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The derelict row from 33 to 37 Dolphin’s Barn Street used to have shops on the ground floor, says Paul Fitzpatrick.
He’s standing opposite, at the junction of South Circular Road and Dolphin’s Barn Street, just off the bus from work.
“The third one down, the black and white, that was a newsagents. The pinkish one, I think that was furniture or something like that,” says Fitzpatrick. “But it’s years ago, ya know?”
The block has suffered through a long period of neglect, made longer when the council sold it to a developer who failed to develop it and then took it back.
Now, the council is working on a new plan, which could see the strip turned into shops and apartments yet again.
Shops aren’t what some councillors want, though. Other shop fronts on the road stand empty and a community centre could better serve the area, says Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty.
“They’re just a waste of space, just commercial unit after commercial unit empty empty empty,” he said last Wednesday.
“I think that a public space use down here would actually be very very beneficial down here and would actually get something going, get something moving,” he said.
Why So Long?
In March 2015, Dublin City Council sold the site to the company Hollybrook Limited, which under the deal had four months to start building once it got planning approval, and had to finish within 18 months.
Planning was granted for 12 apartments and two shops, but Hollybrook didn’t start building so Dublin City Council eventually took it back.
At a council meeting on 19 May, the council’s South Central Area manager, Bruce Phillips, said: “We’re hoping to get development underway there as early as possible.”
“It is a priority for the council to expedite development of that area, and clean the whole village up, because it’s in such a prominent location,” he said.
There are plans to give the site to an approved housing body (AHB) to develop social housing there, said Phillips at the meeting.
There’s no date for demolition yet, he said. First, the council needs to reach an agreement with an AHB, he said.
It needs to be demolished soon, said Máire Devine, a Sinn Féin councillor, on Friday, “as a visible promise to a neglected area that things are happening.”
“It sends out the beacon to people, there is development here and we’re not going to have to live with it for another 30 or 40 years,” she said.
While, down the road, Rialto has become a living village, Dolphin’s Barn is a hostile junction, said Moriarty.
There are already empty shop fronts in the neighbourhood.
But Moriarty says there may be more commercial spaces coming, on the ground floor, below the planned social housing.
“What we’ve been told by housing officials is that those ground-floor spaces have to pay for themselves, so it needs to be commercial,” he said.
In AC Boles on South Circular Road, behind the glass barriers of the counter, chemist John Boles, says: “The problem was, they’ll probably end up with an empty shop on the ground floor. I imagine that won’t go ahead.”
There’s too many shops empty for about 15 years, says Boles, who owns the old-school chemist.
“You can see them all over there beside Spar, and one or two on Cork Street sold for incredibly cheap prices, so when it goes for incredibly cheap prices, that’s not very attractive for the builder,” he says.
Moriarty, the Labour councillor, says: “I think there’s a legitimate argument here to say that commercial use will be wasted, based on the experience of the other commercial units in the area being empty.”
A community space would attract people and have a positive effect, he says. “At the moment people go the Spar and the Tesco, but they’re not spending time here.”
“But the council have said they won’t get financing from the housing department to put a public space in there,” he says.
Throwing Around Ideas
On Thursday, locals pondered what Dolphin’s Barn really needs in the centre of the village, instead of a derelict site.
“A Penneys would be good,” said Shauna Ryan, a hairdresser at Ziggy’s Hair Studio, twisting back and forth on the stool behind reception. There aren’t any places to buy clothes in Dolphin’s Barn, she says.
Says Sharon Clancy: “You have to go into town, there’s nowhere to shop for clothes. If you don’t drive, it’s hard to get to places.”
Says Ryan: “It’s not great for the elderly people as well because to go to the shops they have to go into town, and they’ve a lot to travel to to get the essentials. There’s no clothes shopping.”
A bar would be nice, since there aren’t any in the area, says Catherine Thompson, who owns Ziggy’s Hair Studio.
“It would be nice to spruce up the area. I would reckon even a nice café, a nice bar, a nice bistro.” Or a restaurant with an outdoor area, she says.
Outside, at the junction of Dolphin’s Barn Street and South Circular Road, Fabien Berthelot says he has lived on South Circular Road for three years.
Before the pandemic, he says he’d rarely socialise in the area, and would only really meet friends in the city centre.
Some life at night and a place to sit and drink coffee in the evenings would be great for Dolphin’s Barn, he says.
Devine, the Sinn Féin councillor, says that since the Digital Hub, a working space for tech companies in the Liberties, is set to close, the site in Dolphin’s Barn could be used for a co-working space.
“I’d be open to anything that is going to enhance community, activity, involvement,” she says.
It could be temporarily used for murals showing local history of the area, she says. “That it becomes an artistic cultural space in the meantime. Something that could be a canvas for expression.”
A Community Centre?
Moriarty, the Labour councillor, says he thinks a community centre would “really breathe life into the Dolphins Barn village area”.
Building a community centre is one thing, says Boles, the chemist, but managing it is another.
Is it something locals would want? “I’d say the community here is so diverse at the minute. You’ve got an awful lot of people who have moved into the area. I simply don’t know,” he says.
Berthelot, now at the counter of Boles Chemist, dips into the conversation. “I wouldn’t be especially involved in the community so I wouldn’t be a good person to ask,” he says.
He has barely come across his neighbours, he says, and the last year especially has been isolating.
“In that sense, anything that could bring people back together after this whole period I think is gonna be needed,” he says.
Thompson, at the reception of Ziggy’s, says: “It depends on what a community centre is, what it would draw to the area. It’d actually be good, probably, for the younger people.”
The Dolphin House Community Centre, located in a block of apartments near the canal, is just for residents there.
“There’s plenty of people that would happily volunteer to run workshops around here,” says Carlos Pancorbo, leaning on the counter of Bee Cycles, where he works on South Circular Road.
”I just know from people coming in here, they tend to be quite creative,” he says.
Pancorbo sometimes travels 6km to play on DJ decks at Pirate Studios in Broombridge. There should be something similar close by, he says.
“The young lads would certainly go for that,” he says. “All that gear is 1,000 quid a pop. I couldn’t afford it and the majority of people couldn’t afford it.”
Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre has spaces where people can do whatever they want, he says, and he’d like to see the same in Dolphin’s Barn too.
He’d also like to see gallery spaces, he says. “There’s a lot of people I know that would gladly do an exhibition, but in terms of booking a gallery and whatnot, it’s quite daunting.”
Says Pancorbo: “To see Dublin City Council sponsor one, which is easily accessible, would be good.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said on Monday that “There is potential for non-residential facilities on the ground floor of any future development that might be an opportunity for community use.”
A community centre would be subject to sourcing funding, though, they said.