Dublin’s dark side New tour shines light on homelessness crisis
Dublin boasts a rich variety of tours – literary pub crawls, Guinness brewery tastings, Trinity College walkabouts, splashing through the Liffey dressed as a Viking – but the latest one has a bleak, contemporary theme: homelessness.
A homelessness crisis in Ireland’s capital has prompted the launch of a walking tour, given by a formerly homeless guide, through an inner city of gritty streets and quiet desperation tourists seldom see.
“We just don’t have the properties for the people that are working,” said Derek McGuire, while he led a recent Secret Street tour through the Liberties, a historic blue-collar neighbourhood. “Homelessness could become socially acceptable, become the norm.”
The route includes areas where McGuire, 52, slept rough for two years after losing his home in 2014 and passes five homeless hostels, with another six nearby. The tour lasts 90 minutes and costs €10 (£9).
McGuire’s spiel includes tips on staying safe, stashing possessions and blending into crowds. He mixes anecdotes about shelters – the decent, the awful – with tales about brothels, heroin epidemics and the “four corners of hell”, a junction of four pubs notorious for fights. “Sleeping out in the city centre, that was my worst nightmare. I had to put on my Bear Grylls head,” said McGuire. “It was about survival.”
The tour, which started last month, is the latest evidence of a nationwide housing shortage that has inflated rents, nudged the homeless population towards 10,000 and created a political backlash. Thousands have marched through Dublin in recent months to demand rent controls and more low-cost housing and to accuse the government of being in the pocket of landlords and developers .
Activists have occupied vacant properties, in some cases leading to violent confrontations with private security teams sent to evict them.
The eviction of a family in Roscommon last month triggered an especially virulent retaliation: about 20 masked vigilantes with baseball bats assaulted the security guards and arsonists firebombed two branches of KBC Bank, which had sent them to repossess the home.
‘Sleeping out in the city centre, that was my worst nightmare. I had to put on my Bear Grylls head’ Derek McGuire Tour guide
A tour run by homeless people in Vienna had inspired Tom Austin, a Trinity College graduate student, to bring the idea to Dublin. With his co-founders, Pierce Dargan and Gareth Downey, he obtained support from the homeless charity the Dublin Simon Community, and recruited McGuire to be the first guide, with hope the scheme will expand to other parts of the capital.
McGuire, who spent 25 years working in the voluntary sector, had become homeless after a relationship ended and a property crash left him unable to pay his mortgage. In early 2014, he packed a bag and headed to the airport – and stayed there for three weeks, posing as a traveller and snaffling restaurant leftovers. It was safe but demoralising. “My spirit was broken.”
McGuire returned to the city and slept rough, refusing to seek assistance. “I had far too much pride. I’d sooner starve than ask people for money.” He was ragged by the time Merchants Quay Ireland, a homeless charity, offered him the temporary, shared accommodation he now calls home.
Guiding has restored McGuire’s sense of identity. “I see this as an opportunity to tell my story.”
He expects homelessness to continue rising. Too few new homes are being built across Ireland.
And a tech-fuelled boom is bringing hipster cafes and other signs of rent-fuelling gentrification to the Liberties, which is within walking distance of Facebook and Google offices.
Derek McGuire, centre, has a story to tell on his tour of the Liberties area