How I got locked in the Irish Press (in more ways than one)

Press group 1995 sit-in 004 copy

The Burgh Quay 18: The crew who occupied the building after management stopped the presses. I’m third from the right at the very back.

Busking

Red tops: Richard Balls and I busk in aid of the Press fund on Grafton Street in August 1995. This picture was taken by a tourist who posted it to Rich

 

Remembering the 1995 storming of Burgh Quay 

Irish Examiner, 23 May 2015

On the 20th anniversary of the closure of the ‘Irish Press’, journalist DAVE KENNY looks back at its last days, involving a sit-in, a new publication, celebrities, pints, booze, and pubs. The dispute was a breath of fresh air after years of stagnation

“The b***ards are trying to get in!” The former Republican Prisoner raced through the caseroom and down the back stairs, cursing and puffing.

His voice trailed away as we sat, nerves flickering, in the light of the night-town reporter’s TV. I lit a ciggie, convinced I wouldn’t have it finished before the Swat team of security guards swarmed into the newsroom.

“They’ll never take us alive,” someone remarked, drily.

“Oh yes they bloody will,” I replied, fully intending to be first under a desk when the baton charge kicked off.

It was Saturday May 27, 1995 and the presses had stopped rolling at Burgh Quay. The Irish Press had been founded with IRA money and so it seemed fitting that former Republican prisoner, Gerry O’Hare, had gone down fighting at the back door.

“That’s the last we’ll see of him,” I thought. I was wrong, Gerry re-emerged a few minutes later. Management had not ordered a storming of the building. It had been sealed off though. We were now fully-committed to what would be one of the most bizarre four-day sit-ins in Irish history.

It all began on Thursday May 25, when our NUJ chapel went into mandatory session over the sacking of Colm Rapple. The finance journalist had been fired for comments he made in the Irish Times about the management of the paper, which had been founded by Dev in 1931.

The Press workers had laboured in a Dunkirk atmosphere for years, producing newspapers with meagre resources and poor pay (we hadn’t had a rise in a decade). Loyalty to the titles and each other was what kept us going. Rapple’s sacking was the final insult. No paper was produced that day.

Management ultimately refused to engage in a meaningful way. They wanted to liquidate the business, clear their debts and carry on as a company that no longer produced papers. They succeeded in this, but we weren’t going to give up without a fight. We would find an examiner and force Dev junior and Co to talk and walk.

The day after Rapple’s sacking, management ordered us to leave the building. We ignored them. Technically, we would remain at our desks, available for work.

That evening, I took my ‘cutline’ break in the Regal bar on Hawkins Street. I was depressed and scared. I had entered the paper as a copyboy, aged 18, in 1985, working my way on to the sports sub-editors’ bench. I knew no other way of life or work.

I started just as Hot Metal was ending. I remember the smell and the noise of the old caseroom, with its snarly overseer and inky men sitting behind tall, elaborate Linotype machines. I later learned that my great-grandad was the first Master Linotype operator in Ireland. Little had changed since his day. This was a world of archaic work practices – where you could be reprimanded or ‘chapeled’ for touching a page proof without permission.

It also had had its own language. There were non pareils, ems and ens, widows, orphans, galleys and Dragon’s Blood (Google them). Then there was The Stone, where pages were laid out back-to-front. The Stone sub-editor was not allowed to stand on the same side as the compositor/printer and so had to be able to read stories back-to-front and upside down.

Three months after joining, the papers closed and re-opened over a dispute involving new technology. Editorial direct-input computers had been bought, negating the need for the Irish Print Union.

A compromise was reached where stories were written on the computers, printed off and sub-edited by pen. They were then sent to the caseroom to be retyped back into the system. It was an untenable situation. It was also one fraught with danger, depending on the time of the evening and the amount of alcohol consumed.

On one occasion, a story about a famous ballerina “walking into the room and heading straight for the exercise barre” appeared as ‘Famous ballerina wa*ks into room and heads straight for the bar’.

There were also cases of the English soccer team “wearing the shite [white] shirt with pride” and boxers being out for something that nearly spelled ‘count’.

The madness of this solution was not out of place in a national institution with the emphasis on ‘institution’. The place heaved with characters who couldn’t have worked in any other industry.

Most of the milder nut cases self-medicated in Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street. Booze was central to everything. My ‘interview’ for copyboy had been conducted in Mulls and consisted of me buying the chief sub a pint.

Levels of inebriation varied throughout the week – peaking on a Wednesday evening when we had been paid in cash. Work started at 4.30 with our first pub break between at 9.30 and 10pm. There were strict rules about not abusing this privelege. I recall a sub receiving a bollicking for being tardy.

“You’re five minutes late,” scolded the chief sub.

“Well YOU try drinking four pints in only half an hour,” came the reply.

Then there was the hack who fell on ice, breaking his leg, as he walked to the last bus. The next day, colleagues reported that he had broken his leg in two places: Mulligan’s and The Regal.

I remember one evening going for drinks in the Irish Times Club on D’Olier Street at 3am and waking up on a cliff ledge on Killiney Beach – eight miles away – several hours later. A drinking companion was asleep and snoring happily on the sand below.

One particularly bonkers journo was renowned for eating raw fish (heads and all) at the bar in the White Horse. One night he was asked to hold a tenner while two punters sorted out a bet over a soccer result. He ate that too.

This was the world I knew – before the advent of mobile phones, social media and selfies. It was ending while I sat in the Regal on the second day of the dispute. At closing time, I went back to the office. I had suggested the previous day that we do our own newspaper. Those present, including Liam Mackey (of The Examiner), began to write and assemble the basics. I raided the caseroom looking for a masthead and other ‘blocks’ (graphics).

The XPress was born and continued to be published until after the All-Ireland final of that year. It raised much-needed funds and kept us in the public eye.

