End of an Era in Dublin

For those of us who grew up in 1980s suburban Dublin, “Local landmark nostalgia” isn’t something experienced too often. Aside from the odd ancient shooting lodge, most suburban buildings aren’t much older than our parents and are far less dilapidated. Anything that does need tearing down was no great shakes in the first place and is unlikely to be missed.

Pappagallos 2

You could say that the Blake’s Restaurant buildings in Stillorgan fell into the latter category. The building that in its hey-day housed three restaurants, Blake’s, Pappagallo’s and Pings could never have been called beautiful. High on an elevated site, it was surrounded by an ugly, tarmacked car-park and did little to enhance the already dubious vista that was/is Stillorgan village. Indeed, its very elevation served to block the only half-decent view in the area, that of the old Stillorgan hill road with its thatched pub and quaint terrace of cottages. It’s planned demolition was never going to rally a protest crowd.

In a previous incarnation, the building was the home of the Swiss Chalet restaurant which served any meat you desired, as long as it was chicken. Even with the sense of an eight-year-old, it seemed like a ridiculous idea to me, although I guess the balance sheet at Nando’s Corp has since proven me wrong.

But back in my day (the day being the mid-eighties), the place was known as Blake’s.

Now, in the mid-eighties, we didn’t have the profusion of restaurants that we currently do. In the mid-eighties, dining out was a Big Deal. Being served boiled, disc-shaped carrots in crescent-shaped, nuclear-hot-or-lukewarm dishes by strangers was something to be revered, and reserved for special occasions. Like the Good Room. And Blake’s, where they sprinkled sawdust on the floor on purpose and every dessert came with a classy cocktail umbrella, was THE place to go if you lived in south county Dublin and had something to celebrate.

My favourite memory of the place is celebrating my confirmation there, because it coincided with my birthday. No one could knock me off my pedestal with that double-whammy of celebratory potential, and where else could you mark such an auspicious occasion but Blake’s, with chicken and chips and a Banana Boat? Stay classy, Stillorgan.

Banana Split

And Blake’s was the restaurant that just kept on giving, because when you got too old for eating (or was it drinking?) the Coke Floats, you could be paid to serve them. My two sisters and I all found gainful employment there. Working in the main restaurant, my sisters had the dubious honour of having to wear straw boaters as part of their decidedly bizarre uniform. It was never decided whether this headgear was utterly cringe-worthy or ironically cool. Either way, it was unhygienic.

I, on the other hand, chose to work in Pappagallo’s, or Blake’s Pizzeria as it was previously known. This smaller restaurant (sixty covers, I still remember) was tucked in behind the main restaurant, up a steep staircase, hidden from view. But inside, it was a cavernous beauty of slightly-sticky, waxed, tablecloths, terracotta tiles and candle wax-encrusted chianti bottles. The pizza chef, who was of indeterminate ethnicity but was definitely not Italian, tossed dough for the pleasure of those lucky enough to sit in the front (non-smoking!) section, and loved to burst our eardrums with his call of PIZZ-AWAY! even if us wait staff were standing right next to him, eh, waiting. There were other items on the menu (chicken cacciatore, anyone?) but everyone knew you only came to Pappagallo’s for the pizza. And it was good.

I loved that job. I took it very seriously. Customers might have heard me ask “smoking or non-smoking” as I ushered them in, but a waitress worth half her salt can tell a smoker a mille off. I was stalling, deciding whether you were going to be a good tipper and should therefore sit in my section, or a first date (nice people: a booth; not nice people: a wobbly table with chairs with the young families in the back), or welcome regulars (Tables 9 or 10), or unwelcome regulars (Tiny Table 1, worst in the house. You’re welcome).

Working in Pappagallo’s as a teenager taught me so much. How to deal with rudeness and arrogance, how to deal with understanding and kindness, how to make money, how to make a knickerbocker glory. How to get candle wax off any known substance, how to stabilise a wine-glass-laden wobbly table in under ten seconds with spirit level accuracy, how to mop a floor.

