Culture: Drogheda's strongest currency
"You'll be some pup when your tail grows!" - Old Irish Anecdote.
In a way, I muse about Drogheda as if it was a person. So much promise stunted by policy and politics. Culture is an unstoppable driver, though. So let me share reasons why this old pup's tail is growing!
It finally hit Drogheda in the past three years. There are new places like Epik, The Coffee Box, West Gate Coffee, and Ariosa when you want a coffee in an Independently run business. The emerging quarter around the Mathews Bus Stop at the Fairgreen is promising - a space to watch.
Because most of the more prominent traders in Drogheda moved out to the M1 retail parks, the whole town dynamic has changed. There is now ample parking for friends to meet up for food and coffee. There are too many restaurants to mention now - the rising tide has lifted the boats in this regard. When things open up, go try somewhere new. You will be pleasantly surprised.
In preparation for the Fleadh Cheoil, a lot of money was spent on getting the riverside lit up around St Dominics Park. The result is a bustling park atmosphere to be proud of. It's no longer a handful of dog owners and winos on the benches. All ages and ethnicities are drawn to the park. The Skate Park within the park is possibly the most significant Cultural change the area has ever had. The result is a safety that skaters feel in numbers. So a whole scene happening in front of us there. The playground attracts families. The path to Oldbridge House attracts everyone from competitive runners to people strolling with a coffee from Town!
Sometimes you can be so close to something that you see every minor imperfection. Look at the wood in the slideshow pictures above this blog post. I want to use this as a way to describe how you could create your own culture.
Up close, we see imperfection. It's confusing and frustrating. Where do you start? A little bit further away, things appear more uniform and smooth. Less imperfect. A little stronger. As the wood is combined together in a fence, it gets substantial, uniform, and far-reaching. Appearing together is the core of every good scene in every area, like those skaters in the park! Maybe then the Bandstand in St Dominics Park will be built with enthusiasm. In Louth, there is an opportunity. I'm open to helping any musician out there in whatever way I can. Because building fences is worthwhile, even if you will never reap the benefits.
There are 3 government-supported hubs in Drogheda. The Droichead Arts Centre, Barlow House, and The Highlanes. Year after year, they stoke the curiosity of the Town's residents. Is the curiosity net wide enough? It will always be - so long as we build enough fences! Drogheda is blessed to have these facilities. Art and Theatre have a strong base in Drogheda with lots of success stories. Keep your eyes peeled for those Programmes, especially Droichead Art Centre's Traditional Music Weekend.
Drogheda United is a reasonable force. They are back in the Irish Premier Division. In Inchicore in Dublin, St. Patricks Athletic has seen an uplift in grassroots supporters. Alongside this, the local brewery, Rascals Brewing Co, has seen an uplift in business on Match Days. What I see is the seeds of a robust and long-standing idea being sown yet again. Support local means, support local. I expect Drogheda United to grow as a club organically if the Culture in Drogheda is nourished. Would a song for the stands from a local fan be welcome? Of course! So why not a Craft beer?
Dundalk Culture (yes, Dundalk Culture!)
Dundalk, ever Drogheda's rival, is the best example of a town that supports local producers. To drink Harp Lager and smoke Carrolls Cigarettes meant you would "smoke the town, drink the town." Harp Lager, Mcardle's Ale, and Carrolls Cigarettes are no longer produced in Dundalk. But the culture of Local support is embedded. And people from the top to the bottom of the social ladder in Dundalk still smoke the Town and drink the Town. The success of Dundalk FC is built on supporting locals, just like they do now in St Pats in Dublin.
Everything is more bespoke today. From cakes and Balloons at a party down to the little ribbons around a present. So when you see Wholey Cow milk in Dromiskin or potatoes from Ballymakenny Farm, you see a price tag that's, as we say in Drogheda, "a bit dearer." So the phrase "a bit dearer" is accurate. But is it just dearer in a precious sort of a way? Because it supports a community, the one you live in. This is why I like buying a roll in Hurley Brothers. It has nothing exclusive or expensive about it. But it's the support you can see.
