On the East Wall Road, pungent fumes and the varying tones and timbres of engines follow the trucks lumbering towards the Port Tunnel. The road reverberates with future travels – to the airport, to ships, to other routes. It’s a place of movement, of a less-than-substantial present. It's dusty and dry and utilitarian, with a background of cranes and containers. No green except for a dark grove of trees around the squat Port Company building.
Alongside the ever-present flow of airport coaches and lorries are old murals and adverts peeling off cracked boards. The mostly empty lots that lie behind the hoarding are home to sweet smelling buddleia dreaming over the edges, and a Sunday market that sells the debris of old homes. Further along you find a pale blue doorway which once belonged to the warehouse of a candle company, but behind the door there is only empty space.
Around the corner, crisp apartments press up against the grimy brickwork and corrugated roofs of old warehouses with To-Let signs attached. This place feels good to me. Walking from Lower Sheriff Street under the rusting bridge over the canal, and then the sky opens up across the empty railroads, a kind of relief from the heaviness of the city. Space for a moment, air and water, dark-bottomed clouds drifting in golden formation for miles. It's quiet even with the port tunnel traffic humming around the edges. The river shows in flashes through the glass buildings reflecting back the sky and water on their glacial blue surfaces, but you can only smell the sea.
At the Luas line, scrubland is concealed behind once-bright blue boards that glowed when traffic lights turned green against yellow skies dominated by the skeleton of the failed Anglo Irish bank building. Now they are building something new, or so the cranes picking over its bones would indicate. It will probably be another high-rental plate-glass construction. What are they building and who are you that will live there?
There’s no such ambiguity about the grey buildings around the IFSC, which give little away of the transactions going on inside, they emit a cold efficiency. Mayor Square never escapes the bland projection of an architectural drawing, no ground for the imagination to get its root into. It's like a kind of alternative end of civilisation, a dead-end for the soul, you said.
Perhaps it's my own imaginative failure though because remember that one night when we walked down to look at the Liffey, black and swollen on a high tide, and the long white arm at the crest of the Samuel Beckett Bridge, with its red light for aircraft reflected like an undulating red eyed worm or the long elegant neck of a dragon?
The lights on the other side of the river, blue and violet from bars and hotels joined as though intended for this underwater spectacle of distortions and ripples. The lines of the bridge became crossed with waves forming a net to catch all the colours winding down in the deep. Jewel-like they were waited over by the white snake, waving seductively under a black oily tide.
Then we went to that over-designed cocktail bar on the corner where a jetted flame served as a fireplace like some pagan altar and we were for a moment almost impressed by the range of deluxe seating and cocktail menus and foreign businessmen at the bar, the exotic non-familiarity of it. Then it's back home to the cosy rental joys of black leather couches and black mould, a design combination not to be found in any weekend paper property supplement anytime soon.
I was getting evicted and you were saddened by too many recent losses.
A neighbourhood friend of mine joked when I first moved to the area – Don't be at any of that arty stuff down here, I don't want my rent to go up! He is safe (for now); I didn't even get a chance. Nor did anyone else; it simply skipped that phase this time. The reason I was given for my eviction was 'house renovation', although this turns out in time to be an untruth, really an excuse to raise the rent. The houses around me are going up too.
The streets around my cottage close in together in a small enclave, an old working-class area now increasingly rented. Many residents, both permanent and temporary, plant flower-boxes or hang bird feeders from the few trees there, giving the area a neighbourly warmth. There used to be a church at the corner, the Protestant St Barnabas, still giving its name to the nearby streets. It was knocked in the 1960s and replaced with a car-wash, although I heard a rumour that it subsequently reappeared down the country, in some other parish. Now awkward, outsized apartments block the view and the sunlight. Due to the layout of these streets it's not hard to become friendly with my neighbours, but I'm aware of the quick turnover of faces. My rental neighbours don't last long. Not the men at the bottom of the street, for example, who built a loft for pigeons, a colourful painted construction out of scrap wood from skips. One day they dismantled it and were gone. One of their abandoned pigeons still lives nearby, a brown tumbler with his fancy feathered feet in amongst the grey wild ones.
I hear that the owner of a lot of these rental houses has a helicopter.