The paper cost a penny, but the public were generous and money poured in to support the workers’ families. It was sold in bars and on street corners: at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis and the races. Celebs queued up to be photographed in it: U2, Norm from Cheers…

Household names were quoted in it, bemoaning the IP’s fate: Mick ‘Miley’ Lally, Liam Clancy, Joe Duffy, Dave Fanning, Neil Jordan, Bono, Eamon Coghlan, Gerry Adams (when he wasn’t fashionable), the current President, members of the UUP…

Politicians of all hues lent their support, except for one ‘socialist’ TD who told our Chief Sub that we “couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery”. This was ironic as he was walking into a piss-up at the French Embassy for Bastille Day at the time.

PJ Mara dropped in a cheque for £250 (not in a brown envelope) and Tim Pat Coogan donated £200 made payable to Mulligan’s. Mackey’s Hot Press connections came in handy. He got a world exclusive interview from U2 for the XPress. It’s still being read online today.

He also brought Jack Charlton’s team to the back door to lend support. Steve Collins was with them, looking slightly confused – as was Jack. Liam later pointed out that there was always some confusion when Jack was around.

“How long are you here, Liam?” he asked through the back door.

“Five years in total,” replied Mackey.

“Five years?!!” Jack was impressed with our staying power, until it was pointed out that Liam was referring to his tenure as a Press scribe, not the length of the occupation.

Brendan O’Carroll arrived too.

“I’ve come to get the solution to yesterday’s crossword,” he said. It may not seem funny now, but it was hilarious at the time.

Looking back, it was hard to believe the support we got. Sky News came to the back door and our protest went international. There was even a letter of support from one of Russia’s leading dissident poets, Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

What made the Press sit-in different to other industrial rows was that the titles were still woven into the fabric of Irish life. They had the power to challenge at a time when politicians and the church still held sway.

We were white collar workers occupying a landmark building. Journalists are an inert bunch. We report on other people’s actions. Now we were taking direct action – and the public loved it. I did too: I was 28 and sticking it to The Man. The dispute was a breath of fresh air after years of stagnation on Burgh Quay.

The 18 occupiers would have given anything for a (literal) breath of fresh air. The roof had been closed off, so there was no access to the elements. The place stank of cigarette smoke, curries and BO. We were manky and one of our number had to be treated for septicemia after cutting his leg in the canteen. The joke was that he got foot poisoning where others might have got food poisoning.

Hot water was cut off. I showered only once, descending into the deserted machine hall to use the facilities. I lost certain parts of my anatomy when the freezing water hit me.

We worked on the XPress and were kept busy with various tasks allotted by the beleagured Mother of the Chapel, Louise Ni Chriodáin. Gifts flooded in and the newsroom resembled BBC’s Swap Shop, with tables groaning under the weight of food, booze, toys, clothes.

There was a steady stream of smokes arriving too. Tom Kitt TD even got off a flight from South Africa to drop in Duty Free cigs to the hacking hacks. Cork looked after us well: Murphy’s made a special delivery to keep us hydrated.

Sleep was always elusive. The newsroom was filthy and there was always the fear of rodent activity. I had worked with a few rats: I didn’t want to sleep with them too. I spent my nights on a desk in the subs area. The phones rang throughout the night and there were 5am fire alarm ‘calls’. The lights flickered non-stop.

The fatigue bred giddiness and irritability, but also forged strong bonds. Since then, I have always looked up, with affection, to Mackey as an older, cooler brother in the business.

On Day Four we were instructed by the NUJ to vacate the building as Labour Court talks were beginning. That night, as Sky News broadcast funereal reports from the back door, we barrelled into the beer. Despite our depression at the impending evacuation we did a chariot race on swivel chairs around the newsroom.

Friends and colleagues left Mulligans and serenaded us from the street below the canteen windows. We sang back. I think I croaked The Rare Ould Times.

The following morning, we assembled in the canteen and waited to be ‘liberated’. I expected a few friends, my girlfriend (now my wife) and others to attend. Then I heard the drumming…

a 1,000-strong parade was marching up to the back door.

I walked down the steps and was absorbed into a crowd of people who would never reassemble under such extraordinary circumstances again.

The Press closure was a coming-of-age thing for me. Even though we failed to keep the papers open, the dispute taught me to stand up for myself. Its biggest achievement was the creation of a single-minded entity in an industry populated by mavericks.

Our unity proved that, despite the outcome, it is always worth standing up to despots. Even if it’s just to irritate and embarass them.

Now, as I look at the industry, I wonder if we exaggerate the importance of newspapers. Our work influences and entertains while the presses are rolling but, once a paper has gone, the earth continues to spin and governments continue to govern.

The Press, like the Trib, isn’t even toilet roll at this stage. Would the public now care if the entire industry vanished overnight?

There are those of us who would – but then we’re still afflicted by the glorious madness of the Newspaper Age. And not one of us is seeking to be cured.

Press Gang, edited by Dave Kenny, will be published this August (New Island books).

ENDS

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Colm Murray: a mentor who ALWAYS cut it fine

Sunday Independent, 4 August 2013

Image

Mr Cool: Colm was wise, funny and universally loved.

 

July 1996, and a small, dapper man is marching through the RTE newsroom. It’s the early days of mobile phones and I am about to politely ask Colm Murray where he’s been. I don’t. It’s a stupid question: naturally he has been at Leopardstown.

He is pleased to see me. Colm’s keen, hyper-intelligent eyes always suggested he derived perpetual pleasure from your company. Even if you were barely holding it together and your  synapses were collapsing under the strain of a collosal hangover, which it was on this particular day.

I was a young refugee from the Irish Press. Tony O’Donoghue had created a job for me, sub-editing and sports-reporting on TV’s evening news bulletin. Our weekend team was a rolling roster of Tony, Colm, Anne Cassin and Gareth O’Connor. Gar and I were young hacks around town at the time.

Colm trained me, imparting his wisdom as much by osmosis as deliberate instruction. I tried to sound like him, thwarting my Dub accent; caressing and lengthening sentences, nailing words together to make them fit his unique, lovely delivery style. “Paris St Germaaaainnnnn today…. tasted their …. first …. EVER …Cupwinnerscupsuccess”.

