Photo by Zuzia Whelan

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Everyone who walks in gets a handshake or a clap on the shoulder.

Tommy Coombes knows all their names, too. Lorraine, and Paul, and Claire – and Eric. “He’s in the kitchen making toast,” says Coombes.

There’s also the man known as “the angry man in Bluebell”. Or at least, he used to be. “It turned out he was in serious pain,” says Coombes.

Since he got it treated, he’s not as angry.

It’s pouring rain outside, but still 30 or so people have travelled in to the Bluebell Youth and Community Centre for their Friday breakfast.

It’s €2 for a breakfast, for those who can pay. The balance is covered by a weekly lottery, and some funding from the Dublin South City Partnership.

“It’s like a party more than a breakfast,” says Antoinette O’Connor, as she takes orders for tea and toast and fry-ups from those lined up at the order hatch.

There are end-to-end tables, spread over the basketball court. “Night Fever” plays from a speaker overhead. The air smells of fried sausages and toast.

On the other side of a heavy curtain, the sound a football hammers off the walls, followed by the squeak of runners.

“It’s a team effort; there’s people cooking it, handing it out, doing the tea, the coffee,” says O’Connor, who has been here for two and a half years on a community-employment scheme. Before that, she cared for her parents.

Her favourite part? “Mingling with the people,” she says. “I never even realised the service that’s going on in here.”

Years ago, volunteers at the community centre were doing outreach in sheltered housing nearby. “We noticed that the men who we were engaging with weren’t eating,” said Coombes.

For more than a decade, the centre had offered some meals. But the breakfast was new. There were six or eight men at first. Others joined, as word spread.

People can feel part of something here, says Coombes. “A lot of the time, you would see disability organisations rambling around the square in Tallaght; the places where they can go are quite limited.”

Over rashers and eggs, people can talk. “And when people share their stories they understand each other a little bit better,” he says.

A man comes up behind him. “Tommy, long time no see – the longer the better!” he says, with a wink.

It’s the men that it’s hardest to engage with, says Coombes. “Women will turn up.”

But older men in places like Bluebell, who might live in sheltered housing “would maybe have very negative experiences of life”, he says. So it can be hard to get them to come out. It has to be small steps.

“Good morning ladies, I love the hairdo,” he nods, to the two women helping out with the breakfast lotto. Breakfast is winding down. Coombes rushes off – Eric’s leaving soon, so it’s time for his goodbye cake.

A lot of them were on the committee to get the community centre built, says Lina Hayes, as the lotto table is packed up, and she waits for her friends. “We were selling lottery tickets for thirty years,” she says. “It’s a great aul thing. It’s changed people’s lives.”

Volunteers clear plates. Paul Duff packs up the tables and chairs. “Before I worked here, I used to come down for the breakfasts,” he said.

Until a friend, a key-worker at the day centre, told him he could do that. That was four years ago, he says. “They say you get your good days and bad days […] but I get a lot of positives out of working here.”

By noon, there’s no trace of plates.  But there’s still the bounce of a football from the other side
of the curtain, and a few friends who linger in the corridors.

On the couch by reception, Eddie Nolan takes a break from work, from packing up the furniture. He’s worked in Bluebell Community Development Project for about four years. “When I’m out Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night, everybody’s talking about the Friday.”

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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