On Monday, just before 3.30pm, the traffic starts to pick up on Grange Road in Donaghmede.

Dozens of children march home from school. They pass Grangemore Park and a long line of cars that lumber along the curving street as they head slowly north, towards the junction of the R139 and Hole in the Wall Road, zipping away once they reach its roundabout.

Across the R139, which roars with traffic, and 400m up the Hole in the Wall Road is Father Collins Park – and inside Father Collins Park is the closest playground for residents of Donaghmede.

It isn’t a convenient spot for Donaghmede parents to bring their young children.

On Google Maps, it’s a 26-minute walk with a busy road in between, says Ciara Niamh Browne, a mother of two and member of the Donaghmede Estate Residents Association. “It nearly has to be scheduled as a half day out.”

“It’s into the car and let’s go down,” she says.

Browne has seen a growing number of new families in the north Dublin suburb, she says. But they lack a playground for their children.

Around the corner from her home is Donaghmede Park, with a football pitch, a GAA pitch, outdoor gym equipment and even a pair of boules courts.

What Browne and her neighbours would welcome, though, is a play facility for younger kids, she says. “We walk through the park every day to the local primary school, and they would 100 percent use it if there was a playground.”

For years, she and the residents’ association have raised it with Dublin City Council, she says. “The issue has always been funding, or that Father Collins was always in our vicinity. That is what we’ve always come up against.”

A changing population

Browne sits in her living room as her son and daughter prepare to head off for a swimming lesson.

She has lived in Donaghmede for 13 years, and has been an active member of the residents’ association on-and-off, she says.

It was during the first lockdown that she got involved in a volunteer group devoted to improving the park, she says. “It was doing edging on the grass, clearing weeds, litter picking, planting wildflowers.”

She added a fairy garden, she says. “We wanted to make it appealing to more people, because you could see more people there, walking dogs and running.”

But the one consistent request that she encountered from parents has been for a play facility, she says. “My kids are 10 and seven now, and they’re almost past the stage of using a playground.”

“I just thought now, I wanted to fight for it years ago,” she says. “And I have friends with younger children around here. It would be amazing to have a facility like that down the park because we’re trying to bring in a load of attractions.”

The neighbourhood has changed in recent years, she says. “There’s a new dynamic.”

“Like when I first came here there were much more elderly people. But in the last 10 years, there’s more families, with younger and younger kids,” says Browne.

Responding to her neighbours, she launched a petition in late May, calling for a new playground to improve the park further. It has attracted 306 signatures to date.

Pent-up demand

At a meeting of Dublin City Council’s North Central Area Committee on 19 June, independent Councillor John Lyons put forward a motion asking the council to prioritise the funding and installation of a new play facility in Donaghmede Park as soon as possible.

Locals had been in contact with him after they learnt that the council had found money for playgrounds in McCauley Park and Kilmore West, Lyons said. “They feel like they’ve been abandoned in terms of play facilities for their children.”

The council is playing catch-up with investment in play facilities, he said. “There is pent-up demand and I think Donaghmede is an area that is part of that.”

In a written response to Lyons’ motion, Fergus O’Carroll, council parks superintendent, said Donaghmede had not been identified as an area that lacked play facilities, as much of the area is in the catchment of Father Collins Park.

The playgrounds there and at Belcamp Park are showing their age and need significant investment to bring them up to standard, the report said. “These upgrades are considered to be the priority for available playground budgets in the short to medium term.”

At the meeting, Lyons welcomed the news of the upgrades to Belcamp Park and Father Collins Park.

While improving Father Collins Park is positive, it’s still quite a way for kids in Donaghmede to travel, Lyons said. “I think best practice is that kids, young children can actually walk to a playground within 300 yards of their front door.”

At the meeting, O’Carroll said that a new play facility in Donaghmede Park was not the main priority for his department right now.

Father Collins Park’s playground’s rubber surface needed more than the patch ups of recent years, he said. “It needs a major upgrade.”

The other urgent matter was the playground in Belcamp Park in Darndale, he said. “Belcamp is possibly one of the saddest playgrounds in the North Central Area.”

“However, when more budget becomes available, we will spend it,” O’Carroll said in response to Lyons’ motion, which the committee agreed.

So close and yet so far

O’Carroll said that a new parks strategy is about to go out to public consultation. The last one had identified where parks were needed the most in Dublin in 2016.

The Parks Strategy 2019 – 2022 said that a playground that can be accessed within a walk-in zone of 500 metres, or a five to 10 minute walk, constitutes a good level of access, while 1,000 metres is seen as having a reduced level of access.

Based on those standards in the North Central area, the strategy highlighted a lack of provision in Belmayne, Kilbarrack, Coolock, Clontarf and Marino North.

From the centre of Donaghmede on the Newbrook Road, access to Father Collins Park is a 1.5km walk, or 19 minutes on foot, according to Google Maps.

For parents with young children that isn’t ideal, Lyons said, on Tuesday evening. “Every area should have a decent playground you can walk to within a very short distance of your front door.”

The council’s Play Strategy 2022 to 2027 says that the council’s capital spending on playgrounds is based on making sure there are places to play in deficit areas.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Daryl Barron says his hope is that the Donaghmede area will have a new playground in 2024.

“This year, I tried to seek funding of €150,000 from the discretion fund for Donaghmede playground,” he says.

That was pushed back as the council is currently working on creating playgrounds in Kilmore West and McAuley Park, he says.

“But the reality is Donaghmede needs additional social infrastructure, and this is what is needed, and that’s a priority for me over the next 12 months, to deliver that,” he says.

Something for everyone

It is just after 3pm as Ciara Niamh Browne strolls around the edges of Donaghmede Park.

Planes fly overhead. A drizzly rain falls as some teenagers play football on one of the pitches.

She passes by the fairy garden and wildflowers growing along the fences. “We planted those seeds last year and they are just gorgeous when they are in bloom,” she says.

On the brief trek, she points to some recent features added by the council. A new set of park benches, outdoor gym equipment, and the two boules courts, both of which have sprouted a few weeds.

For children at present, a stretch of the tarmacadam walkway has been painted for different games like hopscotch. “We have got this little obstacle ground,” she says.

But that should only be the start, she says.

Some bucket swings would be nice for toddlers, she says. “Older kids can cycle and kick a ball, but toddlers, younger kids, there’s nothing for them in the park.”

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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