Colm was unflappable and soothing. He was the work-mate equivalent of Neurofen to a partied-out 20-something-year-old.  There were times when he was like a Pulp Fiction-sized shot of adrenalin too…

On this summer day in 1996, I have finished putting the sports section of the Sunday evening TV news bulletin together. Everything is scripted and recorded, bar the Munster and Leinster hurling finals reports.

We split them and disappear with our stopwatches to take goal/point times off the TV and write our respective scripts. They would air back-to-back with Colm adding his voice to the pictures live, rather than as a pre-packaged item.

At 5.55pm, I am starting to get a little nervous. There’s no sign of Colm. He appears, a tissue flapping at his chin, from make-up and picks up his scripts. I relax. Until he asks me a “small favour”. Would I finish his report on the Leinster Final?

“What?”

“If you could just finish it. I’m a bit behind. I have to head into studio.”

“But I haven’t seen the match.”

“Thanks, Dave. You’re the proverbial ‘star’.” And he was gone.

Fear has now gripped me by the sphincter. I run through the corridors to the editing suites, hoping he hasn’t written his timings on a race card which might now be in his back pocket.

“Cut from the bottom,” I implore the unimpressed VT editor. It’s a phrase we use in newspapers and may be the first time it’s been heard in TV circles. “Just give me one minute of video. It doesn’t matter if the points don’t sync with Colm’s voice.”

The next thing I know, I am flying, like Joan Cusack in Broadcast News, towards the output room where the operator is waiting for my video. I fling it at him and, in one, arcing move he slips it into the player. Miraculously, the first report is just finishing and the tape slots seamlessly into the bulletin. We have avoided ‘going to black’ (an empty TV screen), the worst technical sin in broadcasting.

This was so ‘Colm’. It wasn’t that he was foisting work on me: he had a phenomenal work ethic. He was just flying by the seat of his pants. He knew, instinctively, that it would be ‘all right’. If he didn’t think I could deliver the video, he wouldn’t have asked.

He was the coolest man I’ve ever met. He must have just loved speed. In another life he might have been a champion jockey. His slipstream-enthusiasm carried you past the post. He was exhilirating to work with. But, God, did he cut it fine.

I spoke to Tony and Gareth today. They both loved Colm unconditionally and are heartbroken. My father – who retired from RTE in the 1980s (and tried to discourage me from joining up) –  loved him too. They were horseflesh fans.

Even though it’s been years since we worked together, I’ll always remember Colm as a lovely, warm genius of a man. He was professional and generous with his time. He was wise and funny. He made you feel like you were the only person in the room.

Later, whenever I bumped into him on campus, time would concertina. It was like we had just finished a conversation that took place 10 years earlier.

Colm, who was a teacher, could have turned his hand to anything, but he was – and will always be – one of the best broadcasters this country has produced.

Far more importantly, he was universally loved.

RIP.

My bloody Valentines

Forecourt foreplay: Mrs K says a resounding 'no' to my Val's gesture. Pic: Moya Nolan

Irish Examiner February 11, 2012

By Dave Kenny

Do you hear that noise? It’s the sound of St Valentine’s Day. It’s the patter of thousands of feet stampeding across garage forecourts to buy anorexic flowers. It’s the swell of minor chords on the radio. The squelch of self-conscious snogging and the gentle flop of cards on doormats.

It’s the furious twanging of Cupid’s bow. And the furious twanging of knicker elastic too (if those chocs and roses pay off). It’s a day of teddy bears and pink roses. It’s a day of … unutterable barf.

I detest Valentine’s Day and all its phoniness. My wife’s not a fan either. Not that I would ever gamble on her changing her mind about it. Each year I make her a card and allow her out of the kitchen for a glass of wine, before she does the washing up. (Only joking, missus.)

It’s a marketing construction, like Mother’s, Father’s, Grandparents’ and Crème Egg Day. It’s what’s known as a ‘scripted holiday’, based on what couples are ‘supposed’ to do if they truly love each other.

It’s all about ostentatious displays of affection: flower-laden women comparing the size of their bouquet to the women at the next table… men doing ‘romantic’ things they think will earn them points with their partners. I once knew a wally who proposed to his girlfriend over the intercom on a flight from Rome on Val’s Day. This was despite the fact that they had become engaged three months earlier…

Thanks to Hallmark, young lovers’ expectations are higher than a giraffe’s sphincter on February 14. Every spotty, hormonal teenager dreams that this will be the year when a genuine card arrives. Not one from their mum or granny. That this will be the year that they find their Soulmate. It never is.

I had a schoolfriend who was so embarrassed about never getting a card that he once sent one to himself. It was obvious it was from him because he had really distinctive handwriting. We used to joke that he’d go on an imaginary date, only he was afraid that he’d stand himself up.

If you’re dateless and feeling sorry for yourself this Valentine’s, cheer up. You’re actually luckier than you think. A 2004 study (Morse and Neuberg) discovered that couples were 2.55 times more likely to break up around Valentine’s Day compared with any other month.

Another study (Jessen and Jessen, 1999), showed that cases of suicides increase after February 14 because it triggers serious relationship disappointments. See? Staying in alone in front of Fair City doesn’t sound so bleak now, does it?

Here are a few tips to help you make it through the night if you’re single and looking for a relationship.

1: Drink yourself semi-comatose.

2: Rent War of the Roses, Kramer Versus Kramer, Sleeping with the Enemy and Fatal Attraction from Xtravision.

3: Men: spend the day with your parents and picture yourself in 20 years time.

4: Women: reflect on the fact that most murders are committed by the husband.

I still get a cold sweat when I remember some of my own pre-marital Valentine’s Day Massacres. One of the worst was spent doing a solo gig in McDonald’s. I was dateless and agreed to sing romantic songs to lovelorn punters as they munched on Big Mac’s and tonsil-wrestled. My wages were a tenner and as many Chicken McNuggets as I could eat. (It was the 80s. I needed the money.)

My worst experience was on Val’s Day 1996, when I was trying to impress my future wife with dinner in our village’s swankiest restaurant. I was working part-time after the closure of the Irish Press and living with my parents. Before leaving the house, I’d had a row with my mother, probably about leaving the toilet seat up. Big mistake.

