'It's in my blood - Philly McMahon on growing up in Ballymun and the 'poshie wall'
Four-time All-Ireland champion Philly McMahon has revealed what growing up in Ballymun was like and how it shaped him in his new autobiography.
In his new book, The Choice, extracts of which appear in today's Herald, the two-time All-Star has spoken proudly about upbringing in Ballymun, the difficulties associated with living there and its unique character.
"‘Who are you?’ he asks me. Good question. Who do you think I am? An athlete, a Dublin footballer, an All-Ireland winner? A businessman?," he said.
"Do you think I’m aggressive? A scumbag? A knacker from the flats? A dickhead? A role model?
"Ask me who I am and I’ll start with where I come from. I am Ballymun. It is in my blood. It has made me the man I am.
"It’s where I learned about pride and passion and the importance of hard work. Loyalty. Perseverance. Love.
"It’s where I first discovered that the world we live in has some very sharp edges, and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to cut yourself.
"Prejudice. Poverty. Violence. Crime. Drugs. Death.
"Nobody ever said Ballymun was perfect. Certainly not me. But then, what family is?"
The Ballymun tower blocks were constructed in the 1960s to accommodate a rising population and the former residents of inner-city areas but the lack of amenities and poor facilities led to social issues and crime.
"Ballymun was sold as the Ireland of the future, but they never built the facilities to make sure that this new community could survive and thrive.
"For years, there was no shopping centre or library or swimming pool. Instead of shops, we had shop vans, parked up in the fields, to make sure that we could buy our milk and bread and whatever else we needed.
"It was meant to be a new beginning, but without any support, people struggled to find work and the crime and violence of the inner city found a new feeding ground a couple of miles up the road.
"When drugs hit Ireland, they hit Ballymun hard. When our problems started to drag us under, the government left us to fend for ourselves until things got so bad that they couldn’t ignore us any more.
"Somewhere along the way, people stopped seeing Ballymun as a place and started seeing it as a stereotype. A punchline.
"Ballymunners rob your runners. They forgot that everywhere has its bad parts, and that we were more than just the sum of ours; that for every dealer, there were hundreds of families trying to get by and live their lives; that every tower block with its broken lift and a smell that would knock you back out the door was someone’s home. That’s all part of what it means to be from Ballymun – but it’s only a black and white version of the colourful, magical place I grew up in.
"Because nothing beat Ballymun on a summer’s day. Tops off, walking down the road with the radio on your shoulder, and everybody heading to the same place. We didn’t have a beach to go to, and if Ballymun didn’t have something, we’d improvise."
McMahon reveals that one of his favourite pastimes growing up was hitting golf balls over a wall between Ballymun and Glasnevin.
"Whenever people ask me if I play golf, I say no, because all I can do is use the driver. We’d tee them up in the field and then hit them over the wall into the houses in Glasnevin. They built a wall to divide the two areas, as if being from Ballymun was something bad that you might catch off us if we got too close.
"The poshie wall, we called it, because once you lived on the other side of it, you were a poshie. Paddy Christie, the Dublin footballer, lived on the other side of the poshie wall.
"He’d come out of the house to get into his car, and if we were hitting it well that day, a couple of golf balls would bounce down the road past him."