Our street is part of an estate that was built on the north side of Dublin in 1959, with most families moving in around May and June in the following year. For whatever reason, most of the new population came from either East Wall or Inchicore, and all had young families. East Wall families were already acquainted with one another, as were the Inchicore families. In the beginning, our address was deemed to be in the countryside – we are located very near the notorious Artane Industrial School, where the unfortunate boys who landed there were expected to keep a dairy farm, orchards and a horse-breeding business going. We weren’t even a recognised district, if you wanted to get any items from a shop, or visit the post office, you had to walk to the village down the road. It provided a great deal of amusement for my southside uncles and aunts, although the uncles were very happy to avail of the old “bona fide” law which allowed publicans to provide drink to “long-distance” travellers at any time of day, regardless of whether it was holy-hour, closing time or holy day.
The family that moved into No 26 were a little different. They weren’t from either East Wall or Inchicore. They arrived probably about six months to a year after everybody else, and I guess it must have taken them a bit of time to fit in with the two already established groups. Anyhow, all the kids grew up together on the same street, went to the same church and schools (when they were eventually built) and many of the dads worked for the same company (B&I Lines). Mr 26 worked in his family market garden business, and everybody was delighted to buy their fruit and vegetables from him. It was a tight-knit community, bound together mainly because there were no other neighbours, places to go or things to do for miles, so we had to make our own entertainment. Remember, television did not happen in Ireland until 1961 and it was considered dead posh to have a set. I think we got our first one in time to see President Kennedy assassinated.
As time went by some families moved on, others moved in, and by now the city has almost come out to meet us. There is a huge apartment complex set in the fields where our parents used to organise ad-hoc sports days for us, and we are surrounded by several housing estates. We’ve got McDonalds round the corner and a 24-7 supermarket –and the B&I no longer exists. As is the Irish way, we claim to be gregarious and welcoming, while at the same time harbouring a deep and abiding suspicion of strangers. Individuals of my parent’s generation (at least those few of them who are still alive) don’t even notice this paradox,but I promise you it is there. You can see it in their faces when the “new” Chinese family (they only moved in 20 years ago) , or the Czech couple who bought the house around the corner (about 8 years ago) pass by. They are blow ins, newcomers, strangers. So why was I surprised when I suggested to an old friend of my mum, who had forgotten some fun detail or another about the good old days, to check with Mrs 26 to see if she remembered, and she responded with “How would she know, sure she’s only here a wet weekend…”