In Finglas, Residents of Avila Park Want Safer Walking Routes into the Rest of the Area

Winnie McDonagh unfolds her arms and points across the street to the top of a tall, concrete brick wall, with loops of barbed wire at the top, behind a caravan parked in a driveway in Avila Park.

“You’ve that height of the wall the whole way around the site,” she says, on Wednesday. “We’re kind of hidden, that’s our problem.”

The entrance to Avila Park from Cappagh Road is the only way in and out, says Mary-Brigid Collins, chiming in beside her.

You feel trapped, says Collins, with the tall wall around and the 50km/h road running outside the estate’s entrance, which feels unsafe to walk alongside. “It’s like a prison.”

Fifty houses and 30 caravans are tucked into Avila Park, an estate with four prongs of streets that sits off Cappagh Road in Finglas.

Avila Park needs basic infrastructure like better footpaths, a playground, direct walking routes and traffic calming if more residents are to give up their cars for short journeys, says Collins.

Another Traveller site about a kilometre away on Ratoath Road doesn’t even have a footpath linking it to Finglas village, which makes residents feel cut off and forgotten, says Collins. “It’s terrible to put people in this position.”

Considering climate change and car fumes, you want to do your bit for the environment, says Collins, but you’re worried about letting children walk to school. “So you are gonna jump in your car.”

Local authorities need to plan properly for Avila Park and other Traveller sites, she says. “But in lots of the areas that we see, there’s no planning for footpaths or the safety on roads.”

She’d like to see some of the government’s active travel funding – a pot of money for local authorities to spend on walking and cycling projects – go towards making Traveller sites accessible.

“Lots of people wouldn’t be familiar with the situation Travellers are living in,” she says. “A lot of the sites are built up on back roads with no transport, no bus routes, no public lighting, no footpaths.”

Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries asking what plans it had to improve footpaths, traffic infrastructure and play in Avila Park.

Hostile Infrastructure

Over the other side of the wall, barely 20 metres away from the tip of one of the estate’s roads, is Kildonan Park, a large green space with sports pitches, fringed with trees and lined with housing estates like Mellowes Park.

It’s a nice place to walk, says McDonagh. But, despite how close it is as the crow flies, it is quite a distance on foot.

“We’d have to walk, a 15-minute walk, on a dangerous road right up to the lights and out then out to Mellowes Park then for the walk,” says McDonagh.

One of the streets in Avila Park and the wall in the background. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

Up to a few years ago, there was a short-cut, she says, but it was blocked all of a sudden. “Because of anti-social behaviour, because of drug use up on the laneway, they actually got it closed.”

Outside the Avila Park entrance on Cappagh Road, Collins leans into the traffic to point at the black boarded-up entrance to a laneway.

No one told residents it would be blocked off, she says. “They didn’t ask us about it. We just got up one morning, the lane was blocked off.”

McDonagh says the night it was blocked off, some people tore the barriers down. “And the next day it was built back up again and there was security there looking after, the way it wouldn’t be vandalised.”

Says Collins: “It had to be the local authorities.”

Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries sent Thursday asking if they blocked off the laneway, and if so, why.

Anthony Connaughan, a Sinn Féin councillor, says the land behind Avila Park – between the estate and the park – is zoned for housing and there are plans for more Traveller accommodation. Walking links could be part of that future development, he said.

“I think all options are on the table there. There’s a potential for that laneway to be open, but have it where you can see one end to the other. You might have to take land,” he says. “It’s something that we’re looking at, we’re well aware of the issues there.”

Without laneways linking walkers to shops, schools and parks, says Collins, more people are driving. “You would like to stop using your car but at the same time it can be difficult not to use it, if you’ve to go places with children.”

It isn’t just the distance added by the lack of shortcuts out of the estates, she says. It also feels dangerous to walk across and along Cappagh Road, where buses, trucks, heavy goods vehicles and cars charge back and forth to the M50.

“This is when you are going to put your children into cars, you are going to give them a lift over, you are going to pick them up, because the roads are just not safe,” says Collins.

A Place to Play

Residents worry about the dangers from the passing traffic not only to children on the school run, but also to children scampering off to find places to play.

On Wednesday, Davey Collins pottered around Avila Park, sweeping up rubbish in the centre of a cul-de-sac. A group of young kids screamed playfully in a made-up game, standing in a circle and running back and forth across the road.

Avila Park needs a playground, he says. “Because apart from that they’ve nothing in this site for kids to do. They’re playing football against the wall.”

There used to be a playground next to the old community centre. But it was damaged, says Mary-Brigid Collins. (In 2021, the council applied to demolish the now-derelict community centre to build three houses.)

Kids in search of a place to play now squirm through a hole in the fence on Cappagh Road to get into the playing fields of New Cross College, she says.