After a nice romantic meal, under a heart-shaped balloon, I called for the bill to discover that I had forgotten my cheque book. I rang home and left a message on the answering machine. Five long minutes ticked by. Then another 20. People came and went. I noticed Pat Kenny arriving with his wife and being presented with a bottle of wine. Nice to be famous, I thought.

Eventually, my mother stormed into the restaurant.

“Here’s your bloody cheque book,” she said at the top of her voice, flinging it on the table. The room went silent.

“That stupid woman on the door,” she fumed, “wouldn’t take it from me. She made me come in here dressed like … this.” It was at this point that I realised that my mother was wearing her pyjamas and slippers. Furry ones. I had got her out of bed. People started to snigger.

She stormed off (silently, as she was wearing slippers) and I melted into my chair. My date had a murderous look in her eye. One that clearly indicated where she was going to shove the heart-shaped balloon.

The following day, a friend asked if we had enjoyed the bottle of  Chateauneuf du Pape he had secretly ordered for us. I told him we hadn’t received it.

“I left it in your name: Kenny,” he said. The penny dropped (this was pre-Euro).

Pat Kenny, if you’re reading this… you owe me a bottle of wine.

PANEL

I crowd-sourced some Valentine’s Day Massacres from Twitter and beyond. Thanks to all who replied:

‘I was pregnant when my boyfriend decided to pop the question on Valentine’s Day. I was feeling really sick but agreed to go for dinner.

‘After the starter, he pushed a ring box across the table. I told him to take it away. He looked shocked but didn’t move. I told him again, but still he didn’t move – and I threw up across the table all over the box. The couple at the next table had ordered blue cheese and the smell was too much for me.’ Jane from Waterford.

‘My boyfriend decided to put a romantic ad in the Irish Press on February 14, inviting me out on a date. The problem was that the date was a ‘couple of flagons of cider down the pier in Dun Laoghaire’. He even used my full name.

‘I still don’t know why I married him.’ Gillian, Dublin.

‘In 1985, I was living in New York and a new boyfriend asked me out to a Mexican restaurant. The weather was awful: snow everywhere. We both drank too many Margheritas and I wound up with sauce all over my face. Never eat tacos on a first date.’ Sinead B, Killiney.

‘It was 1990 and I was still in school and broke. It had been raining all day and I went out to buy a card and a teddy bear for my new girlfriend.  I stepped off the bus near her house and got covered in muck by a lorry. On the way up her driveway, I slipped into the flowerbed and got stuck in a rosebush. Worse still, her dog used that flowerbed as a toilet.

‘Her mum answered the door. I was covered in scratches, muck and crap, carrying a teddy bear that looked like it had been mauled by an alsation. She wasn’t impressed and drove me to the doctor’s to get a tetanus injection. I never saw her daughter again.” Robbie, north Cork.

‘I was married for three years and my wife didn’t get me a card. Instead, she gave me a selection of cream cakes. I’m lactose intolerant and get quite ill when I eat dairy products. The thing is: she knew it. We’re not together any more…’ Daragh R, Tipperary.

‘It was Valentine’s Day 1988 and I was on a first date in an Indian restaurant. After coffee, my girlfriend began rubbing her nose. I asked her if she needed  a hanky. She said, “No, but you do”. I had had the world’s biggest ‘gangly’ hanging out of my nose all through dinner.’ Gareth, Monaghan.

‘My ex sent me our divorce papers by registered post. They arrived on… Valentine’s Day. I thought it was hilarious. I had definitely moved on.’ Ann C, Wexford.

“When I was 10, my parents broke the news on Val’s Day that they were getting divorced. As excuses go, it’s one of the best for getting out of doing stuff on February 14.” C-D.

‘Last year, I went on a blind date. Over dinner, my new friend told me that he’s a black belt in karate. I said I’m not a very sporty type of girl, but I’d like to learn a martial art.

‘He got up from the table and started showing me some moves. Before I knew what was happening, he had me in what he called a ‘Cobra Chokehold’. 

“This year, I’m staying home. Alone.”

 

My bloody Valentines and other massacres

Forecourt foreplay: Mrs K says a resounding 'no' to my Val's gesture. Pic: Moya Nolan

Forecourt foreplay: Mrs K says a resounding ‘no’ to my Val’s gesture. Pic: Moya Nolan

Irish Examiner February 11, 2012

By Dave Kenny

Do you hear that noise? It’s the sound of St Valentine’s Day. It’s the patter of thousands of feet stampeding across garage forecourts to buy anorexic flowers. It’s the swell of minor chords on the radio. The squelch of self-conscious snogging and the gentle flop of cards on doormats.

It’s the furious twanging of Cupid’s bow. And the furious twanging of knicker elastic too (if those chocs and roses pay off). It’s a day of teddy bears and pink roses. It’s a day of … unutterable barf.

I detest Valentine’s Day and all its phoniness. My wife’s not a fan either. Not that I would ever gamble on her changing her mind about it. Each year I make her a card and allow her out of the kitchen for a glass of wine, before she does the washing up. (Only joking, missus.)

It’s a marketing construction, like Mother’s, Father’s, Grandparents’ and Crème Egg Day. It’s what’s known as a ‘scripted holiday’, based on what couples are ‘supposed’ to do if they truly love each other.

It’s all about ostentatious displays of affection: flower-laden women comparing the size of their bouquet to the women at the next table… men doing ‘romantic’ things they think will earn them points with their partners. I once knew a wally who proposed to his girlfriend over the intercom on a flight from Rome on Val’s Day. This was despite the fact that they had become engaged three months earlier…

Thanks to Hallmark, young lovers’ expectations are higher than a giraffe’s sphincter on February 14. Every spotty, hormonal teenager dreams that this will be the year when a genuine card arrives. Not one from their mum or granny. That this will be the year that they find their Soulmate. It never is.

I had a schoolfriend who was so embarrassed about never getting a card that he once sent one to himself. It was obvious it was from him because he had really distinctive handwriting. We used to joke that he’d go on an imaginary date, only he was afraid that he’d stand himself up.

