The characters of the novels I read keep walking by out on the road. It’s a distinctly strange experience, to unexpectedly find a story threading through the streets of my neighbourhood. I would not have imagined, when I moved here, that the area of Parkgate Street was of central importance to the novelists of Dublin. And yet Keith Ridgeway has his traumatised protagonist stumble up North Circular Road and through the black gates of the Park for a dark night of the soul. In the morning she finds refuge in a guesthouse at the bottom of Infirmary Road, and I recognise the house that still sits there under another name, grotty and anonymous and somehow still in business. Joyce has William Ward, Earl of Dudley descend from the Park, waving at the ordinary Dubliners from his cavalcade along the quays. Most recently Banville has Quirke take a perfunctory walk up through the gates of the Park to spy deer above the shimmering summer grasses, a hint and a denial of relief from Dublin’s dirty, sweaty, crime-ridden streets. Had I sat where I sit now twenty, fifty, one-hundred years ago I might have walked outside and seen these fictions floating by. I know not really, but I still get a kind of pleasant ghostly shiver from it. Some people will be used, I suppose, to having novelists describe their streets. It comes with the territory of many cities. But it still comes as a surprise, here on the quiet edge of the Dublin.
It’s the Park, of course. I live along the fault line between the city proper and the giant, earthy mass of the Phoenix Park. Storytellers see the line. A border that can be crossed in both directions. A piece of rural Ireland dragged like a picnic blanket by one corner into the middle of Dublin city. In summer it is a verdant idyll, in winter it spends most of its hours in ancient, ungovernable darkness. Feeble antiquated gas lamps are stationed infrequently along its main roads—they act as guides rather than illumination. As soon as you leave the tarmac you enter a nighttime that is nothing like it should be so close to the city.
On Thursday night a homeless man was murdered most brutally inside the Park, a few hundred metres from where we live. He was badly beaten and then burned alive inside his sleeping bag. It happened just beside where I usually start my run—an area where I often pause and marvel at how lucky I am to be near such a green and beautiful place. I have seen a homeless man there a few times—he pitches a tent in a quiet, forested corner under the high walls of the Park. I don’t know if it was this man who was murdered. They cannot identify the body. It is incinerated. I read just now they have arrested someone for questioning. I am stuck reading about it.
This one sits on me. Murders happen in Dublin, as they happen in all cities. But this was so brutal, so close, so dependant on the unique isolation of the Park. I had been meaning all week to write about the pleasant appearances of my neighbourhood in novels. Of the Park, of the city, of the exciting and abrupt divide between them. Of my appreciation of the great expanse of anti-city stretching west from my door. But on Friday the notion seemed abhorrent. The post went unwritten. I considered writing something about the murder—its foulness, its closeness, its contamination of my most beloved park, the space it is occupying in my head. But neither pieces fits alone. Only both fit. The darkness is unbiased. It hides wonder, it hides horrors. We live near both.