Last days of the Travel 90

Last month Dublin Bus announced that the Travel 90, a ten journey ticket that allows journeys on multiple buses for a single fare, would be discontinued. It looks like stocks will run out this month.

Travel 90aIn one chapter of my book, Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, I wondered how many times I could use the ticket in a ninety minute period, and if there was a way I could structure my journey so that I might end up somewhere in Dublin at random – perhaps somewhere I had never been before. Every ten minutes I changed buses and then flipped a coin to determine which direction I’d continue in – stay at the same bus stop or cross to the opposite side. I called it the bus game.

The Travel 90 ticket was introduced by Dublin Bus in 2003 as a replacement for existing two-journey tickets. The fact that it accommodated a potentially infinite number of bus journeys (‘unlimited travel’!) in that 90 minute period meant that it wasn’t long for this world. Buy one of these bus tickets to infinity and get bus hopping before they’re all gone!

About my book.

Hidden City: paperback

Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin will be published in paperback by Penguin in the UK and Ireland on 2nd April.

Colm Tóibín, in his review for the Guardian, called the book ‘ingenious and affectionate’.

It was called ‘marvellous’ by the Daily Telegraph, ‘brilliant’ by the Sunday Business Post and ‘captivating’ by the Sunday Times. The Irish Independent said ‘the capital has cried out for a book like this’. It was chosen as the Guardian Review‘s book of the week (27/9/14).

Click here to read more reviews and for further information about the book.

Hidden City events in Dublin

I’ll be back in Dublin for two events in April, to coincide with the publication of Hidden City in paperback.

Thursday 16th April at 7pm, dlr LexIcon, The Studio, Dún Laoghaire.

As part of this year’s ‘Dublin: One City One Book’ events I’ll be doing a talk called ‘Hidden Dublin’, discussing the influences on Hidden City, and the form of contemporary Dublin. Admission free. Booking not necessary. (link)

Saturday 18th April, 4pm-8pm.

YoungHeartsRunFree are organising ‘Dublin: Hidden City’, a walking tour and more with me, Eleanor Tiernan, Barry McCormack, Dónal Lunny and Clare Barrett – with other surprise guests, surprise venues, and generally…the element of surprise, as we explore the role of psychogeography in Dublin town, and the kinds of memories that have built this haunted city, through readings, song, chat and more! In aid of the Simon Community. Very limited spaces, so do book early. €14 including booking fee. (link)



Following planes on St Patrick’s Day

On St Patrick’s Day in 2011 I set out to walk from Clongriffin, a half-built new town on Dublin’s northside, to the airport, with the vague idea that it would tell me something about how I perceived the city. An account of this walk can be found in the eleventh chapter of my book, Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, which is out in paperback on 2nd April.

Accompanying me was my friend Jonathan, who had bought an apartment in a block overlooking a vast swathe of waste ground that was shielded from the main street by wooden hoardings. One night, I had looked from the window of the apartment and, behind the hoardings, saw a fox nosing around in the pools of light thrown onto the waste ground by the streetlights. For a moment I felt like this street in Clongriffin was right on the edge of the city, where urban met rural.

Jonathan at the Red Arches, Clongriffin
Jonathan at the Red Arches, Clongriffin

I had also watched the blinking lights of aeroplanes on their final descent towards the airport – the flight path brought aircraft over the fields just a couple of hundred metres from the apartment blocks. I suggested a walk from the apartments to the airport, following as closely as we could the path taken by the planes.

St Patrick’s Day is an intensely boring day to be Irish, because it feels like you’re forced to participate in a global theme park version of the auld sod; I feel this especially when I’m wandering the streets of Dublin on that most Irish of days. Your accent and your physical presence make it feel like you’ve been captured and, against your will, glued into a Mickey Mouse suit, then tossed to the crowds in Disneyland on the Fourth of July.

Something about that experience, in 2011, rang more hollow than usual. Unemployment was at 14.3% and I was a small fraction of that percentage, as were a sizeable number of people I knew. Jonathan had a job, but his apartment had been bought for a substantial sum just before the collapse of the Irish economy; his situation caused him considerable despair.

