Gerry Boyle here. And there.
I’ve been traveling, visiting family in Ireland, doing some sightseeing in Scotland, and–as they say in these parts–it’s been grand.
The other night I was at a house party in Dublin, chatting with some lovely people, and they asked if I was having a good visit. I said, oh, yes. They said, where have you been? I said, well, today I went to Ballymun. They nearly guffawed, collected themselves to say, Ballymun? What would you go there for? To check it out, I said. Now why would you want to do that? Well, I said, I write crime novels.
Ah, they said, it all becoming slightly more clear.
Ballymun is a very tough section of Dublin. There’s lots of revitalization stuff going on but It’s pretty poor. There are lots of recent immigrants (Poles and Lithuanians), some tough longtime locals, and vestiges of Ireland’s failed experiment of American-style high-rise housing projects. The last of those still standing is boarded up to keep out the drug dealers, graffiti covering the walls. My favorite: “ASO IS A RAT.”
Not a small thing, being a rat in Ballymun, so Aso may have been in a bit of a jam with his mates. I took a picture of the wall where this was written and went on my way. Met some Traveler kids. Talked with a South African newspaper seller. (He said he wants to go home but can’t afford the ticket). Saw where kids had rolled a car onto a playground baskeball court and set it afire. A guy who was said by a local to have just gotten out of prison for drug dealing. He looked pretty happy to be home. I was, too. I grabbed the 17A bus back across town and made notes to myself the whole ride home.
To my family, this is expected. My kids, when a wrong turn or some other misadventure leads them into the toughest part of whatever city they happen to be visiting, say to themselves, “Oh, Dad would love this.”
Interesting, this fascination some of us in this trade have with the gritty, the dangerous, the meaner streets. If you’re going to write gritty books you have to see some gritty reality and I can never get enough raw material. The South African newspaper seller, pining for home, is going to make it into a novel one of these days. Maybe he’ll have landed in Portland, Maine. Stranger things can and do happen.
So on to the next city. Museums. Cafes. Historic sites. Maybe a question for a policeman or a bartender. Anyplace around here where tourists don’t usually go?