Just before Christmas, I chanced upon a copy of the long out-of-print original soundtrack to the TV series “Bringing It All Back Home“. We still have most of the series lying around at home on video tape and, though I’ve yet to watch the complete series, I was keen to get one song in particular, Luka Bloom’s “You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time”, which is featured in the first episode.
Listening to the album, another song gradually got my attention: an epic tale of emigration, loneliness and despair, Paul Brady’s “Nothing But the Same Old Story” belongs, at first glance, to a different Ireland. Already, most Irish people have – thankfully – only faint memories of
Living under suspicion
Putting up with the hatred and fear in their eyes
You can see that you’re nothing but a murderer
In their eyes, we’re nothing but a bunch of murderers
For other reasons, however, the song seems strangely relevant. Just as in the 1980s when Brady’s “Hard Station” album was written, unemployment is high, the country broke and the callers to “Liveline” rage about their rising tax bills. Things were good for such a long time: wages were up, the city started to renew itself, people started returning for the first time since…ever.
However, for anybody with the slightest appreciation for what makes cities work, the problems were obvious. Dublin is a small city and it’s disgraceful how inadequate our transport system remains (five years to build two unconnected tram lines!); move outside the cosy bubble of the city centre and observe how the general lack of infrastructure has influenced a never-ending parade of housing estates, a shopping centre the only cultural advantage.
I used to work in the suburbs and the daily ritual of getting to work by public transport was like a window onto the problems of the city: board the bus at that paragon of Dublin architecture, the Department of Health, sit for 70 minutes to travel the 12 miles to work and witness first-hand the social problems of our city as the bus came under fire from rocks hurtled by disaffected youth at any of the many building sites surrounding the wild west that is Blanchardstown and its environs.
It was around then that I started to feel this was not perhaps the best way of life.
Out for a walk on a recent sunny spring evening on Dun Laoghaire pier – not incidentally, one of my favourite things about Dublin – I ran into an old music friend at the train station. We caught up and the conversation was pleasant but ended – as so many do these days – with the words,
“So, yeah, I’m fine. Oh, but, uh, I’m emigrating next week.”
All I could reply with was, “Oh, that’s funny…me too”. Not next week, of course. The arrangements are nowhere near complete. That’s the general plan, though, and it’s been a long time coming. I won’t pretend that the current economic climate has anything to do with those plans but it’s instructive to see how many others have the same plan now. Where did all the money go? We wasted our chance to improve things. There’s better places out there and I’m moving on.
I was just about nineteen
When I landed on their shore
With my eyes big as headlights
Like the thousands and thousands who came before
I was going to be something . . .
Smiled at the man scrutinising my face
As I stepped down off the gangway