News, Stories | 06 August 2021

Everyone visits except for the locals by Shaun Dunne

Everyone visits except for the locals by Shaun Dunne
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The National Neighbourhood builds cultural projects with communities, connecting artists, groups and villages with libraries, museums and creative places across Dublin.

We have been bringing people together through a series of online exploration projects with our cultural partners and artists. Each project features weekly discovery sessions and conversations, focusing on everything from history and heritage, to visual art, music, theatre, performance and more. There will be another open call for participants to join later in the autumn, and you can find out more about The National Neighbourhood here.

Below, Dublin-based theatre and film artist Shaun Dunne, who worked with the most recent group, tells us about exploring Dublin and connecting online with The National Neighbourhood.

“Everyone visits except for the locals ..."

This is a comment one of the participants made in our final session last week.

We were reflecting on The National Neighbourhood, a 10-week exploratory project which had just culminated. Over the course of the 10 weeks, myself, Evan from Dublin City Council Culture Company, and a number of participants had met on Zoom and visited various cultural institutions virtually, and had talks and discussions with them, and with each other.

Most of these spaces had been inaccessible over the course of lockdown. Some might suggest that there can be a layer of inaccessibility to these spaces regardless of social distance.

The National Neighbourhood is about bridging that gap, disempowering that consensus and claiming a new shared space.

Over the course of the programme, we meet once weekly. There are visitors from the various partner organisations and two artist led sessions which I facilitated. There are ice-breakers at the start of each session, provided by Evan, and we get to know each other alongside our virtual talks, discussions and visits.

Cultural heart of the city

The first session is fascinating. We’re offered a historic tour of the Cattle Market from one of 14 Henrietta Street's most renowned tour guides, Gillian. She regales the group with anecdotes, family history and forgotten stories from a Dublin that is often romanticised but perhaps not very understood. Her enthusiasm and appreciation for the history of Dublin is so infectious. It’s a great way to bring our group together and from here they are ready to journey further into the cultural heart of where we live.

Our group is a mix of women from all across the city. Some have met each other along the way, through volunteering or different cultural interests. I love signing in and seeing everyone from their chosen Zoom spots. We discuss family and art, memories and the importance of understanding where you come from.

I loved the format, getting people together who are passionate about Dublin, to explore that with people living in the city. It’s always the case that everybody comes to visit except the locals. It’s lovely to be a tourist in your own city ... Participant, The National Neighbourhood

We often veer into random, humorous territory too. We share signals from deep sea divers, the antique bullets that previous residents left behind in our houses, and reflect on how the vaccination programme is moving through the country. Hopefully we’re at the end of this soon.

I’m a theatre and film artist whose work is largely based around Dublin, and in particular the north inner-city. The sessions I facilitate are an introduction to my practice and the city through the lens of the people I’ve collaborated with over the years making theatre and film in Dublin.

After the first of two sessions, I’m strangely tired, in a way that moves beyond the general Zoom fatigue we’ve all become accustomed to. I realise that it’s the most direct line I've had with an audience since January, 2020.

Sincere and startling

The level of engagement is sincere and startling. The conversation and encouragement is robust and heartening. I remember, for the first time in a good while, how art and culture is a great unifier.

Across the sessions, I’m surprised personally at how little I utilise the city’s cultural spaces myself. As an artist who works mainly across theatre and film, I know more about certain venues and institutions than others, and across the breadth of our conversations I realise that I’m void of discoveries outside of my practice. I most felt that way when I was learning about The Reading Room in the National Library and meeting with members of the IMMA team. It’s exciting to have this charge towards new spaces, or spaces that I know of but have not crossed into yet.

As places begin to open up more, I’m excited to journey into these institutions for real. I think these spaces will have a hard job ahead of them with managing post-lockdown traffic, but the broader work of access, inclusivity and audience design is something that should be kept rolling while socially distant engagement remains.

The National Neighbourhood is a brilliant initiative that supports that aim safely and profoundly. It was an honour to be a part of this group.


Shaun Dunne is a Dublin-based film and theatre-artist.

His first short film, "The First was a Boy" premiered at Dublin International Film Festival where it was awarded the Judge’s Special Mention for Irish Short. It later screened at Cork International Film Festival where it received the Honorable Mention for The Grand Prix Documentary Short Award.

In 2020, his second short film, "Iarscoláire" (Past Pupil) was awarded the Audience Choice Award for Short Film and later screened at the Galway Film Fleadh. His third film, "Dúirt Tú", premiered at Cork International Film Festival and was awarded Best Director for his collaboration with Zoe Ní Riordain.

He is currently in production on a feature-length adaption of "Rapids" with Invisible Thread while developing new story concepts with support from Screen Ireland. Shaun is the Arts Council's Next Generation Film Artist for 2020/21.