Ranelagh Gaels plans to expand, says Joe Davitt, its chairperson.

At the moment, they’ve slightly more boys than girls in their Gaelic football teams, he says. “We’re trying to get gender equality across the whole club by 2023.”

But the club has no reliable access to a playing field, says Davitt.

Their juvenile members use council playing space in Herbert Park and Dartry Park, among other rented facilities, he said. “We are locked out of Donnybrook Stadium since Covid began so we’re renting UCD for our youngest academy members aged 5-7.”

Once a week or so, they also train and play on the big pitch off Leinster Road, at Cathal Brugha Barracks. As do members of Portobello GAA, who play there almost every day. “It’s the only full-sized GAA pitch in the area,” says Davitt.

At a meeting on 12 April of their South East Area Committee, councillors agreed a motion to ask that the pitch at the barracks be transferred to Dublin City Council so that the land can be turned into even more of a public amenity. At the moment, it’s Department of Defence land.

“Opening up the grounds would also give local primary schools a much-needed pitch to use,” says the motion from Mary Freehill, a Labour councillor.

“If the Council acquired this pitch, I think the GAA and DCC could come together to invest properly in a future pitch project,” says Freehill’s motion.

“There’s no will to change arrangements to reflect needs locally in the community,” said Freehill after the meeting. But if the council managed it, they might take a broader view and open it up to more clubs, she said.

Teams need facilities such as toilets and changing rooms to keep teenage girls playing sports, says Davitt. “If it was taken over by Dublin City Council, you’d hope that it would be developed and kept as a GAA pitch.”

Portobello GAA would want to be part of the discussion if there were changes to how the pitch is used, says John O’Donoghue, secretary of Portobello GAA

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence said that the pitch is used by the military for training and exercise.

The Department of Defence gives licences to GAA clubs to use the pitch as and when required, said a spokesperson for the Department of Defence. “[T]here are no plans to change this status.”

Whose Land?

“There isn’t actually a shortage of green space in Rathmines,” says Ciarán Ferrie, a member of the Rathmines Initiative. It’s just that a lot of it is private, he says.

Rathmines has only two public parks: Belgrave Square and Tranquilla Park. Although those with time to stroll have nearby Harold’s Cross Park, Dartmouth Square and Ranelagh Gardens Park

There’s more than 3 hectares at Kenilworth Square, which is owned by St Mary’s College, Ferrie says, but people jog the perimeter looking in.

“It’s mad to think you have this incredible resource in an area where there isn’t such green space,” he says.

Leinster Cricket Club on Mountpleasant Road Upper and the former Church of Ireland College of Education centre on Rathmines Road Upper each have 1–1.5 hectares, he says.

Rathmines’ public parks are small compared to its private green spaces, he says.

In March, members of the Rathmines Initiative wrote to Transport and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan, a Green Party TD, about the shortage of public green space in the neighbourhood.

“We suggested that some of those spaces should be open to the public, and should be available to clubs and sports clubs,” said Ferrie.

Opening Leinster Cricket Club to the public would mean people could walk between Mount Pleasant Avenue and Rathmines main street too, reads the letter to Eamon Ryan.

The Church of Ireland grounds on Upper Rathmines Road is zoned “to preserve, provide and improve recreational amenity and open space and green networks”, in the council’s development plan. But it’s closed off to the public, the letter says.

However, it seems the council is not planning just now to add any new public green spaces in Rathmines. “We are not looking to acquire new green spaces in Dublin 6,” a council spokesperson said on Friday.

Using the Barracks

Portobello GAA has been allowed to use the land at the barracks for more than 20 years, said O’Donoghue. “There’s never been an issue where we couldn’t use it because the army was using it.”

In the last three years, they have shared with Ranelagh Gaels and, he says, there would be issues with scheduling, if there were other activities or another club.

“Even ourselves, if we were looking to add teams over the years, we would probably run into difficulties,” he says.

Normally, Portobello GAA use the pitch four nights a week and for matches at the weekends, says O’Donoghue. “Any changes to it, we would want to know the consequences of that.”

Others using it in the daytime would be fine, O’Donoghue says, as long as they don’t compete for the evenings. “If they want to use it for running up and down, jumping, they can have cows on it, it doesn’t bother us.”

But, says O’Donoghue, “It would be devastating for our club if the pitches changed and we were not able to use the playing pitch anymore. Ultimately our club would fold.”

Managing arrangements of playing fields between sporting clubs is part of Dublin City Council’s services, says Ferrie, so they might be better equipped than the Department of Defence.

Not having adequate space to train and practise, means “different community groups and organisations find themselves pitted against each other for access to a scarce resource,” Rathmines Initiative wrote in their letter to Eamon Ryan.

Other Lands

Many GAA clubs would like space to train around Dublin, says O’Donoghue.

However, “I can’t think that there’s any green or derelict space in Rathmines where you could put a pitch in Rathmines. Or even Harold’s Cross or Ranelagh.”

Davitt says some private schools could open up their sports facilities for the area.

For example, Kenilworth Square has three pitches, he says. “In my view, it’s underutilised since it’s not publicly available.”

Davitt wishes the council would make that a priority, he says.

Playing sports has even been discouraged in some Rathmines parks too, he says, like the publicly owned Belgrave Square, where trees and hills were landscaped, stopping people from playing and running around much.

“There needs to be a plan put in by the council long-term, in terms of whether it could be installing astro pitches to be set aside for soccer or Gaelic teams to play on,” he said.

A plan for more green spaces has to be included in the Development Plan 2022–2028, said Green Party Councillor Carolyn Moore.

But it’s a challenge when the city is already heavily developed, she says. “You can’t just click your fingers and develop them out of nowhere so sometimes it’s better to develop the pitches that we have.”

Davitt, of the Ranelagh Gaels, says he appreciates that the council has a difficult situation given how big sport pitches are, he says. “Even if they have got green space, you might not be able to translate that into a pitch.”

“We’re just looking for more space for young people in the area that has been lacking for many many years,” says Davitt. “Young people need places to run around the same as anyone who lives further out from the city.”

CORRECTION: This article was updated at 9.35pm on 28 April to correct where Ranelagh Gaels members are training at the moment. Apologies for the error.

Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at claudia@dublininquirer.com.

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