Ballymun flats. Place of broken dreams and lights of hope (example of social and political failure)
From the author:
I want to thank you Ballymun community for the support giving me working on this project. This project is dedicated to all of you. You helped me to understand the processes of the social issues in the area. You made me believe that no matter what are the circumstances helping each other and the good spirit never die. The documentary reportage covers years 2004/2015. The project really shows the end of a certain era for the community. For the main subject of this project I have chosen empty buildings and surrounding areas. The subject determines passing time, spaces and personal belongings of people who lived there.
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Place of broken dreams and lights of hope
First time I have seen Ballymun in 2004. In front of my eyes stood this very fierce image of the place. Burnt flats with plywood instead of widows. Burnt cars around the flats and rubbish everywhere. Jung lads hanging around looking for troubles. Faces of heroin addicts passing me on the streets . Horses around the blocks eating grass. The experience being there in 2004 was terrifying.
I was visiting Ballymun few times until I eventually moved in there in 2007. During my research I have met the residents who moved in there just after the building were raised. In summer 1966 the housing scheme become the political and social priority. In the 1960s many people in Dublin lived in very old and dilapidated buildings.
The high rise buildings was the only answer for the housing crisis. When the 3000 unit Ballymun Housing Scheme was announced The Government was full of hope and promised a lot for the new community. New shops, schools, green spaces and other amenities. There were three types of flats built in Ballymun: seven fifteen-storey towers, nineteen eight-storey blocks and ten four-storey blocks. Ninety flats in each Tower.
The towers were named after the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence ( Thomas Clarke, Eamonn Ceannt, Patrick Pearse, Oliver Plunkett, Sean MacDermott, Thomas MacDonagh and James Connolly). The four storey and the seven storey buldings were named after the street they were lying along (Coultry Road, Balcurris Road, Shangan Road, Shangan Avenue, Sillogue Road, Sillouge Avanue, , Balbutcher Road, Balbutcher Lane, and Sandyhill Avenue.
New tenants started to move in 1966. Christina Farrel who moved in to Shangan Road Flats as one of the first resident in 1968 said ,,The Ballymun Community once was great. People were helping each other and you could leave keys in the door and no one would take it. New flats were beyond our expectations. My family had a flat with a central heating, gas cooker and 3 bedrooms. We were all very positive about it. Our childhood was very happy. As a kids we were running around the playgrounds with our parents. I am having very good memories as a kid. I moved out from the flats with my parents 10 years later in 1978”.
In the first few years after Ballymun buildings started to raise the government had to revised all his plans. Due to lack of integration within a project between Government, Dublin Corporation and other organisations there were serious delays. Lack of amenities started to create social problems. In the early 1980s global recession, drugs and rampant crime made very strong impact on the community living in Ballymun. People with alcohol, drug problems and mental illness started to be allocated to Ballymun.
Because of the bad reputation of the area many people started to face discrimination when trying to find work. Despite the fact that so many social issues were involved among the community „there was always strong feeling of pride in the community” said Michael Keating who was born here in 1972 in Silloige Road. Lynn Connoly in her book ,,The Mun. Growing up in Ballumun” remembers the time spent in Ballymun as good and bad experience. As everywhere else there are good and bad things happening.
But the scale of things going wrong direction starting from 1980s was incomparably bigger. Lynn family were allocated to two bedroom flat in Sean Macdermott Tower in 1970. Despite her cherish memories growing up in The Mun and meeting the finest friends she said: ,, In the early 1980s mine and many others needs was to get away from Ballymun and live hundereds miles away. Away from broken lifts that stank of urine and vomit, the garda car chases, the needles left in the stairwells, the glue sniffers, grafitti on the walls.
Ballymun within 10 years from early 1980s had gone from being a model estate to becoming a place where only the desperate wanted to live she said. You never new what could come flying out of the window as you approached the flats: used nappies, TVs, sofas, bottles. It was discouraging to know that people looked down on you just because you came from Ballymun. Most of tenats were just oridinary people living oridinary lives. It seamed to anyone living outside the area that Ballymun was Ireland’s equivalent to The Bronx. It was depressing to live somewhere that people stopped to care anymore about the place”.
After almost 40 years the buildings and surroundings in Ballymun looked shocking. Full of garbage and burned stuff lying around the buildings. The place was’t safe. In March 1997 Dublin Corporation started to implement the Master Plan for Ballymun regeneration. There was hope for the community to start better life. The demolition of seven 15 storey and nineteen 8 storey blocks began. The last building the famous Plunkett Tower has been taken down in 2015. New accommodation has been provided for the tenants. Ballymun has been changed dramatically.
John Curran who has been living in Ballymun for 4 dacades says: ,,Its not the same place as it was and spirit of the old times is gone. But if we stay strong and things will go in to good direction we might bring it back for us and our kids”. After over forty years since the first building was rised the bad reputation is still alive. I am saying this because I have experienced this on my own skin. I have been living there for 4 years and whenever asked by people where do I live I would see this stupid smile saying oh no how you can live there? People now wants to stay there now and this is very good sign.
Private development is very needed in the area. There is a lot of vacant land around Ballymun. There need to be balance between social and private housing to help increase population and diversify community.Very important now for Ballymun is to built new shopping centre. To bring business and jobs to the area.
I found Ballymun very friendly place where I met a lot of good people and never experienced anything what could have change my thinking about Ballymun. My good memories are the karaoke nights in the Towers where people very often would meet and socialise. I hope that the time will change peoples thinking about this place and the project I have done will help a little to understand all that complicated history.
Nowadays there are many voluntary and community organisations active and involved in the regeneration process. Like Axis, Art and Community Recource Centre. It is really great success of this place. It brings fresh blow to the cultural life of Ballymun. Or the Ballymun Youth Action Project in Horizons centre where people with alcohol or drug related problems and their families can find help. And many others who keeps the community spirit alive.
I am hoping that this long time experience in which the whole community was involved will teach all us and future genarations to avoid similar situations. When I am writing this article another housing crisis hit Ireland leaving many people homeless. But that’s a different story….
Ballymun History Volumes I&2 c.1600 – 1997
Dr. Robert Somerville-Woodward
The Mun, Growing up in Ballumun