How to anticipate what people want before they realise they want it. How to be a team player.

I learned how to toss pizza dough, how to eat garlic (in my defence it was still quite exotic in the 1980’s) and how to prank newbies by sending them into Blake’s to ask the manager for a long stand. In which case they were left there. Standing. A Blake’s family in-joke.

Random, inanimate objects like those sticky, gingham tablecloths, and blunt pizza cutters, and long-handled ice-cream spoons and ceiling fans are all indelibly seared onto my happiest, formative memories.

And when I hung up my apron for the last time and got a real, adult job, I reverted to being a paying customer (good tipper, table 10). Later, when I was pregnant and had unexplainable cravings for Pappagallo’s mayonnaise, my long-suffering husband would drive all the way to Stillorgan for a take-out for his cranky wife.

The Pappagallo’s pizza ovens have been cold for over a decade now, the ceiling fans stilled, the chianti caskets quenched. For a time, Blake’s morphed into some awful beach-themed nightclub, the sawdust on the floor being replaced by sand. But now, this week, the sand and the pizza ovens and those terracotta tiles are finally no more. They’ve disappeared along with the rest of the building and its contents, torn down to make way for a shiny new development of student accommodation. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not like the suburbs are short of restaurants.


But then it’s not just rubble those diggers are loading into endless skips on that elevated site. Mingled in with the rebar and dust are some of the happiest memories of a generation of young Dublin suburbanites. It’s hard to imagine our kids getting nostalgic and weepy over a Nando’s closure. Blake’s was more than a restaurant. It was a landmark. An institution.

It really is the end of an era.

Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my very own place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

One of my ABSOLUTE favourite books of 2016 was The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, so when Cynthia graciously agreed to take part in my Hey, Author! blog, I was more than a little delighted. I love to feature authors from outside of Ireland (if only to get tips for where to eat when I’m on holidays), but with a name like Sweeney, I’m thinking this girl fits right in here.


So, Ms. Sweeney. We like the look of your book. (In truth, I’ve been banging on about it for months.) But before my readers press download on their kindle devices, there are some things they really need to know.

What is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles is a truly magical place. The first time I went there the summer after we moved to Los Angeles it was to hear one of my idols, Etta James, open for a young lady whose debut album I quite liked but didn’t know too much about: Adele. Etta James was sick that night, but Adele was magnificent and she’s done pretty well since then. When you see a concert at the Bowl, if you’re lucky enough to sit in one of the boxes, waiters bring you food and drink throughout the evening. The weather is always sublime, the air fragrant and the wine flows freely!

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

Is there such a thing as a product slut? If there is, I’m it. I don’t swear allegiance to anything and am particularly susceptible to packaging that borders on institutional and costs a fortune. The hair conditioner I’m using now is in a plain white bottle that says “CONDITIONER” in a plain black font. I bought it a fancy salon and it was ridiculously expensive, but smells great.


Illustration by Jennifer Melchi


Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

This is a terrible question for a writer! But I’ll lean Irish and say that James Joyce’s story “The Dead” is one of my favorite pieces of writing and something I read again and again.

(Interesting fact – the house at 15 Ushers Island on the river Liffey in Dublin where Joyce’s aunts lived and where The Dead was purportedly set, is currently up for sale for any Joycians with €550,000 in loose change… -Ed.)


Favourite clothes shop?

I have a new favorite clothes shop although it only lives on the Internet. Everlane is based in San Francisco and the clothes are classic, well-made, affordable and ethically produced. I did an enormous closet clean-out in the spring and basically started rebuilding my wardrobe using the Everlane site. I really love their stuff.

(Me too! Hurry up and deliver to Ireland, guys! -Ed.)

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

This is almost as hard as picking a favorite book. I’m going to make it easy on myself by choosing the place I ate last night: Lucky’s in Montecito, California. It’s a classic little steak and fish place right outside of Santa Barbara and the local sand dabs—which I guess are a little like Dover sole—are sublime. The martinis aren’t shabby either.

