As we celebrate the 200th edition of Totally Dublin, we asked past editors and contributors to reflect on their memories and highlights over the past 18 years of our existence.
TAKE A CHANCE – PETER STEEN CHRISTENSEN
Editorial Director at TD Towers since day one
“You’ll publish three issues and you’ll be gone”
“When Stefan Hallenius rode into Dublin on a white horse some time in 2004, proclaiming to change Irish media forever, I was tagging along on a three-legged mule doing my best to keep up. All I had to do was make sure the content was of interest while he would convince people that the one thing they all really needed was a new free magazine about Dublin and that it was to be made by a couple of Swedes. An absolutely brilliant concept, of course. But, not unsurprisingly, no one gave us a chance.
“You’ll publish three issues and you’ll be gone,” was the standard take on his ambitious pitch. But the grand plan somehow worked, probably because we stumbled upon some great people to help us out every time we needed some local handholding.
Those initial years provided a lot of highlights and memorable incidents but there’s always that one particular episode of controversy that springs to mind immediately. With Christmas coming up in 2004 we wrapped up the fourth issue, sent it to print for it to return to the streets of Dublin on the other side of Christmas.
At the time we gave a full page in each issue away to an illustrator who would illustrate a song of their choice. And for this particular issue we had Stephen ’Frankenstyles’ Kelleher, opting for a striking image of a huge wave made up of various limbs, apparently depicting the Pixies song Wave of Mutilation.
All well and good, until the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand killed over 200,000 people making it the worst possible timing of publishing full page illustrations of floating body parts. Unlucky, but we were showered with blame nevertheless.
At other times luck came to our aid. When Dublin Film Festival came along, I wanted to do a film themed issue with some of the big names featured. For some reason – ok we were a tiny freebie in a faraway outpost I know, but I didn’t see it that way at the time – no film company would give us access to anyone of interest.
That’s when I found out that an elderly lady on the Golden Globe jury hailed from the same tiny town in Sweden as myself.
A couple of hours later I had her on the phone, suggesting she would do a Philip Seymour Hoffman interview the next day.
“And oh by the way, I’m having dinner with George Clooney tonight, how about I do one with him too?”
PIGEON FANCYING – CONOR CREIGHTON
The meditation maestro whose helm at the magazine is marked by many memorable Batman and Robin style escapades with photographer Steve Ryan.
“Journalism was this kind of magic dust that allowed you to drift into other worlds for a time”
“I think the story that I remember most was a piece I did back in 2006. It wasn’t remarkable or spectacular. I spent a week shadowing a pigeon fancier Paschal Mooney in Drumcondra.
I helped him feed his pigeons. I ate all the digestives in his press. I met his grandkids. We drove out to the Curragh to watch them race. I commiserated with him when they didn’t return. I met the other pigeon fanciers: all men, short-sleeved, Arnotts basement shirts, bic biro in the pocket, forearms like bus drivers, wit that could skin a cat.
Nothing wild happened. Nobody lost their temper. Nothing was broken or damaged, but I just remember realising for the first time that journalism was this kind of magic dust that allowed you to drift into other worlds for a time, and that was very exciting. Paschal passed on a few years later.”
REASONING – DANIEL GRAY
The whippersnapper who carried the magazine through the bail-out, its 100th issue and the turn of a new decade.
“The resilience of this magazine is engendered by the generations of contributors that sweat, bleed and piss Dublin.”
My editorial reign of terror coincided with what felt like a rupture in the city’s social fabric. Post-bailout, Dublin’s capital controllers were in defensive mode. And while the Lillies’ and Café en Seines held fast, yuppiedom’s grasp on our urban culture felt dead in a ditch.
The tidal flow of global tech cash that would come to reshape the city had only begun to lap on our shores. In a shifting landscape, subterranean streams began to bubble up. Puddles of experimental art, music, food and fashion made a new civic culture seem possible.
