I grew up half an hour’s drive from Dublin (although it was probably closer to an hour when the chaos of Newland’s Cross was still a thing and the N7 was considerably narrower), yet the city felt like another world. On the rare occasion that we drove to the capital when I was a child we’d often come from Kildare via Long Mile Road, past the DID Electrical that’s still there on Sundrive Road, and through Dolphin’s Barn into the city.
I remember seeing “pushers out” graffitied on the side of the towering flat complexes. I knew there was an ice-skating rink around there somewhere, because I’d been there once for a birthday party. That Dolphin’s Barn had an ice-skating rink but also drug pushers felt very starkly juxtaposed to my childish brain. Where I lived we had neither and not much else.
When I started to socialise, around 16, my friends and I had a finite number of pubs to choose from, but at least one or two would turn a blind eye when we swore we weren’t underage. By the time we turned 18 we were too old for our old haunts and graduated to the over-21s mecca that was the Soundhouse in Johnstown, a tiny village between Kill and Naas.
The Soundhouse was a nightclub but, even better, it was a live venue. The first time I saw Aslan play there a boy whose name and face I don’t remember laughed at me for thinking Wish You Were Here was an Aslan original and brought Pink Floyd into my life albeit in a rather cruel way.
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The next time Aslan gigged at the Soundhouse – my memory tells me it happened several times in a relatively short period – I knew all the words to Wish You Were Here to belt along with Christy Dignam’s astounding vocals. I had stolen the band’s Made in Dublin live album from my brother in the meantime and swotted up on their hits. Of course, I already knew the Aslan classics This Is and Crazy World by way of just existing in an Irish house with a radio and a TV in the late 1980s and 1990s. I also knew that Christy Dignam was an addict.
[ Christy Dignam receiving palliative care at his Dublin home ]
My exposure to addiction had been minimal, limited to what was on the news and vivid Roddy Doyle creations. I knew heroin was a scourge that had overtaken parts of Dublin. I knew that the people living in the flats wanted the pushers out. At the same time This Is and Crazy World were ear worming themselves into my brain on those childhood drives through Dolphin’s Barn, I feel I was simultaneously aware of his public struggle with drugs. Seeing him on stage, in my ignorance I couldn’t fathom how someone could be an addict and yet stand up there and do what he was doing.
Christy Dignam has served this country in two ways. He’s given us music that’s rich with authenticity and heart, and Aslan might always be remembered as the band that could have been U2. In fact, there’s a video online of U2 performing a cover of arguably Aslan’s greatest song, This Is. The comments under the video from international fans proclaim “U2 are back!” and “When is this released?”, mistaking it for a U2 original.
Christy has also generously offered himself as a frontman for the horror of addiction, humanising those on the margins and on the streets. He put a face, a voice and a talent to the scourge of heroin and then brought hope through his recovery.
Christy has spoken passionately about harm reduction, dignity in addiction and the hypocrisy that exists around working class drug use. He brought light to the devastating consequences of childhood sexual abuse, and he has shown immense courage in facing his health problems in later life.
It’s a gift of sorts to be able to show a person how much they are beloved before they die, and by letting the country know about Christy Dignam receiving palliative care, his family generously gave us the opportunity to show him the esteem in which he’s held.
For me, Christy provided an early insight into the world of addiction and gave me a place from which to mature and educate myself. And I have such precious memories of those Soundhouse days, even if finding out that “two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl” wasn’t an original Aslan lyric caused an extreme redner. Thanks, Christy.