Monday 26 September 2016

Tongues wagging over storm in a lobster pot on Dublin's 'Gold Coast'

Published 03/09/2016 | 02:30

David Coulson of the Tramyard, founder of the Dalkey Lobster Festival Photo: Steve Humphreys
David Coulson of the Tramyard, founder of the Dalkey Lobster Festival Photo: Steve Humphreys

Dalkey in disarray - who would have believed it?

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With its pristine streets, artisan shops, profusion of flowers and general air of opulence, the capital of south Dublin's 'Gold Coast' looks, on the surface, to be a model Irish village.

But seething beneath all this normality is a rivalry that surfaced over the town's 'Lobster Festival' last weekend.

"They're killing each other out here," says one local gleefully, as we sit in the sunshine outside one of the trendy village cafés.

Not since the days when local writer Hugh Leonard, who patrolled Castle Street like a literary patriarch, chronicled the jealousies and rivalries in the village has so much been said so quietly in huddled corners.

The controversy centres on the 'on-off' nature of the Dalkey Lobster Festival and the future of the Tramyard, a colourful bohemian enclave off the town's main street dominated by the Tramyard café and bar, run by David Coulson.

A bit like 1916, when Eoin MacNeill cancelled The Rising, the Lobster Festival committee called off the Lobster Festival "due to circumstances beyond our control" shortly before it was due to start.

The committee went on to say: "We can assure you that nobody is more upset than the Lobster Festival committee. We are absolutely devastated that we've had to take this course of action. Please trust that we did everything (in) our power to avoid this outcome."

David Coulson, described in reports as "the event organiser" and proprietor of the Tramyard Café, was behind the innovative festival, filling the Tramyard - a terminus for the trams at the beginning of the 1900s - and other venues with revellers last year.

But to continue the 1916 analogy, the event then went ahead anyway at the weekend, with great success and an estimated 40,000 people descending on Dalkey. The Tramyard was among the places thronged, while next door, The Queen's public house opened its car-park to food stalls as well.

Anyone who knows their Irish festivals - and my own experience goes back to the late 1960s and the so-called 'Steak Festival' in Mullingar - also knows that they are usually about alcohol, music and good-natured mayhem.

In the case of Dalkey, it appears that most of the lobsters were still laughing in their tanks when the clean-up began. But the confusion surrounding the festival has left the whiff of a feud in the air. For a village which is used to discussing planning wars - like that between prominent residents and Neil Jordan, the film director, and his next-door neighbour, the property owner Robin Power, over a bathing shed - the Lobster controversy has certainly set tongues wagging.

"Everybody has a view on it," says another resident, reluctant to be drawn into the storm in a lobster pot.

Dalkey has in recent decades developed a mythical place in Irish society. It is Bono's local village, and Michele Obama had the streets cordoned off when she went for lunch in Finnegan's pub. Chris de Burgh owns a house outside the village amid the legal luminaries and business tycoons, while celebrity economist David McWilliams (back on TV3 in the autumn) and best-selling writer Martina Devlin are also among its residents.

Singer Van Morrison, racing driver Eddie Irvine, film director Jim Sheridan and various members of bands like Simple Minds, Def Leppard and Spandau Ballet have passed through, not to mention bodice-ripping authors attracted by Charlie Haughey's tax exemption.

Most of them have gone, but what has been left behind is, on the surface at least, a model Irish village. It's clean and tidy, and it doesn't just pay lip-service to the word 'heritage', but fights for it, seeing off Starbucks and McDonald's when they came knocking and wanted to get a share of its cash-rich hinterland.

Even the pubs are different. The Queen's on Castle Street is owned by Tom Mulcahy, a former top banker with AIB, his wife June and their daughter Katherine. Neighbouring rival the Tramyard Café is run by the colourful David Coulson, his wife Evelyn and their daughter Leah. Both families live locally.

Coulson, who is a younger brother of the glass magnate Paul 'The Cooler' Coulson and drives a wine-coloured soft-top sports car, found himself mentioned in dispatches from the High Court on Wednesday.

Ken Fennell, of Deloitte, obtained a High Court injunction directing Mr Coulson to close his café, bar and restaurant in compliance with an enforcement order issued by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council on August 18 last. The council has expressed "serious concerns" about public safety and the landlords about preserving the value of the buildings. Stephen B Byrne, counsel for Mr Fennell, indicated that these related to a wooden gazebo built outside the premises.

After reading this report in the newspapers on Thursday, I proceeded to Dalkey - arriving at the Tramyard Café at about 5.30pm to find it open for business. The extremely polite young man who appeared to be in charge said that David Coulson wasn't around. He took my card and said he would ask him to phone me.

When I expressed surprise that the Tramyard Café was still open given the reports in that morning's newspapers, the young man said he didn't know anything about it.

He had just arrived for an evening shift and, having read the reports, didn't quite know what to expect.

I decided to take a walk around town, stopping for a pint and generally admiring the eclectic mix of bars, restaurants, artisan shops and tasteful décor, not to mention the imposing castle that graces the main street.

When I got back to the Tramyard at around 7pm, the iron gates on Castle Street were padlocked, with a hand-written note attached declaring: "Closed for a Private Function."

I returned on Friday morning to find a new notice, this time printed in large type: "The Tramyard Café is closed for renovations. Re-opening next week. Thank you for your support."

Developments are expected, but like Flann O'Brien's 'The Dalkey Archive', there are bound to be further surprises in this tale.

Irish Independent

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