In defence of the delectable delights of Dalkey
An unapologetic plug and an ‘elaborate introduction’ about living in a leafy suburb inhabited by writers, writes JOHN WATERS
IT’S A bit of a nuisance having an address for which you are constantly expected to apologise, though of course this happens in all societies. In the financial quarter of Soweto, I have no doubt that there are stock-jobbers who seek to conceal from their fellows the fact that they come to work every morning from a shantytown on the remote posterior of the city. In Ireland, naturally, it’s the other way around.
For much of the past two decades – perhaps the reason why I have not yet written the Great Irish Novel – I have been creatively stretched to offer plausible explanations for the fact that I live in Dalkey.
When the subject comes up in certain politically correct quarters, my “confession” tends to elicit much the same responses as when I mention that I drive a BMW, which I usually do in the next breath, although this is an untruth calculated belatedly to attach a booster of irony to the culturally and sociologically damning revelation I have just delivered.
Conscious of the belligerent stares this announcement invariably provokes, I tend to add that I live in a two-bedroomed cottage, that I bought it during the first Gulf War when the market was briefly depressed, and that I got it cheap because the vendor had to sell rather urgently to close a deal on a property he was acquiring in Longford. (The mention of Longford – or sometimes I say Blanchardstown – tends to ground and normalise the discussion significantly by connecting Dalkey with more pedestrian forms of Irish reality.)
The most effective “excuse”, I have found, is to explain that, just before I bought my house, I gave up drinking alcohol. (This, unlike the bits about Longford and the BMW, is true.)
If the cultural resentment factor is running particularly high, I tend to launch into a complex mathematical calculation in which I factor in the 1990 mortgage interest rate and price of the pint, ending up by demonstrating that the monthly difference in outgoings between living in a fashionable and ideologically uncompromising semi-d in Stoneybatter, while pissing half your income up against the tiles in Kehoe’s, was back then about the same as living in Dalkey and swearing off the, as it were, batter.
This justification tends to shut people up without dissipating their resentment, generally attracting silent glares which declare that, as well as being an enemy of the working class, I am also someone who can’t enjoy a jar like a decent Celt.
When speaking to well-adjusted people, I am proud to say I live in Dalkey. It is a stunning place, so it is not surprising that wet-brained fellow-journalists are so jealous. Dalkey is the kind of place that, if you went there on holidays, you would be writing home about. But it is also, contrary to popular prejudice, a microcosm of small-town Ireland, the country that actually still exists beyond the crude brushstrokes effected by an increasingly cliché-ridden and out-of-touch media.
All of which is by way of elaborate introduction to a rather blatant and unapologetic plug for the first Dalkey Book Fair, which takes place this weekend.
This event is a response by locals to the challenges posed by the economic downturn – as severely felt in Dalkey as elsewhere – and the additional disadvantage of having a local authority that seems determined to bankrupt the local business sector with its draconian and vindictive anti-parking regime.
A decade ago, a senior official in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council proposed that Dalkey Quarry, across the road from our house, be converted into a halting site for Travellers – replete, naturally, with a scrap-breaking facility. When asked why, he responded somewhat enigmatically: “Nobody lives up there but rich rock stars and writers.”
In typical local authority stopped-clock fashion, he was partly right: Dalkey is stuffed with scribblers, and the book fair has been organised by some of these, including the economist and author David McWilliams and Ireland’s pre-eminent historical biographer, Tim Pat Coogan.
The line-up may provide raw material for a Christy Moore classic.
Conor McPherson, Bruce Arnold, John Connolly, Declan Lynch, Eamon Dunphy, Declan Hughes, Ross O’Carroll Kelly, Des Cahill, Maeve Binchy and Joseph O’Connor have mysteriously managed to combine living in Dalkey with the writing of Great Irish Novels. Robert Fisk, who offsets his ownership of a feck-off pile on Vico Road by evincing an intense love for Palestinians, will be in public conversation with Vincent Browne, who will be journeying to Dalkey for the occasion from his flat in Ballymun.
Answering Comrade McWilliams’s call to support my local community, on Sunday afternoon I will be reading, at Idle Wild cafe on Patrick Street, from Beyond Consolation, my recently-published book about non-stupid reason, God and absolute hope, more or less in that order.
Because these are such unsuitable themes for an Irish Timescolumnist, we have been doing our best to conceal the existence of this book, and especially its insistence on its own factuality. Now it’s all bound to come out.
As if it wasn’t bad enough owning up to living in a stop-traffically beautiful place.
For full programme details: dalkeybookfestival.org