Kellie Harrington gives her jewel and darling Portland Row its chance to shine

Olympic finalist cherished and loved by her own in Dublin’s north inner city

The ‘mother of Portland Row’, Lily Fagan, with fellow residents, looking forward to Kellie Harrington competing for gold this  weekend. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

The ‘mother of Portland Row’, Lily Fagan, with fellow residents, looking forward to Kellie Harrington competing for gold this weekend. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Kellie Harrington’s carriage awaits.

There is a choice: she could go for the fairytale, Cinderella-type glass coach. Or something more restrained in white or cream. A convertible landau, perhaps?

Portland Row has all the angles covered.

The women look across at the pristine horse transporter parked on the other side of street. It belongs to Michael Hanley, a neighbour who runs a horse-drawn carriage company. His wife Michelle is among the group discussing what they can do for the big homecoming.

The offer of a horse and carriage is there for Kellie. That goes without saying.

“I don’t really see her seeing herself as a Cinderella. I don’t think she’d want that,” laughs Michelle. The women agree. “God no. Not the Cinderella. I’d say the white carriage or the cream, maybe,” suggests one of them, doubtfully. “If she’d even want anything like that at all.”

But it’s a suggestion, one of many being bounced around Portland Row in Dublin ’s north inner city as the street prepares to welcome home its Olympic heroine. The intense pride of the locals in one of their own is almost matched by their soaring excitement as boxer Kellie’s gold medal final bout early on Sunday morning draws ever closer.

The residents’ WhatsApp group has been hopping all week.

The helium balloons are due to arrive on Saturday (the private landlord at the apartments on the Summerhill Road junction is getting them in) and the bunting has been up since the Olympics started. They bought all the Tricolour bunting left in Carrolls and still hadn’t enough. But community is strong in this part of the North Strand and Summerhill.

“We got the rest from Christy Burke’s brother’s funeral,” explained Marie Harding.

Veteran city councillor Burke buried his brother Paddy three weeks ago. He lived behind the church on Seán McDermott Street and his neighbours put up green, white and orange bunting for him because he was a staunch republican. After a decent period of time they took it down and passed it on to Portland Row.

The North East Inner City taskforce is also expected to pitch in with more decorations.

There was talk of a big screen for the crack of dawn fight in Toyko, but hopes faded by the end of the week, what with the Covid and uncertainty about timing and numbers. At 4pm on Thursday afternoon residents held a short meeting at the houses beside the bronze statues of two little girls playing beds (hopscotch).

It was organised by “the women” and was about putting something in place for the local kids so they can enjoy Kellie’s homecoming. They are still waiting to find out what sort of welcome is planned by Dublin City Council for Ireland’s latest boxing medallist and if Portland Row is to be included in them.

Where Sunday morning is concerned, word is that there won’t be a special screening.

The sporting success of this thoughtful, articulate and thoroughly decent young woman has thrown a welcome and positive spotlight on the proud community which made her

People are disappointed, but not that surprised. “I mean, the Tánaiste said 200 people outdoors. There’s not even 200 people on this road, you know what I mean?” said Marie Harding. “We wouldn’t get all the residents out anyway at six in the morning and if they’re worried about crowds, sure the matches are back on in Croke Park and there’s hundreds of people walking up and down here all the time. Can you imagine the excitement if they closed the road so we could watch Kellie?”

Catho Gavin from nearby Dunne Street says their world champion boxer was out at seven in the morning doing exercise classes with the local women during the lockdown. Great-grandmother Lily Fagan recalls how she also encouraged people to meet up with her for walks at the nearby Five Lamps because she wanted them to mind their mental health.

Eighty-four year old Lily is a media pro by now. She drapes the Tricolour around her shoulders and poses for photographs with practised ease. Kellie Harrington has given her jewel and darling Portland Row its chance to shine and make the headlines for all the right reasons. For once, they can showcase what they already know is so good about their close-knit, inner-city community.

The sporting success of this thoughtful, articulate and thoroughly decent young woman has thrown a welcome and positive spotlight on the proud community which made her. A community weary of being defined by sensationalist stories of gangland feuds and criminality.

