“Art is Anything You Can Get Away With”

What some call vandalism others call art. Mary Kate Hickey spoke to graffiti artists and art experts to get their perspective on graffiti culture.

An example of a simple tag. Image: Mary Kate Hickey

Graffiti has become a popular part of modern day culture, with some museums and galleries even featuring it in their exhibitions.  However in many countries including Ireland, graffiti is still illegal unless the property owner has given their permission.
Can graffiti be considered art, or is it simply a form of vandalism? Smer, a 20 year old Dubliner in his third year in a Dublin college, and Trevor Coulahan a graphic designer and street artist share their opinions on graffiti with FILTR.

“Smer is my tag name, it’s what I write on the walls and trains I paint” he said adding how he wishes to remain anonymous as what he does is illegal.  “My friends got me interested in it there’s a group of us who go out to paint or write together, we’re called BPK” said Smer.

Artwork by Smer which can be seen from the platforms of Connolly Station in Dublin. Image: Mary Kate Hickey

“Personally I don’t consider myself an artist, I’m a writer.  To me a writer is someone who paints the streets, tracks and trains, we do tags, throws and dubs*.  While I think of an artist as someone who is spreading a message with what they paint, someone using stencils, or creating original and elaborate imagery. But it’s all objective these labels we’ve been given, some people might see it differently” he added.

One of the people Smer said he considers an artist is Trevor Coulahan.  “I paint on the streets, on canvas, and do design work for companies.  Technically I’m a graphic designer, street artist and fine artist, so I guess artist is fine, it covers all bases!” said Trevor.  “But if I was to say I considered some graffiti writer an ‘artist’ I could in actual fact be insulting the individual.  Graffiti has its own rich history outside of the art world” he added.

But just because graffiti can be considered apart from the art world does not mean it has no connection to art at all.   “I really think graffiti has the capacity to be both vandalism and art, I don’t necessarily think it has to be one or the other. But I think people need to educate themselves to what graffiti actually is” Trevor stated.

Graffiti is a sub culture, it stems from, and is one of the four main elements of the hip-hop culture that emerged in the late 60s in America.  Young writers often begin with ‘black books’, where they draw letters and figure out what letters look nice next to each other and how they flow together.  It takes time and a lot of practice to develop a style, and to learn how to be confident with a spray can.

That’s where tagging comes in, it allows writers to practice their hand style while at the same time getting their tag seen. “People always give out about how unsightly tags look, but without tags you don’t get the amazing pieces that devolve from that practice” Trevor explains.

This somewhat non-acceptance of graffiti from the general public however may well be okay with those who do graffiti. “Graffiti is insular, and it is for graffiti writers. I don’t think they really want acceptance from the general public” Trevor said.

el viz
Artwork: Trevor Coulahan @el_vis_art. Image: Mary Kate Hickey

“I do graffiti because I always liked the bit of mystery that comes with it.  I like to improve my writing for myself and see how far I’ve come,” Smer revealed. “It’s also the sense of pride seeing your name emblazoned on a wall or a train as you’re passing by, and have other people ask how you even got away with painting where you did!” he added.

A big part of the graffiti culture is based around the fact that it isn’t legal.  “I think a lot of people who do graffiti do it for the thrill of doing something they’re not supposed to be doing.  If it was legal I don’t think there would be that same buzz, it wouldn’t be graffiti anymore really” Smer explains.

That’s why graffiti and street art are polar opposites explains Trevor, “I think the only thing graffiti and street art have in common are that they both mainly happen on the street  with spray paint.

“I think street art gets a lot more respect from the general public than graffiti. Which isn’t that fair, considering without graffiti, there would not be street art” he added.

Graffiti as a form of art is hard to explain, given that many of those who do it consider themselves writers, and the law states that it is a form of vandalism.  Personally, I think the cities of the world would look awfully bare without the brightly coloured tags and paintings covering their walls, bridges and trains.

