On a slope overlooking the Royal Canal, the old Clonsilla National School towers above the Porterstown Road.

The raised basement below this two-storey building, and the outward signs of dereliction, gives it an eerie quality: tall, thin and gaunt.

Its two pointed entrances are sealed over with bricks decorated in graffiti tags. Many of its windows are boarded up, and dead ivy crawls across the main facade.

Below the steps that lead up to its twin front entrances, a gaping hole has been fashioned, providing an entryway via the basement.

A steel fence wraps around the building, commonly referred to as the Old Schoolhouse, which is located by The Village housing estate on the outskirts of Clonsilla.

Built in 1853, and closed 90 years later, the building fell into disuse in 2000, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

But Fingal County Council is charting a path towards ending its dereliction. A council spokesperson said it is trying to buy the building and the large site that it sits on.

Also, now that the council has adopted its development plan for 2023 to 2029, it has a whole list of local area plans and master plans to prepare during those years, senior planner Roisin Burke said at Fingal County Council’s 3 July meeting.

And that includes one for the Old Schoolhouse.

A masterplan for the site would look into the many possibilities for the site and find a way to make the best use of it, Green Party Councillor Pamela Conroy said in early August.

“It’s right beside the Royal Canal Greenway, which will hopefully get planning permission,” Conroy said. “So, it would be an ideal location for some sort of community infrastructure.”

Rare grass

As a teenager, Daniel Whooley used to go into the Old Schoolhouse with his friends, the Green Party councillor says. “It’s a squeaky old building in a grassy field. It looked haunted and spooky, so we’d sneak in just to see the place.”

Its deteriorating state was flagged as early as 2008, when the council drew up an urban centre strategy for Clonsilla, which noted its poor condition and the need for restoration works.

Credit: Michael Lanigan

In 2018, independent Councillor Tania Doyle launched a petition to the Heritage Department in Fingal County Council, calling for the regeneration of what she called an asset to both the Clonsilla community and Dublin 15 at large.

The petition collected 1,202 signatures.

Three years later, in March 2021, Osh Ventures Limited applied to An Bord Pleanála to develop the 5.73 acre site, stretching long and thin along the canal, on which the schoolhouse stands.

Its plan was for 198 build-to-rent apartments in eight blocks. It also wanted to refurbish the schoolhouse, with a view to repurposing it as a management office, and allowing community use of it too.

But An Bord Pleanála refused permission.

“The scale and positioning of the blocks directly over the canal bank and the removal of a significant amount of vegetation and trees along this area of the site would adversely alter the character of the location,” deputy chair Paul Hyde wrote.

There was a need for further ecological assessments to determine how the proposal would affect flora, fauna and natural habitats in the area, he wrote.

In particular, he noted the presence of protected species in the vicinity of the site, including badgers, otters and Daubenton’s bats. And the “dry calcareous and neutral grassland” on the site.

These grasses, says Conroy, the Green Party councillor, are rare. “So from a biodiversity point of view, it might restrict whatever planning can be done, because Fingal County Council’s planning department is aware of it, and their biodiversity officer flagged it.”

As of April 2023, the Old Schoolhouse was zoned for residential development, and it’s listed for sale on MyHome.ie for €3,750,000.

In the listing, put up by Stokes Property Consultants Ltd, interested parties are advised to get planning consultant advice, “but it appears that the grounds for refusal could be dealt with relatively easily”.


Clonsilla lacks community infrastructure at present, says Conroy, the Green Party councillor. “I have seen in other places where there are buildings like this that have been converted into a community centre.”

Conroy and Green Party colleagues Whooley and Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman made a submission to rezone the schoolhouse as community infrastructure in May 2022 during the consultation on the draft development plan.

The rest of the site, their submission said, should be zoned as open space to protect the area’s ecology, arguing that this land may not be the best site for residential development.

Rezoning the land for open space could protect the ecology, Conroy says, “while also still allowing the front part of the site for community infrastructure”.

The submission was not incorporated into the draft, and Conroy later tabled the re-zoning proposals as motions at a development plan meeting on 20 September. But, she says, the motion was defeated.

One possibility, Conroy says, is that the council could purchase the site. “But it’s zoned residential, so if they were to purchase that, they will need to be building housing on it,” she says.

“There’s a housing shortage,” she says. “You can’t go purchasing land that’s zoned residential and not pursue housing on it.”

A spokesperson for Fingal County Council says they are actively pursuing the acquisition. “However, for commercial reasons the Council does not comment on transactions.”

While the drawing up a masterplan for the Schoolhouse has been set out as a priority by Fingal County Council, Whooley says it is still not likely to happen imminently. “There’s a lot of plans to be doing over the next couple of years.”

“I would be surprised if Clonsilla is very high up that list,” he says. “If a plan is to happen, it won’t be in a year. It will be in four years maybe.”

“This is an overarching issue across the council. We need a lot of stuff fast, but the process to deliver it is quite slow,” he says.

“We need masterplans and local area plans, because they allow for sustainable development,” he says. “But they take time, and developers aren’t patient.”

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.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *