to Queenstown (Cobh). To add to the list of chip shops, one must not forget the LIdo on the way down to Eblana Ave. Where many,s a winter night we spent an hour over one cup of frothy coffee. I lived not Far from the Top Hat the house I used to live in on Cumberland street is now a a Chinese Take Away, where only 3 doors up the the street was the Fryer Tuck, next to the Cumberland INN/Harbour Bar. The town seemed much bigger back then, I had a short visit back last year, and was surprised to feel it a little claustrophobic. I much prefer the town of my youth, some things should be left as they are as they did not need improving.So much for progress.

  10. When it comes to chip shops let us not forget Abrakebabra which I worked in for a year around 1990. It’s still there – I went in for a veggie kebab a month ago when I found myself in the area. The video jukebox is gone and the interior’s slightly shabbier. Not surprised you didn’t mention it because no-one ever came in there except when they were too drunk to remember the visit next morning.
    I remember Easons too. I used to save up to buy a new Enid Blyton there every few weeks. And Woolworths where we used to get the fountain pens we had to have for school.
    O’Connors was too mainstream for me but I found a brilliant hippy top there like treasure on the top shelf which I wore for my 21st.
    I mitched school for a week once and every day I robbed a flake from Quinnsworth. I must’ve been the most obvious thief in the world but the staff took pity on me and never stopped me. One of the cleaners said she’d tell my parents I was mitching when I came in with them – I lived in fear for months afterwards during the weekly shopping visits to Quinnsworth.
    Ah happy days.

  11. Great piece, loads of good memories from my youth recounted here, don’t forget the 58,59 busses and the last bus outside Dunnells Marine Rd always something happening on it- daft stuff.

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  13. Great article although you wrote it a while ago I just came across it while I was Googleing articles on the Presentation college. I have been living overseas for over 10 years. Your writing provided a step back in time which really hit a cord. Well done.

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