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Streets of Love: Romance in Dublin in the 1970s


Tommy and Lily Hanly

Tommy and Lily Hanly

Tommy and Lily Hanly today

Tommy and Lily Hanly today


Tommy and Lily Hanly

There are dozens of special places that I could invoke on Valentine's Day; street corners and alleyways that other people pass without a glance, but which I can never pass without an intake of breath caused by a rush of memories.

These everyday Dublin streets have been sanctified in my mind by the benediction of youthful romance.

I am not unique: there are few Dubliners who do not turn a corner somewhere and not are suddenly ambushed by memories of being there, and being in love, ten or 30 or 50 years ago.

Hollywood's notion of a truly romantic locale - or a place to ruminate on the desolation caused by the collapse of love - is a glamorous location like the Taj Mahal in India.

This is where the late Diana Spencer strategically positioned himself so paparazzi could photograph her alone, forlorn and lovelorn, as her marriage collapsed.

But for most of us love is more likely to have occurred outside the other Taj Mahal - that once famous Indian restaurant, opened in 1966 on Lincoln Place.

That Taj Mahal was no palace, but it didn't need to be a palace to feel romantic on Valentine's Day. It just needed someone special to be there with you. When I visit Dublin's Henrietta Street I don't pause to ponder its Georgian streetscape; instead I recall frantically racing up its cobblestones just before midnight, in the 1980s, with a country girl who was a boarder in a hostel for girls there.

The nuns who ran it closed the door at midnight, locking out any latecomers who paused for one last kiss too many.

Crossing the Tolka bridge near the Botanic Gardens I recall more chaste times, as a teenager in the 1970s when I dated my first girlfriend.


We were each so shy about talking about the emotions that we would exchange letters at the end of each date. Cycling back to Finglas I would pause beneath that bridge to read her letter, sitting on the moonlit steps in the early hours.

Everyone in Dublin has some similar place of special memory: their private Taj Mahal.

It's timely then that the Axis Arts Centre in Ballymun are about to stage a new production of Christian O'Reilly's classic play, The Good Father.

This heartbreaking, hilarious love story, set in north Dublin, charts a year in the life of two people from the same city and yet worlds apart.

It was inspired by the playwright's time living there. "I spent 12 years living in Finglas, Glasnevin, Drumcondra and Phibsboro," O'Reilly explains. "I went to college in DCU, played soccer with teams from Fairview and Santry and married a girl from Raheny. The Good Father was born out of that world."

Axis has launched a competition to find other North Dublin love stories. They are especially keen to hear from people who always wanted to write but have had little or nothing published.

A special e-mail address has been set up at anorthsidelove@gmail.com to let the public e-mail in short poems, stories or brief memoirs recounting the experience of love found or lost on Dublin's northside.

The winners will be invited to read their stories on stage, as special once-off prologues, before each performance of O'Reilly's play.

The only rule is that entries should be less than 600 words.

Axis wants stories from people of all ages that exemplify the experience of being in love. These may be accounts of brief teenage infatuations.

But they could also be stories of epic journeys through life like that experienced by Elizabeth and Thomas Hanly.


One of their most treasured possessions is a photograph of them taken in O'Connell Street on April 29, 1956 - the day after they were married. Elizabeth is 21 and Thomas is 23. They are about to embarking on a visit to Elizabeth's mother in Crumlin.

But that day when they paused to be photographed, they were also embarking on a marriage that has now lasted for almost 60 years - 39 of them spent in Balcurris Gardens in Ballymun, before moving to Finglas where their love story continues today.

When they visited Axis last week with that original 1956 photo, they had just celebrated Elizabeth's 80th birthday.

They hope to attend a performance of The Good Father to hear someone else walk on stage to captivate an audience with their experience of how they found love on those North Dublin streets: places that the rest of us pass without knowing the special significance they hold in someone's heart.

See www.axis-ballymun.ie for details