Finnegan’s Green Rooster is one of those barber shops which is not that old, but has black-and-white photographs of Gaelic Leaguers, and salvaged church artefacts, and stacks of old razors in pastel-coloured boxes from a time of built-to-last.
Late on a Thursday morning on Fleet Street, barbers Lukasz Jankowski and Filipe Santiago sweep the floor and tend shop, and owner Patrick Carr is sat on a black leather couch, talking about one of his favourite subjects: the Irish language.
Since Carr moved the shop here from where it was before, cubby-holed in the tattoo parlour next door, he’s pushed it as one of the prime places in Dublin to get a hairstyle as Gaeilge.
“There are only two things I can do,” Carr might tell you if you ask him why. “I can cut hair — I can teach people to cut hair — and I can speak Irish.”
Over the next few hours, he talks about the idioms of Irish and the challenges of word order. He ruminates on the stories of the life of St Colm Cille. He wonders about the logic of drawing boundaries on the Gaeltacht.
Later, he brings out a copy of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille, a bookmark from Hodges Figgis between the pages. “What the kids should be reading at school, is these kinds of books, full of cursing, but Irish cursing,” he says.
Carr grew up in Donegal, with childhood summers spent turf-cutting and sending in letters to Jim’ll Fix It. He started to cut hair in the early 1990s, he says, to escape a life of cold bed-and-breakfasts and drilling holes in the rain. It was January, bitterly cold, and he was off work sick.
His wife was doing a course, and she asked him to go along with her. “She didn’t want to go on her own to this course, and so she lied and said I was a barber and was able to cut hair,” he said. In the run up, for days before, she prepped him on how to cut.
“It was a training place and they’d get drunk people in from the pub across the road,” he said. The guy they gave him had thick hair like a mop. “As he started to sober up, he realised his mistake.”
These days, he leaves most of the scissors and cutting to the young guys in the shop, he says. Out back, there’s the Dublin School of Barbering, where a handful of barbers train in a burnt-orange room with customers on chairs and mannequin heads on sticks.
“You have to learn hands on,” Carr says. “Filipe can back me up on this one. The YouTube barber, Filipe?”
Felipe Santiago, who is slight with fine dark hair and is sweeping the marble tiles, breaks into a knowing smile. “Yeah,” he says, without really looking up.
Carr continues. “They come in here at night-time and they’re only here two or three weeks, and I’m looking at them, and these techniques. I’m like, ‘Who taught you that?’ And they’re making a mess. And they’re like, ‘Ohh, it was on YouTube.'”
“It was on YouTube,” he repeats.
A guy walks in through the saloon-style doors, a top-knot of orange hair on his head and red suede trainers. He hesitates and speaks quietly.
“Yeah, yeah, the Dublin school,” says Carr, encouraging and bright. “Straight through the door on the right-hand side.”
He points towards the other end of the shop, though some dark-wood communion doors salvaged from a subsiding church.
“You’ve seen the movie Sweeney Todd, haven’t you?” he calls after him.
“Now here’s a question: what colour’s his hair? We’re being tricked in this country to think that hair is red. It’s a language thing.”
Most of the customers who come in on Thursday seem oblivious to the Irish-languageness of the place.
“We don’t get that many people [looking to speak Irish],” says Jankowski, a tall, broad-shouldered guy who has worked with Carr for almost six years, here and elsewhere.
But Carr says he gets some customers in just because of the Irish. A German-Irish family who bring their kid in, he says, or friends from Donegal. The most recognisable would perhaps be Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
“He comes in now and again,” said Carr. “He doesn’t like getting his hair cut. He’s a hippy. He’s a real ’70s guy. I commiserate with him.”
On the table next to Carr is a stack of magazines and books, old copies of National Geographic and a translate-your-name-into-Irish book with two lists — the anglicized variant and the Irish version.
Throughout the afternoon, customers trickle in; and a few Brazilian students make their way to the back room where the trainee barbers are working.
“You’ve got two types of hair-cutting. You’ve got hair-removal services or styling and grooming. We teach styling and grooming. We try to anyway,” says Carr.
“We’re moving away from the race-to-the-bottom lark,” he says. It’s a race to the top at the moment. Prices are going up, services are taking longer.
In an old barbering manual that he has, author Sherman L. Trusty says that when a new barber moves into an area, it’s immoral for them to charge less than the other guys in the area. “I would agree with that, you know,” he says.
Carr finds it tough to pin down exactly why he is so drawn to Irish.
“It is a value system,” he says. “It has a value to me.” It didn’t mean as much to him when he was a teenager, he says, but he’s vague on when he got the bug.
“Two weeks ago,” he says, quickly with a belly laugh. “I’m looking for a grant.”
He carries no truck with the idea that as a small language, in a small country, Irish isn’t much use these days. If fact, he has an answer prepared.
“What good is Swedish? What good is Danish?” he says, leaning forward. “I came up with that one. What good is French?”