Saturday 19 October 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'He's a culchie. He's no right to an opinion on our seagulls'


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

There's a chap on the radio giving out about the seagulls. He's just after calling them vermin. Dublin's seagulls - vermin?! I wouldn't mind but he's a culchie. He's no right to an opinion on our seagulls.

That's daft, I know. But he wants a cull, he says. He wants Dublin's seagull population reduced. He probably wants the Army to march in with hurleys and baseball bats. But the whole point of seagulls is that there should be loads of them; the air should be full of them. If you live near the sea you're going to get seagulls, and Ireland - in case the poor gobshite on the radio has forgotten - is an island.

I get the big Collins dictionary down off the top of the fridge and I look up 'vermin': wild mammals and birds which are believed to be harmful to crops, farm animals, or game, or which carry diseases, e.g. foxes, rodents, and insect pests.

There's no way the seagulls are vermin. What your man probably means is that they're a nuisance. The seagulls can be a pain in the arse, especially if they're grabbing your burger out of your fist - although I saw that happening once and it was hilarious; the slice of gherkin slipped out of the burger while the seagull was flying off and it landed on the poor lad's head. But at least he got one of his daily five.

Anyway, I've always had a grá for the seagulls. I've never wanted one as a pet and none of us will ever boast that we have a rescue seagull at home. But I'm still very fond of the seagulls.

I've always lived near the sea. The part of Dublin I come from, you could smell the sea in the air. And you could hear it. Not the sea itself, the waves breaking, but the fog horns and, most of all, the seagulls. When I was a young lad they were building the Causeway Road across to Bull Island and the Alfie Byrne Road, from Clontarf across to East Wall. They used the city's rubbish as ballast for under the roads, and the air for most of my childhood was packed with seagulls, thousands of them - a sea of seagulls. They were swooping over the rubbish and bin lorries but I always thought they were building the road. And that feeling, that the seagulls were part of the city's workforce, has never really left me.

Our kitchen had a flat roof. The seagulls used to land on it every morning, and you could hear them walking across it, giving out and squawking. My mother used to look up at the ceiling.

- There they are now, lads, she'd say.

Telling us to hurry up and out to school.

My father had a thing he used to say when he had to be up and out of the house even earlier than usual, if he had a job across the city or down the country.

- I have to be up before the bloody seagulls.

Varadkar said a few years back that he wanted to represent the people who were up early in the morning, but I bet he wasn't thinking of the seagulls when he said it. Walk through Dublin at five in the morning; the seagulls are cleaning the streets. And they work hard right through the day. Go out to Howth and watch the seagulls grabbing the chips and battered fish from the tourists sitting outside Beshoff's, looking after the tourists' dietary welfare while they're visiting the country. If you could translate seagull - and I think I can; I'm close to fluent - you'd hear what the seagulls are calling: 'Don't neglect the veg! Don't neglect the veg!'

The best image of Dublin, the thing that captures the spirit of the city - it's not the dead writers or the Georgian front doors or the pints of Guinness. It's the expression on a seagull's face, one of the ones that sits on the Liffey wall with its back to the river, and what the expression is saying: 'What are you f**kin' lookin' at?'

The day after my mother died it was a seagull that woke me up. The day before - the day she died - had been dreadful. I'd gone to bed at three in the morning, after phoning the undertakers, after sitting in the kitchen for hours trying to remember my mother the way she was when I was a boy, or 10 years before, even three months before.

I woke and I didn't know where I was. Then I heard the seagull, on the roof right above me. And I thought I knew what he was saying.

- I'm sorry for your troubles, Charlie. But you need to get up now. There's things to be done.

And I got up.

Lay off the seagulls. The seagulls are grand.

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life