On cold, wet days I really feel for them; O’Connell, Larkin and the other lads, condemned – on account of their noble achievements- to a life of stony immobility rooted to the grey, chewing gum-smeared concrete of our main thoroughfare. I scurry by them in the mornings and wonder whether the tick-tock of Clery’s clock imposes order to their lives and whether they ever sigh to themselves “I’d fecking kill for a drink in The Grand Central” or “I’d risk my bronze plating for a win at the slot machine in Dr Quirkeys”.
The tiny Mary Mediatrix shop, which blasts out religious tunes from a battered speaker and which claimed on hand-made posters in advance of the general election that “a vote for the Labour party is a vote for abortion” is an historical artefact made charming by the implausibility of its continued existence. The Spire too – the triumphant baby claw that remains of the Celtic Tiger – speaks of time passed.
The news stands selling the Herald, as well as some specialist magazine titles survive against the odds to compete with the similarly-priced and far more extensive range in Eason’s. Those that man them are industrious and tough and their presence often masks the groups of three or four addicts slumped against the walls outside of shops with cans of Dutch gold at their feet and expressions that flicker from vacant to murderous.
The beggars too are early risers. I admire their flowing gypsy skirts and the sleepy faces of the babies they cradle in their free arm. I watch in the afternoon as tipsy old men respond to flirtations, addressed to them in wide-eyed, broken English. There is always a moment when the few coins that these men have paid for their flattery are rejected for being too paltry and it is at that moment that the expressions of the men change for it is then they know that they have been had and that the price of their time was an extra portion of curry chips at Londis.
The top of O’Connell Street is a blend of Belvedere boys and foreign children in wine-coloured pinafores making their way to school. There is a grotesque butcher’s shop on Parnell Street just at the junction with North Great George’s Street. All sorts of fleshy entrails dot the grubby countertops and I see a pair of Chinese hands skilfully tidy them into rows and columns.
Families in tracksuits queue for social welfare in a little newsagent which doubles up as a post office. Once I saw a father assault his three-year-old son on Marlborough Street. The most brutal and disgusting face I have ever seen; there is a sharp knot of disgust in my stomach as I type and the memory floods back. I didn’t intervene and it fills me with some shame. What would have been the point though? I had seen the violent force the man was capable of and the little boy’s mother was with him, watching it all with the ennui of perpetual deprivation.
There are moments of relief though. Daffodil Day coloured the street golden and pinned to bopping buttonholes an image of energy and hope and growth. The man who hops about on O’Connell Bridge each morning, wearing a gigantic grin on his face as he hands out a complimentary copy of MetroHerald to groggy commuters on their way to work makes me smile every day. And in spite of the indignity of public urination, unsolicited mounting and discarded beer cans, perhaps Larkin, O’Connell and the lads do stand proud as they watch over the city and the people they helped to forge. After all, it is their city, as it is mine and for every loss at Dr Quirkey’s there is the possibility of redemption across the road at Mary Mediatrix.