For Culture Night, Aaron Crampton led tours around the bungalowed streets of Abbeyfield, Middle Third Terrace and the Orchard in Killester.
Newer residents who joined had no idea of the history of the homes they were living in or near, he says.
“They didn’t realise that it was given to an Irish soldier from the First World War, you know, that’s what it was built for,” he says.
This year marks 100 years since the first veterans moved into Killester, says Crampton, the spokesperson for the Killester WW1 Memorial Campaign. His own grandfather moved into a house on Abbeyfield in 1924.
To mark that – and to recognise the Irish veterans of the First World War who were given homes in this cluster of streets, known as Killester Garden Village – the Killester WW1 Memorial Campaign wants a new memorial garden.
Their mock-ups for the garden, which they propose for a narrow green space between Abbeyfield and Middle Third Terrace and need Dublin City Council to approve and fund, show a circular plaza, ringed by plants, benches and a plaque.
Says Crampton: “We’re pretty passionate about it and we want something there to recognise the history and tell people the story of Killester.”
First World War memorials in Dublin, Kilkenny and Ennis depicting soldiers of the British Army have been vandalised. Crampton says the group intentionally chose a design that would be neutral and inclusive.
“We wanted a place for people to go, you know, young and old, just to have a chat, and we have a small plaque there and an information board explaining the history of Killester,” he says.
History of Killester
The housing estates of Killester Garden Village were built between 1920 and 1923 for Irish men returning from the First World War who needed homes, says Crampton.
“It was built through both governments. It was built under British administration first, and then the Irish Free State,” he says.
“If you’re looking at the broad picture, it shows really good cooperation in the early days between the two governments,” he says.
Veterans moved in because they wanted a new start, he says. “It would have been quite attractive to move into, you know, a brand new house, a brand new community, after the war.”
The houses and housing estates have large gardens and green spaces. They were designed with the idea of helping soldiers recover from shell shock, or post-traumatic stress disorder, says Crampton.
“The visionaries of Killester built it purposely with low density and this semi-rural vibe
You’ll really get this countryside feel to it,” he says. “Being close to nature I suppose and in your garden, it would help with the veterans’ well-being.”
A train station and new bus service was added for the new housing too, he says.
Every November after the veterans moved in, they would hold a military parade, for speeches and laying wreaths in the Abbeyfield green, he says. Hence the group wanting the memorial to be there, he says.
“We thought it was quite significant. If we put the memorial garden there on the green, we’re kind of reinventing the remembrance,” he says.
In 2013, locals opened a history exhibition in the St Brigid’s Resource Centre in Killester, so that residents who were new to the area could learn about the veterans who used to live in Killester.
“There’s been nothing in Killester to realise the history of it and the importance of it,” says Crampton.
After that, they held meetings to thrash out ideas of how to promote the history of the area, and created the committee in March to formalise the idea, he says. “We decided to go ahead and submit an idea to Dublin City Council.”
Initially, for the memorial, the group wanted stone structures such as a Celtic cross or an obelisk, he says, but the council’s commemorations and naming committee didn’t approve.
“They just said that look wouldn’t kind of suit the area, it being a residential area,” he says.
They come up with some new designs, he says. “A tree, a couple of benches and it’s more neutral, I suppose.”
The council has approved the plans in principle, says Crampton, but the designs had to go back to the drawing board.
It’ll likely cost between €15,000 and €20,000, he says, which the group are hoping to gather through fundraising and applying for Dublin City Council grants.
“It’s all been positive so far. We are hopeful,” says Crampton.
A Fraught History
World War One memorials in Ireland sometimes get vandalised, says Jonathan Cherry, a historical geographer at Dublin City University.
In 2019, a memorial depicting a soldier from the First World War in Kilkenny was damaged after it was unveiled, he says. “Some person came along and hit it with a hammer and smashed the nose off it.”
In 2018, a glass memorial to soldiers from Ireland, Australia, Canada and Britain was smashed in Ennis, he says. “The panel, I think, with the British soldier depicted on it was smashed.”
Also in 2018, a statue of a soldier called “The Haunting” was unveiled in St Stephen’s Green, but eventually removed, he says. “That had red paint thrown on it.”
If a memorial depicts an icon or symbol of Britishness or the British Army, it is inclined to be targeted, says Cherry.
Granite slabs with names engraved on them in memorial gardens to World War One in Sligo and Wicklow have been left alone, says Cherry.
“They’re more or less void of any symbolism,” he says. “They don’t have any little motifs or emblems that highlights them being British or having a British connection.”
Cherry says he’s noticed a prominent Irish flag in the Killester designs. “It’s very strategic, the inclusion of the Irish flag, that this is a space for Irish soldiers.”
When veterans who had fought for the British Army returned to Ireland, they generally kept their heads down, says Cherry. “Families probably didn’t speak openly about their ancestors’ involvement with the war.”
But that’s changed, he says.
Crampton says his family are proud of his great grandfather’s place in history and display medals in their house. “It wasn’t hidden. We were all quite proud of it.”
“A couple of generations ago it would have been a lot less talked about, especially during the Troubles,” he says. “The generation I’m in, I never noticed any of that.”
Mary McAleese, the former president of Ireland, joining in World War One commemorations in Flanders in 2004 would have helped to open conversations initially, says Cherry.
It might have been the first time, following the Good Friday Agreement, he says, that there was very open recognition that Irishmen fought in this war and were going to be remembered.
The decade of centenaries – the flurry of commemorations that have taken place in the past 10 years to make significant historical events, from the 1913 Lockout to the Easter Rising and the Civil War – has also changed the conversation.
“A sense of opening up things that are awkward to talk about, or things that have been pushed aside, like Irish men’s involvement with the British army,” he says.
“It’s all couched around this idea of understanding and respect,” he says.
Crampton says the group like that the benches and trees in the proposal are neutral.
They’re more inclusive that way, he says. “And it represents more of what Killester’s about. Our community garden is more of that peace and reconciliation initiative.”