With their book launch around the corner, rabble sat down with the Come Here To Me blogging blaggards, Ciaran, Donal and Sam, for a chat about their now three year old site. No pints were involved.
Give us some idea of the origins of Come Here To Me! What’s the genesis of the idea?
Three friends, several pints and a November night in a Dublin pub in 2009. A pretty miserable time in the city (everything has since improved of course, ha!), with more things closing than opening and friends leaving the country. We decided that there was something to celebrate about the city, and went searching for its little gems, the historical stories and the often missed little bits and pieces that make up the city today. From street art to social history, football stadiums to back lanes, we dug deep and found plenty.
You’ve managed to cultivate a very wide and varied audience. What was the key to this?
S: We started CHTM! at a perfect time when blogging, social media and the idea of User Generated Content (UGC), I think, really exploded in popularity. Blogs began to be taken more seriously, Facebook offered the chance for websites to set up their own ‘pages’ for their fans to engage with and people working in history and archives began to see the benefits of utilising social media for crowdsourcing etc. We also appeared at a time when more and more older people, whether Dubliners or ex pats, started to use the web and digitize their old photos and vinyl records. At the start of 2009, there were 400k Facebook users in Ireland. It’s close to 2.5m now.
C: As well as the fact that the potential audience is now much larger than a few years ago, it helps that the content of the blog is so varied. The three of us are quite similar in what we like, but also have different tastes and these come through in the content we generate. Some posts mightn’t appeal to one group of people, but will to others. But I think everyone gets what we’re at with the site, and that’s the important thing.
Come Here To Me is a bit like rabble, ye don’t have any compunctions about nailing your colours to the mast when it comes to the issues of the day. Do you think there is a real lack of politics been wedded to culture elsewhere online and in print magazines? It seems the Irish really keep the two apart.
D: If someone is going to stop reading the cultural aspects of the website because they disagree with us promoting issues like the recent demonstrations at the Dáil for abortion legislation, an anti-austerity demonstration or the like, then that’s fair enough. We’ll never dilute our own opinions though to appease. Culture and history are a lot more political than many are comfortable admitting, not least in this city.
C: It hasn’t really come up that much to be honest. With the examples Donal mentioned above, there was never going to be a disagreement. We know which side of the fence we’re on, rather than some out there who would rather sit on it.
There’s an awful lot of social history on the blog. It’s the part I like the best. History from below is great. But I do have a critique, it’s often quite separate from an explicitly stated reason for doing it. Like, do you see a value to digging up stuff about things in order to build identity, be it cultural or political – or is it all just auld curiosities?
D: Hmmm, interesting point. Normally the things we unearth are tied into contemporary issues and battles. Some articles like say ‘Dublin’s First Traffic Lights’ are just “auld curiosities”, but others on battles to save historical sites or massive demonstrations in the past have a real relevance today. A good example would be the recent articles on some of the leading figures in the reactionary anti-choice movement. With so much pressure on Youth Defence in recent months, these articles were widely shared and we posted them not as ‘auld curiosities’ but as relevant information in the debates of the modern day.
S: I think we’re providing a much needed outlet for stories that a) might be otherwise lost and b) will purposely not be included in any sort of “official” Dublin history book or tour guide. The former would include say interviewing old Teds about Dublin’s rockabilly scene in the 1970s or talking to activists about the political culture surrounding the X Case in 1992. The latter would include researching stories about Triad violence, the city’s first Sex Shops, early Drug culture and Atheists in the 1911 Census. More generally, I’d see ourselves as part of the “counter-archive” family, focused on utilising digital media to help ‘”democratise archives”.
C: There isn’t much on the blog that I wouldn’t consider social history! Even something like the auld curiosities that we pull up hold social relevance, or at least we try to give them some.
What advice would you have for people interested in starting a blog? Is there a particular methodology you use to generate posts and keep the flow of ideas coming? Or is it all down to shite talk, pints and coffee?