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

I’m old enough to remember when McSorley’s Old Ale House in New York City allowed women in the bar (they were finally forced to by law), but didn’t provide restrooms for women (their little protest). My friends and I would spend long Saturday afternoons drinking one of the two kinds of beer they have on tap—light or dark—and eating plates of cheese served with sliced raw onion and the house mustard. When it was time to go to the “ladies” room, you’d recruit a few male friends to usher you past the line of urinals and stand guard at the stall. As you can tell, it was very fancy. I still love an afternoon at McSorley’s and it’s still “light or dark,” but the ladies have their own loo now.


Favourite movie?

Casablanca. Always and forever.


Favourite band/musician?

I have a soft spot for the classic jazz singers, especially the women, and Ella Fitzgerald is the queen. The person I’ve seen in concert most often is Elvis Costello and one of my favorite recent concerts was the Diana Ross at the Hollywood Bowl last summer. That woman is 73 years old and descended onto the stage on a swing while belting out “I’m Coming Out.” She was fantastic.

Favourite meal?

My mother is 100% Italian. She was born in the United States but all of her grandparents came over from Italy. Our family Sunday Sauce, a tomato sauce with pork and sometimes sausage and meatballs will always be my most comforting comfort food. When we move into a new apartment or house, one of the first things I make is that sauce. My husband calls it “seasoning the house.” As good as burning sage for getting rid of lingering bad spirits and summoning good ones.

Favourite tipple?

Summer: Gin and Tonic. Winter: Manhattan with rye whiskey, straight up with a luxardo cherry.


Well, it’s always winter weather over this neck of the woods, Cynthia, so as The First Lady of Song herself might say, we’ll have Manhattan!

To those of you who haven’t yet read Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s  The Nest – you are in for a treat – a therapeutic read for those with siblings, and a reminder of the dodged bullet for those without!

nest cover

Cynthia, it’s been wonderful finding out more about the places to go in LA and beyond. Come visit your Irish relatives soon, and perhaps you can pick up some local culinary ideas to rival Nonna’s.

Pint of Guinness, anyone?

Until next time on Hey, Author!

Sheena x




Glanaphuca on stage in Rehearsed Reading

Glanaphuca, my stage play based on my novel The Lake will be in rehearsed reading in my local town of Dalkey at 7.30pm on Friday 9th June 2017. Come along, and be a part of the exciting process that is the development of new Irish theatre.

See contemporary stars of the screen and stage, including Mary Murray, Fiona-Lucia McGarry and Eric O’Brien work under the direction of Stephen Murray (below), all in the comfortable environs of The Vico, above The Queens pub.

Free admission, a voluntary contribution of €5 will go towards production costs.

castle and Queens

With thanks to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Arts Office Emerging Artists’ Bursary.

Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my very own place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

Ask anyone in the literary know in Dublin town who the nicest local authors are and Sinéad Moriarty will be on most lists. And she’s been around Dublin a while – her latest The Good Mother, is Sinéad’s twelfth novel and I’ve no doubt that her loyal fans are already waiting impatiently for her thirteenth.

Sinead Moriarty pic

She’s certainly a busy girl, but I still managed to track her down and grill her on behalf of my lovely Hey, Author! readers. So here goes.

We like the look of your latest novel, Ms. Moriarty. But before we don our wellies and head out in the spring showers to our nearest bookshop, there are some things we need to know.

What is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

I love indoor/outdoor spaces. We used to be so rubbish at it in Ireland but now there are lots of lovely places to sit out in. The rooftop bar in the Dean Hotel is a great place to have a drink. The open air bar at House is also lovely at night with all the lights twinkling. For some reason I feel like I’m away when I’m sitting outside sipping wine, there is a holiday feel to it.

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

John Frieda Frizz Ease. As the French hairdresser exclaimed this summer, “you ‘ave the ‘air of ze man who is in the field to scare the birds away”. Yes, my natural hair texture is scarecrow-esque. So Frizz-ease is a miracle as far as I’m concerned.


