Roisin Ingle on ... being a Northsider
Fairview Park on a Spring day. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Playing a game of “If I won the Lotto . . . ” with a friend recently, I realised that my dream of returning to my home village, specifically in one of the castellated houses on Sandymount Green, has without my quite noticing, faded a bit.
In the past when I’ve played that game I’ve expressed an almost violent yen to return there. I’d immediately put an imaginary down-payment on a house I glimpsed inside once, the one that contains a surprise ballroom.
My grandfather kept pigeons down the road in Bath Avenue and I always imagined I knew how they felt, homing their way back after long journeys, their little hearts lifting at the sight of the Shelly Banks. It’s as though when my mother sold the house part of me stayed in Sandymount, like an abandoned glove skewered forever on the railings of the Green. Not changing my bank, or my doctor, or my chipper for that matter was, I think now, a statement of intent: “Sandymount. When the tide turns, I’ll be back.”
Maybe everybody has this romantic attachment to where they grew up. I learnt to ride my bike by falling off it repeatedly on the path outside Ryan’s pub and I exchanged butter vouchers for everything except butter in Miss Roddy’s shop. Sandymount still feels like home to me and yet my actual home for years now has been across the river in the north inner city. I can take or leave the southsider label, but I thought I’d always be a Sandymounter.
It seems I’m moving on. It seems I’m a northsider now. I was on my way home on a Dublin Bike when I got caught late at night in a mad March snow shower. I thought there was a bike stand at Connolly Station, but there isn’t, and while contemplating my next move, I noticed a young Japanese woman with a map looking as confused as I was. I am a total sucker for a lost tourist. I always imagine them back home, telling friends about the time they were lost and about how this over-zealous person with an inane grin insisted on escorting them. Thinking of this future conversation gave me and my ego an instant Ready Brek glow.
The woman was looking for her B&B on Gardiner Street so it wasn’t enough to just point her in the right direction, I walked her there, telling her all about the spire and the Gathering and, for some reason, perhaps in case she needed some emergency tights, Penneys.
Afterwards, outside the Abbey, some teenagers were keeping warm waiting for friends. Turned out they were fellow northsiders from Clontarf. When I told them I lived in North Strand, they looked at me, their faces a mix of pity and fear. And I found myself launching a defence of my adopted home. I told them about Da Mimmo’s, the best Italian north of the Liffey, and about Brady’s butchers and the new grocer’s on the North Strand Road where you can always get fennel even if you can’t find it anywhere else. Not that I find myself needing fennel much, but it’s good to know it’s there if I do.
I told them about my great neighbours and the lovely street we live on that my brother, when he comes to stay, says is one of the quietest houses he’s ever slept in. I didn’t tell them about the two times my phone was stolen from my hand as I walked and talked, in my neighbourhood, because the gardaí told me it could have happened anywhere in the city. It could even have happened in Sandymount, I found myself thinking.
My late-night love letter to the North Strand told me something I hadn’t realised: I’m a proud North Strander. I think my children have a lot to do with it. They come in the door after we’ve been away and don’t say with a mix of self-pity and fear – “janey mac, but the north inner city’s a bit grim” – they say “I like playing in other people’s houses but I love our little house the best”.
And it strikes me that their romance with their own place is blossoming. Beautiful Fairview Park is their Sandymount Green. The railway bridge they pass under on their way home is their equivalent of Ryan’s corner. When soon we swap their balance bikes for pedal bikes, this is where they’ll fall off and get back on and this is where they will always feel at home, no matter where they end up. For years they will long for North Strand the way I used to long for Sandymount. And then maybe one day, they just won’t anymore. Or at least not quite as much as they used to.