On Sunday around lunchtime, Laura Carroll and Ciarán Molumby stood outside the old boathouse at Balbriggan’s harbour, ushering locals in through its big metal doors.

Dozens of people were down by the beach, swimming under the sun, as a DJ blared Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” out of a small marquee erected in the sand.

Inside the boathouse were signs stuck on to black poles – some shaped as quarter circles, others rectangles and irregular pentagons – showing research findings, maps of Balbriggan and photos of its housing estates.

One informed its readers that the coastal town is the youngest in Ireland, with an average age 30.8 years old.

Below this statistic, the sign observed that in recent times, the greatest focus in Balbriggan has been on building houses. “It’s grown massively in the last 25 years,” Carroll says.

This housing boom has altered the social life of the town as it struggled to support its growing population, the sign continues.

The town is young now. In many ways, it was built for the young. But as its population ages, the needs of its residents’ will change.

The solution should not be to build more and more estates, says Carroll. “But adapting what is there to make sure people can stay in the communities they live in.”

The project, Reimagining Elderhood, was the work of Carroll and Molumby, co-founders of the local architectural firm Islander Architects.

The aim, they say, was to try to work out how the town could support intergenerational living in a housing crisis, and work out what changes people would want to see, to adapt estates to meet the needs of locals, young and old, into the future.

Carroll said that in a survey carried out with more than one hundred participants, 83 percent said they want to continue living in their current housing estate.

“They don’t want to leave,” he said, “and when it comes to open spaces, newer estates have a trend of putting in play space for young children.”

But when people grow older in these estates, such facilities fall out of use, Carroll says.

One of the points discussed as the project progressed was how to adapt those in-between spaces within estates, like public greens, to accommodate the needs of people of all ages.

Intergenerational conversations

The bare brick walls of the Balbriggan boathouse were decorated with bunting. Six rows of seats were lined up in front of a projector.

Just after 1pm, the architects screened a short film, also titled Reimagining Elderhood.

It was produced by Self-Organised Architecture, a Dublin-based think tank focused on community-led housing in Ireland, examining the broader initiative. Sister projects have taken place in Cork and Belfast.

In Balbriggan, Molumby and Carroll have been working with teenage girls from the local Loreto Secondary School and older guys from the Men’s Shed.

They wanted to run a co-design workshop that brought in voices from different genders and ages, Molumby says.

“It was to see if we could find common ground, common interests, and for them to role-play being in a residents’ association together, and what actions they could implement,” he says.

Fran Carroll, a member of the Balbriggan Men’s Shed, says it was a conversation between retired people looking at their evolving housing needs, and teenagers who were maybe a decade away from even considering buying a house.

“And it was to link up the two,” he said. “What young people wanted. What we wanted.”

A person in their 70s doesn’t see a need for a three or four-bedroom house, he says. “I live in a four-bedroom house. I don’t need that. You need things like a downstairs bathroom.”

Future estates could be made up of 100 houses, with 20 or so being two-bedroom houses, he says. “Our ideal situation was that you could downsize and buy a two-bedroom within your own estate.”

A shared bench

On the Thursday afternoon before the event, Molumby and Carroll sat in their firm’s office on the Dublin Road.

Molumby says that in one of the final workshops, those involved honed in on the question of shared public space. Together, they came up with a new-look age-friendly bench.

“That was interesting,” he says, “because it became clear that a lot of girls had experienced behaviour where they were told to move away from benches.”

“It raised the question of what we consider loitering,” he says. “A bunch of teenagers sitting on a bench in a public space.”

Ultimately, they conceived a bench that catered to old and young, he says, and their different needs.

“Teenagers don’t like as formal a seat,” says Molumby.

“The students prefer something that they can lounge on,” says Laura Carroll. Whereas, she says, older people prefer a more traditional bench.

Says Fran Carroll: “It’s like an S-shaped kissing bench, and the Men’s Shed are involved now in making that bench, so we’re going to cut it up and assemble it.”

Padraig Flynn, the co-founder and director of SOA. says it was interesting to see how the Balbriggan project were so keen to discuss their streets and parks.

“It solved a problem for both groups, because the older men had identified that there’s often not very many resting places if you’re walking through quite a big neighbourhood,” he says.

Meanwhile, more benches could provide teenagers a space to gather in an estate without being asked to move along for supposedly loitering, he says.

The workshop, Molumby says, created a model residents’ association.

Now, the plan is to show the exhibit to different real-life residents’ associations, he says. “To let them know about the type of research we’ve done and the type of future-proofing for housing estates to be more age-friendly.”

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.

Join the Conversation


  1. I would be very interested in hearing of any plans for the Balbriggan area & i think if the above housing plans are activated they would benifit a lot of people.

  2. I like the idea of downsizing and keeping the area more open to green areas and reducing house builds and forging communities!

  3. I agree that there should be a certain percentage of 2 bedroom houses built in newer estates, however, to accommodate downsizing they should be bungalows . A 2 story house is not going to be any befit to the upcoming older population. It should be made as part of planning permission for any building company be it government or private. Just as it’s a requirement for any builder to build a certain percentage of social housing within in a new estate. Each bungalow should be fully equipped to accommodate an elderly person to be able to stay in their own home should they have any disabilities or care needs. This could also reduce the dependency in the future for carehomes.

  4. At least half the “houses” should be apartments. It’s ridiculous how much farmland is being converted into housing states. Near Taylor Hill more plans are in place to convert farms into houses. I’m living in a 3 bedroom house because I didn’t had any other choice, but I would gladly swap it for an apartment of the same price but with more space. People in Ireland need to stop seeing apartments as something that is only for those earning social benefits! Apartments are also the ideal solution for old people, they can have lifts to get to their apartments and then inside they will have no stairs. Even I get tired of going up and down the stairs so much everyday and I’m young.

  5. If my memory serves me right quite a number of surveys, meetings , etc have previously happened and yet I see very few if any changes in the Balbriggan area the main street is dead the Harbour area is dull and boring no shops left in town centre park areas need a revamp I would like to know how much has been spent by different bodies over the last number of years with little improvement to the town and surrounding areas so so many meetings , surveys, strategies etc but little change .

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