Recent Sinead Moriarty dust-jacket photo…(not really – Ed)

Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

I have to say Pat McCabe’s The Dead School. It changed the way I viewed writing. What he does with words is extraordinary. His deeply black humour makes it seem like a sin to be laughing but you can’t help it, despite the darkness of his characters. I think he’s a genius.

Dead School

Favourite clothes shop?

I’m a shopaholic. Because I spend so much time in front a computer and work alone, my ‘coffee breaks’ involve me surfing the net for clothes and shoes. My latest obsession is The Outnet, you can get some really good deals online. But I do love a good browse and Brown Thomas is always a pleasure to spend time in. (We also loved the dress you wore at the launch of The Good Mother. Stylish. – Ed)

launch pic

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

The most spectacular restaurant I’ve ever been to – mainly because of the view – is the Château de La Chèvre d’Or in Eze in the south of France. The restaurant is set on the cliff’s edge. Stunning views.

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

I spent a lot of time in Sheehans pub on Chatham street in Dublin as a student. I have enjoyed many fun and rowdy nights there over the years, so it always has a special place in my heart.


Favourite movie?

The Old Maid – it’s a Bette Davis classic and I love it. It reminds me of watching old Black and White movies with Mum and my sister on rainy days. Bette Davis was a real star and her performance in this very moving film is fantastic.

Bette Davis

Favourite band/musician?

Since as far back as I can remember I’ve loved U2. I had posters and calendars of them all over my bedroom wall as a teenager and I still love what they do. Their ability to stick together through thick and thin and produce incredible music over decades is extraordinary. They were, for a very long time, our best export. (Roll on 22nd July! –  Ed)

Favourite meal?

Roast chicken and mash potatoes followed by apple and blackberry crumble with custard. Bliss!

Favourite tipple?

I love a cold glass of fizz. I think the bubbles give you a lift and I always feel a bit decadent drinking bubbles, no matter where I am or what the occasion is. Life can be difficult, so sometimes a glass of fizz can lift your spirits.


We couldn’t agree with you more, Sinéad, and what else could one quaff when whiling away the hours plotting one’s 13th novel on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean?

Bottoms up, girl.

If you haven’t already got yourself a copy of The Good Mother, off with you. By all accounts it should come with a mascara-alert and box of Kleenex, but you can judge that for yourselves.


I’m off to get my own copy, and take it to the roof bar of the Dean Hotel.

Hallelujah, here She comes…

Until next time.

Sheena x

More Rehearsed Readings…

I was delighted to be involved with The Corps Ensemble’s New Writing Night on Sunday last at the Viking theatre in Clontarf.


Rehearsed readings of new plays are simply a fantastic way for writers to learn their craft and improve their work. Other writers hearing their work read were Hillary Dziminski, Stewart Roche and Stephen Jones and Jed Murray (below).


They are also a great way for writers, producers, directors and actors to meet, and for writers to observe a real, live audience’s reaction to their work. It certainly beats coercing your non-actor friends into readings around the kitchen table on Saturday nights! (And those gigs are EXPENSIVE when you factor in the wine-bribery required…)

Check out some of the cast at work in front of a packed audience…


…and watch out for The Corps Ensemble’s production of Mark O’Rowe’s Made in China – coming to a theatre near you next month…


Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my very own place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

My own second novel The Lake was published by HarperCollins on their Killer Reads imprint. I was lucky enough to be part of the first group of digital-first Killer Reads authors back in 2015 along with the fantastic Chris Curran, whose second novel Her Turn to Cry is out now, much to the delight of her many fans who raved about her first novel Mindsight.


And wait for it – Chris will be launching the paperback of her new book at Hastings Pier Shop on Saturday 26th November 2016 between 12 and 3pm! Sure where else would you be?! You can grill her on her answers to the questions below in person there, and see the beautiful sights of Hastings while you are at it. Fantastic!

So let’s get started!

