The Commitments | 1991
Alan Parker’s boisterously enjoyable filming of Roddy Doyle’s novel about a Dublin soul band is set in the fictitious ‘Barrytown’, based on Kilbarrack, a working class estate in Dublin’s Northside. Although the movie was shot on no fewer than 44 locations (only the interior of the Rabbitte house was created in a studio), mixing Dublin’s bland Northside estates with the older, characterful city centre, only one scene was filmed in the real Kilbarrack. The walkway, where Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) convinces Outspan and Derek that they should play ‘Dublin Soul’ – and have ‘The’ in their name – is Kilbarrack D.A.R.T. (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) Station.
For the opening scene with Jimmy, more on the sales side of the music business – trying to offload cassettes (remember cassettes?) and t-shirts, the street market was created for the film on Sheriff Street, in front of St Laurence O’Toole Church, in the North Wall district, just east of the city centre.
Dublin benefitted enormously from the resurgence of the Irish economy in the late Nineties and, like many of the locations, the area looks vary different today with brand new estates on the site.
The wedding party, at which Jimmy advises And And! And to dispense with their singer after a cringingly tuneless version of 24 Hours from Tulsa, is held in the Crofton Bray Head Inn, Strand Road in Bray, on the coast south of Dublin. It’s here that Jimmy agrees to manage the band and first hears the powerful, and alcohol-fuelled, voice of Deco Cuffe (Andrew Strong).
Jimmy tracks Deco down to Phibsborough Bus Depot, where he works as a conductor, and persuades him to take on vocal duties for the new band.
To the consternation of Jimmy’s dad, (Colm Meaney), a stream of hopefuls descends on the Rabbitte home in Darndale, on the Northside of Dublin, a few miles northeast of the city centre.
The area is just north of Priorswood Road near Malahide Road, where the estate is divided up into streets optimistically called Marigold, Buttercup and Tulip.
Another location smartened up beyond all expectations is ‘PJ Delaney’, the pawnbroker where Billy Mooney tests out the drum kit in the window. At the time of filming it was an empty store, but is now The Shack Restaurant, 24 Essex Street on the corner of Temple Lane South in the smartly trendy Temple Bar district.
Much brighter, too, is the house where Joey the Lips (Johnny Murphy) lives with his mum, and where the band first gathers to be told their new name. It’s 118 Pembroke Road at Northumberland Road in Ballsbridge, southeast of the city centre.
Without question, the prize for the best renovation has to go to the dilapidated pool hall above which the band rehearses. It was Ricardo’s Snooker Hall, built in 1912 as a movie palace, and given an art deco makeover in the Thirties (according to local lore, screen siren Rita Hayworth and her husband attended a screening here in the 1950s).
It’s now the classy Camden Deluxe Hotel, 84-87 Camden Street Lower, south of Temple Bar. Thankfully the elaborately decorated arched ceiling has been preserved and now graces the Palace Nightclub, above the hotel proper. And to top it all, you can still play snooker here.
The church, in which Jimmy finds keyboard player Steven pumping out A Whiter Shade of Pale on the organ (and where at confession the priest displays a true devotee’s knowledge of Sixties soul) is St Francis Xavier Church, Upper Gardiner Street, near Mountjoy Square.
The line-up complete, The Commitments play their first public gig, with the slightly mis-spelled ‘Heroine Kills’ banner, in the Archbishop Byrne Hall (also known as St Kevin’s Hall), opposite St Kevin’s Church on Synge Street, at Harrington Street, in the Portobello district.
The steps on which Jimmy gives Derek and Outspan a pep talk after the gig are on the west end of Bella Street, known as Bunky Arches, at Rutland Street Lower, in Mountjoy.
Imelda (Angeline Ball) and Natalie (Maria Doyle Kennedy) begin to feel like Madonna as they experience the first modest taste of fame, on exiting John's Lane Church and walking along John Street, south of Usher’s Quay.
The roller disco, in which security-turned-drummer Mickah sorts out the guys hassling Jimmy, was the old Top Hat Ballroom on Cumberland Street in Monkstown, Dun Laoghaire (where an unknown band called Nirvana supported Sonic Youth in 1991), about seven miles south of Dublin. It’s now, with glum inevitability, been replaced by modern flats, De Vesci House.
Don’t go looking to book a room at ‘Westley Hotel’, where Jimmy tags along with Joey in the hope of meeting soul legend Wilson Pickett. Its name is a nod to Assistant Director Bill Westley, and the convincing-looking hotel is none other than the city’s Mansion House, Dawson Street, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin since 1715, which now also houses Fire Restaurant.
And finally, one more lost destination. ‘Gallagher’s’, the music bar where the band comes together for one triumphant performance while imploding backstage, was the Waterfront Rock Bar, which stood on the totally redeveloped waterfront of Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Another band which used to play the Waterside, U2, has so far managed to stay together.
It’s on a cobbled road off the now-unrecognisable Quay that Jimmy finally encounters Pickett’s limo.