So we walked, ducking under railway bridges, yomping through the overgrown foundations of developments-to-be and across agricultural fields, past holy shrines, pausing only to consume coffee while sitting on a plastic cow in a petrol station’s forecourt. We followed the endless stream of aircraft towards the airport, and arrived at the pristine new Terminal 2 building exhausted.

Cow, Malahide Road

Following the flight path made me think about visits to the airport when I was a child – meeting family members who had left the country and were arriving home for visits. When I thought about the journey Jonathan and I were making, I began to consider that implicit in this walk was our own departure from the country. Four years on and neither of us live in Dublin – Jonathan recently sold his apartment and moved to Austria, while I’ve been in the north east of England for eighteen months.

I’m not a sentimental person, and as you can probably tell I’m no fan of St Patrick’s Day, but on the 17th March this year I may well raise a glass of some local beverage to that day four years ago, to remember it fondly – and to wish it good riddance.

More about the book.

The bus game

When I was researching my book, Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, I wanted to find a way of playing a game with the city. I also wanted to write about the history of transportation in Dublin.

Travel 90aI decided that the Travel 90 Dublin Bus ticket would be my portal into this game. The ticket offers 90 minutes unlimited bus travel per journey – the final bus must be boarded within 90 minutes of validating the ticket for the first time. I wondered how many times I could use the ticket in a ninety minute period, and if there was a way I could structure my journey so that I might end up somewhere in Dublin at random – perhaps somewhere I had never been before.

Travel 90bI took a narrow sheet of paper and outlined a set of rules for using the ticket. First, I would choose a bus stop, then I would get the first bus that turned up. I’d board the bus and validate my ticket, then start my stopwatch. After ten minutes on the bus I’d ring the bell and get off at the next stop. (Through all this I’d let my stopwatch tick away.) Then I’d flip a coin. If the coin came up heads then I’d stay at the bus stop and get the next bus that came along. If it was tails then I’d cross the road to the stop opposite and wait for the next bus. I’d sit on this second bus for ten minutes, then repeat the process I’ve just outlined until the stopwatch reached 90 minutes, at which point I’d ring the bell (if I was on a bus) or walk away from the bus stop (if I was waiting for a bus).

InstructionsYou can read more about the bus game in chapter 7 of my book Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin (Penguin)

Hidden City 26.06.14

Back to the beach

I’ve been writing and editing for World Cup 2014 blog Straight off the Beach. So far I’ve written about banter, Steven Gerrard and Ross Barkley.

Today we’ve begun to put up team previews in alphabetical order, and will do so at a rate of three a day until we’ve previewed the bejeezus out of the tournament. Joe Kennedy’s introduction to the previews is here.

The run of the streets


My essay on running and Raymond Queneau is in the first issue of Gorse:

Paris is a city upon which so many layers of history can be read that sometimes it can seem not a living and breathing city at all, but rather an archive of past events and people and ideas that have been lived out on such a grand scale that, for those who live there, it can surely appear difficult to do anything new or worthwhile.

It didn’t seem that way to me, though — although the place I had just come from, Dublin, had begun to wrap itself around me like a shroud. For me, Paris was an escape — another way of seeing.

I needed to leave Dublin. But I knew I’d have to go back. In the time between leaving Dublin and returning to it I began, seriously, to work on a book about the Irish capital. Most of this work was done in Paris, and when I wasn’t writing, or thinking about writing, I ran.

Read more here.


I’m eagerly anticipating the publication of the first issue of Gorse, a new twice-yearly print journal that will publish longform literary essays, original fiction and interviews. It’s out in January, which is now only a day away.

The editors of Gorse, Susan Tomaselli and David Gavan, have recently revealed the cover design of the first issue, by artist Niall McCormack.

I have an essay in the issue: while running around Paris, I consider the place of the city in the work of Raymond Queneau. I also think about history, cities, and how my home city of Dublin always drags me back. Running around Paris also allows you to consider the literary place of walking, and how running is different (well, it’s faster innit?).

