When Francis Flynn moved into her council house on Warrenmount Place two years ago she didn’t know her neighbours.
The following June, an outdoor party took over the Blackpitts cul-de-sac she’d recently come to call home. Flynn decided to join in, even though she hadn’t a clue what to expect.
“It was very enjoyable for the old people, very good,” she says. “I didn’t know anybody, but I’ve got to know them all now.”
Such, it seems, is the effect street feasts can have on neighbourhoods.
On 12 June, the day of the annual Street Feast, roads, terraces, and ways are decked in bunting and balloons as neighbours gather to eat, drink, and get to know each other.
It all started in 2010, organised by Sam Bishop and four others. That first year, Bishop says, there were only 33 feasts held across the country.
Ten days ago, they launched this year’s Street Feast sign-up drive. So far, 550 people across the country have registered. That includes 280 in Dublin.
The Perfect Place
Abi Bouchier-Hayes, who lives opposite Francis Flynn on Warrenmount Place, was inspired to bring the event to her neighbourhood after she tagged along to another street’s feast.
“Three or four years ago, my friends did one on Reginald Street,” she says. “I’d a great day at that and decided that this was the perfect place.”
The street-feast ethos is that everyone contributes something to an outdoor meal: a salad, a main dish, some booze, or a dessert. Neighbours drag out tables and chairs and on a (hopefully) decent summer’s day, they break bread, or jelly, or whatever’s on offer.
Last June, Bouchier-Hayes took the lead and printed off flyers and save-the-dates, and pushed one through each of her neighbours’ doors. She strung up bunting, scribbled a reminder in chalk on the roadside, and waited.
“Eleven of the houses came out and however many were in each house and then there was other stragglers, friends of friends,” she says. “There was people that I hadn’t talked to properly that we all talked to on the day and a couple of people who I’d still go over to their house and have a glass of wine or a cup of tea as a result of that.”
For residents like Francis Flynn, the gathering was a chance to chat with otherwise unfamiliar faces in a peaceful environment. “There was no riff-raffs or anything like that, just very enjoyable,” she says. “I brought the brandy but I got it back, they didn’t want it!”
Bouchier-Hayes says she’ll have to start to organise this summer’s feast soon.
“People are talking about it already, like, ‘Are we going to be doing it again?'” says Bouchier-Hayes. “We all had a really good day. Everyone moved their cars, and I think we stayed out on the street until 10 or 11 at night.”
It’s easy to register to make a party in your street, says Bishop. After you’ve filled in details online about where you want to hold one, you get handy tips for how to organise the event and bring neighbours together.
It’s all voluntary, non-profit and inexpensive, says Bishop.
“We provide packs which are basically just really simple party packs with bunting, balloons, flyers, and posters just to get people started,” he says. “It doesn’t cost that much to run one of these.”
South from Warrenmount Place and over Clanbrassil Street is Harty Place, a compact row of 50 or so small houses looping around onto Daniel Street. For the past few years, the neighbours there have gathered for what they call the “Harty Party”.
“I think I’ve been to the last four, and it’s been brilliant,” says resident Mairead Twomey. “I mean Marie, one of the main residents here, she organises it every year so everybody’s made aware of the time it’s on and everything like that and it’s unbelievable. There’s always far too much food and it’s a great way to get to meet everybody.”
The first street feast in the area, says Twomey, involved a lot of running into each other’s houses out of curiosity. What’s your house like and what’s your name?
Last summer, the tables spanned the length of the street and turned the corner.
“There was always a good vibe around here but it never got the whole community together which this does,” she says. “There could be over a hundred people.”
Further along Harty Place is the house of Marie Greene. As queen bee in residence, she’s been organising the feasts each year, and is already planning for 12 June 2016.
“We’re lucky because the neighbours themselves are very pro a bit of fun,” she says. “It just creates a kind of ambiance, I suppose, because the street itself is so quiet we could be anywhere and there’s a lot of young people that either own the houses or they’re renting and they’re all eager to get to know everyone else.”
The feasts differ from neighbourhood to neighbourhood.
“Ideally everybody brings their own drink,” says Greene of Harty Place. “With food, some people are not into cooking so we get them to organise a salad or a dessert, and that’s the way we operate.”
Last year, Greene cooked salmon for her neighbours, but others brought along spicier dishes.
“What’s lovely is we’ve some non-nationals and they cook food from their own countries and it’s a great way of testing it,” she says.
On a Friday evening, around the corner from Greene’s house, Nathalie de Mey soaks up the last of the day’s sunlight. De May emigrated to Ireland from Aruba 15 years ago and has lived in Harty Place for the last six.
For de May, the annual Harty Party has provided a chance to mingle with others from a few doors down.
“In the mid-afternoon, people start showing each other their homes,” she says. “I met Sarah, who’s just had a baby. She walks by everyday, but you don’t really talk, but because of street feast you start a conversation.”
She’s also brought her own Caribbean twist to the fare on offer: she cooked Aruban spiced chicken for all involved last year.
De May and Greene recall a couple who’ve recently moved to Drumcondra. At the street feast a few years back, the residents celebrated the couple’s engagement. This year, the pair have said they’ll come back for the day.
Street Feast founder Bishop says it’s hard to evaluate the impact that the feasts have had. It’s a kind of an ad hoc and voluntary event, so he hasn’t had the time or resources to look closely at the results, really.
It would be interesting to look at whether there are streets that don’t throw annual feasts any more, because they know each other so well now, says Bishop.
For the Harty Place residents, it’s a case of more, rather than less. As well as the annual street feast, they also throw an annual Christmas cocktail party.