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Karin O’Flanagan walks around the perimeter of Mountjoy Square, inspecting the railings.
It’s Tuesday afternoon. It’s just rained heavily so the park is nearly empty.
“This one’s really good,” she says, pointing to an original imprint on a wrought-iron railing that reads “E. Hobson”.
Eight years ago, O’Flanagan and a group of homeowners began working with Dublin City Council. They hoped to get Mountjoy Square Park restored, she says.
Plans by Dublin City Council for the park’s restoration were withdrawn earlier this year though, and it’s unclear if they will go ahead.
Others, who use the park’s football pitch – which the plans would have removed – or fear rising rents in the area, are resistant to a restoration of the Georgian square.
Plans for the Park
The Mountjoy Square Society, formed by O’Flanagan and others, lobbied for the area to receive an architectural conservation area designation, which it did in 2012.
In 2014, the society paid half of the €19,000 bill for the Mountjoy Square Conservation Plan, drawn up by Howley Hayes Architects. Dublin City Council coughed up the other half, O’Flanagan says.
The 2014 conservation plan, which went deep into the changing design of the park and its social history, suggested the removal of all “non-original” facilities from it – including the sports amenities, such as the hard courts and the basketball court.
It proposed a big round central lawn, like the original park had, with large flower beds and a jogging path. The plans also mention restoring the railings – some of which was done in 2017, but not all.
A more recent plan from Dublin City Council also draws on the conservation plan, showing a large circular central lawn, and a vision of a restored path network, mirroring designs from 1837.
It also, though, seeks to retain the creche, community centre and depot that now sit within the park. A smaller hard-court space – used as a basketball court and kick-about area – would stay, it says, but the big hard court with the tennis court would be redeveloped to become part of the central lawn.
In November 2018, the council applied for “Part VIII” planning permission for these proposed changes to Mountjoy Square Park, and put the plans out for public consultation, accepting submissions until January 2019.
In February, however, it withdrew that application, the council’s website says.
While it’s unclear whether plans are still going ahead, there’s opposition to them– centred in part around the idea of getting rid of the existing big hard pitch.
A Meeting Place
“It’s a really valuable meeting place,” says Gav Fahy, a member of the 1815 FC, which rotates its games around the different free pitches in the city.
Last Sunday, 1815 FC organised an eight-hour football marathon on the big pitch in the park, teaming up with housing group Dublin Central Housing Action (DCHA).
The club wants to highlight the importance of free, open pitches, he says. Just as they previously protested at the closure of the asphalt pitch behind the Vicar Street venue.
Fahy says the club plays at Mountjoy Square at least once every two weeks. “The best game we ever played was last Thursday where people from all different communities played,” he says.
“There were people from Roma backgrounds, people aged 10 to 45 were playing in that game. It’s valuable,” he says.
On Sunday, DCHA door-knocked homes on the square, telling residents about the plans. Many knew nothing about them, member Liz Crosby said.
Dublin City Council has not responded to queries yet about the status of the plans and possible alternative spots for the pitches.
“Its full potential as a Georgian Park must await the relocation of the existing all-weather sports area currently under active consideration by the city council”, the council says on its website – although it’s unclear when that announcement dates from.
Life on the Square
Karin O’Flanagan’s home faces out onto the square.
“I can see where they’re coming from,” O’Flanagan says, of the people concerned about the elimination of the pitch.
But she says she thinks having a restored Georgian Square will improve the area’s reputation.
“It’s depressing,” she says, of the area’s bad reputation. “Anti-social behaviour here is low-level.”
She thinks that the Diamond Park on Sean McDermott Street would be a good alternative spot to put the football pitch.
Some of her neighbours are more wary, though.
Irma Bochorishvili says she’s lived in a flat on the square for seven years – but not quite when Howley Hayes had their first consultation with local residents in 2012.
She learnt of the restoration plans on Sunday, because of the protest, she says. She’s resistant.
“If they change the facade of the park, it might become the next big tourist attraction in town.” she says. (The council’s report mentions its potential as a historic tourist attraction.)
She wonders: what if landlords in the area use that as an excuse to renovate homes and kick people out?
“This part of town would be one of the cheapest places to rent,” she says.
“Rents are on the up anyway,” says O’Flanagan, on Tuesday. “If you want an area to improve, something’s got to give.”
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 12pm on 31 July. An earlier version misnamed Karin O’Flanagan, as Karin O’Loughlin, and Howley Hayes Architects. We apologise for the errors.]