This latest essay was aired on RTÉ Arena on Christmas eve. The essay is about 20 minutes in and it’s about the demolition of the last tower in Ballymun. I’m very grateful to Dermot Bolger for letting me quote from his poem ‘Incantation’, a piece which has just been republished in ‘That Which is Suddenly Precious’ with New Island Press, a really brilliant collection of poems.
Check out the essay here:
Or continue on if you’re in a bit of a reading humour…
It would be easy for some to compare my town to an island, culturally detached from the mainland, diverse in its identity and habits. For many, the sight of the seven towers piercing the sky would stir up old news stories and hearsay, talk of castaways and savages and native lotos eaters. As kids we were aware of the stigma that came with being from an area like Ballymun. A role was expected and failure to play it out gave rise to the familiar phrase – “You don’t seem like someone who’d come from that place”
I’m not sure which bothered be more, the prevailing stereotype or the perceived notion that I wasn’t Ballymun enough to be from Ballymun.
In 2004, a wake was held on the eve of the demolition of the first of the seven tower blocks. Artists celebrated the life of these structures. Their imminent loss was mourned. More than ten years have passed since that event and finally, in early October, I watched from my window as a mechanical beast chewed into the hide of the last remaining tower.
For some, those buildings represented poverty and depravation. Others viewed them as symbols of resoluteness and community. For me, those towers and the rows of flats which weaved through the town were the backdrop and stage to so many of my childhood memories. They were football matches against the lads from the four stories with Pelé Mooney slicing through our defence like butter. They were countless hours hanging upside down on windowless frames beneath concrete balconies. Suffocating wind traps. Unyielding shadows. Mountaineering. Spying through a grill and watching an old world in a new way. They were those long summer evenings on the tenth floor of Eamonn Ceannt Tower with one of my closest friends, off-key wailing, wild guitar strumming and the feeling that we were conquering the world.
I think back to that wake event and to the point in the evening when Dermot Bolger passionately recited his poem ‘Incantation’, a haunting piece which sews together marked moments in the lives of the inhabitants of Ballymun. Looking around I couldn’t help but notice a harmony between the words in the poem and the crowd who watched the event unfold, the differing emotions directed toward this doomed tower and the obvious diversity of people who once called this place home.
Every whiskey, every Valium, every cigarette,
Every couple holding hands in a kitchenette,
Every laughing child being spun in the August sun
Every boy with a piebald horse to gallop on.
Every mother dreaming about some different life,
Every first tooth, first communion, every surgeon’s knife,
Every welder, office cleaner, every unemployed,
Every girl who fought back when her dreams died.
Every life that ended here and every life begun:
The living and the dead of Ballymun.