Sunday, 5 June 2016

Christy Brown's coal lorry, Arbour Hill

Dublin writer and artist Christy Brown was born on this day in 1932. My Left Foot, Jim Sheridan's award-winning film from 1989, tells the semi-fictional story of Christy (brilliantly played by Daniel Day-Lewis), and this is a famous scene shot in Stoneybatter, around Arbour Hill.

By this stage of the film the family has fallen on hard times. Christy's bricklayer dad (Ray McAnally) has lost his job and, with no coal to keep warm, the family are surviving on a diet of porridge and...

OK, let's fast-forward to where Christy, to his mam's (Brenda Fricker) dismay, devises a cunning plan to help his brothers feck some coal off a coal lorry.

Note how Christy's mother is pregnant. As he writes in My Left Foot (his real-life autobiography, that is):
"I was born in the Rotunda Hospital, on June 5th, 1932. There were nine children before me and twelve after me, so I myself belong to the middle group. Out of this total of twenty-two, seventeen lived, but four died in infancy, leaving thirteen still to hold the family fort. 
"Mine was a difficult birth, I am told. Both mother and son almost died. A whole army of relations queued up outside the hospital until the small hours of the morning, waiting for news and praying furiously that it would be good."
Twenty-two children. Imagine.

Christy spent his early childhood in North King Street in Dublin's city centre, then the family moved to Stannaway Road in Kimmage, just around the corner from Brendan Behan's family on Kildare Road.

So I guess Arbour Hill in the coal lorry scene here is standing in for a slice of Kimmage. And strictly speaking it's not the bottom of Arbour Hill either but Temple Street West and Temple Villas as they meet Montpelier Hill, Arbour Hill and Parkgate Street.

Coincidentally, scenes for a new low-budget TV drama are being shot on Temple Street and Temple Villas tomorrow morning (6 June 2016).

Temple Street West then (above) and now (below)

In the meantime the distinctive back of Collins Barracks is mainly unchanged apart from the colour of the railings, and the row of cottages are still there on that left-hand side of Montpelier Hill, though various derelict sites have since been filled in, including a large extension of the Ashling Hotel, and some of the new apartments now sprout washing lines and satellite dishes.

Montpelier Hill then (above) and now (below).

Over in Kimmage, a commemorative plaque on Christy's house came about after Georgina Louise Hambleton, an English student studying literature in UCD, had a chance conversation with a taxi driver about Christy.

She made contact with the Brown family and later did her thesis on Christy. She then campaigned to have him commemorated in the house where he spent so much of his life.

In the film (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!) Christy woos and marries his nurse, Mary Carr. But Georgina Louise's biography from about 10 years ago, Christy Brown: The Life That Inspired My Left Foot, shows that it was far from happy ever after.

As a review of her book in the Guardian puts it:
"Mary Carr took Christy away from his friends and family and from his beloved Dublin, according to Hambleton. He ended a 10-year affair with a married woman, Beth Moore (depicted here as a beautiful love story) to be with her. 
"In his final years, those he was once closest to barely saw him. In the end, Christy died at the age of 49 after choking on a dinner of lamb chops. The bruises found on his body even suggest Mary was abusive in the end."

St Bricin’s

The interiors of the nearby St Bricin’s Military Hospital off Arbour Hill were also used in the film. Among a spate of barracks closures, the medical facilities at the hospital in Dublin have since been transferred to the Curragh in Kildare.

You can read more about Christy's relationship to his mum and dad and more - Brand New Retro blog has scanned an interview with him from the May 1972 edition of The Word Magazine.