Last of the drug ravaged towers torn down
WHEN the flat complexes of Dublin were built between the 1950s and 1970s they were seen as the lap of luxury compared to the cramped, dilapidated tenements the new tenants left behind.
Some families, who were used to living in one room with no hot water and sharing a toilet with numerous other families, were suddenly living in two or three-bedroom flats with hot and cold water, a private toilet and all mod cons.
Fast forward to today and many flat complexes like Ballymun, Fatima Mansions, St Michael’s Estate, O’Devaney Gardens, Dolphin House and Dominick Street have been demolished or are in the process of coming down following years of neglect.
And, while all have seen their share of bad times, the demolition of the flats has been bittersweet for residents who remember so many good times as well.
Residents took a strong sense of pride in the flats in the early days and built up an incredibly strong sense of community spirit.
The complexes became ingrained in the fabric of the city and had a cultural impact producing and inspiring artists, writers and musicians. Bands like U2 wrote songs about Ballymun, while the alt-rock band The Fatima Mansions took their name from the Rialto flat complex.
However, the optimism of the early days of the flat complexes was soon worn down as heroin started to become a major problem in Dublin in the late 1970s and early 1980s thanks to the likes of Larry Dunne and his successors.
The flats were soon plagued by addicts, who brought with them associated crime as they sought to feed their habit.
Many of the complexes also saw deaths from drug use, as well as murders linked to the drug trade. Residents fought back against the drugs and set up the republican-backed Concerned Parents Against Drugs to march on dealers’ homes and force them out of areas.
The movement got bogged down with vigilantism, culminating in HIV suffering drug addict Josie Dwyer being beaten to death in Basin Street.
While the drug problem is intertwined with the history of the flats of Dublin, there are plenty of happy memories to counter the bad ones.
Dublin GAA star Philly McMahon grew in a four- storey block of flats on Sillogue Avenue in Ballymun around the corner from the Joseph Plunkett Tower, which was the last of the seven 16-storey towers to be demolished last year.
McMahon told how he and his friends had a competition to see who could kick the ball highest against the side of tower: “I’d get it up to the 11th floor, which isn’t bad going. The odd time it would go through a window into someone’s flat. Nobody minded.”
Ballymun has gone under a major regeneration in recent years with new homes, shops and facilities, including a swimming pool, built.
But further plans for a major shopping centre and a new library, a cinema, restaurants and a bowling alley failed to materialise as a result of the economic crash. Ballymun’s regeneration was not the only one to be hit.
There was a major setback in the redevelopment of five sites in Dublin after developer Bernard McNamara pulled out of a Public Private Partnership in 2008 when the recession hit.
The plans would have seen O’Devaney Gardens and Infirmary Road in Dublin 7, St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore as well as Dominick Street and Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city demolished and replaced with 1,800 new homes constructed at a value of €900m.
St Michael's Estate
The homes would have been a mix of social housing and around 800 private homes, but the collapse of the housing market meant the scheme was unworkable.
After more than a decade of redevelopment plans for St Michael’s Estate being drawn up and abandoned, Thornton Heights – a 75-home development – was finally opened in 2014.
Domnick Street flats
But by that stage many former St Michael’s Estate residents had moved on to other areas, as the redevelopment plans kept getting delayed.
Most of the blocks in O’Devaney Gardens have been demolished and Dublin City Council is seeking developers to build new homes on the site.
Local Sinn Fein Councillor Janice Boylan moved into O’Devaney Gardens with her family when she was just three weeks old and lived there until she was 17. She told the Sunday World there was a great sense of community in the area.
“I have great memories of playing rounders, piggy, skipping, kick the can. People could leave their doors open on the balconies. If you needed sugar, a tea bag or anything like that you could always knock down to your neighbour. Everybody looked out for each other.”
However, it was hit hard when the PPP deal fell through as flats were left empty. The empty flats became a magnet for anti-social behaviour.
“People moved out with the promise they’d be moved back in once the development took place, but they were scattered all across Dublin. There’s only nine families left there now in the flats. It’s heartbreaking to see,” said Boylan.
“It was one of the best communities. You were proud to say you were from O’Devaney Gardens, but the heart has been torn out of it now.”
St Teresa’s Gardens is being redeveloped under a €12.5m plan which was due to be completed next year, but earlier this month it emerged that the process is likely to take longer.
Other complexes are also in the process of being demolished. And while residents have many happy memories, many are also aware they needed to be replaced as damp, mould and sewage issues plagued many complexes.
While nobody will miss those problems they will miss the sense of community.
Cllr Boylan said many former O’Devaney Gardens residents are hopeful of returning when new homes are built.
“It will be a challenge to get it back to what it was, but it will be a thriving community once again.”