By Peter Vandermeersch
Dublin guidebooks don’t include many pages about Talbot Street. They send tourists to Trinity College and its ‘Book of Kells’, to Temple Bar with its stag parties, or to Grafton street with its posh shops. Yet to know the real Dublin one has to walk through Talbot Street. It’s easy to find: you look for the Dublin Spire (you know, that strange gigantic needle somebody planted in the middle of the capital but nobody understands exactly why it’s there) and you walk from there towards Connolly station.
At night-time, this stroll could indeed be a bit dangerous. When, after a dinner party in the very chic Shelbourne hotel in central Dublin, my colleague Marc Vangeel told the members of the INM board that he was planning to walk back to Talbot Street, he was immediately forced to call for a taxi. The board members were horrified of the idea that their CEO was thinking about walking through Talbot Street on a warm summer evening.
Talbot Street may indeed not be the safest street in Ireland’s capital city. It’s not the cleanest street either. It’s probably the street where you encounter most junkies, nutters and crackpots. Apart from some backpackers, you won’t meet many tourists. Some corners of the street smell of piss. When someone approaches you and asks you for a couple of euros it’s hard to judge if he’s begging for money, or threatening you.
It’s not a street with a glorious past either. Talbot Street only once made the news headlines. Sadly enough. On 17th May 1974, during evening rush hour, a bomb, planted by the Ulster Volunteer Force, a loyalist paramilitary group from Northern Ireland, exploded in the street. It happened simultaneously with two other bombings in Dublin and one in Moneghan. The bombs killed 33 civilians and one unborn child, as well as injuring 300 others. It was the deadliest bomb attack in the history of the Republic of Ireland. In front of my favourite lunch place in Talbot Street (Roasted Bean Coffee Company with its delicious bagels), you’ll find a monument with the names of the victims and, a bit further, a mark shows the spot exactly where the car with its deadly bomb was parked.
Yet, Talbot Street became my favourite Dublin street, simply because it’s the most cosmopolitan street in the capital. You can eat at the Iskender Turkish Kebab, or at Eattokyo Asian Street Food. Maybe you prefer Ristorante Italiano, O’Briens Sandwich Café or Le Bon Crubee (‘Euro Brasserie Food in elegant surroundings’). You can shop in the Polski Sklep Cash and Carry, The World of Spices Halal Shop, Under the Bridge Antique Shop or at Gerry Keane Wallpapers. There’s a Mosque, a casino, a ‘Holistic Massage Place’, betting shops and lots of ‘workshops’ for mobile phones. And of course in La Bellissima Beauty Salon, The Ink Tattoo Studio, at Luiz hair salon or Kameleon hair salon, people will make sure you look better than ever.
Strange things happen in this street. In some shops you’re only supposed to pay in cash (and these shops do not seem to have many customers, yet they survive). Colleagues mention the night that a rather excited man with a dangerously big saw was walking around in the street (almost nobody thought this was odd). In another incident, the pub across the street from our newspaper office asked our former legal director to leave and never come back (because he was ‘taking the place of a regular customer who drinks more’). Last week my assistant Lorraine overheard a peculiar conversation on the sidewalk (‘How is John doing? Well, he’s hoping to get out in a year’). And everyone remembers the image of that young woman hit hard in the face by two rivals in broad daylight (but this then was the BBC filming the crime drama ‘Dublin Murders’ in… Talbot Street).
Talbot Street is Dublin in all its beauty and ugliness. It’s happy and sad. It’s grim and mild. It’s day and night. It’s life.
If someone ever decides we have to clean up the street, if yups start to move in, if anyone ever uses the word ‘gentrification’ in the same sentence as ‘Talbot Street’… we have to call in UNESCO. And ask it to classify the street. Places like this should be protected.