independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Dublin: The rock star homes tour

Last week, the National Trust in Britain opened the former home of Sir Paul McCartney in Liverpool to the public. With so many tourists coming to Dublin these days, should the same thing happen here? Certainly we're not short of world famous rock musicians.It's one of the quirkier facts of human nature that we're obsessed by the childhoods of great musicians. The city fathers of Salzburg have always known this, hence their loving restoration of Mozart's birthplace, ditto Bonn and Das Beethovenhaus.

Last week, the National Trust in Britain opened the former home of Sir Paul McCartney in Liverpool to the public. With so many tourists coming to Dublin these days, should the same thing happen here? Certainly we're not short of world famous rock musicians.It's one of the quirkier facts of human nature that we're obsessed by the childhoods of great musicians. The city fathers of Salzburg have always known this, hence their loving restoration of Mozart's birthplace, ditto Bonn and Das Beethovenhaus.

Rock stars are no different. People are prepared to make pilgrimages to obscure addresses, wondering if there is something special about this dingy bedroom or that garden shed which inspired a legend.

This was demonstrated again last week when the UK's National Trust, protector of venerable British landmarks from Stonehenge to Blenheim Palace, put on display a modest council house in Liverpool.

Number 20 Forthlin Road, the humble terraced gaff in question, was distinguished from its equally unremarkable neighbours simply because it was once home to the teenage Paul McCartney.

At a church fete one day Paul met a chap called John Lennon and invited him over to Forthlin Road to swop guitar chords, and the rest is cultural history.

Liverpool rocked in those far off days but lately the balance of pop power has shifted east to Manchester, south to Bristol and, not least, west to Dublin.

Certainly we're not short of world famous rock musicians. And with so many tourists coming to Dublin these days, a tour of the childhood homes of our rock stars might be a good idea. And perhaps there is a good argument for turning the houses where Phil Lynott or Bono grew up into national monuments.

So is there a case for opening up the childhood homes of our own musical legends like the National Trust has done in Britain?

Around the time the harassed McCartney family were making a midnight escape from hordes of Beatles fans in Forthlin Road, the infant Paul Hewson was taking his first faltering steps in a modest house in Glasnevin, North Dublin.

Young Paul was still living in the house when mates started referring to him as Bono, and still there when three friends joined him in forming a rock band.

In fact, the Hewsons continued to live in the Cedarwood Road house until 1986, by which time U2 had made three worldwide bestselling albums and Bono was in a position to buy huge houses for himself and his family.

So what has happened to the house now that its celebrated former occupants have been scattered to the winds? I went to Glasnevin to find out.

Cedarwood Road is not quite pilgrim proof, but it's not an easy place to find. It's set back from the main road in a maze of tidy and relatively quiet streets. Like much of Dublin, it has become gentrified in recent years, though its proximity to the sometimes troubled Ballymun estate clearly influenced the young Bono's social conscience.

On arrival, I asked a couple of passers-by for directions and immediately regretted doing so. The young man and woman stared sleepily back at me through half-closed, blood red eyes. ``Do you want us to show you?''

The couple weren't local, to judge from their directions, but I was struck by the thought that here was the raw material for one of U2's most moving songs: ``Running to Stand Still,'' which deals with heroin addicts in Ballymun.

Cedarwood Road is relatively sheltered, however, and this is reflected in a rise in property prices. The National Trust may have snapped up Paul McCartney's old house for £55,000, but it's a safe bet that Bono's childhood home would sell for two or three times that.

The house is now owned by Tom and Kathleen Ryan, who were completely unaware of the renown of the previous owners when they bought it. It was only when they were toasting the sale that Bobby Hewson, whom the Ryan's describe as a ``wonderful, down-to-earth sort of bloke,'' told them about his famous progeny.

Tom Ryan was initially attracted to the property because it had a garage. The semi-detached house may not bear comparison with Bono's current home, the giant pad on prestigious Killiney hill, but it is spacious and comfortable.

But while Bono probably remembers with nostalgia his former back garden, which runs a relatively generous 40 feet down to a concrete wall, he probably doesn't miss his old bedroom.

The box room has completely changed since Bono slept there, but it hasn't got any larger and if he was ever consigned there for behaving badly as a kid the chances are he learnt his lesson pretty quickly. It may have been during one such period of incarceration that he carved ``Paul Hewson'' in ornate letters onto a block of wood which Kathleen found in the room when the Ryans moved in, and which she still preserves.

The Ryans don't generally allow U2 pilgrims inside the house but don't mind tourists taking pictures of the outside. On the occasion of their first Christmas in Cedarwood Road they were somewhat shocked when Bono turned up to ask how things were going and whether the fans were harassing them (``which they weren't really - they are generally very nice'').

U2 co-founder Dave Evans (``the Edge'') also grew up in modest but comfortable North County Dublin surroundings. His parents still live in the house in Margaret's Park, Malahide, even though their millionaire son has no doubt offered them a choice of places to move to.

Mr Evans Sr, who bears a remarkable resemblance to his son, answers the door politely to U2 fans but doesn't let them in. Evidently U2 pilgrims aren't too much of a hassle for the family, or one assumes they would have taken the opportunity to sell the stylish semi and move away.

Whether they would have got anything extra for the house, on account of its famous history, is open to question. Estate agents reckon there is a certain cachet to living in the house of a former rock star, but that this is offset by potential harassment by fans.

The new owners of Boyzone star Ronan Keating's former home would probably agree. Paul and Carol Morris' home on Highfield Green in Swords is regularly visited by fans of the teeny-bopper group, although by and large they tend to tend to behave with more restraint than they show at gigs.

The couple bought the property from Ronan himself, who had paid off the mortgage as a gift to his mother. The house doesn't look old enough to have been around in anyone's childhood, until you realise that Ronan is barely out of adolescence himself; in fact he moved into Highfield Green as a teenager (the same age as Paul McCartney was when his family first moved to Forthlin Road).

Like the Hewsons, the Keatings were able to take advantage of their son's wealth and move on to better things, but they certainly weren't escaping from poverty. The Highfield Green home is bright and modern, with an ample garden and large front room.

The room which Ronan used to sleep in is spacious and looks out onto the relatively quiet Green. It is now occupied by six-year-old Laura Morris who, you've guessed it, has adorned the walls with posters of Boyzone.

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