Of course, more expensive doesn't mean better. But it can mean more trade, more jobs, and more business feeding a more diverse net culture. We can all be sure that thinking this way would create a cultural transformation in Drogheda really quickly!
Culture is currency
So off we go. We read this and think, "it has nothing to do with Sean's music." Well, maybe not right now. Just keep building those fences. Eventually, they will pave the road forward.
All the best,
Taken from Dreaming is Allowed, my debut album, The Commuters Song has been a polarising song for reasons that I understand and acknowledge with respect.
It seems like now is the right time to talk about the song in the context I intended it.
A couple of years ago I remember doing an interview for Irish Music Magazine. Seán Laffey (from the Magazine) called me up and we spoke for almost an hour about a varying degree of things! Then Seán mentioned the Fado Musicians in Lisbon. These Musicians were early European songsters who wrote Urban Folk songs about their world, their city. A sad fact about these musicians and this genre is that the Touristification of Lisbon has gotten so huge that most of the musicians now have to be BUSSED IN to play their gigs to the Tourists in the City. The Fado identity is being changed by poor policy decisions in Lisbon.
Above: Fado Sculptures in Lisbon, where Female Fado singers do most or all of the singing
Back to Dublin. And to Drogheda. When we fly into Dublin Airport we are struck by the green fields of Fingal, the area North of Dublin Airport. How beautiful it is. Has anybody wondered why Ashbourne, Rathoath, Drogheda, Laytown and Bettystown have thousands of homes with no amenities built around them? When there is practically no development in places like The Naul and Balrothery? There are some big additions like Balbriggan / Millfield and Rush / Lusk - all are close to the Railway lines. All are good for the commuter. There are reasons for this. But that’s a whole different can of worms I won’t open here!
Ultimately it was our Government who decided how to develop Dublin during our last great housing boom from 2003-07. People like O’Donnell, the character in The Commuter Song, ended up having the unique opportunity to buy back his rented house from Dublin Corporation for a really good price. People like O’Donnell then sold their houses on the private market for up to 100% more than what they paid for the house originally - because they wanted a bigger home with all the mod cons. But the bigger home came with a catch. It was miles away. Just like the Fado musicians, they traded off the local knowhow, the friendly faces and the childhood haunts for lower rents, bigger apartments/houses and for a fresh start.
How many families in Glasnevin or the now gentrified Stoneybatter hold all their identity and their childhood memories there? How many reluctantly traded it off for a move to another Town? That's what the song is about. It’s about the common irony of convenience. There always seems to be a price on things.
Drogheda's property inflation has effected my life. And it has effected all my friends who I grew up with and friends who I played GAA with. If I moved to Dundalk for example, I would pay about 60,000 euro less for a modest three bedroom home. Thats because of external bidders, not local demand.
So when I ask O’Donnell, “are the hours on the road worth your big Semi - D?", I am saying to people who move to Drogheda - move and be a part of the community. Move and take an interest in Regional Town life. Move and tell your children they were born in and are from Drogheda like Jim Gavin's Co Clare parents did when he went on to play for and manage Dublins Football team to unrivalled success in the GAA. Move to and spend your money in Drogheda. Move here and increase the value of life here. Create your own Culture around you. The price isn't so high when you do those things. Christ, why do you think I call my music Urban Folk? It is what it is. I'm writing about things that are actually happening in my town, Welcoming you to Ballsgrove on my next album! Move here if you want all those things. Thousands of you did. Thousands of you didn't. O'Donnell was one who didn't... but there is a happy sequel to The Commuter Song... and it's coming soon to you!
PS - on the subject, look up the Instagram page “Crazy house Prices”. This profile is run by a Dublin couple with an amazing attitude. They want to remain in Dublin. And they want to highlight the lunacy of the Dublin Market. David McWilliams (Irelands most renown Economist) had them on his podcast a few weeks ago and they really won me over. Go Follow them!
All the best,
The Guardians article on the Fado musicians
The Commuter Song!