May 03 2008
I‘ve had a varied relationship with Talbot Street over the years. As I wander down the old Dublin street towards the last DART this evening, I can’t help but feel nostalgic.
Many years ago, as a child, we would make about three or four trips a year op to Doblin from Wickla and these were exciting times. Placing aside for a moment, the fact that any brief exodus from the cess pit of Wicklow Town was a welcome break, the times spent on Christmas Shopping trips or school clothes hunting were good times.
We would alight from a very-different-from-today Connolly Station and exit onto Sheriff Street before greeting the real train platform, the real route that led from the ancient train depot to the wonderful, modern and vibrant land of Dublin City Centre (the eyes of a child, and the naivety of youth cloud life with such wonder); we would alight onto Talbot Street. As a child I never knew Grainger’s Pub (perhaps it went by another name back then anyway) and I had a passing acquaintance with the furniture shops. There were no internet cafe’s (what’s an internet?) and there were no Halal stores or Polish food emporiums (surely Polish is used to clean shoes?).
The first shop we always hit (without fail) was the claustrophobic, the grimy, the stuffy, the frightening Michael Guiney’s. This would be the first of about eight trips into this particular shop that day and the majority of purchases that day would be made there. Bed sheets and pillows, summer shorts and towels; this shop had everything functional and practical – it was a child’s nightmare. And I could never understand why my mother would drag us from shop to shop to shop only to return there to get the things she had seen hours ago in the same place to begin with.
Moving on. We would spend much of the day in clothes shops: Boyers, Dunnes Stores, Penneys and if life was treating me kindly, if the Gods were shining down, if the wind was blowing in just the right direction, we could go into Virgin Megastore on the quays on the southside of the city (the well-to-do shopping district of Grafton Street was alien to me back then). I would spend my brief time allotted running around the store, looking at the many cassette tapes and video tapes, I would pick out a poster for my bedroom wall if the day was being kind. But we would always return to Talbot Street. If lunch wasn’t had in MacDonalds (as a child this disgusting ritual was, in fact, a wonderful treat – it must have been torture for my mother), it was in the Kylemore on the corner of Talbot and O’Connell Street.
Years later, in my teens, I saw less of Talbot Street. Being hip, cool and funky, we would get off the train at Pearse Street and hit the groovy, happening Grafton Street. I spent a lot more time in the Virgin Megastore than when I was a child, and I even discovered Forbidden Planet on the quays. I did not miss Talbot Street and on the rare occasion we would walk back that way to return to Connolly Station, I would shiver as we passed the two Guineys’ stores.
I got older (as people tend to do); I met a girl and fell in love. After a couple of very dodgy abodes in Killester, we moved into Dublin city centre. I think it’s fair to say that 521 Talbot Hall, above the Irish Life Mall, was our first proper home together. We loved it. It was warm (very warm, the heating was provided by the shopping centre below (it was not uncommon for us to wander around the apartment naked)). We had space for our stuff, which at that point consisted of about five new DVD’s, a Philips DVD player, a 14″ television and some clothes (we probably owned a crate or two of Heineken or Budweiser too).
We spent almost two years living on Talbot Street and or lives saw some dramatic turns in that time. The fifth floor apartment saw some amazing highs and some painful lows. I was not an ideal flatmate at the time but Lottie stuck with me through it all. As we emerged from teenagery into young adulthood we began to know what the strange words ‘career’, ‘future’ and ‘savings account’ meant.
Many nights were spent lying on the floor of our Talbot Street apartment, drinking cheap wine and listening to the sounds of the street below: the trad music billowing out of The Celt, the sometimes excellent but often distressing karaoke tunes burping from the bar on the corner. We would hear fights and screams and drunken renditions of the Green Fields of France permeate through the general hum of the city centre. And we loved it all. Perhaps it was because we went through all of this time together but, it’s fair to say, that both of us look back on our time on Talbot Street very fondly. It was our first real home together and I was very happy there.
And times moved on, we found a larger place on Pearse Street, but as I was still working at the top of O’Connell Street, in Cassidys Hotel, Talbot Street was still part of my life. I was still a customer of the street’s Chartbusters, I still picked up good deals in the small Golden Discs store beside the side entrance to Clerys. But the frequency of my Talbot Street touristry rapidly decreased.
Our move into our own place in Greystones and with our working life repositioning to the southside of the river, Talbot Street ceased to be a feature in our lives and I rarely give it a fleeting thought. But wandering down the street tonight, heading towards the last DART this evening, I can’t help but feel nostalgic.
My attitude to the street has changed dramatically too over the years. Where once I felt excited about the street that greeted us in the Big Smoke, it was replaced with a distaste, when I saw the street as a symbol of poverty and degeneracy. That feeling too gave way when we made the street our home. It became local, it became safe and familiar for us. Tonight, the old fears return. Junkies in doorways and bar brawls spilling onto the streets, prove that the street’s bad reputation was well earned and is being maintained. Surely, as the pathway into the city for many tourists, more could be done to improve the thoroughfare.
So, Iceland has become a pharmacy and the old derelict buildings have become Tesco and SuperValu with luxury apartments above, but this is still the same old street. I have a lingering fondness for the good times and the great memories Talbot Street has given me, but as the realism sets in (and the evening’s alcohol wears off), I can see that this is just another symbol of a subsection of Irish society left to fall behind. Perhaps it’s best not to look back so much, but focus instead on the hear and now. Perhaps that’s true of all things in life. Remember the past, embrace the present and look forward with an open mind to the future ahead.