At the Liffey’s mouth, there are herons perching on tiny boats, cormorants elegantly diving into the dark wide river to catch fish and gargantuan ships from across the world carrying thousands of boxes, all the same size but a slightly different colour on account of weathering. The ships represent at once the possibility of the whole world, out there, and the faceless anonymity of global trade. Once upon a time, the docks were bustling. In the 1960s, a ship would take four to 10 days to unload its cargo. As containers were brought in, and the process was mechanised, the time it took diminished rapidly. Also diminished was the number of people employed.
On a freezing cold but bright and blue Monday, I set off from Trinity for an unusual lunch. It takes a short 20 minute cycle from campus along the quays of the Liffey to reach Ringsend. You will see the birds, you will see the ships, and you will have to cycle on the pavement to avoid getting run over by the lorries. The grandmother of a good friend of mine likes to call the stacks, those two red and white chimneys emblematic of Dublin, ‘God’s Stockings’, and it is at the feet of God’s Stockings, surrounded by cranes lifting goods to and fro, that you will find Deke’s Diner.
Deke is a formidable character. He gives the air of a man long weathered by adventure, the sea and grease. He is about six ft four and is a picture book example of gruffness, sporting a handlebar moustache that fits perfectly on his rugged face. He told me that as a younger man he worked on the sea, but around 20 years ago he decided to repurpose a shipping container into a diner for the truckers. He was a chef on great container ships for most of his career, then he worked in managing the Dublin Port authority, but now the diner is his priority.
In a port environment that has been becoming rapidly more efficient and less personal for 50 years, Deke sees himself as “the last of the Mohicans”. In a cloud of greasy smoke, he stands behind his till, buttering rolls, frying pudding, preparing frozen chips. He speaks in an old-timey Ringsend/Southern American accent, and got his nickname from the character Deke Rivers, an enigmatic trucker launched into worldwide country-western success. Deke was Elvis Presley’s first role, and the similarities are striking.
The connections between this container beside a roundabout in Ringsend and the American entertainment industry are many. Although Deke regrets to inform me that Coolio, the Los Angeles rapper responsible for the all-time banger “Gangsters Paradise”, was “a bit too hungover” to visit the Diner in his recent trip to “The Compton of Europe”. Coolio’s homegrown collaborators, however, are frequent visitors.
“I’m good friends with the Versatile boys”, Deke says with a timeless cool. There they are up on the wall alongside an array of ships, newspaper cuttings, and Ringsend community photos. He has a strong word to say about the backlash that his boys have been receiving recently. “If you don’t like the lyrics, don’t listen to them. It’s as simple as that. Anybody upset about the comparison between Ringsend and Compton is missing the point. It’s not about guns and violence: it’s because there are a lot of young fellas rapping around here.”
I can’t say that my breakfast roll (€3.75) was the best I’ve had, nor that there was much choice on the menu. My friend, who is an occasionally erring vegetarian, concluded after his hotdog (€4) that he doesn’t really miss meat as much as he thought he would. The “healthy option” on the menu is given a lot of space – it’s the door. But that’s not the point. Deke’s is an incredible place to be in. A quick meal here is a paean to those who live and work on the sea and the roads. It is also in a perfect spot if you are planning to walk the Shelly Banks or out to Poolbeg lighthouse.
The simple fare is rich with history, and who knows, you might bump into Coolio.