I’m a Dubliner - born and bred within walking distance of the city - and I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the place for as long as I can remember. Since my dad used to walk me into the ground every Saturday looking for records and tapes around the markets; since I was given a few slaps by some shite-hawks for not wearing a tracksuit while walking along the quays; since I first realised the magic of stumbling along dimly lit cobblestones with my ears still ringing from a midnight gig at the Olympia.
I’ve gone half way around the world to get away from it. I moved to the countryside just to spite it. But I always came back. I always came home.
Last time I left Dublin in anger was 2006. The place was loud, obnoxious and expensive. In fact, if you weren’t loudly and obnoxiously enjoying something expensive then you weren’t welcome. This was Celtic Tiger Dublin and, thinking back now, I was actually a very lucky boy.
I was finishing a degree that wasn’t gonna get me a job or earn me any money but an older relation who’d been away for a few years took me under his wing. We reconnected around this time as he returned home to set himself up closer to family. He and all his mates seemed to be minting it.
In fact, everyone of their generation that I met seemed to be minting it. These people had left school in the 80’s. They’d seen Ireland, if not at it’s worst, then pretty down at heel. They’d grown up on roads where most people didn’t own a car, and the one’s that did needed a push in the winter. They’d grown up with nothing to do in a country that promised little in the way of opportunities and they’d been part of a generation that had been ravaged by emigration.
By the time I was hanging around with them things couldn’t have been more different.
Some of them were driving custom made vehicles. Read that last sentence again. They were all wearing brand new gear all the time and a few pints down the pub no longer seemed complete without a few lines in the jacks to keep the fun going.
I was a broke student. The few pints I could afford would be supplemented by the rounds and rounds that would be bought without question or hesitation. That’s not to mention the lines and the pills that were thrown around with such abandon that I recall a number of occasions when I found Class A’s lying on the table in the pub that, when asked, nobody claimed.
But that’s how it was then. From around ’02 to ’07 these guys were on the pigs back and I was hanging around with them close to the peak.
The people my own age weren’t doing that differently. I had electrician friends I’d grown up with who were earning a grand a week into their hand on building sites and turning down overtime left, right and centre. Others working as architects that were getting into eye watering mortgages just to “get on the property ladder”. These guys didn’t have as much of the disposable stuff as the older ones but on paper they were spending it in a similarly reckless fashion and everybody was manic, like they’d won something instead of earned it.
Everything was so loud and crass and inflated that I felt like a stranger in my home town. You can only go to the pub on other people’s money so many times before you start to feel like an imposter, a hanger-on, a parasite.
Once I graduated I was working shitty jobs just to pay my rent and I was sick of being broke. Being broke is shit but being broke while everyone around you is flashing the cash will really do your head in. I was choosing to leave Dublin then but, in all honesty, it wouldn’t have been long before it was throwing me out on my arse anyway.
I don’t recall the exact day or reason I decided to go. It was a cumulation of things; of constantly walking past building sites as another shit-box of apartments got thrown up on what had been a tiny square of green; of going into a garishly designed drinking barn to pay way over the odds for some warm piss in an unlikely shaped glass; or of dealing with the general arrogant attitude that pervaded the city like a fog in a Stephen King novel, turning all of the innocent bystanders into mochaccino-drinking wankers.
I left. I moved to the country. I was very relieved to be out.
Within 6 months came the crash.
I won’t bore you with too many details, suffice it to say everything turned to shite very quickly. People lost jobs, people lost companies. Some people lost companies that had provided jobs for their friends and that did it for the friendships too.
It was one big, hard landing. A collapsing house-of-cards. It was a death-in-the-family type trauma for everyone. Of the group of friends that I went to school with, there are none left in this country now apart from me. Not one. They’re in Australia, Canada and London mostly. Not that any of them are complaining, mind you. But they left, like everybody else, because there was nothing to keep them here.
Enough of that bollox though, the point is, it’s not all doom and gloom. Dublin is waking up again. How do I know? Because I’m back here now. I came back because I got bored. I got bored and Dublin got broke again and it felt like the timing was right. And how do I know Dublin’s getting it’s groove back? Because of the Butcher Barber.
There’s a new kind of business in town these days. Like picking magic mushrooms in a field, once you find one you start to see that there are more. They’re different to what’s gone before. They’ve got a quality and attention to detail that we’re not used to here. They’re raising the standard, not just meeting it. They’re artisans and they’re doing it for themselves. The Butcher Barber is one of them.
The Butcher Barber is the kind of place that you’ve seen in black and white 1960’s photography books. The kind of place you where great coffee is drunk and great conversations are had. The kind of place you can ask for whatever haircut you want but you’ll get the one they give you and it will be great. You’ll look the part. You didn’t even know what the part was before you walked in but now you look it. It’s more expensive than a regular barbers but that’s the point. It’s very Dublin; the Dublin of now. The Dublin that’s getting it’s shit back together.
The Dublin that knows what a good coffee should taste like. The Dublin that knows whether a jacket’s been tailored or factory-made. The Dublin that lathers with a badger hair shaving brush and shaves with a straight razor. The Dublin that’s learned something. The Dublin that knows the value of everything and will pay the price when it can afford it. The Dublin that’s slimmed down and getting fighting fit.
We’ve had our arses kicked and handed back to us on a plate but like Cool Hand Luke we’re just getting back up and dusting ourselves off. It’s the Dublin that doesn’t even know it’s own strength yet but it’s getting there. You can smell it in the air, you can feel it in your bones, and the best bit is you’ll find it if you look for it. You’ll find it and you’ll enjoy it all the more because you’ve earned it.
You can find out more about the Butcher Barber here