In the year I joined, doing it yourself was the TD ethos. To say things ran on a shoestring would imply we had shoes. The freesheet racks that had been stuffed with Event Guides, In Dublins and Mongrels throughout my teenage years lay bare (excepting GCN, which similarly bucked the trend). We were told print was dead; the strategy was still survival.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then the da is desperation. At 20-years-old, my publishing CV comprised of a few features printed in a Trinity student music magazine and a failed attempt at becoming more popular with my Fifth Class peers by running off a homemade comic on the St. Mary’s B.N.S. photocopier. I must have said something vaguely reassuring in a late-evening job interview in Coffee Society, because the following day I arrived into our Camden Street office (now neighboured by the ghastly Wetherspoons) crowned editor. The time to throw some shit at a wall had begun.
We threw a lot of shit at the wall. In the first year some of it glued to target: an impeccable re-design (nice work, Lauren!), and the launch of a digital arm that would beat out the Times and Indo for website of the year. But looking back at those editions on Issuu.com ahead of writing this article, I’m struck by the minuscule contributors list which I had made the habit of embellishing with in-joke aliases.
DIY is liable to lead to accidents (particularly with dexterity as dodgy as mine). An especially sloppy editorial episode led to an afternoon spent in the company of Temple Bar’s chief waste collector, hauling hundreds of Totally Dublins out of the district’s puke-flecked bins.
We had led with a cover story on Dublin’s skinheads, a post-Vice subculture piece where we spent a snowy December afternoon in the company of some young, steel-toed, hard nuts. My total lack of diligence meant I never investigated quite how young, resulting in an ear-flaying phone call from the mother of our 15-year-old cover star, none-too-pleased to find a photo of her son flashing his Sta-Press on Ha’penny Bridge in the middle of a school day. I was told to expect a lawsuit.
In his rage at being subsequently disciplined, our young Oi!-boy mobilised a gang to destroy every copy of the magazine they could get their crucifix-tattooed fingers on. Skinhead Mum thankfully saw my bin-diving as suitable penance and decided against taking us to court.
If there’s one compliment to apply to that era, it’s that we were never boilerplate. Something more potent and focused began to emerge from the dilettantism though. New formats like Street Style, a molecular examination of the city’s most storied micro-communities, sequenced the DNA of Dublin’s urbanity. We became bolder in taking down the city’s institutions, whether the city council, developer cabals or shadowy vintners.
The weird comics disappeared too. I became less concerned with finagling interviews with visiting musicians and film stars from PRs, and more focused on consummating the magazine’s strapline: the key to the city. Through wide-shot, ambitious features we attempted to pulp out the juice that makes up Dublin and serve it undiluted.
Two landmark articles reflect this approach. The first was 2012’s 200 Reasons Not To Leave Dublin, a labour of love birthed by Karl McDonald. This reboot of an In Dublin magazine proto-listicle became something unexpected – a viral hit. Our website traffic analytics looked like an Omicron spike. This attempt to time-capsule the city resonated, and we unexpectedly found ourselves as entrenched in the Twitter trend sidebar as One Direction.
A couple of nights after publication I found myself dimwittedly consenting to appear on 98FM’s late night chat show, gee-eyed on a bus from Donnybrook after adjudicating at the Student Media Awards, to be executed by a firing line of auld fellas for our inclusion of reason number 16: “our common hatred of Bono”.
Ten years on, how does the list hold up? Well, I count about 20 reasons that sadly no longer hold true. R.I.P. to some real ones, such as the Science Gallery, Screen Cinema and Chapters (The Cobblestone, thanks to deft activists, still makes the cut). There are maybe another five reasons we should pretend were never included as they would, frankly, see us cancelled. But a 12.5% churn rate isn’t bad. As somebody who abandoned ship to live a traitor’s life in London, I have revoked my right to pass judgement: find it in the top-read section on the TD website and send your hate-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org if you disagree.
What about how we envisioned our future? The second article I come back to is 100 Ways Dublin Will Look In The Future, the lead feature for issue 100 and the one I’m most proud of from my tenure.
We asked everybody from Vincent Browne to Dustin (who sadly could not flap an answer out before deadline) to gaze out into the city’s time horizon and tell us what they spied. Just three of the predictions here to reflect upon:
Brian Finnegan – “…the Irish government will have legislated for same-sex marriage, getting rid of the inequality for children of same-sex couples enshrined in our law. On O’Connell Street gay couples will hold hands, safe in the knowledge that they live in one of the most liberal and secular countries in the world.”