Artwork outside the front of The Tivoli car park in Dublin. Image: Mary Kate Hickey

*Graffiti Fact File:
– The word graffiti comes from the Greek word ‘graphein’ which means ‘to write’.
– Many graffiti artists prefer to be called writers, each with their own unique tag name to identify their own work. Some work in groups and also have a group tag name.
– Tags – A quick written way of signing a name which can be embellished with stars, halos and crowns.
– Throws – Bigger, and more easily read.  Most likely bubble letters, with some colour but still quick to do.
– Dubs – Take the longest to do, again bubble letters but probably nicer.  They’re usually fully filled in and have shines, secondary highlight, and backgrounds.
– To keep up with competition, and to speed things up, some graffiti artists use rubber stamps, stickers and stencils when tagging.


The land of saints, scholars, and rappers

Over forty years have passed since the birth of hip hop in the United States, since then it’s become one of the most popular genres of music among young people. However, across the pond Ireland’s hip hop scene can escape you almost entirely, unless you put in the effort to seek some out.  In fact, unless you go searching for Irish rappers, it can be hard to ever hear their material, or know what Irish rap is all about.


“It’s a really self-contained culture, the same people have been at the gigs since I started going, and that’s 13 years ago” explained Gary ‘Nugget’ Nugent.

Gary “Nugget” Nugent

Rapping since he was 17, Nugget shares how he feels there has been a lull in the last few years and that the Irish hip hop scene has stopped moving forward as rapidly as it had been.  While the genre has never been more popular, he thinks the lack of rap battles and better organised gigs are holding Irish hip-hop back from being taken seriously by a wider audience.


“I think the accent puts some people off at first, people think of an American accent when they think of rap music, but the diversity of the Irish accent is a key defining feature of Irish hip hop,” he added.


The comedic storytelling with the unique Irish humour and the variety of tones, accents and backgrounds are other defining features of Irish hip hop, according to Alan Newman.  “I suppose it comes from the background of the Irish being good poets.  Irish rappers are the poets of this generation, Irish rap is just real, and it deals with real issues and real people” he said.

Alan Newman. Photo: Jason O’Callaghan


In 2014 Alan set up Boss Level Series, a group that brought Irish rappers together to collaborate on music projects.  The producer and rapper who moved to London when he was a ten year-old credits his time spent living in the UK for his musical interests.


“The music in the places I was living was eclectic.  I was hearing reggae and afro beats for the first time.  It was a culture of cliques of rap artists collaborating and I was trying to achieve something similar with Boss Level over here when I came back” he said.   


While the Irish rap scene is a lot smaller in size than that of the UK and US, the talent is not lacking. Ireland has a long history of famous poets and storytellers, and a generation of Irish hip hop artists are emerging hoping to rival the likes of Joyce and Wilde.


“Some of the most talented and lyrical emcees I have ever heard are from Ireland, there’s a very poetic value to it here.  Most of us rap about what we know or what we see, it’s not all about sex, drugs and money like in other countries, but you still get some of that” explained rapper James Costello.

James Costello

Costello says the inspiration for his raps come from things he sees walking around North Dublin.  “I like to tell a story with my raps but I’ve been fortunate to not have many struggles myself” he said. “I write about the things I see walking around places like Finglas and Ballymun, near my home, and what life’s like for my friends, family and other people living there,” he added.


Getting the support of the media and the general population has been an ongoing struggle for Irish hip hop artists.  “It’s hard to get over people’s misconceptions about what Irish rap is” explained Nugget. “Some people just think it’s a joke, it’s very hard to get something on TV or radio promoting Irish rap in a serious way.”


However it doesn’t help that Irish rap keeps getting compared to its US and UK counterparts, explains Alan Newman.  “I’d love to see Irish hip hop appreciated for what it is, and not constantly compared to things it’s not.  Like should be compared with like; you wouldn’t compare Dizzee Rascal to Kendrick Lamar so you shouldn’t compare Irish hip hop to US hip hop” he said.


One of the biggest struggles for rappers and producers making Irish hip hop is financial strain.  “Paying for studio time, a producer to make beats if you don’t do it yourself, and someone to do music videos costs a lot” said Costello.


But it’s not all struggles and negativity; some great things come from having such a small contained sub-culture.  “Everybody knows everybody really, and there’s a lot of respect among the artists, it’s kind of like a friendly competitiveness,” explains Costello.  


