Photos by Cónal Thomas

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William Cummings has plans for the stretch of land behind the Maxol garage near the Baggot Street bridge.

It’s overgrown right now and underused, without much decoration aside from 34 old concrete planters, he pointed out last Wednesday lunchtime.

“I wanted to create a space, somewhere that people could come,” he says, as he strolls along the path at Mespil Road.

Nearby, office workers go in and out of busy cafés. Cummings hopes to create an oasis along the Grand Canal amidst all this, which would be Dublin’s first dedicated outdoor space for those who are struggling with their mental health.

Open to Talk

In February last year, Cummings lost his cousin to suicide.

>He wanted to do something, so he spoke to Waterways Ireland, which let him take over this stretch of the canal for the next two years. He also developed an app, he says.

Cummings says he expects to start work in three weeks, planting and replanting and landscaping in order to create a space dedicated to his cousin, Barbara Sheridan.

He is also spreading the word about the B.A.B.S. app he has developed, which is due to launch in December. It’s to help those struggling with mental-health difficulties to manage, he says.

By day, Cummings – who is from Sheriff Street in the north inner-city, and has struggled himself with depression – works at the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Outside of that, though, he has worked on his app with Barbara’s sister, Jenny Sheridan. “It’s been such an incredible help to me over the time,” says Sheridan. “It’s like there’s still a little bit of Barbara there.”

Canal water frothed below the lock at Mespil Road last Wednesday as Cummings flipped open his phone to open the app.

It has a “mind palace” where people can unjumble their thoughts, says Cummings.

It also reminds people when to take medication, and offers a buddy system: the user can nominate four people who they know who will, through the app, know where they are at all times.

Cummings says he hopes to track where people are using his app most and to then see whether more services are needed in those areas. People can also give feedback through the app, he says.

He aims to do other projects in the future, but right now he’s focused on the app and this stretch of the Grand Canal.

“I’m hoping that someone who might need to talk to somebody might just be able to bring a friend there and have coffee,” says Cummings.

A Catalyst

The wall by the planters is covered in graffiti. Long weeds droop into the canal waters below.

It might not look like much right now, but by mid-July it should be transformed, says Cummings.

As well as landscaping this stretch, he plans to tack three boards to the concrete wall behind him.

The first will be dedicated to those who’ve passed away, and invite people to write the name of a loved one they’ve lost.

The second will be for children to say what they want to be when they grow up. And the third will be for adults to write up their goals.

“Families, communities and talking is the way forward,” says Jenny Sheridan, who is helping Cummings with the project on the canal too.

Sheridan says she wants the spot to be a catalyst for conversation. “I’m hoping we’ll get people talking more about mental health,” she says. “Helping people to talk and open up.”

They have a bunch of people helping them already: Dean Carr, a neighbour of Cummings, and artists Niamh Mulloy and Tara Kearns.

“I’m planning to paint flowers around the border [of the boards], symbolising growth,” says Kearns. “Something really optimistic, something to cheer people up.”

Cummings has fronted nearly €5,000 of his own money for the project and the app, he says.

Once it is all set up, he plans to organise weekly walks along the canal on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings for anyone who wants to come along, walk, and talk.

“There might be somebody up from another county who might feeling lonely,” he says. “There’s no pressure to talk but I’ll be there.”

Cónal Thomas

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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