Clement Esebamen – “Children of the new century born to African immigrants are among the most deprived of Irish children. They will watch their parents struggle through multiple jobs, growing up in hostels in utter poverty… In 2020, I’d be delighted to say our 20 year olds are thriving and feel completely part of a vibrant city.”
Alex Synge – “DUBLIN GONE. EVERYBODY DEAD.”
Depending on your perspective, we’re at least part the way towards this horizon, right? Unsurprisingly, the most recurring prediction was hoverboards. It turns out we got e-scooters, so please indulge the metaphor: we are anti-social, accident-prone, but a fun ride nonetheless (particularly when half-cut with your mates).
The asset I inherited, and was pleased to pay forward, was the use of these pages as a testing ground for developing writers, illustrators and photographers. I type this from a room with Fuchsia Macaree’s and Andrew Nuding’s artwork hung on the walls, a bookshelf stuffed with works from Megan Nolan, Roisin Kiberd, Tim Smyth and Kevin Breathnach. There was no need to stuff the contributor list with names like Benjamin Flocka and Cap’n Jazz. We had all the frenetic, occasionally violent talent we needed.
So, here’s to the 100s, 200s and 300s. The resilience of this magazine is engendered by the generations of contributors that sweat, bleed and piss Dublin. If that sounds like a horrendous cocktail, it no doubt goes down better than a Carling in the Camden Street Wetherspoons ever could.
CREDIT WHERE DUE – IAN ‘Totally Dublin DJs’ LAMONT
A generations of greats played a new tune under the stylus of Lamont.
“Stefan offered an incredibly rare slice of encouragement: ‘It’ll be easier next month.’”
“I appointed myself editor of Totally Dublin in September 2013, a week before the October issue was to go to print. Stefan had made a point of appointing absolutely nobody to edit Totally Dublin in the wake of Dan Gray’s departure, so I took it upon myself to make the symbolic journey across the basement of 60 Merrion Square to sit in Dan’s old desk, leaving behind me the roles of editorial factotum, office dogsbody, and the world’s least convincing credit control officer. After that first issue went to print, Stefan offered an incredibly rare slice of encouragement: “It’ll be easier next month.”
Easier, sure, but never easy. When I think back over my forty issues in charge of TD, my main memory of the work is the endless supply of stress that comes from the enormous juggling act of being the editor of a small print operation. This is all the more pertinent when one takes on the role with no practical experience of managing people, managing budgets or delegating.
Looking back at the covers of the old issues I edited, however, there are plenty of moments that I’m proud to have printed and scattered all around the city: David Jazay’s brilliant photos of Dublin Before The Tiger (TD118); a great issue all about Dublin’s built environment with wonderful writing by Emily Carson, Roisin Agnew and Kevin Breathnach, and photos of the inside the (still rotting) Iveagh Market by Steve O’Connor (TD121); two cover stories dedicated to the Marriage Equality referendum lit up by the work of Jack Gibson, Killian Broderick and Fuchsia MacAree (TD127 & TD128); shoe-horning in a Euro 2016 guide with hilarious sticker-book illustrations by Ruan van Vliet (TD141) and Cáit Fahey’s photos that captured the explosion of joy that was Drop Everything in 2016 (TD142) all leap out at me as particularly satisfying moments.
If I think past the stress of my time as editor of course, the funny thing I remember is the little prick of joy I got as someone submitted their copy or photos or illustrations, and myself and Lauren Kavanagh could get down to the business of making a magazine over g-chat.
Gathering together the output from so many talented contributors was the best part of each monthly cycle — well, that and nailing a great pun for a headline — and it’s no surprise that so many of them continue to enrich my life many years after I cleared out my desk at TD Towers for the last time.
Beyond those already highlighted above, Róisín McVeigh, Julia O’Mahony, Danny Wilson and AJ Lonergan deserve special mention for their encouragement and friendship.
Ultimately, what I’m saying is, the lasting impact of Totally Dublin was the friends I made along the way.”
TILTING THE LENS – STEVE RYAN
The adventures he had, the stories he could tell…
“Reflecting on this time has made me realise that I’ve been trying to recreate the community and life that I enjoyed in Dublin during this time in the cities that I’ve lived in since. I’ve only ever come close.”
Dublin is my favourite city in the world. When I left it for a holiday in May 2009 I didn’t realise that I would only ever be returning as a visitor.
