At 129 Tyrconnell Road in Inchicore sits a boarded-up, derelict building, with a sign saying “Grotto House” on its facade.
The sheets of plywood covering the building’s front door are painted grey and tagged with graffiti. On the west side of the building is a spiky green fence and a massive billboard with a Fiat advert.
This mess sits between a well-kept terrace of homes, and the local Stillgarden Distillery’s award-winning little nature patch at the entrance to the Goldenbridge Industrial Estate, where poppies and strawberry plants grow, and bees buzz from plant to plant.
Across Tyrconnell Road is the Oblate Church of Mary Immaculate with its twin stone spires and manicured grounds, tended carefully by a gardener.
In June, Dublin City Council added Grotto House to its derelict sites register, a spokesperson for the council said. But it’s been sitting there rotting for nearly 20 years, says Suzanne Corcoran, who lives in the area.
It’s been hard to watch, she says. For decades before that, it hosted St Joseph’s Youth Club, where kids from Inchicore met to play table tennis, pool, football, and more.
“It’s just crazy, it’s sitting there lying empty all these years when it could be used,” says Corcoran, who used to go there as a teen, later fought to keep it open, and, more recently has helped open another youth club nearby.
The building at 129 Tyrconnell Road is now owned by Pathway Homes Limited, based in Ballisodare, Co. Sligo, according to the council spokesperson.
The company is in “pre-design” talks with Dublin City Council about the property, Cathal O’Connor, who was listed as a director and part-owner of the company on its most recent annual return, said by phone on 18 September.
From “gift shop” and a youth club to closure
Fronting onto Tyrconnell Road, Grotto House was built in about 1930, according to a Dublin City Council planner’s report from 2010.
It’s one storey facing the road, and two storeys behind, as the ground slows down to the Camac River. Even further down the slope, connected by a stairwell, is a single-storey sports hall on the riverbank.
There was a time when the shop at 129 Tyrconnell Road sold rosaries, prayer beads, and rosettes for girls taking their first communion, said John McGrath by phone on 22 September. “Like a gift shop for the church,” he said.
There was the youth club too, says McGrath, who grew up in the area. Well, first it was a boys’ club, but girls were allowed in from the 1980s, says Corcoran, who says she started going there when she was 16 or 17 years old.
When the owner, William Joseph Lacy, died in 1961, his will said Grotto House was to be held in trust for the use of “St Joseph’s Boys Club, attatched [sic] to the Conference of Mary Immaculate Inchicore, of the Society of St Vincent de Paul”, according to a copy of a solicitor’s letter from 1967 provided by Corcoran.
If the club ceased to exist, Lacy wanted the premises to be used for other youth work, or if that wasn’t possible, “as a Saint Vincent de Paul Social/Welfare Centre”, the letter says.
If that wasn’t possible, the property should be sold “and the procedes [sic] given to the Conference of Mary Immaculate, Inchicore of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul for the benefit of the poor of the district”, it says.
The club kept going in the centre for decades after Lacy’s death, until a fire inspector judged the centre unsafe in about 2005, Corcoran says.
McGrath says the building “was looked after, but it had its time”. Corcoran says it was in fine shape and doesn’t think it should have been closed. “I saw it with my own eyes. There was nothing wrong with it,” she says.
She says after the building closed, the club moved across the street to the parish hall.
A failed plan to redevelop the site
In 2010, “the Frederic Ozanam Trust Incorporated (St. Vincent de Paul)” filed a planning application to demolish the buildings and build a mixed-use development.
On the 480-sqm site, there’d be a charity shop fronting the street as part of a five-storey building, then a seven-storey block behind that, and an adjoining two-storey building. All told, 11 one-bed and two-bed apartments.
“The housing element of the scheme would facilitate the Societies own needs and is seen as accommodation for the elderly,” the planning application says.
“The existing building is no longer in use and has been used for anti-social behaviour until the 18th September 2009, when the building was secured properly,” it says. “The Society have requested this planning application because of the derelict nature of the site … and the cost of insuring and maintaining the site in its current state.”
Several people objected to the proposed development. Among them, Declan Kenny, who lived not far down Tyrconnell Road from the site.
“As it is there a[re] numerous apartments vacant in the area already,” he wrote. “We don’t need another one like the one at the top of Tyrconnell Road 13 stories all empty.”
A council planner’s report on the application said the original plans hadn’t met standards, but after the applicants revised those plans, they recommended that permission be granted, subject to a number of conditions.
However, Catherine Byrne, the local Fine Gael TD, as well as Rory and Collette O’Connor, who lived next door to the site, appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála.
The board’s inspector, like the council’s planner, recommended granting the project permission. But the board in September 2011 decided that the project would “result in overdevelopment of this site resulting in an overbearing impact on adjoining property”.
A sale, a decline into dereliction
The site was due to be auctioned off on 19 June 2013 at the sales room of the estate agents Lisney, on St Stephen’s Green, according to a brochure from that time, provided by Corcoran.
The brochure says “The property is in need of full renovation and refurbishment throughout and suited to redevelopment.”
Corcoran said she was among a group that fought the sale, as she believed the building should be put to a community use. “I ended up in the fight,” she says, seated at a table Friday in the Ring Street Youth and Community Club, which she now helps run.
The site sold for €70,000 that year, according to the Property Price Register. Since then, the site has sat vacant, the building deteriorating, says Corcoran.
The St Vincent de Paul Society has not replied to queries sent on 22 September asking why the building was shut, why it wasn’t put to another community use, and who it was sold to.
In October 2022, Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty asked why the site wasn’t on the derelict sites register and what the council was doing to bring it back into use.
In a written response in November, the chief executive said that “The Derelict Sites Unit will arrange to have the site inspected and will take action as appropriate following the assessment of its condition.”
He also said that, “A full report on the findings of the inspection will issue to the Councillor.” Moriarty said Friday he hadn’t got a report.
But the site was added to the derelict sites register about eight months later, which means it’s subject to an annual derelict sites levy of 7 percent.
It’s unclear when Pathway Homes bought the site, what it plans to do with it, or whether it will follow through on those plans.
O’Connor, the director of the company, said on the phone he’d send a statement in answer to queries, but so far has not done so.