If you’re dateless and feeling sorry for yourself this Valentine’s, cheer up. You’re actually luckier than you think. A 2004 study (Morse and Neuberg) discovered that couples were 2.55 times more likely to break up around Valentine’s Day compared with any other month.

Another study (Jessen and Jessen, 1999), showed that cases of suicides increase after February 14 because it triggers serious relationship disappointments. See? Staying in alone in front of Fair City doesn’t sound so bleak now, does it?

Here are a few tips to help you make it through the night if you’re single and looking for a relationship.

1: Drink yourself semi-comatose.

2: Rent War of the Roses, Kramer Versus Kramer, Sleeping with the Enemy and Fatal Attraction from Xtravision.

3: Men: spend the day with your parents and picture yourself in 20 years time.

4: Women: reflect on the fact that most murders are committed by the husband.

I still get a cold sweat when I remember some of my own pre-marital Valentine’s Day Massacres. One of the worst was spent doing a solo gig in McDonald’s. I was dateless and agreed to sing romantic songs to lovelorn punters as they munched on Big Mac’s and tonsil-wrestled. My wages were a tenner and as many Chicken McNuggets as I could eat. (It was the 80s. I needed the money.)

My worst experience was on Val’s Day 1996, when I was trying to impress my future wife with dinner in our village’s swankiest restaurant. I was working part-time after the closure of the Irish Press and living with my parents. Before leaving the house, I’d had a row with my mother, probably about leaving the toilet seat up. Big mistake.

After a nice romantic meal, under a heart-shaped balloon, I called for the bill to discover that I had forgotten my cheque book. I rang home and left a message on the answering machine. Five long minutes ticked by. Then another 20. People came and went. I noticed Pat Kenny arriving with his wife and being presented with a bottle of wine. Nice to be famous, I thought.

Eventually, my mother stormed into the restaurant.

“Here’s your bloody cheque book,” she said at the top of her voice, flinging it on the table. The room went silent.

“That stupid woman on the door,” she fumed, “wouldn’t take it from me. She made me come in here dressed like … this.” It was at this point that I realised that my mother was wearing her pyjamas and slippers. Furry ones. I had got her out of bed. People started to snigger.

She stormed off (silently, as she was wearing slippers) and I melted into my chair. My date had a murderous look in her eye. One that clearly indicated where she was going to shove the heart-shaped balloon.

The following day, a friend asked if we had enjoyed the bottle of  Chateauneuf du Pape he had secretly ordered for us. I told him we hadn’t received it.

“I left it in your name: Kenny,” he said. The penny dropped (this was pre-Euro).

Pat Kenny, if you’re reading this… you owe me a bottle of wine.

PANEL

I crowd-sourced some Valentine’s Day Massacres from Twitter and beyond. Thanks to all who replied:

‘I was pregnant when my boyfriend decided to pop the question on Valentine’s Day. I was feeling really sick but agreed to go for dinner.

‘After the starter, he pushed a ring box across the table. I told him to take it away. He looked shocked but didn’t move. I told him again, but still he didn’t move – and I threw up across the table all over the box. The couple at the next table had ordered blue cheese and the smell was too much for me.’ Jane from Waterford.

‘My boyfriend decided to put a romantic ad in the Irish Press on February 14, inviting me out on a date. The problem was that the date was a ‘couple of flagons of cider down the pier in Dun Laoghaire’. He even used my full name.

‘I still don’t know why I married him.’ Gillian, Dublin.

‘In 1985, I was living in New York and a new boyfriend asked me out to a Mexican restaurant. The weather was awful: snow everywhere. We both drank too many Margheritas and I wound up with sauce all over my face. Never eat tacos on a first date.’ Sinead B, Killiney.

‘It was 1990 and I was still in school and broke. It had been raining all day and I went out to buy a card and a teddy bear for my new girlfriend.  I stepped off the bus near her house and got covered in muck by a lorry. On the way up her driveway, I slipped into the flowerbed and got stuck in a rosebush. Worse still, her dog used that flowerbed as a toilet.

‘Her mum answered the door. I was covered in scratches, muck and crap, carrying a teddy bear that looked like it had been mauled by an alsation. She wasn’t impressed and drove me to the doctor’s to get a tetanus injection. I never saw her daughter again.” Robbie, north Cork.

‘I was married for three years and my wife didn’t get me a card. Instead, she gave me a selection of cream cakes. I’m lactose intolerant and get quite ill when I eat dairy products. The thing is: she knew it. We’re not together any more…’ Daragh R, Tipperary.

‘It was Valentine’s Day 1988 and I was on a first date in an Indian restaurant. After coffee, my girlfriend began rubbing her nose. I asked her if she needed  a hanky. She said, “No, but you do”. I had had the world’s biggest ‘gangly’ hanging out of my nose all through dinner.’ Gareth, Monaghan.

‘My ex sent me our divorce papers by registered post. They arrived on… Valentine’s Day. I thought it was hilarious. I had definitely moved on.’ Ann C, Wexford.

“When I was 10, my parents broke the news on Val’s Day that they were getting divorced. As excuses go, it’s one of the best for getting out of doing stuff on February 14.” C-D.

‘Last year, I went on a blind date. Over dinner, my new friend told me that he’s a black belt in karate. I said I’m not a very sporty type of girl, but I’d like to learn a martial art.

‘He got up from the table and started showing me some moves. Before I knew what was happening, he had me in what he called a ‘Cobra Chokehold’. 

“This year, I’m staying home. Alone.”

 

Things we learned in 2012…

A whole lotta Rosie: Ms Davison got her boobs out for the Germans, but her Playboy shoot was overshadowed by Kate Middleton’s baps being snapped by a pap

By Dave Kenny

Irish Examiner, December 29, 2012

Another year, another notch tightened on the belt. So what did we learn in 2012? Dave Kenny reviews a year which saw two Quinns behind bars, less of us drinking in bars and one Irishwoman raising the bar for Irish athleticism…

We learned that …

A €100k wedding cake is (literally) a moveable feast.

