Camera strap hung heavy on my neck, I turn away from the River Liffey and its many bridge children in pursuit of something less familiar. I’m met by a medley of overflowing thrift shops and drowsy brick-faced bars as I weave my way up Capel Street, gradually leaving the tourists and their Kiss Me I’m Irish! sweatshirts behind. The flashing neon signs advertising Guinness and genuine rock n’ roll and unspecified quality goods lessen as I plod my way toward the north.
Thirty minutes later, I find myself accompanied by an increasing number of grocery stores, an occasional passerby with a briefcase and the rushing winds of white cargo vans as they rattle off to their next assignment. A boy of nine or ten in a rumpled school uniform kicks his heels against the ruddy brick face of his row house, the next twenty row houses stretching down and around the corner and out of sight. It’s too late for him to be in class but too early for his friends to have run home to change before meeting up for sweets and bus rides. An arching roadway steers me past the Jameson Distillery, tired out by talks of tasting notes and closed for renovations, and a block of brick wall before it narrows to a single lane and spits me out on Arbour Hill Road, Stoneybatter.
Up and coming! Artisan goods! Hot yoga and tofu!
The buzz words which litter the Internet with their descriptions of Stoneybatter had done little to intimate the area’s quiet confidence. Half-bleached but still rouged with life, I could feel the self-assuredness of the weathered brick fronts which extended down Sitric, Viking and Olaf Road. Here they stood and would continue to stand long after I left. After all, they’d seen more than I’d ever seen or could hope to see. The red and yellow doors shone out like inextinguishable celebrations - of spirit, of survival, of a nation which refused to be stamped out.
The Lilliput Press interrupted my wanderings at the corner of Sitric Road, a welcome roadblock to the prolonged patter of my boots against pavement. In the window, neatly stencilled postcards and prints had been strung up by clothesline and a chalkboard reading Books Live Here! had been propped against the storefront. Just inside the front door, I was greeted by a wall of freshly painted bookshelves, a generous grey sofa and a vast wooden desk behind which a girl with a thick bun of black hair and rounded glasses sat typing. The tip-tap of fingers to keyboard provided the soundtrack to a lengthy discussion of how much milk and sugar the publisher was to add to the elderly man on the sofa’s cup of tea. As it turned out, just a titch of milk and no sugar at all. The best words I could use to describe Lilliput would be loved. Loved and stuffed, like a university graduate home for eight Christmas dinners. At first, I was distracted by the tightly packed wall of colourful spines and interesting Irish spellings but I was soon drawn into conversation with A, an animated Irish publisher with a head of thick peppery gray hair and a memory for every story that had been published at Lilliput in the last thirty years. I ended up with three books in my arms and enough money for one - the girl behind the wooden desk reassured me that A wouldn’t mind a bit if I didn’t buy a single one so I bought one but wanted all three.
Ushered out thirty minutes later with the sort of hearty goodbyes you normally reserve for family, I began my descent to the south just as rain clouds began to roll themselves out over a fading orange sun. Returning to the mouth of the supermarket-studded roadway, I watched as groups of black birds swooped down on North Dublin’s crooked chimneys, only to find themselves lifted again by a gust of wind. What we often forget about the North is how easily one stumbles into precisely those pockets of warmth that we’re all so desperately seeking in this world.