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Ballymun by bicycle

I left Ballymun in 1998, before the billion-euro improvement plan which saw much valuable land released and the community without a shopping centre.

In the towns neighbouring Ballymun - Santry, Glasnevin and Finglas - I often cycled on wild goose chases to find some person or place I wasn't sure existed. I hadn't found a gang for protection so I learned to line up my bicycle at an angle and bolt out of the lift through the squat, doorless lobby into the daylight beyond.

On my journeys around north, inner-suburban Dublin through the sprawling maze of flats, tower blocks and tiny, terraced council houses, I raced along swollen, arterial roads and empty smaller streets. The feeling of freedom I got on a bike was to me a singular experience; I felt reticence and fear when approached by people I did not know. I saw the journey as mine alone to take.

I was a bookish child and the other working-class kids hated the way I spoke. Tiny geezers, all tracksuits and bravado; they broached no differences.

Others have written on the subject of Ballymun with an enduring sense of it as a place with a remarkable sense of community. I tend to see it as a shared experience of something like a dreary school, where no classes took place.

Ballymun was a sink estate, starved of funding to make improvements to civic amenities. It had an image problem in the rest of the country and, if you were from there, so did you.

The character and physical environment of Ballymun was inseparable from its alienation from the rest of the city. As a child I crossed an invisible border that demarcated an enclave of poverty amidst the light industry and airport to the north, and the inner suburbs of north Dublin to the south.

Future-proofed motorways, lined with enormous sodium vapour lamps, cut through the town like wounds on a skeletal body whose only nourishment came in mean, taxpayer-subsidised rations. On leaving, the air seemed less stale and the colours brighter; incongruent with the somber, grey towers which stood behind the brightly-lit embankments.

This view from the road was most people's experience of the Ballymun of that time; travelling uninterrupted before pausing at an elaborate roundabout, visible from my bedroom window on the fourth storey of an adjacent tower block. My room faced on to a large balcony with a concrete balustrade about waist-high, but with no glass or awning. At night I often watched with my arms folded on the ledge, as those drivers briefly surveyed the scene.

Not for long, before they crisply accelerated toward the airport.

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