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Handcrafted decorations were tied to a tall metal fence that runs along Margaret Kennedy Road off Donore Avenue.

Bright with summery colours, some were arranged to resemble wings, others had been cut into floral patterns or twisted into the shapes of bees.

Wildflowers grew between the bars separating the newish red-brick social houses from the empty neighbouring parkland.

Junk was strewn around the edges of this overgrown grassy field. Empty bottles and cans. A defaced sign for a dog show. A yellow car clamp lay on a rock, with its chains draped over the side.

For locals, this stretch of council land is off-limits. The entry point is blocked by temporary fencing and a gate, which was presided over by security guards last Thursday afternoon.

“All you’ll hear in there are foxes,” says Janice Kiernan. “The kids, their footballs are flying over, and they put themselves in danger, climbing over.”

With the summer holidays looming, local parents – as in past years – are growing frustrated by a dearth of amenities for children and argue that this space should be opened up.

“The kids have nowhere to play,” Kiernan says. “It’s just wrong.”

When permission was first granted in May 2014 for the row of social homes on Margaret Kennedy Road, it came with the proviso that the council first landscape a promised urban park too – and do that before anyone moved in.

Instead, residents in the homes still look out onto a wall and wasteland.

The evolving plans and competing visions for development on the lands here – which take in the Bailey Gibson, Player Wills and old St Teresa’s Gardens – mean it is unclear when the patch at this end will finally be shaped into the quality amenity that was promised.

Part of the interlocking sites is owned by the council, and parts by the real-estate giant Hines.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said it is not considering any “meanwhile use” for the land, given pending planning applications, legal challenges, and safety concerns.

A Missing Playground

On an overcast Friday afternoon, Fearghal Connolly strolls along a small pathway behind St Teresa’s Presbytery on Donore Avenue to peek inside the unoccupied St Teresa’s Gardens flats.

Between the two blocks of flats is a gravelly oval, with tires protruding from the ground like rubbery buds in May.

It used to be the estate’s playground, says Connolly, a member of the Donore Community Drug and Alcohol Team. Kids used to return here to play. But there isn’t a swing or slide to be seen now.

“We’ve asked that it be relocated over at Margaret Kennedy,” he says. “They haven’t put it there. It’s gone somewhere else. We don’t know where it is.”

A spokesperson for the council said it was dismantled at the request of the St Teresa’s Gardens Regeneration Board, as it had been vandalised. “It is currently in storage until a suitable location within the area is available.”

As Connolly proceeds up the avenue towards Margaret Kennedy Road, he passes by the Donore Community Centre, which has been closed since a fire broke out inside in June 2021.

Tied to the fence outside its front doors is a white sign with the message “we need green space for kids to play”, written in green spray paint.

On the second floor of the centre is a gaping hole where previously there was a window, the wooden cladding around it charred from the flames.

Connolly points to this, then to the boarded-up windows outside the old flats “Everything here is just like decay,” he says.

He passes by three piles of rubble on a pedestrian island in the middle of the street. “I’m told that’s dumping from roadworks. They dumped it there. What does that say about the mindset of whoever makes these decisions?”

A Temporary Playspace

At the South Central Area Committee on 19 April, Sinn Féin Councillor Máire Devine pointed again to the lack of greenspace around Margaret Kennedy Road.

When the council granted itself planning permission for the new homes on the road, the plans included a new urban park, she said in a motion.

“Landscaping of the park shall be implemented and completed before the units are occupied,” said a report on the planning permission, which councillors approved at a meeting in May 2014.

But that version of the plans wasn’t built. In 2018, Dublin City Council amended them, adding some homes and a temporary multisport pitch in addition to the already approved park.

The fence at Margaret Kennedy Road. Photo by Michael Lanigan.

A post in March 2019 on the council’s architects’ website said that at that point, the social homes were already under construction, and the temporary pitch and park would also be done that year.

“Currently the first phase of the park envisages a children’s playground accessible from Donore Avenue as well as an adult fitness circuit, soft landscaping, wild space and woodlands,” it reads.

But that part of those plans were never built. The council changed tack again.

It struck a deal in 2020 with the real-estate developer Hines, whereby Hines would build the long-sought sports pitch alongside the park and playground neighbouring Margaret Kennedy Road in exchange for plots elsewhere on the larger site.