While all have differing opinions on what defines Irish hip hop, be it storytelling, the poetry or the Irish humour, one opinion they all shared was that the Irish accent and the purity of the craft is what makes Irish hip hop special.


(Originally published in FILTR magazine http://www.filtrmagazine.com)

Dublin Flea Christmas Market

Dublin Flea Market, a new fixture in The Liberties with its home in Newmarket Square, will be hosting its 5th annual Christmas Flea Market this year.


Dublin Flea Market, a new fixture in The Liberties with its home in Newmarket Square, will be hosting its 5th annual Christmas Flea Market this year.

The last four years the market has been held over the river in Smithfield however the space previously used was no longer available so they had to go in search of a new home.  “It was tough to find a location large enough to hold our market in,” said Aisling Rogerson of Dublin Flea.


“We wanted a location that highlighted the beautiful old buildings in the city that have been left unused and empty for many years, as is our ethos with Dublin Flea. That’s when we found the old John Player Factory, which is an iconic building with loads of character that hasn’t been open to the public for at least 10 years” she added.

However at the last minute the venue had to be changed when the John Player Factory withdrew the go-ahead to hold the Flea market there.  After putting out a cry for help on Facebook, and getting many offers they finally confirmed the new venue will be The Point Village, beside the 3 Arena.

In the build up to the market the Dublin Flea team have been very busy making sure electricals, plumbing, food preparation areas and signage are all in check before the big weekend.


“The stalls for the market have just been confirmed and will still include some of the favourite flea stalls where you can haggle and bargain to your hearts content.  There will also be some stalls focused around design and craft with all local Irish designers and artists, and of course more Christmas and gift orientated stalls for all your holiday shopping needs. It’s like a mini festival really with the variety of stuff we have” Aisling said.

The Christmas Cracker Market will be home to over many market stalls for three days from the 11th – 13th of December, In the new venue of The Point Village.  With 110 stalls it is the largest indoor market in Ireland.

Camden Exchange Review

Camden Street’s newest addition opened its doors about a month ago, and I thought I’d try something different, and something different was exactly what I got.


Right in the heart of Camden Street, Camden Exchange is in a prime location that some may recognise as being the site of the old National Bank.  It was also used as a storefront in filming the RTÉ series Raw.


With craft beers, cocktails, food and low playing indie music you could say Camden Exchange is no different to any hip new place to eat. However with food bursting with flavour being served until midnight, and at great prices, Camden Exchange does indeed have something new to offer.

Chicken breast in Korean hot sauce with pickled carrot and cucumber, Asian slaw served on a Bretzel bap. Photo: Mary Kate Hickey.


The unusual décor is a real talking point from the minute you walk in, with little booths, wraparound leather couches, and food being served from a vintage truck sitting neatly in the middle of the restaurant.


The atmosphere is chilled and relaxed, just like the friendly staff who work in comfort in jeans and high-top runners.


After ordering a cocktail and a cider we took a look through the wonderfully simplistic menu, when we realised that the drinks menu has a larger variety than the food. With a vast selection of craft beers and some unique sounding cocktails it is clear that the drinks menu is where the main focus is.


That said, the simplicity of the food menu has something quite likeable about it. Its layout of “pig” with the pork option underneath or “cow” with the beef option underneath is a unique take on the dining experience with only one meal under each heading.


We ordered one starter between us, the shrimp skewers, the portion was quite small for two, as they are not really designed for two. The bloody Mary sauce with them was incredible though and I would definitely recommend getting it.


Packed full of flavour, the mains are a steal at only €8 each and adding fries costs only an extra €2. Trust me you’ll want to try the fries.

The rolled pork belly on sourdough bread with chorizo jam deserves an honourable mention for its mixture of mouth-watering flavours blending perfectly together. While the chicken dish served with cucumber, stewed carrot, and Korean hot sauce in either a bap or a salad is a refreshing twist on the average chicken option.

If you want to try something new and enjoy letting your taste buds do the thinking for a while, then I really suggest you try out Camden Exchange for something new and exciting.