Hey, author. We like the look of your book. We might even buy it and read it. But first, there are some things we need to know. What is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

Drinks at sunset on Hastings Pier. Then a wander down to the Old Town for dinner in one of the many wonderful fish restaurants. Webbe’s is my favourite just now. It’s opposite the fish market and you can see the boats drawn up on the shingle so you know everything is just out of the sea. Then we might take in some live music at Porters wine bar.

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

I’m a bit of a cheapskate so I usually go for anything on offer, but I do like Olay because my mum used when it was called Oil of Ulay. I always thought that sounded like something from The Arabian Nights and that it might have magic powers. On evidence collected to date however it doesn’t!


Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

Oh no, that is too hard! Rebecca was the novel that made me want to write psychological crime, but my oldest and still my best love is a children’s book: Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. For me it has more profound things to say about love, time, growing up and growing old than many a Booker or Pulitzer Prize winner. Each time I reread it I find new things to savour.


Favourite clothes shop?

I have a dilemma because I don’t much enjoy shopping of any kind, but I do like clothes. Zara’s stuff often appeals to me and seems to fit me pretty well and I buy the occasional posh dress from Hobbs. Oh, and I do like rummaging for something vintage in a nice charity shop.


Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

Crannog in Fort William, overlooking Loch Linney. They smoke their own fish and serve fabulous Scottish cheeses and puddings to die for.

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

Dry Martini, Barcelona. Old-fashioned style par excellence. White coated waiters, comfortable armchairs, mellow jazz in the background and of course the best cocktails ever.


Favourite movie?

Nothing beats the oldies for me and if I could write a novel with a storyline as brilliant as Hitchcock’s Rear Window I’d die happy. However Some Like It Hot is an unbeatable joy. Hilarious Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis in his handsome youth channeling a great Cary Grant accent and some sublime shimmying from Marilyn Monroe, achingly vulnerable as the gorgeous Sugar.


Favourite band/musician?

It’s mostly oldies again and moody for preference. Billy Holliday, Dusty Springfield, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse and, to help me stay calm and cheerful when I’m driving and improve my French at the same time, I keep a Charles Trenet CD in the car.

Favourite meal?

My own lemon and black pepper roast chicken with crispy potatoes followed by homemade crème caramel. Ideally eaten with family and friends in the garden or in front of a lovely fire.

Favourite tipple?

Grey Goose vodka with Fentimans tonic, ice and a slice of lime.


Well, that makes a change from all those gin-swilling authors I’ve interviewed! I like your style, Ms. Curran.


You can get your mitts on a copy of Chris Curran’s latest Killer Reads thriller Her Turn To Cry here, and do follow her on twitter here.

Thanks you for sharing your secret hideouts with us Chris! I can’t decide if I want to visit Hastings or Fort William more. After Barcelona, of course. As Charles Trenet might say,



Until next time on Hey, Author!

Sheena x

Open Mic Success!

Last night I was lucky enough to be at Dalkey Creates’ Open Mic event in Finnegans’ pub, Dalkey (where Michelle Obama hangs out when she’s in Dublin, dontcha know).

It was a fantastic success, not least because of the diversity of work being read. We had local ladies reading their poetry, stand-up comedians, short stories and rap. This guy, Alex, even showed up and wowed the crowd with his stuff. (He’s in the TV show Vikings….get with it, people.)


We had a Patrick Kavanagh Award winner, a local pharmacist, Maeve Binchy’s husband Gordon Sewell and a young writer who brought the old craft of story-telling back to life, and managed to quieten an entire rowdy pub as she did it. All writers, some experienced, some starting off, all listening to and enjoying each other’s work.

It was the perfect example of how an Open Mic event should be – complete with a few spot prizes thanks to local businesses and the wonderful host Al Finnegan.

This is why I write. This is why I want to be a part of this life. These people came to share their work with strangers, to entertain, to get a reaction to their writing and to react to another’s. It’s scary – I know – it’s difficult to leave your writing desk and put your work out there to be heard, to be judged.

But do it. Share your work. Share others’. This is what it’s all about. This is life.