Mining our past brings rich rewards. We meet three collaborators who are putting their own inimitable time stamp on our past. First up… Donal Fallon.
“I’ve always loved the culture of bootlegs. I find it fascinating within 24 hours of a game in Italia ’90, there were hawkers on the O’Connell Bridge selling t-shirts about the match the day before.” – Donal Fallon, Three Castles Burning
How long has Three Castles Burning been in existence? Where does the name come from? What was the motivation for starting and how has it grown since you chose to pour your thoughts and energy into it?
I started Three Castles Burning in 2019, at a time when I think many felt podcasts had run their course. I’m reminded of when Brendan Behan heard his brother Brian had a book on the way and joked the cat would have one next. I came late to the podcast party! I was very influenced by The Bowery Boys, a NYC social history podcast. I felt if it could be done for NYC, it could be done for Dublin. After a decade of the Come Here To Me blog it was time to move on.
Your divergence into various mediums and your ability to democratise history for everyone – from live walking tours to podcasts to informed merch and more – makes these stories new, interesting and engaging. What makes approaching your output in this way so interesting to you?
I think whatever we do in life, people always strive to do it in a way that is new. On one level, no city has been as well-served by historians as Dublin. There are names that are quite eternal, like MacThomais and J.T. Gilbert who did local history long before me. The challenge I set myself with CHTM and with the podcast is to try and interact with those who may not feel they have any interest in history.
So some of the subjects I’ve chosen, from the history of Dublin tattoo shops (a recent podcast) to work around the history of Dublin design and iconography, is deliberately aiming to reach new demographics. I find people are often surprised how much the past does indeed interest and even influence them, even if they don’t “like history.”
As the father of a history obsessed son, who actually ignited my interest in our colourful past, we thoroughly enjoyed the tour you lead. You really brought the history of our city alive and it left a lasting sense of pride in this great city of ours. What struck me though was the lack of locals on the tour. Is that normally the case and, if so, how do think we fare in terms of our interest, pride and involvement in our local history versus other localities you’ve maybe seen elsewhere? Had the tourist interest kept the museum thriving over local support?
I’ve worked in a number of Dublin museums – currently with 14 Henrietta Street and Richmond Barracks – and I am thankful to say that there is an increasing presence of Dubliners, both those born here and those who have landed here, engaging with culture and heritage in the city. We are now in a very odd moment, a world without international tourism, and Dublin will have to adjust accordingly.
I am lucky that with TCB I have the option to do very specific walking tours – I’m working on one about Portobello – which will have appeal to locals. I’d love to undo the idea that museums, galleries, cultural institutions in the broadest sense are things that ‘tourists do’. 14 Henrietta Street do great outwork, like Your Tenement Memories, inviting Dubliners to come in, engage with the place and talk, and I think that’s very special.
As someone who is fast becoming a modern spokesman and ambassador to keeping the stories of the past alive in these modern times, do you get the same generosity with offers of items, stories, documents and more on a regular basis or do you prefer to go hunting your own history?
The greatest challenge I’ve had is convincing people just what is important to hang on to! I love Dublin ephemera, I collect things relating to the 1988 faux-millennium, I often wonder how much of this kind of material was thrown into skips over the years! I’m always grateful when people get in touch with offers of these kind of items.
My favourite thing to do though is record recollections, and to gather oral histories, and I try and chase up as many of them as I can. People’s time is ultimately the most valuable thing they can give you.
I’ve always loved the culture of bootlegs. I find it fascinating within 24 hours of a game in Italia ’90, there were hawkers on the O’Connell Bridge selling t-shirts about the match the day before. Likewise the bootleg clothing you find in the markets, or the stuff that has gained real traction in recent years like Sportsbanger on the neighbouring island. At home, I love DBLNR and the new kids on the block, the 1 Road Laundry, who did the excellent HSE bootleg during Lockdown. It is obviously dicey territory legally, but I see them as a homage to the city and love playing with old familiar icons and symbols.
Your favourite piece of collaborative merch so far? What made it so special and meaningful?
Working with Paul Guinan has been really special. He’s a friend of many years, but I’ve also always liked his visual output. To get to work with a friend and make things that will stand the test of time is really fun. The ‘Creamy Pints? Yes Please’ design was special because it was so of its time. The anti-nuclear badges of the ‘70s were such a design classic, when the pubs closed it was nice to pay homage to it and tie it into Dublin.
I hope whenever they do the ‘big exhibition of Covid times’ in a century somewhere in Dublin they have a ‘Creamy Pints’ tote or badge in there! The design would have worked in normal times, but in lockdown it hit the spot perfectly!
The dream collaboration, project or product you have yet to make?