In September, as the good people of Cavan rallied for Sean Quinn and his family, it was reported that the clan had spent €100,000 on a wedding cake.

The spectacular caca milis was flown in from New York for the 2007 nuptials of Sean’s daughter, Ciara. Although Sean was worth €4.6bn at the time, the €250-a-slice cake was charged to a subsidiary of the Quinn Group.

Have the people of Cavan ever heard the phrase ‘let them eat cake’?

No-one could tell ’em like Frank Carson, who passed away in March.

 “A man goes into a chemist and says: ‘Have you got any Viagra?’ ‘Do you have a prescription?’ asks the assistant. ‘No,’ he replies, ‘But I’ve got a photograph of the wife’.”

That the printed word is DOOMED.

2012 saw Encyclopaedia Brittanica publish its last printed edition. More than 7m sets have been sold since 1768. Thousands of unemployed door-to-door salesmen are now out on the streets. Actually, that’s where you normally find them, isn’t it?

We learned that the printed word is alive and thriving in Aengus O Snodaigh’s office.

In February, The Sinn Fein TD became a laughing (paper) stock when he admitted using €50,000 worth of Dail printer cartridges over a two-year period.

‘Inkgate’ earned the prolific leafleteer the sobriquet of  ‘The Wolfe Toner’. One commentator summed it up musically. All together now: “Come out ye blackened hands, come out and type me like a man…”

That northern radio presenters are an innocent bunch.

In November, BBC Radio Ulster’s, Karen Patterson, had to apologise for reading out a prank text about Jimmy Savile.

It said: “I wish everyone would stop criticising Jimmy Savile. He was a nice man. When I was eight he fixed it for me to milk a cow blind-folded.”

That Charlie Haughey was the Weaker Link when he tried to grope a TV presenter.

In October, Anne Robinson told The Guardian that CJ had tried it on with her in 1969.

“I like to imagine he went to his grave with my bruises on his hands after he tried to grope me,” she said. So Charlie came out of the Arms Trial unscathed in 1969, but didn’t fare so well in the Hands Trial…

We learned nothing new about Katie Taylor.

We always knew she was going to make us proud at the Olympics. We did learn, however, that people who abhorred women’s boxing could change their views overnight when there was a gold medal involved.

See you down at the National Stadium?

That we’re rubbish at soccer, but good at making money from it.

After an embarassing Euro 2012, we learned that FAI boss, John Delaney, was taking a 10pc pay cut. He now earns a mere €360,000. That’s €160,000 more than the Taoiseach.

What’s really impressive about John’s salary is that it’s bigger than the combined wages of the Spanish and Italian soccer chiefs. What a world-beater he is.

We make the Germans laugh.

We had a risible Euro 2012, but Ireland’s fans still stole the show with their trademark good humour. A group  from Limerick made headlines worldwide after they unveiled a Tricolour emblazoned with the words ‘Angela Merkel Thinks we’re at Work’.

When the boys got home the German ambassador had them around to the embassy. And they returned unharmed. Who says the Jerries have no sense of humour?

We make the English laugh.

In May, Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs Brown’ Boys stumped the critics and won Best Sitcom at the Baftas. Were the Brits laughing at us or with us?

We have oil fields and are rich beyond our wildest dreams.

The waters off Cork and Dublin are awash with the black stuff. Hurrah! Hump off, Troika, we’re saved!

Actually, we’re not. Ray Burke, a man you wouldn’t trust with his own wallet, signed away our oil rights years ago. Get back in the dole queue, Paddy.

We learned to understand Dublinese.

Thanks to Love/Hate, you can’t walk into a posh pub in Montenotti or Dalkey these days without hearing some yuppy attempting to talk like Nidge or Frano.

 “Gis a bleedin’ pint of Pinot Grigio or I’ll bleedin’ burst youse, youse geebags, youse.”

‘Geebag’, by the way, is Dublinese for ‘windbag’ (from the Irish ‘gaoth/wind + bag’). Honestly.

That pop stars, like property bubbles, can go pop too

In June, Westlife’s Shane Filan was declared bankrupt in England after his property development company (which is based here) went into receivership. Shane filed in England. This meant that his business wings have been clipped for just one year, as opposed to three-plus.

We also learned that he’s a headline writer’s dream. Shane’s ‘Filan’ for bankruptcy. Too easy.

We learned just how much we loved Maeve Binchy.

Fans from around the world attended the author’s funeral in Dublin in August. The only flowers were a spray of special roses placed on her coffin called ‘Rosa Gordon Snell’. Maeve had had the variety named after her husband as a gift.

If that’s not true love…

We learned just how much we loved Barney McKenna.

Barney passed away in April, leaving a banjo-shaped void in Irish folk music. His death marked the end of The Dubliners after 50 years on the road.

He’s now skulling pints with Ronnie and Luke in God’s saloon bar. And probably giving out about the 10c price hike.

That beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

China’s People’s Daily newspaper ran a mammoth photo spread of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un after a US website declared him The Sexiest Man Alive for 2012.

 “With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-born heart-throb is every woman’s dream come true,” the paper quoted the website as saying. There were a few red faces when it was later pointed out that the source quoted was the satirical, The Onion website.

That timing is everything when you’re flashing your boobs.

Unfortunately for Rosanna Davison, her ‘tasteful’ shoot for German Playboy was overshadowed by the brouhaha over Kate Middleton’s baps being snapped by a pap.

Worse still for Rosie, Prince Harry then got in on the act and appeared butt naked in a Vegas hotel room. Poor Rosanna, her ‘flash’ turned out to be just a flash in the pan.

That Mick Wallace has a neck like a jockey’s undercarriage.

Wallace TD (Tax Dodger) became everybody’s favourite Pink Pariah when he admitted committing VAT fraud during 2008 and 2009.

Then there was the revelation that, while he was in trouble with the taxman, he ‘sold’ his €500k Italian vineyard to his brother. He still gets to visit it, of course. Mick’s not fond of VAT, apparently, unless it’s a vat of Italian wine.