(Originally published in The Liberty http://www.theliberty.ie/2015/04/23/camden-exchange-review/)



Mary Kate Hickey

As the rain poured down on the thousands of men, women, children and dogs gathered for the fifth annual March for Choice, a loud cheer could be heard from the crowd to mark the start of our journey.

Neither the rain nor bus strikes were able to deter the thousands of campaigners, young and old, coming to show their opposition to the Eighth Amendment.  It is estimated that in all over 20,000 people showed up to march their way to Leinster House.

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Sweatshirts, t-shirts, hats and even umbrellas emblazoned with the word “REPEAL” acted as the uniform of choice for the marchers.  Among those in a REPEAL sweatshirt was Marie Mitchell, a mother from Sandyford, showing her support to the Abortion Rights campaign. “I’m a mother of two, a son and a daughter.  My daughter is 20 and I would like for her, and any woman, to have the choice over what they do with their own body,” she said.

The theme of this year’s rally was “Rise and Repeal” which is a reference to the Constitution and the Eighth Amendment, which equates the life of an unborn baby to that of the mother.  And like a rising it felt, with drums, homemade drums and loudspeakers aplenty among the crowd, there was no way it couldn’t have been heard all across the city.

Morale among the crowd was high despite the weather, and campaigners were happy to share their stories of why they felt the need to march in the rain for the right to choice.  Rebecca from Tipperary shared her story: “Today I’m marching with Tipp for Choice in honour of my friend Claire who lost her baby Alex to a fatal foetal abnormality. What Claire and Alex went through was pure tragedy and we have to stop punishing tragedy in this country by repealing the Eighth.”


Another person marching was Tanya from Kilkenny. “I set up Kilkenny For Choice this year and I’m marching today because last year, 35 women from Kilkenny had to travel to England to avail of medical services that they need, which is not fair. It’s 2016 [and] women have been denied their rights for far too long. We need to move on to the 21st Century and give women the care they need,”  she said.

The high morale was made ever clearer with chants of “not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate”, “pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die,” and “get your rosaries off my ovaries”, keeping us going all the way to Merrion Square.

These chants, along with banners and signs told a story that many Irish women know all too well, a story that these campaigners are seeking to put an end to.  Robin, from Germany but living in Ireland was one of the many people carrying banners.  He said: “I’m here today because I believe every woman should have the right to choose, and I believe in a broader sense that the Eighth also calls into question everyone’s freedom to make choices over their own body, which is a scary thought.”

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Walking along the route with the marchers was an eye-opening experience as you get to hear first-hand stories from them as to why they are there.  Claire Loughran from Naas said: “I’m marching today because I think it is an archaic law and it’s about time Ireland gave women the right to their own bodies.” Accompanying Claire was Heather Law, also from Naas, who added: “I’m marching because I think bodily autonomy is an important thing that everyone should have the right to.”

Marchers travelled from all over the country to show their support. James Doyle from Limerick was one of them. “I just think women should have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies, and the state and the church shouldn’t have a say in something so personal,” he said.


Some people also felt that it was their time to give back, like Luke from Galway, who said he was marching to thank everyone for the yes vote in the Marriage Referendum last year.  “I’m marching today because so many people marched with the YES EQUALITY movement, and now it’s my turn to return the favour and help people have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies.”


The streets of the city along the route were littered with people attentively watching our journey from one end of the city to the next.  Some even stopping in their tracks to applaud us in support.  Others there from the opposition, to have their opinions on the right to life heard.

Counter arguments from the Pro-Life side came at one stage in the form of two men, one holding a picture of the Virgin Mary, and one waving a flag.  Both were saying that “abortion stops a beating heart” to the marchers.

Members of the Pro-Life campaign also held a counter demonstration on Grafton Street, where they claimed that around 100,000 lives have been saved in Ireland due to not having abortion on demand. (Based on figures of Irish women travelling to UK for abortions and those in UK having abortions.)

*Some people weren’t comfortable giving their full names, but all agreed to have their opinions published with a degree of anonymity.*

(Originally Published on TheCity.ie https://thecity.ie/2016/10/04/marching-for-change-and-for-choice/)


By Mary Kate Hickey

Living within walking distance of the city centre, I could write a book on some of the things I’ve seen on my daily commute.

