If Gray Street could talk: Gogglebox Ireland’s Anita Reilly on life in The Liberties and being on hit Virgin Media show

It was a Wednesday afternoon as I walked through The Liberties where I took a right off Meath Street and headed down Gray Street to meet one half of Gogglebox Ireland’s Liberties duo, Anita Reilly.

Gogglebox Ireland star Anita Reilly. Photo: Courtesy of Anita Reilly

Anita, 53, has been captivating Irish viewers with her commentary on the hit Virgin Media show with her best friend Tracie Reid since 2016 and invited me into her home for a chat about life in The Liberties, being on the show and some of her many life aspirations.

Anita greeted me on the street as she sat on a chair set-up outside her home. A set-up she did during the pandemic for any elderly neighbours in the area that wanted to have a socially distanced chat or rest passing by when local community centres and churches were still closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

A wholesome communal response followed with many of her neighbours doing the same and now several chairs and benches are on the street for anyone that would like to have a chat or sit and rest.

Gray Street, the street Anita has lived on for most of her life. Photo: Gary Petrov

The hospitable Gogglebox star welcomed me into her home and made ‘Liberties sandwiches’ for us both with a pot of tea. Humble, but full of wit, she said, “The first time, I’ll do it for you but if you come back again, you can do it yourself.”

Anita was born in 1970 in St. Teresa’s Gardens and always lived with her grandmother.

She first called Gray Street home in the mid-late 1970s when her grandmother decided to move to the street known for the famous Jesus statue – which Anita calls ‘Sheezus’, due to its feminine appearance.

Anita as a young schoolgirl in the late 1970s. Photo: Courtesy of Anita Reilly

Moving to the UK in the late 1980s when she was 18, Anita spent many years there living her “best life” and wasn’t thinking about Ireland and whether she was going to stay or not.

Anita settled in Luton, where she met her partner, Alistan and they had the first of their four children, Bronwynne – with Ewyn, Jaynie and Remy joining in the years to follow.

It wasn’t until the arrival of Bronwynne and a visit home to Dublin with her six-week old that made Anita realise she wanted to move home, “When I came home to visit when Bronwynne was six weeks old, I thought I was very happy in Luton until I came home and realised the love that she was shown by people out on the street, not just family,” she said.

“Each time I’d go back [to the UK], I’d literally last about two weeks and I’d come back again and I was always looking for an excuse to come back. I felt like I needed my child to be here. I hadn’t thought about it while I was pregnant. My intention was not to come home but when I did come home, I realised the difference in people’s reactions,” she continued.

Similar to the old saying, ‘It takes a village’, Anita felt that her child was going to be “loved and protected” back home in The Liberties with her family than in the UK without them.

Anita’s visits to Dublin turned into longer and longer stays away from the UK, until one day, her partner Alistan phoned from Luton and asked her if she planned on coming back this time – to which she replied with, “I don’t think so, no.” So he followed over and thus, began their life as a family in The Liberties.

While Anita and Alistan never actually married, Anita said she is “technically living over the broom handle for over 30 years” with him as life-partners.

When Anita was growing up, The Liberties was referred to as the ‘Inner City’ and the two words eventually became attached to negative things going on in the area. The term ‘Inner City’ being “tagged to a lot of negative stuff, it [The Liberties] became something to be ashamed of,” she said.

However, Anita claims that she was “never ashamed” of where she came from as she was always surrounded by “positive people and strong women.”

Anita (in black coat) and her family growing up in The Liberties. Photo: Courtesy of Anita Reilly

Even as a non-religious person, Anita praises the positive communal elements of her local church with groups that bring the locals together.

She said, “Even our local church was always a positive impact around here with Brother Patrick’s girls’ club. The girls are still going strong from that and they all meet up and visit Brother Patrick. Brother Bernard has always done the women’s football.”

“To be honest with you, even the worst case scenario, even people that have stuff that went wrong in their lives – their sense of humour makes you feel accepted. When you go out on the street, it’s kind of like a ‘We’re all in this together’ atmosphere,” she said about the strong and protective solidarity within her local community.

Anita has a strong passion for everything ‘Liberties’.

She is passionate about bringing the trade back into Meath Street and shopping local. Tradition rubbed off Anita from her grandmother who had a rule to keep her shopping local when supermarket chains started arriving in Dublin, “If you can’t buy it in Meath Street, then you can go to the supermarket,” her grandmother would say.

When asked about her ancestral links to The Liberties and surrounding areas, Anita said that on her mother’s side, her great-great grandparents and even a few more generations once roamed the streets she now walks. 

Anita’s favourite thing about her hometown is the people.

“It has to be the people,” she said. “The people, the atmosphere and the ability to shake negativity off.”

“I don’t know whether it’s a ‘Dublin’ thing, I don’t know whether it’s unique to The Liberties, but I find that no matter how miserable you are, even if it’s a miserable day or it’s lashing or raining, you’ll still have a bit of craic with somebody,” she continued.

Tradition is big with Anita and she’s on the fence about the area becoming gentrified. She is open to it as long as the area benefits from new blood. “I don’t want the independence, the atmosphere and the uniqueness to change,” she said.

