‘Joyrider’ is a coming of age story set against the backdrop of the Ballymun housing estate in Dublin, Ireland. The book documents rites of passage on the 'block': experiences that convert youthful abandon to criminal enterprise.
Inspired by societal changes in his native Ireland, McDonnell spent several years working in Ballymun as residents were being relocated in anticipation of the complex’s final demolition. The estate, constructed to replace Dublin's inner city tenements in the 1960s, was a failure from inception. Despite its utopian vision, the lack of planning and infrastructure rendered the area chronically underdeveloped. Ballymun became an iconic symbol of Dublin's underclass, ravaged by successive drug epidemics and inter-generational malaise.
‘Joyrider’, now beautifully published in its complete form for the first time, depicts a marginalized youth reclaiming space in the face of this “urban regeneration.” We see, writ large, the forces and tensions that shape and mold us all as young individuals: creation and destruction, inclusion and escapism, environment and identity.
McDonnell, whose background is in film, marries his fair for the cinematic with a kinetic visual language to make Joyrider a participatory work. The pacing and sequencing of his photographs propel us through the narrative, making us feel briefly, thrillingly, like one of the gang.
We accompany the characters through their transgressions, conquests, and their rituals, both boring and sublime.
The book is a breathless ride: a fleeting but glorious glimmer of transcendence, a middle finger raised to the State and its misguided social experiments.