There's more to north inner city Dublin than gang wars
For some, Dublin’s north inner city is synonymous with gangland shootings, deprivation, drugs, unemployment and so many problems that the Taoiseach was forced to come in this week and promise things would change.
But for those who look closer it is the home of football superstars, boxing prodigies, Olympic hopefuls, famous actors, neighbours who stick together, heroes of 1916 and everyday heroes who work in the community.
Walk through the streets and houses and flats are covered in green, white and orange as locals celebrate their country and the neighbours who represent that country home and abroad.
No-one is ignoring that there are problems in the area and Enda Kenny’s pledge to solve those problems was met with sceptical reaction by some at first.
Brian Mohan, a community activist and Fianna Fáil member, believed Kenny arriving with an entourage of six ministers was “just for the cameras”.
“We had road sweepers cleaning the street at 6pm, we had the garda helicopter flying around, we had armed gardaí patrolling the streets and it looked like it was all because Enda and the ‘Magnificent Seven’ were coming in. It’s an absolute laugh.
“It was almost like who wants to come down and look good with the lower echelons and we’ll make them feel better before we go back to our lovely offices.”
While some locals share that view, many others are hopeful the government will tackle the problems facing the inner city.
Local historian Terry Fagan said the north inner city was once a thriving place with high employment.
“The area went downhill mainly when jobs were lost in the docks in 1965 with containerisation. The dockers who always cared for their families were left standing on street corners and nothing was put in place,” he said.
No-one is oblivious to the problems that remain to this day, but constantly behind the scenes there have been community workers, volunteers and local people keeping the community spirit alive.
Joe Dowling (above) was born and bred in the north inner city and is one of the most well-known community workers. He works with Hope, which helps addicts get off drugs, as well as with a group for the elderly.
Last week Joe and another local man Tony Dunleavy took 150 pensioners to Donabate for a bi-annual day out. Joe told how he has to go around with a begging bowl all year long to fund the trip, but Kenny promised him that wouldn’t be the case anymore.
“There has been a mixed reaction. I was born and reared here all my life and I know something good will happen. I’ll hold the Taoiseach to that,” he said.
Joe, who is a friend of the Hutch family, said he knows the devastation the killings have caused, but pointed out the north inner city was not just about shootings.
He said there are no shortage of local heroes that kids can look up to. Ireland’s Euro 2016 star Wes Hoolahan is from Portland Row, where his family still live, and honed his skills at local schoolboy club Belvedere.
Wes (centre) in his Belvedere days
“Wes doing so well is giving the community a lift. I was coming down Portland Row and I got very emotional looking at all the bunting and flags,” he said.
After seeing the flags, Joe and pals decided to get bunting for the Killarney Court complex where they live.
“We said we have to get something. Michael Hanley in the shop got them for us and fair play to him he did the whole lot.”
Another resident, Elsie Campion, told how proud everyone was of Wes, saying: “He was born and reared in Mary’s Mansions and then he moved down to Portland Row. It’s great for the area. He doesn’t forget where he comes from. When he comes home he also goes home to the Belvo.”
Wes visits with current Belvedere players just before he headed off to France
It’s not just Wes doing the area proud, Joe and other locals we spoke to listed off numerous names, from Olympic boxer Kellie Harrington, 16-year-old boxer Pierce O’Leary, who is flying out to Russia to represent Ireland in boxing this week, Man City player Jack Byrne, Fulham defender Sean Kavanagh, Notts County player Graham Burke and Love/Hate star Laurence Kinlan.
“This place is full of talent,” said local woman Sandra Burke, who helps run Ballybough Community Group for under 10s, which hosts homework clubs and other activities and also runs summer projects.
She hopes that Kenny’s visit will lead to more funding for that age group. Her group is run on a voluntary basis and the only funding it currently gets is from Croke Park.
“You need early intervention. You get them at that age into a club so by the time they’re 10 they’re used to it and go into a youth project. We work seven days a week voluntary to make it better for the kids,” she said.
Local shopkeeper Gerry Fay, who is involved in the North Wall Residents Association, told how politicians have promised many things for residents in the past and didn’t deliver. He also feels there was a deliberate attempt to contain problems north inner city.
“Tony Gregory used to always say there was a policy of containment with regard to drugs and everything put them down there. Maybe I’m a bit cynical but if I am I have good reason. As the old parish priest John Wall used to say, I heard the bees, but where’s the honey,” he said.
Well-known local Councillor Christy Burke said he is willing give the Taoiseach a chance.
“I was impressed by what the Taoiseach said the other night that he’d set up the task force and that he’d stand over it.
“The north city has suffered miserably, but there’s a shadow of hope from groups in the voluntary sector. You have the senior citizens groups, summer projects, sports, you name it. It’s a great community and it will keep getting back up again.”
A homecoming for Kellie Harrington, who has recently been training abroad, will take place on Thursday in the girls’ school on North William Street.
Local Councillor Niall Ring said: “We’re going to present her with a cheque from Dublin City Council. She’s getting no grants from the government so the council approved a €5,000 grant from discretionary funds.”
He said he is also willing to give Mr Kenny a chance to prove himself.
“There is a determination in the north inner city that’s like that song ‘we get knocked down but we get up again’. We’ll keep getting back up.”