Thursday 19 October 2017

Dubliners go postal over the right address

Even if our postal system had developed a few cracks over time, it wasn't exactly broken, but this week our rulers set about fixing it anyway. The launch of Eircode ran into a barrage of flak from the off, and we can confidently predict that the new address system will give rise to rows in Dublin. These are often caused by snobbery as much as anything else.

The new regime does not yet seem to spell the end for the postal district numbering system introduced to the public in 1961; the districts themselves were drawn up under British rule in 1917. One of the great make-believes of Irish life is that we don't have a class system. Of course we do, and when postal districts went public 54 years ago, they instantly picked up a neat shorthand for social status.

From the beginning, one postcode has stood head and shoulders above the rest in terms of prestige or, if you like, snob value. In postal terms, sticking 'Dublin4' on your address had much the same cachet as having 'PhD' after your name. And no doubt this week there have been fears that D4 will go the way the way of the Dodo, Elvis and the 5p Post Office savings stamp. From now on, the postcode will have D04 at the start of its code, which doesn't have the same ring to it at all.

Wherever you find postcode snobbery, of course, you will also find resentment, and the more the inhabitants of that leafy borough flaunted their location, location, location, the more the rest of the country seethed. For Northside Dubliners the introduction of postcodes only served to put figures on an age-old rivalry which by the 1970s had produced a fine canon of jokes. Unfortunately for the Northsiders, it was the Southsiders, who at that point monopolised the brainpower of the capital's only two universities, who came up with the joke to trump all the others.

Q: What does a Northsider use for protection during sex?

A: A bus shelter.

But while the rivalry between the odd numbers of the Northside and the even numbers of the Southside remained mostly friendly, in the 1980s the term 'D4' became a dirty word throughout large swathes of rural Ireland, a term capable of making blood boil in the meekest creature.

That decade the best-selling book Irish Wildlife satirised the jostling 'types' of a fast-changing Ireland. It nailed the typical D4 dweller as Taisce Typicalus, who would have an Irish name consisting mostly of consonants, would pepper its conversation with 'dreary', 'authentic' and 'wanton destruction', would eat brunch, drink Earl Grey tea, and write to the papers decrying the destruction of the countryside by its uncooth natives.

The sworn enemies of this stereotypical D4 snob encompassed just about all of rural Ireland including Boggus GAAGA and its offspring Boyo Redneckus, who invariably wished to build a stand-alone home of his own cheek-by-jowl with his parents on the family farm. Rural Ireland was enjoying a giddy boom and, flush with EEC handouts, farm folk were throwing up one-off 'ribbon development' houses in a frenzy branded 'bungalow blitz' by critics working in the despised 'D4 Media'.

By the late 1980s, despite the fact that all the major newspapers were based in D1, D2, D6 and Cork, D4 had come to represent the mortal enemy of decent rustic folk. In fact, Dublin 4 transcended physical space to become a smug, condescending state of mind, and indeed a full-blown conspiracy against the real Ireland. And did the accusations of insufferable haughtiness force the Dublin 4 set into a retreat? Did it Hell. As the Celtic Tiger rampaged D4 became a full-blown self-fulfilling prophecy, home to the most preposterous property prices ever imagined.

But before postal snobbery reared its ugly head in D4, it had shown up in Dublin 11. No sooner had the first Ballymun tower block gone up in 1966 than the residents of nearby Ballymun Avenue agitated, successfully, to have their address changed to Glasnevin Avenue. Youngsters applying for jobs were warned by parents and teachers that any CV bearing the word 'Ballymun' would go straight in the employer's bin.

It's a warning still common today in other disadvantaged areas. In the past residents of some parts of the Southside kicked up blue murder over plans to reclassify them from Dublin 6 to Dublin 12, which they felt had more downmarket associations. They reluctantly took the address Dublin 6W as a compromise.

Áras an Uachtaráin, situated north of the Liffey, is classified southside for postal purposes, fuelling sundry conspiracy theories.

Postcodes can have an enormous impact on property prices. In 2003 a developer told the Planning Tribunal he'd bunged the late Liam Lawlor TD £40,000 to change a housing scheme from Clondalkin, D22 to the more salubrious-sounding Lucan, Co Dublin. That stroke of a pen, the builder revealed, netted him £3m in added value.

The tags may change, put postal snobbery is part of what we are, and that is hardly likely to change with Eircode.

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