Shooting for Totally Dublin gave me the keys to the city, which in the late naughties was a hub of culture and community. With every issue, there was a new adventure, from exploring subcultures with Conor Creighton, befriending anoraks on weekends with Jane Ruffino, Free Art Fridays with Will St Leger to carboot sales at the Bernard Shaw and art installations in the Ballymun Towers by Maser.
The people I worked with at Totally Dublin shaped the photographer I am today and have become lifelong friends.
The most memorable feature stories will always involve Conor Creighton. Together we worked on a fishing trawler in the Irish Sea, visited the world’s busiest Leprosy hospital in Nepal, danced on the Hill of Tara with the rising Summer Solstice sun, opened an Irish embassy in Kosovo, sabotaged fox hunts in Wicklow, exposed Irish sex tourism in Thailand, and navigated landmines in Bosnia.
One of my favourite afternoons in Dublin was when our friends at Thinkhouse PR kindly allowed us to take their client Jerry, of Ben & Jerry’s, out for 99 ice cream and a walk around the Iveagh Gardens. We had so much fun that I forgot to factor in enough time for a proper shoot.
Or when we interviewed Shane McGowan for the Christmas issue and he wouldn’t let me take his portrait until we had six pints in his local.
Reflecting on this time has made me realise that I’ve been trying to recreate the community and life that I enjoyed in Dublin during this time in the cities that I’ve lived in since.
I’ve only ever come close.
FREEDOM – MICHAEL MCDERMOTT
What can he say about himself? Simply the best…
“Championing our city thought the prism of creativity and the people who bring it back up, when forces have brought it down, lies at the heart of our existence.”
Moving from being the publisher of cultural e-zine, Le Cool, which had done its job and run its course, to assuming the mantle of editor of a cultural freesheet might be likened to decide to row the life raft back to the Titanic for a final dance on the starboard. But, leaks aside, we’re still afloat.
My history with Totally Dublin goes back to its very origins which I worked in the music industry and remember meeting its publisher Stefan Hallenius, and first editor Peter Steen Christensen, in Solas (now The Jar) on Wexford Street.
Here were a pair of swashbuckling Scandis intent on disrupting things, before the word had its current import. They were going gung-ho, armed with elegant design considerations and a whiff of minimalist urbanity.
Fast forward to spring 2017 and I’m about to send my first issue to print – a cover story shot by Sean & Yvette, in which we gatecrashed a cheerleaders’ convention in Tallaght and got them to form a pyramid holding the number 1-5-0 aloft. The idea came from watching an anniversary screening of Donnie Darko and, sure, why not? And that’s really been one of the essential joys of editing this magazine – in essence, the thing we all crave, freedom!
Freedom to curate content, freedom to showcase ideas, freedom to support emerging talents, freedom to connect people and platform original writing, criticism and content. Sure, we’ll never register as much momentary heat and clicks as the influencer who has just posted a video of themselves applying facecream or eating their lunch. But that’s a fork in the road – we’ve chosen our path.
It’s been a thrilling and weird time since then. On one level, you realise you are just clamouring for attention and headspace like everyone else. You feel august, yet somewhat redundant against the splintering digital waves which crash upon the shore. And then you snap out of your wallow. You hold a copy aloft and recognise that there still should be a place for original content, great photography, design and ideas.
Totally Dublin has always been a launchpad space, a parish which connects. And that editorial freedom is still at the core of what we do. Where else would you find a nine page, 8000 word, free-wheeling interview between Damien Dempsey and David Balfe?
It seems like an aberration – the notion that ideas and ruminations need space, don’t need to be wrapped in clickbait and can expand beyond a pull quote. In truth, print is a luxury in this era and the decision not to bandwagon on every passing moment could also be considered an outlier stance for a media organisation, albeit a small one.
Every magazine we admire, as discussed in our Magnified section, is also trying to do something different – to find a reason to make a tangible and tactile experience worthy of consideration.
The time for striving to be the ‘most’ popular and the ‘most’ relevant is over. The time to be braver and more unique is here. Championing our city through the prism of creativity and the people who bring it back up, when forces have brought it down, lies at the heart of our existence. And sure, if that ship lets in too water, it will still be a pleasure to hum ‘My Way’ on the way down and not take a selfie.