Time to move past north-south myth
The area I grew up in, with relatively high levels of disadvantage, is Crumlin, emphatically south of the Liffey.
And this is no freak exception. If we take social class alone as a key indicator, it’s easy to find enclaves on the northside that have no one in the lowest category in the 2011 census: Clontarf, Sutton and parts of Howth haven’t a single unskilled worker.
Conversely, in many areas on the southside – Ringsend, Drimnagh, Ballyfermot – more than 15 per cent of the population is unskilled. If we insist on using the sides of the Liffey as expressions of social distinction, we end up with the absurdity that much of the south is obviously northside and vice versa.
Given that it bears so little scrutiny, why does the myth persist? Perhaps because it’s a useful way of avoiding Dublin’s real geographical divide – between the east and the west. The northside/southside paradigm is a cosy cliché that makes the whole notion of division into a vaguely comic piece of local colour.
The east/west divide is more obvious but also nastier. It is the kind of rupture that is not supposed to exist in Irish culture – a division based on class.
The split between east and west is, of course, not absolute. But it is, on the broad canvas of the city, glaringly apparent. It can be represented at its starkest by using unemployment as an indicator for general economic and social wellbeing. There are areas of chronic unemployment in the east: Darndale and Ballymun, for example. But the big concentrations are mostly to the west of the old city: Mulhuddart and Corduff, Clondalkin, Ronanstown, Nangor, Ballyfermot, Jobstown, Killinarden.
This east/west divide is, in some respects, quite deliberate. It results from decisions made over many decades to move poorer people out of the old city to the edges of Dublin.
From the 1940s onwards, local authority housing estates were developed farther and farther from the coast – from Crumlin to Drimnagh to Ballyfermot to Clondalkin and ever onwards towards the borders of Kildare.
And the farther people were moved to the west, the worse transport links to the city became. Until the building of the Luas line to Tallaght, almost all of the city’s major transport infrastructure operated on a north/south axis.
Out of sight also means out of mind. It is not accidental that the worst effects of corrupt planning were felt in the west of the city, in places that didn’t count as either northside or southside. Ronanstown was supposed to have a town centre – instead it got a shopping centre, Quarryvale.
In this way, the myth of Dublin being all about some supposedly crucial divide between north and south became actively destructive. It was a way of making invisible both large parts of the real city and large social injustices.
The only real function of the myth nowadays seems to be that it helps some people in wealthy, coastal southside suburbs feel smug and exclusive. The truth is that people who take such stuff seriously don’t need much help in that regard.