Mick surpassed himself  in October, however, when he told RTÉ that he once “threatened to hire a hitman to recover an IR£20,000 debt from a building firm”. It’s time he bit the bullet himself.

That, in December, we wouldn’t be able to remember who Mary Davis was.

Clue: she ran against Gay Mitchell (remember him?) and others in a big election during the summer.

That Twink just won’t zip up her gob about her lovelife.

November saw the launch of the ‘entertainer’s’ autobiography, detailing (yawn) the break-up of her marriage. The Sun ran extracts and its readers were treated to the nightmare vision of Twink wrestling in the snow with a ski instructor named ‘Willie’. In terms of sexiness, it’s up there with listening to your mother talk about the night you were conceived.

 “In a weird way, I am writing this book for the women of Ireland,” says Twink. Which begs the question: ‘why?’

That Monday nights won’t be the same without Bill Cullen.

TV3’s ‘The Apprentice’ has been scrapped , his car dealership is up the Swanee, and poor Bill is down to the last of his penny apples.

Bounce back Bill, the country needs you.

We learned that Irishwomen like porn almost as much as teenage boys.

Fifty Shades of Grey, combined with the anonymity of the Kindle, meant that Irish mammies could finally do the shopping, drop the kids off, get the bus to work, and read about bondage all at the same time.

Is there any greater proof that women are better multi-taskers than men?

We learned that rats really do desert sinking ships (1).

In January, skipper Francesco Schettino abandoned the Costa Concordia after it ran aground. Thirty two lives were lost.

Captain Chicken now plans to reveal “the shocking truth” of what really happened that night in a book he’s writing. Initial reports didn’t make it clear what he would do with the profits from his book. You can’t buy a pair of goolies, can you?

We learned that rats really do desert sinking ships (2). Did we mention Peter Darragh Quinn fled across the border to evade a garda warrant?

We also learned that… Dr James Reilly has the bedside manner of a grizzly bear with piles (ask Roisin Shortall). He also has a huge mansion in Moneygall which he and his wife hire out for weddings… while receiving tax breaks for its maintenance.

We learned that the wife of Our Glorious Deputy Leader, Eamon Gilmore, is to get a new job worth at least €92,000 in Ruairi Quinn’s department when her current post with the VEC is abolished next year. No, Eamon had absolutely nothing to do with it.

That property tax enforcer, Phil Hogan, couldn’t stand the heat of the Budget… but he could stand the heat of Qatar. While we were crying into our empty wine glasses, Phil was photographed socialising in a hotel bar. The trip was expected to cost €30,000. That’s enough to reverse the €325 cut to the respite carer’s grant for 92 families.

We learned that Seanie Fitz is still free to play golf. That the US bankruptcy trial of his Anglo colleague, David Drumm, has been postponed by five months to the end of June 2013. That, basically, the wheels of justice move slower for rogue bankers than they do for you and I.

That the days of wine and roses are truly over. Sod the roses, why did Noonan have to  tack an extra euro on our beloved plonk?

If 2012 taught us anything, it was this: that nothing ever changes on this damp little rock in the Atlantic. When it comes to politics, money and natural justice, the Irish still have a lot to learn.

 

 

Celtic Tigger: how Brown Bag and Co are getting the world animated

From Oscar nods to BAFTA nominations, Irish animation is going through a golden age. Dave Kenny spends the day with its ‘poster boys’

Irish Examiner, 10 November 2012

Image

Noddy has a murderous look in his eye. Years of tolerating Big Ears jokes, and driving a car that’s clearly too small for him, have taken their toll on his sanity. He’s snapped. The butcher’s knife in his right hand is poised to strike the retreating pig, Olivia.

She trails a skeletal arm and grimaces. Noddy is Toytown’s Freddie Krueger and this is ‘Nightmare on Elf Street’.

“Maybe we should clean that up before we take the pictures,” Cathal Gaffney advises our photographer. It’s the day after Hallowe’en and some wag has doctored the cardboard cut-outs that hang on the foyer wall of Brown Bag Film’s Dublin HQ.

I’m here to spend a day with the poster boys of Ireland’s world-beating animation industry. If first impressions are anything to go by, it’s going to be fun.

“They’re calling the animation boom ‘The Celtic Tigger’,” laughs studio CEO, Cathal. “I hope it’s not prescient…”

He needn’t worry. The Irish animation industry shows no signs of slowing down. It’s exploded over the past five years and Brown Bag keep throwing fuel on the flames. Last week, they announced that they are making their first feature film. The week before, that they have recreated Peter Rabbit for the BBC. The week before that, that they – and Boulder Media – have been nominated for Emmys.

It’s not all Brown Bag, though. Earlier this year, JAM Media won the Producer of the Year, and Monster Entertainment won European Investor/Distributor of the Year at Cartoon Forum 2012. Irish animators have been nominated for every major gong including four Oscars, four Baftas, and eight Emmys. Irish-made series are being watched by millions of kids globally.

Some of those top-grossing shows include: Doc McStuffins (Brown Bag, Disney Channel, currently the No1 pre-school show in the US); The Happy Hugglemonsters (Brown Bag, Disney, broadcast in 150 countries); Octonauts (Brown Bag, BBC); Roy (Jam Media, BBC); Picme (Jam, BBC, broadcast in 95 countries); Baby Jake (Jam, BBC); Skunk Fu! (Telegael/Cartoon Saloon, BBC/Cartoon Network, sold to 120 countries); Dive Olly Dive (Telegael); Abadas (Kavaleer, BBC); The Amazing World of  Gumball (Boulder Media, Cartoon Network).

The industry is now a central component of our digital and creative economy.  The latest figures, for 2011, show that Irish studios employ upwards of 2,321 people.

€110m was spent on animation productions here last year. €23m on Irish labour costs. The industry is entirely Irish-owned and, as it’s 100pc export-led, has unlimited potential for growth.

Andrew Fitzpatrick, veteran former head of Don Bluth Entertainment and now MD of brand management company, Monster Entertainment, has watched the industry skyrocket.