Queneau was born in Le Havre in 1903. He arrived in Paris as a student and remained there for the rest of his life. When I picture Queneau, I see the multiple passport-sized prints of the young writer, hair long on top and short on the sides, caught in a variety of comic poses: one where his head is bent forward while he ruffles his hair, another where his round glasses that sit askew are about to fall from the bridge of his nose. In others he adopts monstrous faces that barely mask his laughter.


Sometimes walking isn’t enough. When I’ve walked around a city for some time, and I seem to have exhausted the possibilities of that place, I look for other approaches. I want to find an angle that will break open the city and reveal something else, something I haven’t seen before.


I’m looking forward to reading the pieces by the other contributors – an array of excellent, exciting writers such as Kevin Breathnach, Rob Doyle, Joanna Walsh and John Holten. Darran Anderson, who has recently written a book about Serge Gainsbourg’s Melody Nelson album, contributes an intriguing essay on ‘how modernism is ancient’. Darran has written his own post about the journal and his contribution to it.

(The contents for issue one are available here.)

Based on the contents of the new issue, it looks like Gorse is a publication that’s very much worth supporting – it’s going to go to some interesting places. Donate to Gorse here. Buy the forthcoming issue here.

The shit I’ve seen

A while ago I set myself the task of finding out what happens to our sewage once we flush the toilet. As a result, I spent much of the last 14 months thinking about sewage. I waded through the research and went to sewage plants and outfall pipes to have a nose around. The results of my investigations are in the Autumn issue of the Dublin Review:

When we think of sewage, we tend to think of human excrement. Drainage professionals use the term ‘wastewater’, and this is not a euphemism; it reflects the fact that most of what enters the sewer system is water: from showers, sinks, washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, industrial processes, and rain, which enters the drainage network via outdoor drains. But most of what makes wastewater offensive and dangerous, if it is not efficiently drained and treated, arises from the presence of human shit.

Alan Partridge hides in a septic tank during Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.
Alan Partridge hides in a septic tank during the movie Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.

I outline the debate about the planned construction of a sewage plant in north Dublin and talk to some of those campaigning against the siting of the plant in their local area, including Loughshinny farmer Barry Rice:

One of the maps showed two green lines – the path of the proposed pipeline – leading towards an area of land north of the harbour. Here the lines joined a wide rectangular box whose borders were green and which was scored with diagonal lines, also green. The rectangular box stretched a couple of centimetres into the sea, while a small amount  of land along the coast was also covered. This was the proposed area for the outfall sewer. Barry Rice looked at the map to see where his farm was located – ‘It’d be just kind of roughly … it’d be roughly along here, now. It’s obviously only a small bit of the coastline’ – and pointed to the land covered by the green box.

I wander around Ringsend sewage plant, the largest one in Ireland, with Michael Kenny, Acting Civil Engineer at the plant:

I was wearing a pair of safety glasses, a hard hat and a high-visibility jacket; although the possibility wasn’t discussed, I assumed the latter would be handy for locating me if I  fell into a tank of sewage. I looked across the site of the plant, back towards the city. To my left, I could see Sandymount Strand curving southwards. Behind me, the open tanks of sewage bubbled through their treatment cycles. Beyond them, the imposing chimneys of the old Poolbeg power station reminded me that heights were relative. I took notes, juggling a pen and notebook and digital camera. Having my hands full in this way made me worry about dropping my pen into the sewage below.

A sequencing batch reactor tank at Ringsend sewage plant
A sequencing batch reactor tank at Ringsend sewage plant

I find a fairly disgusting pile of grit next to one of the tanks, and notice something disturbingly familiar there:

Whatever sinks to the base of the tank is spat out by two large plastic tubes into a long grey skip. Without getting any closer than was necessary, I had a look at the black-brown heaps of grit that had built up in the skip. There were stones there, as I’d expected, but the grit heaps were also dotted with a startling number of bright yellow specks that stood out against the dull background. It took me a second to realize what I was looking at.


‘You do get some organic stuff like sweetcorn,’ Kenny said.

I find out about the strange afterlife of sewage: how it’s converted to fertiliser and spread on fields, and give a brief history of Dublin’s subterranean sewage infrastructure. I also drag my girlfriend along to look at the largest sewage plant in Europe, near a small village to the west of Paris.