“We tend to be a bit ‘Oh we’d love this but do nothing about it’ that you do take a blow-in to come in and say ‘This is what I want’ and they fight for it,” she continued.

Anita wants things like the tradition of polishing the brass on your door to remain and to have pride in your home. New generations moving in and the rise of Airbnbs in the area are making traditions fade. She’s also keen on keeping the area’s communal spirit and in regards to trade, keeping cash in the area.

One thing that frustrates Anita is the constant flow of tourist buses through narrow roads in the area while a shuttle bus service that benefitted people in the surrounding areas travelling to Meath Street (a wider street) is now gone because “Meath Street hadn’t got the capacity” for it.

“When I was a kid, I used to think it was called Meath Street because they sold meat,” she said as she spoke of how the area is quietening down with the closure of pubs, butchers and the surge in hair and beauty salons on the street.

When asked about the Liberty Market potentially facing the same fate as Moore Street, she said, “It will happen if you let it.”

She said that people are getting “bullied out of it” and with the deterioration of the Liberty Market area and the increasing rent prices, they’re all becoming a deterrent to having a stall.

In regards to anti-social behaviour in the area, Anita is concerned that “the guards don’t seem to be able to have a handle on what’s going on.”

She said that it’s no different to 20 or 30 years ago but the anti-social behaviour has been accepted as a given and it shouldn’t.

“I do fear for people who are not from around here. They can get intimidated, and people of colour – I’d like to see that it’s not acceptable to be able to speak about anybody [disrespectfully] referring to the colour of their skin,” she said.

Anita, living in a diverse and mixed race family, would consider that issue very close to her but would have that opinion anyway.

Being on Gogglebox Ireland since its inception in 2016, Anita spoke about how she got into it, how that has been for her and also, her sense of pride representing people of The Liberties on a show broadcast nationwide.

Anita Reilly and Tracie Reid on Gogglebox Ireland. Photo: Virgin Media

With a known reputation for chatting and knowing everyone, Anita calls herself the ‘Lord Mayor of Nowhere’.

Having been approached for media projects and being told she’ll be “great at this or that” and refusing many throughout the years, it was Gogglebox Ireland that got a hold of her.

“A girl that lived behind us, her name’s Jane, was constantly passing my name and number on. If it wasn’t for me, it was to get someone,” she said. One day she got a call from a woman named Claire who got her number from Jane. Claire said, “Jane said you’re gonna say no but you’ve to listen and this is right up your street.”

Anita listened while assuming it would be a casting job for her to find people, but it was Gogglebox Ireland and they wanted her and her family to be on it.

Although Anita was gladly on board for it, she knew her partner wouldn’t want to do it and worried it might have an effect on her children in the long run so she declined.

After declining, she agreed to help with the casting and one of her many suggestions was one of her best friends, Tracie Reid.

Originally putting Tracie forward for it with another friend, Gogglebox Ireland’s casting directors thought Anita and Tracie would be perfect together for the show.

The iconic Liberties duo in action on Gogglebox Ireland. Photo: Virgin Media

Since 2016, Anita has been noticed a lot when out and about but still remains the woman she has always been in The Liberties, “You’re only famous in this area if you won the grotto-lotto to be honest with you,” she said. 

At first she didn’t notice as she would say hi to a lot of people out and about that she knows but she realised once she started to get looks in shopping centres that it wasn’t actually people she knew but people recognising her from the show. “I didn’t even think about Gogglebox until they mentioned it,” she said.

“I’m proud of it, yeah,” she said. “I mean, I’m known for something that’s not negative so that’s okay.”

When asked if she was glad to be back on our TV screens with the new series – captivating us with her commentary, she said, “Well I don’t know about if I’m captivating or bamboozling them. Yeah, of course.”

Anita spoke of how people that know her label her as quiet on the show and she attributes this to Gogglebox making sure it’s not the ‘Anita Reilly Show’ as she says herself that she “doesn’t shut up.”

Anita doesn’t have set plans for the future but does have several interests – whether that’s helping out someone who has a job for her in casting, market research or media, producing a passion project film she wrote or, becoming the stand-up comedian she has always wanted to be.

Most importantly, she is Mammy Anita and her priority is her family.

“My focus is trying to survive, every day. My focus is never about me, and that’s not me being this selfless person. That’s typical of any mammy out there,” she said.

Anita’s biggest fear of becoming a stand-up comedian or venturing into public eye careers is the misconception of people thinking she’s only doing it because she was on the TV – when in fact, these passions were always there.

When asked about the advice she would give to someone looking to get into TV, media, broadcasting or radio, she said, “Well first of all, get into it for the right reasons. There’s lots of ways to be well-known, it doesn’t always have to be involved around TV or radio.”

“I’d rather be less known and the thing that people knew about me was a nice thing than to be criticised,” she continued.

With the long list of things that Anita wants to pursue in life, she said, “I also want to be a lollipop woman when I retire so, I mean… I’ve always got a plan!”

You can watch Anita Reilly with her pal Tracie Reid as the Liberties Duo on series 7 of Gogglebox Ireland on Virgin Media One and the Virgin Media Player.


To listen to the full interview with Anita Reilly and The Liberty’s Gary Petrov on our YouTube channel, click below or click here.

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