Although it was built in 1926, the St James Parochial Hall on James Street looks from the outside as if it were brand new, Noel Fleming says. “It’s a beautiful hall, and inside is in pristine condition.”
The red-brick gable-fronted building and the pointed-arch entrance with its doors painted blue catch the eye as the sun breaks through the clouds, allowing the richness of its colours a moment to shine.
At the corner of James Street and Echlin Street, the hall neighbours the limestone and Gothic-influenced St James’ Church.
But whereas the church doors are open, with signs out front promising that the Camino de Santiago walk “begins here”, the parochial hall hasn’t been in use since last summer.
Parishioners were told by the parish priest two years ago that the hall was a fire-safety hazard, Fleming says. “There were a couple of issues.”
But, he says, efforts by locals to remedy the situation by paying for assessments and offering to fund the necessary upgrades were refused. “It’s an absolute disgrace.”
The Dublin 8 area is lacking in community facilities, says Fleming, the owner of Noel’s Deli on Meath Street. “We want the archbishop to instruct the parish priest to work with the people who used to be the committee for the hall, and the parishioners, to get that hall open again.”
On Friday afternoon, Tom Brunkard steers his blue car onto Echlin Street, bound for the Wee Tots Crèche and Pre-School on Basin Lane.
The area is one of the worst spots in the city for social deprivation, he says, as he drives by the Basin Street flats.
In 1991, Brunkard co-founded the Fountain Resource Group, a community service for the Parish of St James. “Enterprise was the main thing, and training people,” he says.
Unemployment was extremely high in the flat complexes around the area at the time, he says. “It was very, very bad.”
The Fountain Resource Group used the Parochial Hall as an information office and for events, he says. “Our main office now is in Inchicore Road” in Kilmainham.
They were in the hall until last July, Tom’s son Eoghan Brunkard says.
As the two men file into an office inside the creche, a service run by the Fountain Resource Group, they are joined by the group’s chairperson, Helen Meehan.
Tom pulls out a folder of photographs taken within the hall, printed in colour on A4 sheets.
They show brass bands giving concerts, bowls competitions for senior citizens, talks, dances and an exhibition to commemorate the events of the 1916 Rising.
The group feel that the hall belongs to the parishioners, Tom says. “It was built with the people’s funds.”
Locals each bought a brick when it was being constructed in the 1920s, Meehan says. “My mother told me that everyone in the community bought one. That was a subscription and the people owned it.”
After the hall was flagged as a fire-safety hazard, the Fountain Resource Group organised for an independent assessment to be carried out in May 2021, Eoghan Brunkard says.
The responsibility for the upgrades didn’t need to fall upon the church, he says. “We were willing to fix it.”
In July 2022, the Fountain Resource Group moved out of the hall.
A local service run by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul voluntary charity also used a room in the hall for its meetings, a press representative for the organisation said.
“The Conference was advised almost a year ago that the building would be closed and found alternative accommodation for its meetings,” they said.
Peter Henry, communications officer for the Archdiocese of Dublin, said the Archbishop Dermot Farrell entrusts the care of each individual parish to its priest or administrator.
“All resources, such as the parish church and related assets, are owned and held for the benefit of the particular parish,” he said, before suggesting any inquiries be directed to the parish.
Father Eugene Taaffe, the parish priest at St James’ until three weeks ago, declined to comment.
No representative from the parish grouping of Francis, Meath and James Street responded to queries about the hall’s closure.
The closure of the St James’ Parochial Hall is worrisome in the broader context of the Liberties, Fleming says.
This is the third community centre that Dublin 8 has lost in recent years.
Fleming points to Carman’s Hall off Francis Street, which the Fountain Resource Group said in 2016 was shuttered due to a lack of funding, and turned into emergency accommodation by Dublin City Council.
The Donore Avenue Youth and Community Centre has remained closed since a fire broke out there in June 2021.
Locals are looking desperately to find spaces for meetings and events like bingo, says Abaigeal Meek, creative director of The Pimlico Project, a video and photography studio.
“It seems we are now reliant on a lot of charity from businesses for our communal spaces,” she says. “I just wonder why there is no roadmap for getting the hall back open again.”
The decrease in the number of communal spaces is going to be an even greater concern down the line, Eoghan Brunkard says.
He looks out of the office window of the creche on Basin Lane and points towards the scaffolding that surrounds the former Grand Canal Harbour.
The Marlet Property Group is due to deliver 596 apartments on the site. “A lot of people are going to be moving in there, and you’re removing community spaces?”