All over the city my friends are losing their homes. The ones you think will last forever, passed from one artist to another, a bit crumbly, with uncertain heating but warm in atmosphere, always with stuff left over from previous inhabitants. Bit by bit they are getting sold or renovated for higher rents and more desirable tenants. But then for others it is worse still: families sleeping in cars, families fleeing conflict across land and sea, braving great dangers for a place to lie safe at night. Where are all we to go?
As a character in a play by Sean O'Casey puts it, 'The whole worl's in a state o' chassis'.
On Merchant's Road there's a sign that commemorates the 1913 lockout and the evictions that scarred the street and its community in the past. There is no-one to hold the front line now. My friend lives in one of these houses, now split into two tiny spaces for maximum profit, divided and conquered.
On Upper Sheriff street, when a wind blows in from the river, the railings sing. There's a lot of empty ground here, and a gap in the fence where someone is feeding the resident pride of feral cats, watched over by opportunistic magpies who feed there too when they get the chance. One day I see through the long pale dried summer grasses a large golden cat emerging slowly as though through his own Serengeti. Early next morning I spy a huge bear-like dog walked by a woman through the mist, a smaller dog trailing after.
If you go down the steps by the bridge on East Road you pass a house with a black dog who I worry about in summer because he never has a dish of water outside and further on down is a small but lush front yard always alive with sparrows. Down here in older East Wall it still feels safe against the tide - the old man on Church Road who sits outside his house like a hawk waiting for someone to greet, the big black long-haired cat who lives behind a wall with a fading blue door, the small well-kept gardens, or the ones gone to weedy seed, and boys on bikes or with dogs and the house with giant red hollyhocks in July, all watched over by the Sean O'Casey community centre with its circular windows, architecturally out-of-kilter with its neighbours and yet forming a new emotional heart.
I heard a story about a fire in a warehouse down here in the 1970s that destroyed local shops. It was known as the 'Lego fire' because the warehouse stored Lego bricks, some of which were found afterwards, soot-blackened, by children.
Later in the year the buddleia that sprouts on every vacant lot will go sour. Although I'm not there to experience it now, I can tell you it will mingle with the smell of piss on Sheriff Street and its sweetness will rot over the smell of the lorries on their way to the continent in the early morning rush of cold air and travel.
At the crossroads of Wapping Street, roadworks went on for over a year while I lived there. First resolved and then suddenly re-started – revealing complex networks of cables and water pumps underneath designed to keep the area from flooding, as it can be inclined to. Once a mysteriously perfect black hole was revealed right in the centre of the crossroads only to be just as quickly concealed while the traffic slowed down to approach the site at a frustrated but reverential pace.
On the bridge on East Road - known around here as Johnny Cullen's Hill - is a sign that, amongst other things, tells of a headless horseman sometimes seen in the area. Even before I noticed the sign you said you were sometimes unnerved a little leaving late at night on your bike after visiting, just a wave of something ghostly in the air. You always felt that the lights seemed more silent than usual and the road felt smoother, but neither in a comforting way. You always felt a bit of relief once you were over the small bridge, you said.
But then again that could also just be the liminal, watery energy of this area, trucks with their grumbles hinting at hinterlands and the sea, and empty spaces, and failed banks and small wild-lands, and that small patch of a park at Spencer Dock with its limp birch trees where once I saw a crawling vivid patch of weeds bright with ladybirds that only a week later was weed-sprayed to a dry husk.
At Christmas at the end of the bridge on Cullen's Hill the locals put up a tree in which they hang the names of those who emigrated and won't be making it home this year.
Here in these last days on this small street, in this tiny, cramped, shared living space I remember that you once said that it was OK to dream for something better. I was always pushed out to wander the streets for a glimpse of the river or the clouds grazing the plate glass mountains and impenetrable fortresses that stretch out along the horizon. There is a beauty too at times in the glances of blues and whites across the unreadable faces of these buildings and the thriving and mysterious lives lived within.
There's a series of promotional photographs on the hoarding of the halted Spencer Dock building project, and one depicts a woman sitting in a park. She is momentarily arrested from what one suspects is her work laptop. She seems perturbed at what has distracted her from the encroaching green. Perhaps it's the vixen's cry I heard one spring evening in the dark, boarded-up wilderness behind her.