Conor McGregor, Crumlin and the Kinahans: an unrecognisable Dublin
A Conor McGregor article in ESPN magazine makes Dublin sound like 1920s Chicago
Cage Fighter Conor McGregor in Kellys Hotel fashion shoot. Photograph: David Sleator
It’s business as usual in the Dublin “projects”. In the backstreets of Crumlin and Drimnagh, children are frolicking, drug dealers are polishing their rocket launchers, grenades are glinting in the August sun, and working-class fathers are beating the hope of a better life out of their sons.
If that doesn’t sound like any Dublin you recognise, you clearly haven’t been reading enough ESPN.
The cover story of the August 21 edition of ESPN’s The Magazine is a profile of Conor McGregor, written by the respected journalist Wright Thompson.
That is to say: the profile is ostensibly about McGregor, but the real star is “Dublin”, a “clannish, parochial” place of drug dealers and crime-riddled projects – a place which almost no-one who ever set foot in actual Dublin would recognise.
It’s true that Dublin, like most major cities, suffers from crime and occasional outbreaks of gangland violence, such as the Hutch-Kinahan feud, which Thompson depicts in slavish detail.
The “Dublin” of Thompson’s fevered imaginings, however, is a place where “crossing the wrong street has traditionally been reason enough for an ass-whipping. Men have had to drop dates off at bus stops instead of walking them all the way home”. (Note to ESPN: if young Dubliners drop their “dates” off at bus stops, it’s because they’re too tight to call up a Hailo.)
In the piece, McGregor’s childhood upbringing in the “projects” of Crumlin and Drimnagh suggests he was brought up in the Gaza Strip or 1920s Chicago, not a neighbourhood in which this writer lived for six happy and peaceful years, oblivious to the grenades whizzing by, or the fact that I should have been taking an armed escort whenever I had to cross the Liffey.
Any word of the United Nations announcement about sending peacekeepers into Crumlin Road to separate the warring factions of troubled Dublin— Dave Hannigan (@daveyhannigan) August 8, 2017
But maybe I was just reading the wrong papers. “The tabloids read like a Dennis Lehane novel, day after day, a man shot in his bed, another stabbed in the heart with a kitchen knife, another smuggling in a rocket launcher into Dublin,” Thompson writes.
He recounts an anecdote in which McGregor had to flee in his white Beamer after he took a wrong turn and ended up on Sheriff Street. (You know, the street we fondly call ‘Iztapalapa’.) “McGregor hit the throttle and roared down the street. Drug dealers scrambled to whatever safety they could find as he sped through the intersection. A wise move in practice for a Crumlin native, but McGregor had underestimated the mania sweeping the projects and the lower-class quarters of Dublin. The dealers didn’t want to confront him. They all had a phone in their hands. They wanted to take his picture.”
To be fair to Wright Thompson, you can’t help feeling that some of his interviewees might have seen him – and a Hollywood agent – coming.
Take “Johno” Frazer, who gave the writer a tour of the bullet holes pockmarking the front of his Drimnagh home, before describing the time he beat McGregor up.
“Johno Frazer stood in front of his house, which he inherited from his recently deceased mother. This was the same place once attacked with a grenade. A crease marked the door, and the splintered glass of a bullet hole remained in the window above it. Johno wore scars on both sides of his neck, a permanent reminder of a prison murder attempt. He stepped out into the street and described his fight with McGregor . . . ‘He was afraid I’d stab him’.”
In fact, the whole article reeks of a treatment for a Hollywood movie. In prose as purple as a three-day-old bruise, Thompson recalls how, in the days when fighting was still a hobby: “Conor found a job installing pipes on industrial sites. He saw the emptiness in his co-workers’ eyes.”
When the young McGregor said he wanted something more, his father, Tony, “beat his ass for not accepting the life required of people like them. A working-class father fears the moment when his son discovers the disappointment and limited future that is his birthright.”
The bad guys in this fantasy tale of the kid from the projects who made it big aren’t just McGregor’s opponents or the marauding crime gangs, but also the Irish broadsheet media, whose pages, Thompson claims, “McGregor rarely makes”.
If only that were true. A search of irishtimes.com for “Conor McGregor” returns 42 pages of results. Conor McGregor is such a fixture of the mainstream media that my colleague Brian O’Connor recently referred to him as “click-catnip” and “headline herpes”.
But, hey, it’s the Mcgregonator we’re talking about. Who’s worried about mere facts?
Now where did I leave my rocket launcher?