Saturday, 28 February 2015

Drovers and drivers on the North Circular

Here's an old photo of a herd of cattle  on the North Circular Road in Dublin. Yeah, we really did have regular cattle drives up and down those streets back then. Not exactly John Ford or John Wayne, maybe, but just as "awesome" in their own little way...

Judging by the cars, cows and bus in the old B&W photo it was probably taken in the early to mid 1960s. See the Streetview view above for the same location 50 or 60 years on.

So the poor old bus driver at the head of the "bumper-to-bumper" mess in the old photograph must have been coming from the Infirmary Road end of the North Circular.

He would have just passed Ellesmere Avenue on his left, and been about to reach the crossroads at Hanlon's Corner / Prussia Street when a Brokeback Mountain's worth of livestock appeared out of nowhere.

That particular stretch of the North Circular is still very recognisable today - or at least that side of the street still is. But in the 1960s if you were to do an about turn you'd have been facing the city's cattle market.

After the market closed down the corporation built social housing in the 1980s on the land immediately south of the same stretch of the North Circular. In the Streetview shot above, swivel yourself around by 180 degrees to see the development, the Drumalee estate - which some locals still call "De Cattler".

Now back to the cattle market. Here's a general idea of its scale at the beginning of the 20th century...

Stoneybatter had its "Cowtown" nickname for good reason, when life was shaped by the cattle trade with its abbatoirs, slaughterhouses, piggeries and tanneries. Imagine the noise on market day. And the stink. And all that poo on the roads.

In those days... all the shops in Manor Street had half doors. They’d close the bottom halves as the drovers and “penny boys” and later on the cowboys on bicycles herded the cattle to the public abattoir in Blackhorse Lane or to unregulated private yards across the city, or to the docks for live export.
- Black Marigolds 

The final cattle market took place on 9 May 1973. No more drovers and cattle drives. Not officially anyway, though one or two back-street piggeries  lingered on into the early 1990s. The stink of urine from pigs in a confined space was unmistakable; it seemed to linger in your nostrils for days afterwards.

The smelly piggeries even featured in Dáil debates, such as the one on 7 April 1992 about the Environmental Protection Agency Bill. Here's Deputy Jim Mitchell:
In one of the oldest parts of the city, Stoneybatter, there are piggeries within private dwellings which pollute the whole neighbourhood but we have been unable to do anything about them although people have to live next door to them. Deputy [Eamon] Gilmore's amendment would ensure that this sort of thing would be stopped once and for all. The stench certainly pollutes the air and there may be other health risks.

There's another photo doing the rounds of cattle and drovers further down the road in Phibsboro. It's just past the "triangle" where the North Circular meets the Cabra Road (or New Cabra Road as my granda called it) at St Peter's Church and Dalymount Park.

I tried to take a quick snap from a similar angle the other daybut, as you can see, the traffic - not of cattle nowadays but a herd of cars and vans - was overwhelming.

This spot can be a terrible bottleneck for much of the day from Monday to Saturday. Here's another Streetview of the same houses.

Skip the rest of this blog post if you are not a bus spotter. I'm not either. Not normally. I wouldn't notice the colour or make of the buses as they change over the years, or the advertising campaigns on their sides. But I do tend to spot major changes in local routes: the bus numbers. What an anorak I'm turning out to be.

Wheeling in the years

Back to those two buses in the old pictures: it looks like a number 0 in the second B&W one, so we can ignore it - the bus was probably out of service. What about the number 10 in the first photo?

The 10 used to go along the North Circular from the Phoenix Park through town and on to Donnybrook to UCD's campus in Belfield. In October 2010 it was gone, replaced by a "new" (extended) 46A route from Infirmary Road.

Around the same time as the 10 disappeared, so did the 92 from Heuston Station down the north quays into town. It was replaced by the 145 from September that year.

The disappearing buses were part of a programme to "simplify"  the bus network in 2010, called "Network Direct". Those route changes were also supposed to reflect shifting urban populations and the way more commuters were taking to cars, urban rail or the Luas.

Network Direct led to more than 150 job losses, and in many cases much longer routes for the drivers who were kept on.

As for the transport network we've ended up with, from time to time Dublin Bus produces a map of its main transport arteries, a schematic map almost in the style of the London Underground one.

Yet I find it almost impossible to follow. Download their latest one from January 2015 (it's a PDF) and I defy you to follow the 46A's route from the Phoenix Park to the southside as it vanishes into a black hole in the city centre - a sort of "Bermuda Circle".

Many of Dublin's other cross-city routes have been amalgamated, cancelled, re-routed or extended during the past three decades. For example, take the number 12. Some people say its route was a hangover from the old tram system but I loved it: the bus used to run from Cabra on the northside via Phibsboro to Palmerston Park on the southside. There hasn't been a number 12 bus since January 1986.

Sugar, I'm about to mention 'Bagatelle'

Back to the 46A.

The 46A (there is no 46 - it  ended in October 2004) is apparently the busiest bus route in Ireland. It serves areas from the Phoenix Park to Phibsboro in a quite roundabout arc into town and then on to St Stephen's Green, taking in the campuses of both TCD and UCD, and the southern suburbs down to Foxrock and its other terminus in Dun Laoghaire.

The 46A is possibly also the most famous bus route. Maybe not famous to everybody, though at least to a particular class of city dwellers - such as generations of university students - that it has transported around middle-class areas of the southside over the years.

Or perhaps it's all down to the bus's mention in Bagatelle's 1980 single "Summer in Dublin". This rock ballad contained so much sugar that it should have been entered in Eurovision (apart from the fact that most people outside Ireland wouldn't have a clue about the lyrics):

I was singing a song I heard somewhere,
Called "Rock'n'Roll Never Forget",
When my humming was smothered by the 46A,
And the scream of a low flying jet.
And now that particular tune-worm has just burrowed its way back into the brainspace of anyone who was alive and living and remembers that summer in Dublin, and the Liffey as it stank like hell.

Sorry about that.