NICK MCGINLEY: 'I don’t want Dundalk to become another Irish ring-road-town with a vacuum at its core'
Nick McGinley is a renowned writer, actor and voice artist born in Newry and raised in Dundalk
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m a writer, actor and voice artist born in Newry and raised in Dundalk. Since 2006, I've also been a casting director for film and TV. I cast all the Irish children, found around Louth and Monaghan, for Shane Meadows’ The Virtues currently broadcasting on Channel 4 and all the Irish cast for Cathy Brady's forthcoming border-set feature Wildfire.
I’ve written a novel – a black comedy called The Casting Director, available on Amazon/Audible – short stories, plays and scripts. I run storytelling workshops in schools and arts centres. I recently got back to character acting and play the recurring role of a Dublin drug dealer in Dutch crime drama Mocro Maffia for RTL, the second season starts shooting in Amsterdam in September.
All of this freelance work is of course as vastly precarious as it ever was.
What positive changes have you seen in Dundalk in recent years?
Seeing young and not so young people from all over the world come here to work or study gives the town a shot in the arm, in terms of vitality, cultural contrast and a sense of hope and curiosity that’s terrific to witness. It’s no coincidence that all of my favourite towns and cities have one thing in common – they have a third level college that bleeds life into a town centre.
Young people remind us older people of our own buried optimism. They’re also prettier than we are, so at least a few lucky Dundalk people will end up being parents to wee African, Asian & Latino Dundalkers.
What annoys you about Dundalk?
The fact that the heart of the town – Clanbrassil Street and Park Street – threatens to be forgotten as a daily destination for locals and visitors with the double hit of online and retail park shopping. I don’t want Dundalk to become just another Irish ring-road-town with a vacuum at its core. Having said that – businesses like Roe River Books, the restaurants along those main streets and the coffee shops at the Square are fighting back in inventive ways.
You have an extensive and varied CV, what is your core love?
Patchwork quilt CVs are born of necessity and if anyone offers me a job tomorrow further at odds with my experience so far, chances are I’ll take it. My core love is storytelling so that’s why my main masochistic aim has always been to write, but performance and casting are ways to help other storytellers. At the moment, I’m trying to up the writing projects, voice work and character acting.
For instance, I’m pushing hard at the moment to voice a character on a kids’ cartoon. However, if the project’s strong, I’m always happy to rev up for an unknowns search through school workshops, open days and street casting as the talent is undeniably out there.
What is your best/first memory of Dundalk from your childhood?
My best memory of Dundalk was my usual Saturday adventure which was to disappear on my bike down to my friend Gerry Cluskey’s house for the day at the other end of the Avenue Road, from where we’d set off and play in the fields that extended out behind his house all the way to Blackrock, acting the maggots on wildlife safari – the day we were chased by black ‘n’ tan greyhounds escaped, or unleashed, from the shed in a local farmer’s field will never be forgotten, as neither myself nor Gerry have ever run so fast before or, I suspect, since.
They didn’t sink their canines into us that day as we dived into a stream – luckily greyhounds aren’t big into swimming.
If you could change one thing about the town, what would it be?
I’d reduce traffic volume and noise on residential roads. I’d remove that ridiculous ghost-cycle-lane outside the Home Bakery that suddenly disappears where they’re supposed to take off into the air with their bikes like the lads from E.T.
Instead I’d start an education drive in schools, workplaces and in annoying public forums to encourage cyclists back onto the roads and to re-educate drivers and cyclists as to how to give one another space to share the roads.
To hear drivers talk about cyclists and vice versa is to understand how any tribalism works (but doesn’t work). I’d like to see gardaí on bikes pulling over cars for endangering cyclists instead of manning barrel-fish speed traps.
To see schoolkids safely cycling to school again instead of being dropped there in an SUV would be an investment in health, happiness and necessary independence. People’s kids may be alive now in the backseat but they might also keel over on their couches from heart disease and diabetes in 30 years’ time.
What are your thoughts on the arts scene locally?
I haven’t ever back been here for a long enough stretch to know enough to comment comprehensively but anecdotally, I think the Spirit Store has cemented its status as a world-class venue for all kinds of acts. Dundalk library is getting better all the time.
I think Paul Hayes has been mounting and bringing in interesting shows at the Táin, Tom Muckian is pulling out all the stops to make Roe River Books an arts destination along with being a bookshop, Kwasie Boyce’s work with teenagers at MAD Youth Theatre harnesses a lot of energy and talent at a crucial point in Louth lives and Geraldine Kieran’s group for younger kids up at Creative Spark has a great atmosphere too.
I also think Dundalk FM and local papers like yourselves do a lot of good work in promoting local arts events and fostering a sense of community.
What do you like to do to socialise when back in Dundalk?
I like to meet up with the familiar faces – I know yer head hey! - and go and see a comedian or band at the Spirit Store – I saw Paul Currie, best described as a Belfast turbo-clown, there as part of Juicebox a while back, and he gave the funniest performance I’ve ever seen anywhere.
It’s still the best pub in Dundalk as far as I’m concerned, even when the tide is out and the mudflats have their arses to the wind.