At the moment, there’s a sign in the middle of the windswept plaza at Portobello Harbour that forbids people from skateboarding there.
The council has taken measures to try to ensure compliance: the large square seats are encrusted with metal balls along their edges, and there are metal strips across their tops.
Despite these skate-stoppers, this plaza is one of the most popular spots for skateboarders in the city, said Phili Halton on a recent Friday morning.
“The signs been here for a few years, but it’s been pretty laissez-faire,” he says. “Being bandits, as skateboarders are, they were able to knock off these little balls and still use it.”
After a decade of skateboarding there, enthusiasts such as Halton and others are planning to lobby the council to make their use of the plaza legit.
“We don’t want to really have this us-and-them thing against the council. We would love to come together, that’s really how the council’s supposed to work,” he said.
For Halton, the spot is close to his heart.
He first picked up a skateboard when he was just into double-figures. He walked by the plaza at Portobello Harbour with his dad, saw the skateboarders there, went and bought a board for himself, and headed down to the square.
On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, it’s become an important go-to space for those who love the sport to gather, he said.
Mostly, Halton just wants to see the skate-blockers – the metal balls and the strips to trip you up – taken out. Rather than spending money elsewhere on a new park, he’d like to see their spot refurbished, shown a bit of love.
There’s just one bin around the plaza. There are three lights broken and missing. “It’s looking a bit raggedy,” he says.
Ciaran Hughes, another long-time skateboarder who says he’s part of the Tony Hawk generation, agrees. “It’s almost perfect for us, it would just take a few small adjustments,” he said. Plus, the skate-stoppers, or caps, are ugly.
One of the concerns of the council has been damage. “Skateboarding is not encouraged on the plaza at Portobello Harbour for safety reasons due to its proximity to the canal and also skateboarding has, in the past caused damage to the stonework,” said a spokesperson from Dublin City Council Press Office.
But Hughes says he doesn’t think there would be damage to the seats and ledges. “It’s overstated what damage is done by skateboarders,” he says.
“I think it’s much more damaging to have people shooting up, and getting drunk on the ledges, than a couple of skateboarders skating around, you know,” he said.
Nobody minds the skateboarders using the spot, says Halton, who says he hasn’t had any run-ins with neighbours. “And I’ve been here almost every weekend for the last 10 years,” he says.
On Tuesday afternoon on the plaza, a couple of guys in bright shorts stretched against one of the posts, before jogging off in the direction of the Harold’s Cross bridge.
Behind the bar at The Lower Deck pub, Liam Ryan said he doesn’t have any real problem with the skateboarders using the square – although he wishes they’d ask before they used the customers-only toilets.
“Overall, there’s not a bother with them, unless you have to call an ambulance for them,” he says.
Using the Space
Part of the skateboarders’ pitch is that the sport attracts the kind of diverse community that you’d want to encourage to mix in a public space.
It’s inclusive and a great leveller, says Halton. “Regardless of whether you’re from the flats, or a big Georgian, it doesn’t matter.”
“If you can have a situation where a kid like me comes past and sees a couple of skateboarders and says, ‘I want to try that,’ and then the next 10 years of their life is just adventures, going abroad, and meeting loads of people from different counties.” he says.
Hughes agrees. He and Halton point to the Belfast skateboarding scene and the big skateparks there.
It was built, in part, in recognition of the fact that skateboarding is one of the few sports in which participants are not segregated along sectarian lines, they say.
“No one cares, it’s completely irrelevant. It’s a very inclusive pastime,” said Hughes.
Dublin City Council has been trialing markets in the space – and has plans for more frequent ones. But that won’t be for a while, and there’s no reason all these activities can’t coexist.
“It’s not a problem at all, it’s kind of better because it brings more people to the area,” says Halton. “The more people you have down here, the better.”
Some of those who now want the harbour to be an official spot for skateboarders have been encouraged by the collaboration between council officials and skateboarders over in the Liberties, with plans for Weaver Park on Cork Street.
At the moment, there are no plans to reconsider the skateboarding ban in Portobello, said the spokesperson from Dublin City Council Press Office. “There is a dedicated public skatepark located in nearby Bushy Park, Terenure,” she said.
Halton is pushing ahead, though. He plans to approach local councillors to see if they will back his idea for the Portobello Harbour plaza.
Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne said she would be open to talking about that. “Let’s open up the conversation and see what happens,” she said.
Often, the city is better at providing facilities for traditional sports – GAA, rugby, or football – than less-mainstream activities that people are interested in, she said. “I think we need to be looking at working with them to see if we can find facilities for them.”
Byrne’s only concern would be that there is a popular dublinbikes station at Portobello Harbour, and it would be important to make sure that wasn’t interfered with.
But the space could definitely be better used, Byrne said. “It does tend to be a bit of dead space unless it’s a nice sunny evening,” she said.