“When I got involved in the 1980s, there were just two companies producing animation here: Emerald City and Sullivan Studios, which eventually became Don Bluth Entertainment. Now, there are more people working in animation in Ireland than there are in Germany.

“The industry is much stronger now as it’s diverse. It doesn’t depend on one player and the companies involved span feature film, TV, games and commercials. Many of them own the intellectual property (IP) rights to their own original content, which can lead to long-term financial strength.”

Ireland’s success rests with Section 481, which gives generous tax breaks to investors. Andrew believes that retaining the incentive is vital for the future of Irish animation.

“Even though our industry is healthy, we’re likely to face competition from improved incentives in places like the UK. Then there’s the threat of low cost locations such as India and China. We need to ensure that our incentives and cost base remain competitive.”

The threat of cheaper competition coming from abroad doesn’t faze Brown Bag co-founder, Cathal.

“Obviously it’s a consideration for us, but we’ve positioned ourselves as a niche player at the very high end of quality 3D animation. There are not that many companies in the world that have the same infrastructure and expertise as us.

“We’re the premier producer of quality 3D TV animation for kids. Doc McStuffins is the number one preschool show in the US. It’s taken Dora the Explorer off the top spot.”

It’s taken a long time for Brown Bag to get where they are. The studio was founded in 1994 by Cathal and Darragh ‘Doc’ O’Connell. They now employ 150 people and have worked with the world’s biggest entertainment names, including Disney, Nickelodeon, BBC and Silvergate Media.

In 2002 they received thir first Oscar nomination, for Give Up Yer Aul Sins, followed by their second in 2010 for Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty. They have Bafta, Ifta and Emmy nominations for The Octonauts and their TV shows air in 150 countries.

Not bad for two students who dropped out of animation college to pursue their dream.

Has being Irish helped them? Cathal is suprisingly emphatic.

“I’m very proud of being Irish, but Brown Bag Films is an Irish company by geography, not an ‘Irish animation company’. We don’t do the Darby O’Gill stuff and take it globally. That’s not our audience.

“We also don’t do animation for the home market. We can’t do work for RTE as they spend less than 1pc of their independent production budget on animation. It’s a shame, as there’s a brilliant children’s department there. It’s just not given resources.

“I feel really strongly that Irish children have as much right to quality homegrown programmes as their parents.”

It’s RTE’s loss, given the standard of show Brown Bag now produce. It’s a measure of their international reputation that they have been tasked with reinventing one of children’s literature’s most enduring characters, Peter Rabbit. I walk through the warren of studios and desks to where the Bunny Brigade are working.

Director David McCamley and producer Erik Vigneau are checking shots for texture and continuity. It’s painstaking work. Lily Bobtail flits back and forth as she adjusts a picture on the wall of Peter’s burrow. Something the untrained eye could never hope to see is discussed and fixed.

“Everything has to be perfect,” says McCamley, who also directs Noddy. “The fur, the way the characters move. The rabbits must behave like rabbits, although they have been humanised.” On screen, Benjamin hops after Peter and Lily who are walking upright. The realism is extraordinary. The scenery behind them is breathtakingly beautiful.

“We visited Beatrix Potter’s  English Lake District and took thousands of photographs. We wanted to get an authentic Potter feel to the series. It took a year to make the opening,  22-minute Christmas special.”

McCamley suddenly opens his iPad and shows me something I hadn’t been expecting to see: Peter Rabbit’s debut after a TV absence of 20 years. The screen explodes with colour and movement. There are red squirrels everywhere. They fall from their branches like maple leaves in a gale, fanning out across the snow, swarming, running, jumping, jerking…

At their head is a wild-eyed rodent in an aviator’s helmet. He sniffs the air. It’s Squirrel Nutkin – and he looks like he’s been at the Bolivian marching powder.

“He’s a real mad head,” laughs McCamly.

McGregor’s garden is covered in snow. The ‘camera’ traces the flight of a snowflake, passing (and introducing) the various characters before floating through the door of Peter’s burrow. The speed and majesty of the sequence bring a lump to my throat.

Across the corridor, Doc O’Connell is finishing a phone call to the States.

“We’re having a revolution here. It all started with Don Bluth and then took a long time to return with its own Irish twist. The Americans sowed a seed and it took 15 years for it to grow.

“I remember wanting to draw comics in the 1980s. and there was nothing there. Everyone said I was throwing my life away, but I just wanted to draw. My parents were distraught at the idea. But now we’re offering careers that are safer than banking.”

Success brings obvious financial awards, but the creative process always comes first.

“We’re not interested in doing a project unless we’re really drawn to it. We won’t do stuff just for the money. We have to love and believe in it. It has to be something that will reach a lot of people. Something like Peter Rabbit.”

Apart from Peter, there are loads of goodies in development.

“We’ve launched an adult-skewed company called Icehouse and are looking at the computer games market. (Let’s just say there are dinosaurs and Nazis involved.)

“There’s an animated sit-com set in Ireland in development, and another called Midlife Crisis. It’s about a guy who goes away to LA to become an actor…”

How adult will BBF become? “Ricky Gervais, Family Guy, The Inbetweeners. We’re not afraid to push things, that’s why we came up with Icehouse so it doesn’t infect the Brown Bag brand.”

Doc shows me a clip of something currently in development. It’s rude. Very rude. And very, very funny. It actually features a naked dancing president…

So where does Irish animation go from here?

“Education is critical,” says Doc. “Irish animation has been so good at what it does that demand now outweighs supply. Many studios have to outsource abroad. Animation and third-level must make sure that we have enough homegrown talent to feed the industry.”

That’s especially true as Brown Bag are entering the feature film market. Next year they begin pre-production on Night Glider, which will be co-produced with Wind Dancer Films and directed by Doc.

“It’s about a flying squirrel who thinks he’s a superhero,” he says. “It’s like Kick Ass with squirrels. It’s very cool and very funny.”

Very cool, very funny and nuttier than squirrel crap. Just like Brown Bag, I conclude, as I avoid Noddy’s murderous glare on my way out.

Link to original article: http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/animation-nation-brown-bag-213412.html

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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