I realised I had gone totally native as a Northstrander recently when I got all hot under the collar about an online review of Italian restaurant Da Mimmo which is an olive stone’s throw from my house. The reviewer from foodie website Lovin’ Dublin adored the restaurant – of course he did, the food is stunning – but other things he wrote about my area riled me to a degree that took me by surprise.
Here's a sample: "This is the Dublin you see in The Commitments with children on street corners sniffing glue and Nidge threatening to pour acid over hookers' faces." And: "I'd advise renting one of those PSNI trucks they use in the riots and being escorted by a water cannon and police on horseback to ensure safe passage through the Amiens Street area on the way here."
And I know he meant it as a joke and I know that if my colleague Ross O’Carroll-Kelly had written it I’d have laughed, but this was real, it wasn’t biting satire, so instead I got all outraged on behalf of the North Strand. Because the place he was dismissing is a part of Dublin I’m currently lovin’. And it took someone tearing it apart to reinforce how much.
As it happens I have safe passage through Amiens Street in north inner city Dublin every day. I love cycling home along that boulevard of, okay sometimes, broken glass. It’s not always pretty but it’s never boring; I cycle past the shop selling products you’d miss from home if home was Poland or the Czech Republic, past the place where the people from the clinic congregate, who always say hello. Further on past the Five Lamps, how I love those lovely lamps, and on over the Newcomen Bridge past the cool-looking girl sitting in the reception area of the tattoo parlour eating a roll on her break. Past blond Irina in the fruit and veg shop, which sensibly is called Fruit & Veg, who sees you have a cold and insists you take ginger and lemon to make a healing tea potion her mother used to make, and seems to always have everything you need. “Basil? Over there. And now you try this cake?”
We have a festival you know. The Five Lamps Festival. I met Róisín Lonergan, a theatre studies lecturer working locally, in Cusack’s, the North Strand’s cosy, old-school pub stuffed with sea-faring knick knacks. With the support of Dublin City Council Róisín and her band of volunteers have organised the Five Lamps Festival for the past seven years because one day she decided the area deserved a festival. It does.
I was chuffed to be asked to launch it earlier this week, in the Custom House with a fire dance and a Georgian choir and the amazing singer Shaz Oye and loads of my neighbours. It was great to hear about the events, many of which are free.
Events like The Lady of the Rocks exhibition. Artist Catherine Maguire got the youngsters of Sheriff Street to reimagine the by now iconic white plaster sculpture of a naked woman that has been appearing in windows of houses in the area for years. She asked them to make white plaster models of something they'd like to put in their own windows. You can see the children's all-white exhibition featuring dinosaurs, transformers and Mickey Mouse in the Broadcast Gallery on Portland Row.
Events like “Seeking the Village”, created by artists Áine Ivers and Seoidín O’Sullivan, with families currently living on Direct Provision exploring creativity, family and childhood, with a number of public celebratory events including a family meal, to which all are welcome.
Or the Merchant of Ennis by Carnation Theatre which is set in an old-style shop selling everything from Sunlight soap to a bicycle-repair kit. There is music and poetry, and a proper tea dance with the Senior Artane Band, and a puppet show. There's everything from a talk on Dickens in Dublin, to erotic stories and songs from folklore, to a photographic exhibition of portraits of people from a cross section of the Five Lamps community.
For balance, I should mention the Ranelagh Arts Festival, another great community festival happening in another part of Dublin in September. From what I can see, the Lovin’ Dublin website is in love with Ranelagh, a place I’m very fond of myself.
But I'd like to think if they are really in the business of Lovin' Dublin, they might start sharing that love; around all those parts of Dublin that don't necessarily boast a huge choice of pulled pork sandwich emporiums. Places that might not be perfect but are bursting with heart and authenticity and grit. Places they could maybe learn to love if they only gave them a chance.