‘Inferno, Kid’ is a coming of age tale on a path strewn with vice and vanquished hope. Its anti-hero leaves the reader torn between agency, prejudice and admiration.
Originally written as a spoken word piece, it has taken a number of other forms including an epic poem and prospective animation. 'Inferno, Kid' is an account of a young man growing up on a tough estate in Limerick. It is set around 2010 when the city was the focal point of national media coverage and state investment. The story is told through nine chapters written in a hip-hop/rap cadence. The chapters offer a gritty framework for poverty, crime, social engineering and the human spirit. It is an unvarnished social commentary with a hugely challenging main character.
2006 was a seminal year for Limerick City. As ‘Munster’ reached the zenith of European rugby, one of its most marginalised communities hit the nadir of social dystopia. A horrific attack that left two children permanently scared received national coverage. This event would serve as the catalyst for the ‘Fitzgerald Report’ and, ultimately, the multi-billion euro ‘Limerick Regeneration’ initiative.
‘ReGen’ as it was known locally, focused on four acutely disadvantaged areas in Limerick City. It began in 2007 and was for better, but mostly worse, primarily focused on 'Physical Regeneration'. Over 80% of funding would be prioritised for 'Physical Regeneration'. All social and economic initiatives would receive little more than 15%.
This questionable triage of priorities would have dire consequences. During the economic collapse in 2008, hundreds of millions of euros would be spent demolishing and rebuilding houses, while the services that supported the people living in them were eviscerated. Those working with the most at-risk young people were among the hardest hit with cuts of over 33%.
In 2007, Limerick was best described as a ‘low crime city with a serious crime problem’. A tiny cohort of individuals, eagerly abetted by the national media, would come to define the reputation of an entire city. To fully appreciate the context in which ‘Inferno, Kid’ is set, I would recommend Niamh Hourihan’s excellent ‘Understanding Limerick’. My own, ‘The Weston Front’, offers a non-fiction account of almost ten years working at the front line in one of the Limerick Regeneration areas.
‘Inferno’ was the first part of Dante’s 14th- century epic poem, ‘Divine Comedy’. The work took 12 years to complete and was finished in 1320. It opens with the poet lost in a dark wood astray from the way of salvation. Wandering in the darkness, Dante realises that three fierce beasts are stalking him, slavering in anticipation. The wild animals represent, among other things, ambition, lust and greed. To avoid being devoured by them, Dante tries to escape by climbing a hill, but the beasts draw closer and closer. In desperation, Dante cries out for divine intervention.
His prayers are answered by the apparition of Virgil: a poet who had died more than a thousand years earlier. Virgil attempts to reassure the distressed traveller with a proposition. The good news is that there is a way out of the dark wood. The bad news is that this way leads through the ‘Nine Circles of Hell’.
‘Kid’ is a colloquial form of address in Limerick. A friend or acquaintance would be warmly greeted with ‘Alright, the Kid’.
The cover picture is of a disused railway track on the edge of one of the Limerick Regeneration areas. For a long time, it was fondly remembered as a place of innocence and mischief by an older generation. With the advent of gangland violence, however, these associations would give way to something a lot more sinister.