A lot of these stories involve cyclists, and with a record number of 11,000 commuters pedaling their way into the city every day – according to Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority’s (NTA) annual traffic count – it’s no wonder.


Cycling in Dublin quite frankly scares me, and I personally don’t see myself ever attempting it.  That said cyclists in Dublin also terrify me – they zoom along between cars and buses, on pedestrian walkways and can regularly be seen running red lights.

I don’t hate cyclists but rather have a strong dislike; simply because so many find it difficult to adhere to the rules of the road.  My main issue with cyclists is the lack of respect they have for pedestrians, and pedestrian walkways.

I’ve had many personal experiences with this. Most memorably, I was walking across Millennium Bridge when a man pulled out in front of me on his bike, nearly knocking me over – something many Dubliners have experienced.  By the time I composed myself enough to tell him that he was cycling on a pedestrianised bridge, he was already cycling the wrong way down the Quays.

Another seemingly common trait amongst cyclists is their habit of breaking red lights, having no concern for themselves or others in doing so.  A friend of mine recently told me a story when she was crossing the road with her child, a cyclist breaking the traffic lights almost hit her child in her stroller.  The lights are there not only for the safety of pedestrians, but for drivers and cyclists too. Had there been traffic going in another direction, that cyclist put themselves and others at risk, all for the sake of saving a minute or two.


As well as this sheer lack of concern for others, some cyclists seem to have very little concerns for their own safety.  Many cyclists in the city forego wearing a helmet, to protect themselves if they are unfortunate enough to get in an accident.  A lot of cyclists also never wear high-vis gear, or have lights on their bikes, making them invisible to drivers and pedestrians, especially at night.

With cyclists sometimes choosing not to use the cycle lanes, drivers have to be vigilant and look on both sides of their vehicle for them. Without lights, and high-vis gear, this makes the drivers’ job to see them a lot more difficult.

With the volume of cyclists on the roads, going down one way streets in the opposite direction might save time – but I’ve often seen cyclists going the wrong way on one way streets, again putting themselves in danger.

The final thing that annoys me about cyclists is the sense of entitlement they have over the road.  Many cyclists seem to think they can cycle wherever they like, whenever they like and not follow the rules of the road.  The rules are there for the safety of everyone, and I think if everyone followed them correctly the roads of this city would be a safer place.


(Originally posted on TheCity.ie https://thecity.ie/2016/10/06/opinion-cycling-in-the-city/)


By Mary Kate Hickey 

A bill proposing a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment, and allowing for legislation on abortion, went up for debate before Dáil Éireann on Tuesday.

Earlier that day, the government agreed not to accept the bill until the Citizens’ Assembly has discussed the topic even though it is not due to start until early 2017.


Ruth Coppinger accused “sell-out Independents” of “putting their ministerial seats before the health and lives of women.”

“This vote will guarantee that no referendum will take place during the lifetime of this government,” she added.

The AAA-PBP (Anti Austerity Alliance – People Before Profit) bill was particularly critical of Independent TD Katherine Zappone.  Zappone was elected due to her links to the marriage referendum, and the repeal of Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws.

“Many women and girls leave this state every day for an abortion. This is our reality.” Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said.  She added that Ireland cannot continue ‘exporting its issues’, and that the government’s delaying tactics on this matter are unacceptable.

TD Bríd Smith brought abortion pills with her into the chamber – which are illegal in Ireland – to use as a visual aid to her argument.

“You could arrest me for having it and give me 14 years, but you ain’t going to do it because what’s on your books and what’s in your laws, you know that if you dare to implement it you would bring hellfire and brimstone down on top of this House and in wider society because we have moved on,” she said.

Smith started her speech by criticising the poor turn-out for the debate.  With only 14 TDs showing up to discuss the Bill, she was not alone in criticising the attendance, and many citizens took to social media to voice their outrage. The hashtag #repealbill was among the top trending topics in Ireland during, and after, the debate taking place.

The Pro-Life campaign said that the bill was designed solely to generate publicity and not for a  genuine debate.
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