“She’s a great kid, a great person and a great inspiration,” says Lily, proudly repeating Kellie’s words for the umpteenth time to the umpteenth journalist: “She’d always say: ‘I’m from the North Inner City. I’m from Portland Row’.”

Lily buried her husband over 30 years ago and has two sons and two daughters, eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

“Lily done her work alright for Ireland, ” jokes one of the women.

“I worked up to 75 years of age, cleaning, scrubbing,” she counters.

“That’s what kept you going, Lily,” chimes in another neighbour. “And she worked in Maguire and Patersons making the matches and thank God she never set fire to herself.”

As for the boxing? “See my great granddaughter, Lily Mae? She wants to do it now. “

When Katie returned to her primary school in North William Street the girls were hanging on her every word. “She’s such a hero to them in that school,” said Helena Bartley. “But then, she does a lot for the local community. She came through a lot of the projects herself and she gives back.”

When the the house in Buckingham Street burned down two years ago “she auctioned off one of her belts and the money she raised, she went across and gave it to the family. That’s the type of person she is – you know what I mean?”

The residents are enjoying their time in the sun. The cars going by with drivers smiling and beeping their horns.

Kellie’s parents, Yvonne and Christy Harrington, outside their home in Portland Row. Photograph Nick Bradshaw
Kellie’s parents, Yvonne and Christy Harrington, outside their home in Portland Row. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

“Do know what, we were so low after that lockdown and my God, this is after lifting us. Like, Jesus, I feel like roaring crying. You feel like you’re on cloud nine, don’t you? It’s amazing, the way that one person can lift you,” said Berno, yet another Portland Road woman.

A few doors down, in the shadow of the Five Lamps, Kellie’s Ma and Da are leaning into a parked car outside their house, talking to someone in the passenger seat. Yvonne turns around, tears in her eyes.

She had just met Bernard Smyth (71) who ran a successful fireplace business in the inner city for many years. “We’re part of his care team from Right at Home,” says Áine, who is with her colleague Sola. “Bernard is following Kellie on the telly and he really wanted to come down so he could see the house and congratulate them.”

They’re great neighbours. They’re priceless. And they’re great crack. They’ve had the journalists in knots

Christy and Yvonne realise his business was around the corner from their first house.

“Do you remember the Long Island Bar facing it?” she asks

“Do I what?” whispers Bernard, a huge smile breaking across his face.

“He’s recovering from a stroke. We’ll have him walking by Christmas,” smiles Áine.

“Will you say a big prayer for Kellie?” asks Yvonne.

“I will.”

It’s been hectic at the house. They’ve hardly had a wink of sleep.

A fella arrived up from Tipperary with a bottle of Prosecco. People are dropping in cards and gifts.

“All right! Christy. Nice one!”

They’re can’t wait for the homecoming, but don’t know the day yet. It’ll be wonderful for Portland Row. “They’re great neighbours. They’re priceless. And they’re great crack. They’ve had the journalists in knots.”

Christy hopes things will be kept fairly simple.

Yvonne agrees. “Like, there’s people from the area that have died; it would be very disrespectful. They couldn’t go to their families’ funerals. Kellie wouldn’t like that either. She’s Covid conscious all the time. Working in the hospital, she’ll be very conscious of it.”

There have been some strange questions. Two lads arrived from a newspaper and “they wanted to photograph us sprinkling around holy water from Lourdes, ” laughed Christy. They said no.

“Then he wanted Christy to water the plants with it,” said Yvonne, shaking her head in disbelief. “I think it’s because I say I go out into the garden and pray when Kellie is on – as any mother would. But I’m not hugely religious: if you do a good turn for someone, that’s my belief.”

The front window is plastered with good luck cards. They ran out of space when a teacher came up from St Columba’s on the North Strand with ones done by the children. So Christy made a big wooden display board with a glass front and put it up on the outside wall.

“Sweet, isn’t it?”

When the Dubs won the five in a row, the landmark Five Lamps shone blue.

Cllr Christy Burke has called on the city council to turn them silver or gold, whichever it is, when the North Inner City’s Olympian comes home.

Proper order too.

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