A Dublin City Council spokesperson has said that the pitch and adjoining park are dependent on Hines getting planning permission.

Hines applied for permission to develop one phase on the development at the Bailey Gibson site in 2020, which didn’t include the park and pitch. But local residents challenged An Bord Pleanála’s decision, with concerns surrounding its height and scale.

The High Court threw out the residents’ appeal, but it is unclear if residents will seek to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, last year, Hines filed a back-up planning permission, which did include in its scope developing the playing pitch and public park.

Images of plans for pitch and park, just south of Margaret Kennedy Road, from Hines’ back-up planning application.

The decision on that was due last November, says a council spokepserson, but is still pending.

It is unclear, then, when that will all be resolved – and, which version of plans will be built and how construction will be phased and whether the play area and pitches will this time come first – or, as before, come last.

In the meantime, Devine, the Sinn Féin councillor, says that part of the fenced-off green area at Margaret Kennedy Road needs to be opened up for kids to play ahead of this summer.

“This space is sitting there,” she said. “Because of some legal wrangling and plans … surely a bit could be siphoned off for temporary meantime uses?”

“All I know is kids like to play, and there is nothing but concrete and cars in that area,” she said.

In a written response to Devine’s motion, a council official said it is essential that outdoor amenity space in the area is safe, secure and overlooked.

“[Given] the status of planning decisions and legal challenges relating to the site; concerns with respect to Health and Safety … and in the interest of proper and suitable planning it is not considered appropriate to allow for meanwhile use of these lands.”

A Lone Club

Eight days after Devine tabled her motion to no success, a brown banner was hung over the side of one of the old St Teresa’s flats.

“No permission for demolition,” it read.

The gate was wide open. Parked inside beside the large stretch of grassy land was approximately half a dozen lorries and a couple of vans.

The protest sign isn’t as political as it may seem on the surface, Fearghal Connolly says. “It’s for a TV series.”

As he walks up Margaret Kennedy Road, he greets a few of the women standing outside their front gates.

School has wrapped up for the day. Children play in one of the small front yards. Christine Kelly, a mother of three, says there’s a real lack of space for them to kick about a football.

The nearest space is Weaver Park, but that is too far away, she says. “It’s too dangerous, because it’s all bigger fellas with skateboards.”

Parents are hesitant to let them play out on the footpaths or the streets because Margaret Kennedy Road only has one speed bump, says Janice Kiernan. “Cars are flying, and I mean flying by.”

Says Connolly: “It’s just demoralising.”

The new houses along the road were mainly built for former residents of St Teresa’s Gardens.

But whereas the flats had space for people to meet, the new buildings – opened in early 2021 – haven’t had, says Sean Burke, a coach in the Donore Boxing Club. “The flats were sociable.”

Within one of the flat blocks scheduled for demolition, the boxing club is the last community facility in the area, Burke says. He scrolls through his phone showing professionally shot, black and white photographs of boys kitted out in boxing gear, their gloved fists raised for the camera.

The club is the only “meanwhile use” being accommodated on the St Teresa’s Gardens lands, says the council report written in response to Devine’s motion.

“[Dublin City Council] Housing are progressing the relocation of the Boxing Club to a premise currently under refurbishment on nearby South Circular Road,” it says.

Besides the club, there isn’t anything for the kids on the street to do really, Burke says, besides playing on the young trees planted along the footpath.

“And all the trees died, because kids picked the bark off the trees,” he said, “but that’s what kids do.”

Any outdoor space would be better than what is currently here for the residents, says Devine. “Give some space for the summer, for the good weather.”

Michael Lanigan

Michael Lanigan is a freelance journalist who covers arts and culture for Dublin Inquirer. His work also appears in Vice, Totally Dublin, TheJournal.ie and the Business Post. You can reach him at michael@dublininquirer.com.

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1 Comment

  1. If I was resident there with kids, I’d intentionally block of the enterence at donore Ave and just have it one way in and one way out, that would stop the street being used as a rat run and the kids would be relatively safe playing on the road as it would be mostly residents driving on to street. And it would also be a statement of protest regarding the very lack of any playing areas for children to play safely….

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