My friends at Casual Connoisseur in England have done some really nice things over the years – a bobble hat drawing inspiration from The Shining, magnificent scarves in conjunction with local producers in the UK and collared shirts inspired by Tony Soprano’s wardrobe. I love their Weir hats, bobble hats influenced by the great broadcaster and explorer Tom Weir, and would love to do one influenced by the 1988 Dublin Millennium.
Your favourite story that you unearthed along your time travels in the city? A long lost story or a wild bit of folklore, local legend or banter that turned out to be true… What story blows your mind or makes your heart swell?
I’m always really touched by the story of Willie Bermingham – Willie was a co-worker of my dad’s in the Dublin Fire Brigade, but what he did with ALONE inspires me and you constantly have people getting in touch about the episode of the podcast exploring Willie, talking about the things he did for their loved ones.
He had a tremendous sense of humour and really enjoyed life, despite the horrors he witnessed in his charitable work. He wrote his own obituary, which includes a great line about how he liked to “eat lots of red tape to teach the bureaucrats a little manners.” This year was the 30th anniversary of his death. During Covid times when protecting our elderly became so important, I really tried to amplify his story.
Covid has obviously created incredible challenge and chaos to the world around us but I believe it’s also brought a calm, clarity and camaraderie to local people who understand our interdependence and intertwining now more than ever. Are there tips and hints to where we go from here in history, notes of reassurance or warning that you would say could inform where we all go next?
I think there has definitely been a calm, many of us know our neighbours now for the first time. We’ve managed to bring community back – though here in Kimmage and Crumlin I won’t miss the sound of six different streets playing bingo at once, like a Dublin 12 Call To Prayer on a Sunday evening! We should really try hard to keep that sense of community.
Five cultural or creative works that you feel define the spirit of Dublin. Could be a book, music, play, artwork or whatever, either made here in Dublin by a local or elsewhere by someone who had great connection or affection for our town?
If I had to tell the story of the city in five works, the first – predictability – is Ulysses.
I was terrified of the book for a long time, Joseph Strick’s 1967 movie adaptation (which was banned here until 2000!) finally cracked it for me, I went back then and devoured the book. Literally everything from human life is in there – I’ve quoted it in pods on things as diverse as Jewish Dublin, tattoos, the Forty Foot and more.
The Inchicore Haiku by Michael Hartnett is something I hold very dear too.
Hartnett – though a Limerick man – captured something so profound about Dublin in it. The good and the bad.
From more contemporary times I really believe Lethal Dialect is one of the most talented people in our city. Hip hop is something many probably feel is totally alien here, but it is poetic.
His latest album is something I played constantly. He has a deep wit and a political consciousness. I often wonder why he hasn’t quite had the breakthrough he deserves.
The song that really got me in recent times is Long Balconies by A Lazarus Soul, an ode to the inner-city housing schemes.
It has a tremendous line that “nothing was spared, what we had we shared,” which sums up Dublin people at their best.
The artwork I loved most in Dublin in recent times was Ann Devlin in the Liberties by MASER.
I’m gutted it was removed. I love when MASER engages with the past.
You’re hosting a dinner for eight people, yourself and your partner included. Who is invited, living or dead, and why?
I would give anything to have the chance to talk to Tommy Smith once more. The co-proprietor of Grogans, he was a tremendous source of wisdom, always encouraging to me and he had forgotten more about art and literature than most of us will ever know.
Edna O’Brien, though a proud Clare woman, writes beautifully about Dublin. She still has it at her age, you can see why she upset the poor Archbishop so much! She broke so many barriers and we owe her so much.
Theobald Wolfe Tone’s diaries are among my favourite books. He was brilliantly human – faulted, romantic, hopeful, selfish, fond of a pint, a tremendous thinker, full of hope, a life of blunders and tremendous successes. The more I read of Tone the more I like him as a person, growing up in a Republican household he was a Godlike figure to me, but actually I’m convinced he was just like us all, only a little braver. I think Tone would be a tremendous addition!
I’d love to meet Speranza, Lady Jane Wilde. The mother of Oscar and a firebrand nationalist and poet. Her dinner parties were legendary so the pressure would be on to impress.
Herbert George Simms, the former Housing Architect to Dublin Corporation (1932-1948), just to ask him where we should go from here. We could do with him.
Finally, Dominic Behan, the legendary song writer and singer, who could bring proceedings to an end. I don’t have enough faith in Brendan to behave for an invite.
As the country, cities and towns reopen, what advice would you give to the likes of DCC to help attract locals in to discover the city and his stories, both historic and being written today, now that there is no sign of the tourists returning any time soon?
This year is entirely dependent on good faith. We’ve all seen the crazy prices on hotels in parts of Ireland that makes some Staycations prohibitive, I’d love to see a shift in thinking on this front. It’s not about making a quick buck, but building new relationships and opening people to new experiences. The economic impacts of this all may be long-term, and we need to make holidaying at home a joy.
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Words: Richard Seabrooke
Check out our interview with Paul Guinan here