“They’ve no play area for them to use so we let them,” says Collins. But it involves crossing Cappagh Road.

“It’s only a matter of time before some of the children is actually knocked down there,” she says.

A child plays in the painted play area at Avila Park. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

Geraldine Collins, heading with her kids through Avila Park, says she would never let her kids out of the estate unaccompanied. She doesn’t drive so always has to walk with them wherever they go.

She makes sure to stand between them and the traffic on Cappagh Road, she says. “I find it dangerous for the kids up and down. The path is very small.”

Traffic lights at the entrance to Avila Park would slow traffic down and keep kids looking to get across Cappagh Road for a place to play safely, says Geraldine Collins.

Driving out isn’t easy either, says McDonagh. “We don’t have a yellow box here, that stops the cars. It’s difficult to get in and out on the school runs in the morning. Only if somebody in a car lets you out.”

Connaughan, the Sinn Féin councillor, says he wouldn’t support another pedestrian crossing on Cappagh Road as there are enough already.

But he would ask the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee about a playground for Avila Park, he says.

As a quick-fix for play, in 2020 McDonagh got funding for some hopscotch paint for the footpath.

“Children really love these,” McDonagh says, watching three kids take turns hopping up and down along the colourful paint before they scatter off down the street.

But still, it’s not enough to make playing in Avila Park safe. Outside his house, Davey Collins points out three trucks mounted up on the pavements next to where the kids skip around.

“See these trucks and things here, well there could be 20 of them, and they’re reversing all everywhere, they’re coming this way, they’re coming that way,” he says, frowning with worry.

Cars go too fast around Avila Park, even on this street, where there are five ramps – and the street needs more ramps, he says. “I need them to slow down more, because there’s too many kids.”

Safer Walking

Mary-Brigid Collins, standing with her hands clasped at the junction where the four prongs of Avila Park meet, says there aren’t enough dishes in the footpath kerbs.

It means the estate is inaccessible to wheelchair users and those with limited mobility.

“If you look at the footpaths here, they’re really quite high,” she says. “I have a mother who’s a wheelchair user.”

When her mother wants to get to the bus stop, she has to travel along the road to find a dip in the kerb, usually on the footpath outside a driveway, and then get across Cappagh Road, where the signalised crossing is some distance away.

Connaghan says he’s asked the council in the past to do surveys of footpaths of the area.

He says he wouldn’t be in favour of putting in a signalised crossing outside Avila Park. “Within a couple hundred metres you’d have three sets of traffic lights.”

Collins says there are Traveller housing sites with even worse walking conditions than Avila Park.

There’s a portion of the Ratoath Road, about a kilometre from Avila Park, which doesn’t have any footpath along it. People living in the Traveller site on Dunsink Lane have to walk on the road to get to Finglas village connecting the site with Finglas village, she says.

“It’s dark, there’s no path, there’s no lights. You’d be killed very quickly down that road,” Collins says. “The branches and the trees are all out, they all need to be cut back for footpaths.”

People living there walk every week to get their shopping, she says.

Collins says some local authorities haven’t spent their pot of active travel funding from the central government. “So that’s what we need,” she says. “We need to see that money being spent, and spent in places where it’s actually needed.”

Under the Active Travel funding, allocated to local authorities by the National Transport Authority, Dublin City Council has €50,000 set for the Cabra to Blanchardstown Walking and Cycling Scheme, currently at “design and consultation” stage and due to be delivered between 2025 and 2027.

According to a map by the council’s active travel unit, this scheme runs along the Ratoath Road.

Mary Callaghan, a Social Democrats councillor, said that the plan will upgrade the route with cycling and walking infrastructure.

“The problem is from a speed point of view, the most serious problems on that road, and the most serious risks particularly for the Travelling community, are not being addressed quickly,” she says.

The scheme will require public consultation and will take time, she says.

But some parts would be cheaper and easier, such as adding a strip of footpath to Dunsink Lane down to Westwood Road, so at least people could walk to Finglas South, she says. “My view is to prioritise the quick fix, because there is a great need there which is being ignored.”

Connaghan, the Sinn Féin councillor, says that the council was planning on running the cycle lane on Kilshane Drive, running adjacent and perpendicular to Ratoath Road. “We’re trying to get them to say, listen, the most direct route is up the Ratoath Road, so put in proper pedestrian and cycling facilities.”

The council did not respond to queries sent Thursday asking what the plan is for Ratoath Road.

McDonagh says it feels like people don’t listen to the accessibility issues at Traveller sites.

We go to meeting after meeting, we push it with local authorities, we bring it up at every meeting going, but it’s like nobody’s listening,” she says. “It’s only because we’re living in it.”

Says Mary-Brigid Collins: “We know what we want, and we know what should be there, but at the same time local authorities won’t implement them, won’t spend the money.”

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Claudia Dalby: 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 [email protected]

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