You can have the wrong idea about a place. You can come to it with notions that say more about you than about the place itself. After parking up in the church car park in Dalkey, you turn to hear a knock on the window from the car behind. The lady in the driver seat is holding her parking ticket up to the window and immediately you take offence and start muttering to yourself.
“Alright, alright, missus. Yes, I have my parking ticket. Displayed nice and clear on the dashboard there. And yes, yes, it’s a lovely village you have here and of course everyone must park correctly so as not to ruin the bucolic wonder of the place. So thanks for your prissy little reminder but I already paid, right?”
Ahem. Turns out her ticket had an hour left on it and she was offering it up for use to a stranger. That’ll teach us.
All the way in along the coastline, through Sandycove and Glasthule, it's all red and white, red and white. There are even Cuala flags up on masts in Dún Laoghaire harbour
Monday afternoon and the sun is out in Dalkey. It’s out everywhere else, of course, but to those sitting on the terrace outside The Queens bar, everywhere else doesn’t matter so much. On this kind of day, where else would you be?
Up and down Castle Street, the red and white of Cuala hangs from every lamp-post and archway. Shop windows, pub windows, cafe windows, even the library windows all gleam with murals of the hurlers who will carry the club’s colours to Croke Park for the club final against Clare’s Ballyea on St Patrick’s Day.
Even so, given the week that's in it, you'd expect to feel a bit more of a buzz around the place. It takes a few inquiries but after a while the reason becomes clear. Cuala club chairman Adrian Dunne has buried his father this morning. Peter Dunne, along with his wife Mary, was the backbone of Cuala long before All-Irelands were ever dreamed of. In this week of all weeks, his funeral can only take the sting out of a place like this.
There's a video knocking around online, made for AIG by Paul Cahill to celebrate GAA clubs in Dublin, and stitched into the five-minute film is footage from the Cuala dressingroom after the 1989 county final. There, half-hidden by steam and time, Peter Dunne looks into the camera and introduces himself. "I'm the barman in Dalkey tonight," he says. "We're open at six and closing at dawn."
So in the week Peter Dunne has been laid to rest in Shanganagh Cemetery, the club that grew out of culchie Dublin to envelope its poshest village heads for Croke Park with its back straight and its eyes alive. From the Graduate roundabout down the Avondale Road and Barnhill Road, you can’t drive 50 metres without coming across someone unravelling bunting and hanging flags. All the way in along the coastline, through Sandycove and Glasthule, it’s all red and white, red and white. There are even Cuala flags up on masts in Dún Laoghaire harbour.
And of course, there's the story of the Dart. We'll let Cuala lifer and Fred Astaire impersonator Des Cahill tell the story of the Dart.
“The Dart was the brainchild of the captain of the under-16s, Ruairí Sheanon,” Cahill says. “He’s the head of the Cuala Ultras. And look, the irony of the Cuala Ultras isn’t lost on them either – they play up to it with the headbands and chants and everything else. It started off about 20 of them and now every young fella and girl all around the place wants to be a part of it. They get their own buses to the games and everything.
“But what they did for this one was organise a Dart to go direct from Dalkey to Connolly. The first one sold out and they added a second one. They could have added a third but they weren’t allowed because the platforms aren’t long enough. So they’re bringing one Dart into Dalkey station, filling it and then filling a second one. There’ll be about 2,500 people in red and white walking together from Connolly up to Croke Park. It’s going to be unreal.”
They’re meeting at 10 at the club on the Hyde Road. At 12.15, one and all will march to Dalkey Dart station. Locals got a letter during the week advising of some temporary road closures around the place to send the Ultras on their way.
Young Sheanon appears in the Cuala video. You wouldn’t necessarily pick him for the leader of any group referring to themselves as Ultras but that’s all part of the fun really.
“We have booked the Dart going non-stop from Dalkey to Connolly, which is mad. We’ll be putting the whole club on that and we’ll be singing the whole way up to Croker. The players have said to us after games that we play a massive role – and Mattie [Kenny, Cuala manager] even came over to us after the Leinster final and said, ‘Lads, it made a complete difference. Anything you want, we’ll give it to you.’ When Mattie says that, you know you’re playing a big role.”
So on they go, Dalkey on the march. They’ll try to transplant the whole village to the Cusack Stand today and win or lose, they’ll welcome the team back across the Liffey tonight. The letter states the team reception is down for 8.30pm.
But like all good things in life, the time is subject to change.