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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
what's the story?

"The priests would have roast beef for dinner, and a fella would collect the drippings and sell it in his shop" - The songs and stories of Dublin's Liberties

A new programme has encouraged residents of the historical district to write about their area.
WE HAD A forge just down the road. It went from father, to father to father but it finished at me because you won’t make a living with the horses now in Dublin.

Tom Malone (66) grew up the Liberties in Dublin, a fourth-generation farrier.

He used to forge shoes for work horses with his father in their forge in the south-inner city.

“If you had a bad winter, a bad frost, you were up maybe four o’clock to go out you had to put frost nails in for the horses to grip the cobblestones, it was very dangerous,” he says.

In the 50s and early-60s, Tom says that the Liberties was a bustling place full of industry, and that work horses were used to carry coal and supplies.

“The amount of industry that was around was unbelievable,” he says.

Guinness, Jacobs, sewing factories all over the place, Donnellys (bacon factory) and loads else.

This all started to dry up in the 60s, however, and his father closed up the forge and the Malone farrier line ended.

“The industry just dried up then,” he said. “They started shutting down the tenements and people moved out into other places.”

DSC_0022 Cormac Fitzgerald / Tom and Men's Shed worker Ruth. Cormac Fitzgerald / /

The Liberties

Tom is a repository of stories from the Liberties area, which has a rich cultural and social history.

Stretching from St Patrick’s Cathedral to St James Gate and the Guinness brewery, the area has at its heart places like Thomas Street, Francis Street, Meath Street and The Coombe.

DSC_0113 Cormac Fitzgerald / Entrance to NCAD on Thomas Street. Cormac Fitzgerald / /

It has many historical churches, marketplaces and buildings within its boundaries as well as remnants of the old city wall, which separated old Dublin from the outside areas.

The National College of Art and Design is there, as is the Coombe Maternity Hospital, Vicar Street venue and plenty other notable places.

The area is also economically depressed, and has high levels of social housing and unemployment.

DSC_0082 Cormac Fitzgerald / Graffiti on rundown building on Francis Street. Cormac Fitzgerald / /

The people who live there are fiercely proud of their home place, with many families in the area having lived there for generations.

Tom has lived in The Liberties his whole life, and recently started a diary of food and what eating habits were like in the past when he was growing up.

One story he tells is of his friend Tomo, who lived with his brothers, sisters and mother between two rooms in a tenement flat.

“In them days there was no social welfare,” says Tom.

We went one day up to the Iveagh Market and he asked for sixpence worth of rind and fat of the ham of the slicing machine and that was their dinner for the night. They made a coddle out of it.

Another story is of the priests at St John’s Lane church who used to have roast beef for dinner.

“The only thing we’d know about it would be the smell of it,” says Tom.

DSC_0042 Cormac Fitzgerald / St John's Lane Church on Thomas Street. Cormac Fitzgerald / /

A shopkeeper named Arthur used to collect the drippings – the fat and juices – from the priests who ate the beef and would sell it at his shop.

It was the holy dripping… It was delicious the taste of it because we’d never get it ourselves.

What’s the Story?

Tom has scores of other stories: of how pigs used to run through the streets from yards; of families squashed into tenement flats; of bustling marketplaces and how everyone knew everyone else.

For the past six weeks, he has been encouraged to reflect on and write his stories as part of series of workshops focussed on the lives and history of The Liberties.

DSC_0117 Cormac Fitzgerald / A woman sells flowers at the corner of Meath Street. Cormac Fitzgerald / /

The What’s the Story programme involved people exploring and discussing their experiences of the area and then writing them down in the form of poetry and prose.

A showcase of what they created will be held tomorrow night in the Tivoli Theatre as part of the Liberties Festival – an arts and cultural event set in the area which is running all this week.

Three groups from the South Inner City Community Development Association (SICDDA) took part in the workshops, which was funded through a grant from Poetry Ireland.

The programme was developed by poet and writer Colm Keegan, who also oversaw the workshops each week.

Tom is part of the Men’s Shed, which is a group that meets twice a week for men in the area to talk to each other and have community contact.

The other group involved were Life-Skills service and the Women’s Group.

DSC_0034 A mural for the Liberties Festival designed by the Women's Group.

Jessica Laird, a coordinator on the life-skills programme at SICCDA – which provides education opportunities for young adults who may have left school early – says that the purpose of the programme was to get people to on reflect their experience of the area.

“It’s getting people with voices and stories that are untold and worth sharing with the community,” says Jessica.

“It’s about the past, present and future. The sessions were very therapeutic, people were opening up about things they wouldn’t normally talk about and it was very emotional.

That’s the aim of what we’re doing here. For people to produce something and to open up and be proud of where they came from.

Expressing yourself 

Like Tom, Jade Paget (20) was born and bred in the Liberties and has spent her whole life there.

Jade dropped out of school when she was 14.

“It just wasn’t really for me at the time. Nothing phased me back then and I just had no interest,” she says.

DSC_0029 Cormac Fitzgerald / Jade Paget (left) and coordinator Jessica Laird (right) at the SIDDICA offices. Cormac Fitzgerald / /

She got involved with the Life-Skills service in November, and has plans to study accountancy in college when she graduates.

What’s The Story has helped her open up and express she had about growing up and family trouble she experienced.

“It’s amazing. I never would have had the confidence before or been able to do it,” she says.

“But after a few weeks it’s been great opening up with everyone and learning what to do.

Colm really helps bring the best out in everyone… there’s times we’d all be crying because you’d never hear someone opening up like that normally.

Tom says that the area has changed a lot since he was growing up, and that the character of the area is slowly disappearing.

“The place is losing character all the time… it’s just becoming fast food places and shops,” he says.

But Jade doesn’t think so, for her the community is as close as ever.

“You wouldn’t walk down the street without recognising someone,” she says.

The older ones always say it’s changed and it’s not the same as it used to be, but the sense of community and the social element is still there.

More information and tickets for the What’s the Story event can be bought here

Read: GALLERY: Striking photos of inner-city Dublin and its residents

Read: Dublin writers’ exhibition opens in the Liberties

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