Solo: Death in Dun Laoghaire – Essay: Punk

  The first time that I had ever heard about Punk was via one of those ITV ads for the Sun newspaper. They were always incredibly lurid sensational, and featured the voice of a near-hysterical man who didn’t so much speak as enunciate in frenzied staccato bursts. “The Britt Eckland story, read … how … Rod Stewart loved to wear … her underwear on stage ….” These ads always invoked an almost Pavlovian response in me, making me want to leap off the couch and rush down the street and buy a copy. Sadly, neither The Sun nor any other tabloid crossed the threshold of our Irish Times reading household.

In Dun Laoghaire the focus of all youth culture was the shopping centre. It was here that I saw in the flesh the first manifestations of this new trend. The shopping Center is a ghastly mid-70’s construction of light brown brick, the colour of a sun bleached dog turd, which was dropped into the middle of the town dwarfing all around it. At the time it was seen as a glittering monument to progress and prosperity, with customers coming from near and far, its marble-floored precincts thronged with shoppers, and gawking, hormonally deranged teenagers. Now the shopping center is viewed as a bit of a disaster, a badly designed eyesore; it just about stays open, limping along, ailing. I visit it still; it gives me a kind of perverse pleasure, rather like stubbing your toe. Nobody from those days seems to be around: just some ghosts and I.

For some reason, the vast percentage of the Punks in Dun Laoghaire were actually from Dalkey. I do realise how ludicrous this must actually sound “Dalkey Punks!” The thought, the notion that a vaguely subversive, counter-culture youth movement might be based, might actually have come from Dalkey, brings a smile to one’s face. But back then in those seemingly more innocent times, before the boom, before the avalanche of corruption, the plague of international celebrities and the apotheosis of Bono, before the property supplements with their Star Property writers and their gushing, empty prose about gardens, square footage and sea views, before Dalkey had become a byword for conspicuous consumption, a bourgeois slum spoken about in that hushed knowing reverential tone which Irish people always seem to adopt when talking about money. Dalkey was a quaint but tatty suburb on the Southside of Dublin with its mixture of rich, poor and those in the middle.

The Punks were admittedly mostly working-class, a now endangered species in Dalkey, and came from the Villas on the poorer side of town, a term which is no longer applicable in a place where even the most modest dwelling fetches vast sums. They were overwhelming male and most seemed to sport an exotic moniker – “Magoo,” “Eatsie,” “The Buzz,” “Bonehead,” “Pa”. These names were an important feature in attracting the attentions of rebellious Southside middle-class girls for whom the forbidden fruit of the working class male was a traditional rite of passage.

There were boys in school who called themselves punks. They wore virtually the same rig-out as everybody else, the same v-necked jumper, a slightly narrower tie, their hair an inch shorter, their trousers slightly tighter, a pair of Doc Martens, a badge of a band, and a few names in Biro scrawled on their army surplus bags and perhaps discreetly peeking out from under a cuff a leather-studded wrist band. They competed to outdo each other, to like and espouse incredibly obscure bands, all the better if they had an unpronounceable name and they could lord it over the less well informed. This was my first experience of the transgressive, the avant-garde, and the snobbery, which I have always found, inevitably accompanies it towards us “squares” who aren’t in the know.

Being a Dalkey Punk brought you to the attention of the marauding hordes of serious thugs which Dun Laoghaire – and its environs – had in abundance. For back then, violence was for some not only a fact of life, but also an enjoyable recreational pursuit, a hobby, some thing to be savoured and enjoyed. And Punks, by drawing attention to themselves, became a focus for it.

One Friday night as I lolled around indoors, bored, my younger sister Lisa rushed in breathless; she had been to a party, at a Punk girl’s house, and had fled because it had become so completely out of hand. This news had the reverse effect on me, and I rushed up there as quickly as possible. It was in her parent’s house on one of those posh roads in Killiney that are now slavered-over by property journalists. As I arrived, things were starting to wind down; the Gardai were trying to move everyone on, and the garden was teeming with people. Apparently the Guards had even launched one of their mythical baton charges, which sadly I had missed.

Inside the house, amid much chaos and drunkenness, broken windows, up-turned furniture, broken crockery, cigarette-scorched carpets and spilt drink, I saw a much older man wearing a cardigan whom I took to be the hostess’s father looking on in a state of deep shock and disbelief at what had occurred to his home in a few short hours. It had been sacked. He was completely powerless, overwhelmed by sheer numbers and by the calibre and quality of some of their guests. I recognised some seriously frightening people hanging around, drinking from cans and laughing at the sheer fucking fun of it all.

Even the bathroom had been thrashed, toilet and sink smashed to smithereens. I remember seeing one bloke nonchalantly rifling through our hostess’s underwear drawer and pocketing anything, which caught his fancy. She too looked shell-shocked, mechanically washing glasses at the sink with a glazed expression on her face, as chaos raged all around. No doubt wondering how everything had spun so completely out of control.

A ghoul whom I vaguely knew sidled up and gleefully informed me how he and several other blokes had had sex with a very drunk and helpless young girl, whom he pointed out to me, dressed in black, lying slumped in a heap on the floor. Do you know what we call her now, he asked? “7 up”, he laughed that ghastly Dublin hyena laugh, which you only ever hear used at someone else’s misfortune. I felt nauseous and left.

One day one of the Dalkey punks appeared, working in Blackrock train station, sweeping up and collecting the tickets. I can still see him on the job wearing his crisply ironed green combats and his black Fred Perry shirt. I can feel his eye’s looking at me; I can see his thickset head with his cropped red hair and freckles. We would sort of acknowledge one another, a difficult area of etiquette in Dublin, and one I have never mastered, knowing people but never having spoken or been introduced to them.

Several months later in school, I remember being told that he was dead, that he and the rest of the Punks had been drinking, in the castle at the top of Dalkey quarry when part of it collapsed, killing him. Thinking about it now, it must have been terrible, a dark winter’s night the nearest road quite some distance away, the chaos and the panic. I remember at the time expressing disbelief and shock, and almost instantly forgot and thought no more about it for years. But then, in that inexplicable way that songs resurface and stick in your brain, I found myself unable to stop thinking about him, a person to whom I had never spoken a word, and who I’m sure never gave me more than a nano seconds thought.

I found my self imagining what he would be doing, if he were still alive. Perhaps he would still be working for C.I.E and our paths would occasionally cross, maybe he would be in the ticket booth behind glass. Me grayer and marginally wiser, him a little fatter, possibly married. Would he still be a punk? Would he be like the ex-teddy boy who worked for the corporation as a road sweeper? When he first started I was a child and I would see him enroute to school. How could you miss him? Sweeping the streets in his full rig, drapes, drainpipe trousers, brothel creepers and D.A. haircut, and over 30 years it all faded slowly away, until at the end, all that was left was a faint but poignant quiff.

He would now of course be wearing his compulsory regulation uniform, the fruit of C.I.E.’s corporate image consultants. Bright green polyester V necked jumper complete with C.I.E. logo emblazoned on its chest, his grey shirt, always with top button open striped tie always slightly askew, a symbol both of his bondage and resistance. We would probably grunt an hello at one another or maybe, or if I had missed the train into town and the next one wasn’t due for another few minutes, we might chat clumsily about the football until that familiar clunk and rumble of the rails signaled the train was coming into the station. And I walked down the platform to meet it.