Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name . . .

Crosscare Cafe in Dublin’s inner city is a meeting place for the whole community

Crosscare staff member Denis Middleton serving customers Teresa Adams, Anne Grimes and Dazy Maher at the Crosscare Cafe on Portland Row. Photograph: Alan Betson

Crosscare staff member Denis Middleton serving customers Teresa Adams, Anne Grimes and Dazy Maher at the Crosscare Cafe on Portland Row. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00

“I feel welcome here,” says Gillian as we sit on couches at Crosscare’s Community Cafe on Portland Row in Dublin’s north inner city. She’s on methadone after years of heroin use and doesn’t feel very welcome in many places.

“A lot of us wouldn’t be accepted in cafes around the city centre,” explains her friend Damian. “You’d get asked to leave, for no reason whatsoever.”

“People look at us differently,” says Gillian. They talk a little about their issues with drugs, how addiction crept up on them.

“One day you wake up and realise your life is ruined,” says Damian, who used heroin for 14 years and has a bit of a tremor in his voice.

Crosscare, the social support agency of the Dublin Archdiocese, delivers services such as meals to young people, the homeless and others in need within the greater Dublin area.

One of the things Gillian likes about the Community Cafe is that her mother also comes here, so she gets to see her more often. There aren’t many places where different parts of the community can meet. Recently, seats were removed from along the nearby canal to discourage drug dealers who congregated there. “I feel sorry for the old people who used to like to sit there to feed the birds,” says Damian.

It was important for Michael McDonagh, senior manager for food services at Crosscare, that the cafe become a multigenerational space for the whole community. It’s a warm, well-lit, newly designed dining room with two computers, a silk print image of Audrey Hepburn, a shelf of books, and a modernist-looking grandfather clock.

“Every person is created in the image and likeness of God,” reads an inscription on the wall. Anyone is welcome and while clients include older and more vulnerable people, they also include mothers with children, students and office workers on their lunch breaks.

Community spirit

The food kitchen that was here two years ago, run by the now retired S

r Magdalene McHugh, was a more traditional, old-fashioned place that catered mainly for older people.

“Sr Magdalene was lovely,” says a man called David Gray (“I’m not the singer!” he stresses). “She used to come over and say ‘Come on now get that dinner down ye’ like a real mammy. Everything came from cans . . . corned beef.”

“She made you say grace,” chuckles 63-year-old Ann Grimes, who has been bringing her elderly neighbours here for years.

Grimes’s own indomitable community spirit was evident in a YouTube clip in which she can be heard bravely intervening when two men were attacked on Talbot Street. “Ah here, leave it out!” she yelled, becoming an unwitting internet sensation.

“It went haywire,” she says. “It was in the paper. On the radio. But it was good fun. I was even with the Jedwards for two weeks. They’re lovely but they’re wired up. They have people tying their laces for them!”

“Leave it out!” calls a man from across the room. She rolls her eyes.

Everyone here seems to know one another. David Gray sits every day with his friend Theresa Graham. “I never knew her before but I made great friends with her the minute I came in,” says Gray. “The first day she made me feel really at home. Is it strange for a man and woman to have a lot in common?”

He starts listing the things they have in common: “We both like punctuality. We don’t like sloppiness. When we lend things we like them to be given back without having to ask.”