Photos by Tom Adams

This article won the 2017 Ui Cadhain Prize for Young Reporters for best writing.

I always remember cycling around O’Devaney Gardens. Me and my friends would go on cycles down the back roads leading to Arbour Hill because the road was nice and smooth there.

We pulled skids and wheelies on our bikes. We would cycle towards Palatine Square, down by Arbour Hill, and through the car park of the museum. After a few minutes we would then cycle back onto Infirmary Road.

We would see a row of houses to the right-hand side. In front of us there were three big blocks, and each block contained 48 units. In each block there was also a container shop.

This was “the flats”. It was the view of my childhood.

My name is Mark Harmon. I am 14 years old. I live on Aughrim Street now, but I am originally from O’Devaney Gardens.

I enjoyed growing up in the community. I was born and reared there. The flats were a fantastic place to live – we were all one big family, we would laugh together, cry together, do everything together.

“There was always a very close-knit community in O’Devaney,” says Fidelma Bonass, a local community worker at Tusla.

“There were a lot of long-term tenants there, and their families as well. People always looked out for each other and looked after each other.”

My favourite thing about the flats was the club, as it kept young kids out of trouble. We would go on trips in the summer, go on a lot of outdoor adventures doing water sports, and in the winter we would be watching movies and chilling out in the youth club. It was great to be involved and to participate in activities in the area.

Then things started to change. Bonass suggests that the Dublin City Council grant introduced for tenants to buy their own houses led people to move out and move on.

“A lot of people started moving in that weren’t connected to the area,” she says, “and there wasn’t the community facilities to support new families.”

Another big change for O’Devaney was the failed regeneration project in the 2000s. Bonass indicates that the idea of the regeneration was that people who had lived there all of their lives would get new houses, and there would be new facilities in the community.

“People were promised all of that,” she says. “Even some of the people who had moved out were given a promise that they could move back in. Then the regeneration project collapsed. People’s hopes and dreams collapsed with it.”

Residents were moving out, there were cars robbed most weekends, people from different areas would come up and drink and take drugs. They would cause chaos between themselves and other people and attract the gardaí.

Then there would be times when there was trouble with the youths. The younger youths had nothing to do in the flats, because everything they had was destroyed. Halloween was the worst time of year, because other groups would come up and there would be major fights.

It felt like there was no atmosphere in O’Devaney anymore. It was sad seeing empty flats, because it would bring so many flashbacks of the people that used to live there. It felt lonely, and it was a scary place to be at night.

I can still remember leaving our flat behind. I was nine years old at the time.

I was in my old youth club, Buddies, and my aunty received a phone call that made her very upset. I asked her what was wrong, and she said it was nothing.

She didn’t want to tell me. She told me to run up to my flat. When I got there, I saw my sister, and asked her what was wrong.

She said, “Do you not know what happened?” and I said, “No,” and she said, “Our nanny has passed away.” I started sobbing my heart out.

It was that month that my ma got a letter saying that there was a house for offer. We left soon afterwards.

While we were in the process of moving into the new house, some people broke into the flats to take copper, pipes, boilers, everything. They took the shower from our flat. This caused a flood, and some of our possessions were damaged.

I remained connected to O’Devaney Gardens. I used to be over there every day, hanging out with a few of my friends.

Last summer they started demolishing two of the last four blocks. One day, while the flats were getting knocked down, me and one of my youth workers went there to take a last view before they were gone.

We decided to take some photos and record an interview. As I was looking at the flats being knocked down I was quite emotional, because it brought a mixture of memories.

We were standing there watching the flats being pulled down by a big crane with a massive claw. As the claw was ripping the wired bricks apart, it was mad to see into the empty flats.

I looked into my old flat and could see red wallpaper in the sitting room. We used to spend a lot of time in the sitting room as a family.

Soon our flat was gone and the blocks were gone with it. Now when I cycle through O’Devaney it is a kingdom of dust.

The flats for me are a kind of juxtaposition. I see them the way they were years ago, and I see them the way they are today.

I will never forget the place that I came from. It will always be a piece of my heart, and no matter what happens to the area in years to come, there will be no better place to have lived than “ODG”.

Mark Harmon is a 15-year-old from the north-west inner city. He enjoys writing, football and is on a mission to find the best hot chocolate in Dublin.

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