D: Nobody will read it for yonks, the internet is not a black hole – it just sometimes feels like one. It takes quite a bit of patience. Regarding generating posts, on some days we can post three or four articles and other times we have dry weeks. We’ve tried to organise some sort of system or schedule the past, but the blog is only a small part of our lives and bigger things have a habit of getting in the way. Most ideas come to you as you’re walking home from somewhere, or when you overhear pub conversations!
C: If you get an idea, write it down straight away or stick it in your phone..! I’m a fecking disaster for getting an idea in my head only to lose it by the time I actually sit in front of the laptop.
What other blogs and websites out there meet the CHTM! seal of approval?
We’d have a broad list of friends online today, among others we’d have to give shout outs to Where Were You?, Built Dublin, Storymap, Jacolette, The Irish Story, The True Ball and the brilliant Irish History Podcast.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve done on the blog?
D: A little intervention on Dublin City Council’s critique of Wood Quay ‘vandalism’. In five days, it became our most popular post in the history of the site.
S: I managed to unearth a fascinating story earlier this year that somehow had evaded historians for decades. In a nutshell that Bob Marley and Johnny Giles were close friends for nearly 10 years. It went viral. To our delight, Ray D’Arcy brought it up on his radio show when he interviewed Giles. A t-shirt, designed by the legendary Kev Squires, hit the shelves of Casa Rebelde soon after. To my despair, people still question its legitimacy to this day.
C: Has to be Sam’s exclusive on the Bob Marley / Johnny Giles relationship by a country mile. How mainstream media hadn’t been all over that previously is anyone’s guess.
You’ve reviewed quite a range of Dublin based pubs. What’s been yer favorite out of them all? And how much is that one paying you in free Tayto and minerals?
D: Honourable mentions for me go to my new local L.Mulligan’s in Stoneybatter (one of the cheaper craft beer pubs, and unlike many others it has a bit of character) and The Cobblestone. I also enjoy The Bernard Shaw a lot, there’s a hipster in all of us trying to get out.
S: My favourite five pubs in Dublin at the moment are The Ginger Man, The Hacienda, O’Connells on Lower Richmond Street, The Central Hotel’s Library Bar and upstairs in The Lord Edward where we’ve had Christmas Eve drinks these past few years.
C: I’ll back Sam on The Hacienda and O’Connell’s, definitely. Notable mentions go to The Long Hall, George’s Street and Uncle Toms Cabin out in Dundrum. Agreement on the quality of the last spot was unanimous the night we visited. Also, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention Brogan’s.
Did you find it hard making the jump from short form blogging to pulling together longer articles for print? How did you deal with translating the sort of clicky clicky interactivity of the blog into print?
D: I fear there is a typo in the book somewhere that says “click here for ______”, the way you write for the internet and the way you write for print are totally different, it was an eye-opener actually how much editing was involved.
C: It was definitely tough. Hyperlinking in articles is something we do as a second nature now when referencing, all this had to be re-written for the book.
S: Chasing people down, seeking copyright permission and sometimes paying to use photos for the book was all a bit new for us. Thankfully we have some great photographer friends, particularly Paul Reynolds, who helped us out a huge deal.
Where next for the CHTM gang? I hear RTE are prowling around the comments section looking to recruit one of you to host Liveline over the summer?
D: While we’ve not really discussed this in much detail, we all have different and exciting ideas. Personally, I was inspired by friends from Raspouteam who I met recently at a conference of radical tour guides and historians in Barcelona. They’ve been using QR codes on the streets of Paris, you scan ‘em and they bring you to brilliant content on the Paris Commune. I’d love to engage with the city in a way like that.
S: I’m going to focus on getting through this Masters in Archive & Record Management. My dissertation is going to be looking at how Archives in Ireland and England have been engaging with Social Media and User Generated Content (i.e. Crowdsourcing). As well as this, obviously, I hope the blog continues to grow.
C: God knows…
The launch is on next Wednesday, 12 December 2012 in Bia Bar, 28 Lower Stephen Street, Dublin 2.